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Can Boise be the next Boulder?

Matt HulettI recently moved to Boise to run ClickBank, the world’s largest digital products platform for very small to mid-sized businesses. ClickBank has offices in Broomfield, Colo., (right outside of Boulder) and we’re headquartered in Boise.

In Seattle, you get spoiled with the size of the startup community, the large pool of capital and the great technical talent fed by the computer science department at the University of Washington. Heck, the Paul Allen wing at the UW is bursting at the seams with incoming CS talent.

Being new to town, I am struck by the fact that not only is the town really great, but it also has the raw materials to be a great tech startup city just like Boulder. On the personal side, there is a great music scene, great restaurants, close to everything that you would ever want to do outside and 300 days of sunshine per year. On the business side, we have stalwart tech companies like Micron and Hewlett-Packard based here and a large base of capital available for startups. And we have the University of Idaho and Boise State University.

But the fact is that there are not that many startups here (yet), there’s small output of computer science grads and there are no large exits. I run one of the largest privately held technology companies, but my engineering team is all based right outside of Boulder. Boulder actually has the highest density of startups per capita of any city in the country, according to a report from the Kauffman Foundation (Seattle is No. 5). Granted, having a small denominator in metro population helps to raise your ranking. But I don’t believe that there is an outlier here – Fort Collins, Colo., and Denver are also in the top 10 rankings.

What’s Colorado’s recipe for success?

Is it Brad Feld, of TechStars fame? Having a spokesperson that represents capital doesn’t hurt. He has certainly been Colorado’s Crocodile Dundee.

Fresh computer science brains? University of Colorado certainly pumps out a lot of great talent. Clearly having a larger and more technical workforce is paramount to the growth of any tech ecosystem.

Capital? Boise’s one active venture capital firm, Highway 12, is not active, but there is a lot of capital on the sidelines.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that there is not a common goal to get more of an entrepreneurial flywheel in Boise. There are lots of groups that are trying to do tech startups. A large public/private push to encourage funding in the tech startup space in a unified way would go a long way to establish a long-term plan. Heck, why not have a three-year goal to cultivate as many startups as Boulder has right now? My boss recently touched on this topic recently, and Brad Feld has even commented on the promise of Boise.

This should be a very doable goal for Treasure Valley. Maybe we need a Crocodile Dundee?

Matt Hulett, a serial entrepreneur and seasoned public company executive, is the CEO of Boise-based, market-leading digital products platform ClickBank. Hulett was president of the corporate travel division of Expedia Inc., the world’s largest online travel company, where he launched the corporate travel business from an idea to a billion-dollar worldwide leader in just a couple of years.

About Matt Hulett

4 comments

  1. I think the biggest hurdle to achieving a Boulder-like start-up environment is political. Idaho hasn’t invested in infrastructure or education, and its civil rights record is pretty dismal, especially re: LGBT people. Idaho has the slowest internet of the 50 states, the next-to-last spending on K-12 education, and no protections at the state level for LGBT people in housing or employment. It seems the places where startups flourish, either by attracting founders and employees from out of state or through local innovation, have made greater investments in technology, education, and civil rights.

    That said, Greg is right–our students at Boise State are willing to be entrepreneurial, given the resources and encouragement.

  2. Greg,

    I appreciate your thoughts, but this same article was drafted by so many of the past. It does need to be repeated over and over again.

    What’s wrong with Boise?

    – Complacency. It’s too easy to get a job and settle.
    – Startups are hard and trying to find people who can stomach the pressure is difficult.
    – The start up forums bring in the wrong people to talk starting up. We need strategic consult, not stories about how “cool” they were.
    – Lack of a university-based tech transfer program. A university can educate young entrepreneurs on how to build a pro forma, how to establish a pricing structure. When to charge and when not to charge for a product.
    – and much more.

    The about starting a tech company in SF or Seattle is that it’s cool and hip to be a part of. Do you find that culture here? I can’t see it. I would love to see a bunch of students interested in CS create a club. I’d like to see finance students stretching themselves and offering skills to startups. How about that person who is really interested in digital marketing .. if one ever raised there hand and said, can I intern for you.” I’d fall off my chair.

    We need passion and drive, but most importantly I would like to see someone behaving in a risky manner because they just might create the next Apple, HP, Microsoft .. you get the point.

    Final note: If you are interested in working in a startup, tech out to me. I am working tirelessly to bring to market a great tech company. We can talk and see where you fit.

    George Seybold
    george.seybold@gmail.com

  3. Welcome to town Matt! Minds, like wines, have a regional flavor, and the young people of Boise are forming their own appellation. As a professor and inventor I know that they are ready for the entrepreneurial adventure you envision. The coffee shops have almost reached the critical mass of young thinkers needed to fuel that explosion, and the unique environment of Boise is perfect for the creative mind. We should expect to see a generation of companies with a recognizable Boise ethic forming over the next few decades. Our low population density and isolation from large urban centers is both a challenge and an opportunity. This is the frontier. You won’f find a lot of any particular skill, but you can form diverse teams and have the freedom to experiment. The sparsity of colleagues is also a lack of competition, and it leads to bold leaps in creativity where initiative is rewarded rather than opposed. We may not be able to follow any other city’s model of success, but we do need benchmarks, and Boulder may be a great place to start.

  4. How many Boise-based companies use the ClickBank platform, Mr. Hullet? Very few, if any? Alas, you now have the answer to the questions you pose.