Why I gave away 20 copies of Startup Communities by Brad Feld

Aug 22, 2016

<tl;dr>In August I had the opportunity to attend another event where Brad Feld spoke about startup communities and investment. I got re-inspired, then returned to my startup community and quickly got annoyed. So I purchased 20 copies of his book Startup Communities and asked the startup community in Queensland to nominate who should receive a copy. Skip to the bottom for the names of recipients.</tl;dr>

Why I did it

I got involved in the startup scene right before selling my two main businesses (Arinda and Internet Here) back in 2012.  Startup Communities (by Brad Feld) was one of the first startup-related books I read.  It formed the basis of my involvement in the startup community, because fundamentally it articulated what differentiates a good startup ecosystem from almost every other type of business community.

Amongst many other things, Brad Feld is a co-founder of TechStars, and in 2013 I attended a TechStars demo day in Seattle, and got to meet some of their team. Their pervasive culture of “founder first” and “give before you get” came through in every conversation.  Then in 2014 I attended UP Summit in downtown Las Vegas (at the time Brad was on the board of UP Global, which has since been acquired by TechStars). That event was, by several orders of magnitude, the best startup-related event I have ever attended. While there I had a chance to meet and listen to Brad Feld talk about startup communities.

Then fast-forward to the first week of August of 2016 and I was fortunate enough to fly to Adelaide for a quick overnight stay to attend an angel investing workshop and an Innovation Bay investor dinner.  The main draw card was special guest Brad Feld – alongside side him were fellow panelists (who need no introduction in the domestic startup scene) Elaine Stead, Nick McNaughton, Shane Cheek, and Ian Gardiner. Some quotes from that session included:

  • “As an investor, the only question you need to ask post making an investment is ‘Do I back the CEO?’.  If yes, then I work for her, not the other way around.”
  • “Early stage investing is ‘for profit philanthropy'”
  • “Our job [as investors] is to help founders win”
  • “Sometime the way you learn to fly is to throw yourself at the ground and miss”

Brad wasn’t on the panel for long – due to a combination of jet lag and what later turned out to be food poisoning – but in his brief stint, he reminded me of the fundamental cultural mindset needed for startup communities to flourish.  He reminded me of the way we all need to operate in order to build a thriving local startup community.

Fundamentally, that mentality is:

  • Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community – ie. the startup community should be fundamentally driven by entrepreneurs
  • Give first: pay it forward and expect nothing in return
  • Take a long term (20 year) view and plan
  • The ecosystem must be inclusive, and engage the entire entrepreneurial stack
  • Leave your ego at the door

After less than 24 hours back in Brisbane, I realised the size of the cultural mindset shift that needs to happen in this country.  Rather than rant, I calmed down, and thought I could have more impact sharing the knowledge I had gained from Brad by buying 20 copies of his book to share with the local ecosystem.

EVERYONE who is part of a startup ecosystem should read this book, but particularly those in the startup community who are not themselves founders. It’s short, easy to read, and big print.

How I did it

After deciding to buy the books, I created a basic typeform to accept nominations, and pushed it out to my network on Facebook, Twitter, a couple of Slack teams, and some group emails.  The typeform was mostly free short-text fields, asking for people to record their name, who they nominated, why they nominated them, and how to reach the nominee.

While the responses were ticking in, I ordered the books.  I originally went straight to Amazon, but the shipping was going to be horrendous.  So I ended up buying the 20 copies from BookDepository.com for a total of AUD$458.20 including shipping.  That saved me over $400 compared to what it would have cost at Amazon at the time.  I ordered the books on August 8th, and they arrived on the 22nd (14 days).


All up I received 22 typeform responses, collectively nominating over 40 non-unique potential recipients.  In addition, I also received 6 messages via email, Twitter, and Facebook with suggestions for recipients.  Most responses nominated just one individual, but several nominated 3 or more names, and many nominated facilities or accelerators.  Only 4 responses nominated themselves.  Some responses nominated “everyone who calls themselves a mentor or investor or runs a startup space” (paraphrased).  The most common response was to nominate a copy for each startup facility in Queensland to give to their mentors to read.

Aside from responses with nominations, I also received several comments sharing my view that we need to work harder to change the local culture, usually expressed from those who have already read the book or otherwise understand Brad Feld’s “Boulder Thesis”.

Everyone seemed positive with the experiment, and no one expressed any negative sentiment to me (so that means everyone negative on my idea never made the effort to tell me).

Thanks to those who responded, including: Nav Pasricha, Steve Dalton, David Novakovic, Brendan Goleby, Peta Ellis, Dave Masefield, Mark Paddenburg, Dominic Andersen-Strudwick, Damian Zammit, and the rest who were anonymous, including “Batman” (and those who asked to remain anonymous and shall never be named) (sorry if I forgot anyone who messaged me directly).

The chosen ones…

In deciding which of the nominees would get a copy, I first excluded anyone outside of Queensland (sorry).  Then I simply ranked everyone based on the number of votes, and finally, gave a bit of bias to where I thought the books could have the biggest impact, both in terms of the likely reach over time and also the role of the individual in the ecosystem.

My ask of each recipient is that they 1) read it with an open mind, 2) act on it.

The chosen recipients are:

Facilities / Groups:

    1. theSPACE Cairns (c/- Damian Zammit)
    2. iNQ Townsville (c/- Joe Hoolahan)
    3. Startup Mackay (c/- Jodie Stanley)
    4. Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast (c/- Mark Paddenburg)
    5. River City Labs Brisbane (c/- Peta Ellis)
    6. iLab Brisbane (c/- Bernie Woodcroft)
    7. Fire Station 101 Ipswich (c/- Chad Redando)
    8. Canvas Coworking Toowoomba (c/- David Masefield)
    9. Gold Coast TechSpace (c/- Steve Dalton)
    10. Bond Business Accelerator (c/- Dr Baden U’ren)
    11. Brisbane Angels (c/- Mike Avey)


  1. Jock Fairweather
  2. Peter Laurie (nominated Adam Hibble)
  3. Darren Rogan (gifted to Brian Ruddle)
  4. Leigh Angus
  5. Monica Bradley
  6. Cat Matson
  7. David Novakovic
  8. Dominic Andersen-Strudwick
  9. Brendan Goleby

Final comment

I’d love to hear from each recipient what they take from the book, whether they found it valuable, what (if anything) they would do differently, and who they pass it on to.


Updated 18:05 on 25 August to add links to regional centres.