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September 2014

A Letter to City Council, and Dealing with Difficult Situations

By Universe


Quickleft brewfest - Courtesy of 23rd Studios

On Sunday—a day I promised myself I’d do no work—I opened up Twitter and came across a link to an article, “A necessary education on Boulder’s startup community” written by Nicole Glaros, Rajat Bhargava and Jason Mendelson. I was shocked and appalled, and quite frankly, felt something must be done about it. I retweeted it. That didn’t feel like enough. I emailed the article to some fellow Boulder startup leaders & feeders. That didn’t feel like enough either. I needed to take another step.

I’m a big believer in confronting difficult situations head on. Two of the more common phrases around this idea are, “take the bull by the horns,” or “eat a frog first thing in the morning.” The one I prefer is, “lean into the pain.”

Lean into the pain.

I first heard it as attributed to Coach CEO, Lew Frankfurt, and it resonates with me. I don’t like conflict, and I think that’s a good thing, but I don’t shy away from it. The people I’ve met who seem to enjoy conflict are among the worst people I know in this world. For me, conflict is difficult (maybe painful), but necessary at times. I lean into the pain. I like the phrase because it reflects a certain necessary reluctance, while acknowledging that a challenge must be overcome.

That was forefront in my mind as I began writing an email to Macon Cowles and the Boulder City Council. I felt a personal obligation to say something on behalf of myself and the community I love. It was a “lean into the pain” situation. Did I want to put myself on the line in such a direct and forthright manner? Maybe. Is it scary to do so? Yes. But I  knew it was something I had to do. I felt if I didn’t say something, I would be letting myself down. I took the time to tweet it, then to email it out to friends and colleagues, I should take the time to express my thoughts directly to the person who started this chain of events.

I hovered my mouse over the Send button. I reread my email. I made minor modifications. I hesitated. Putting myself on the line, putting my thoughts out there, confronting someone directly: it’s all scary stuff. I leaned into the pain, and hit Send. And felt really good about it.

Within a few minutes, I received a response from Macon, apologizing for his statement, forwarding his note to Jason, and taking me up on my offer to meet me and get to know the startup community. I thanked him for this and we set a time to meet for coffee in a few weeks.

I feel good about taking a step to bridge a divide, and extending an invitation to someone to learn and participate. This is one of the core missions of Engage Colorado, the group Tim O’Shea and I formed to build bridges between entrepreneurial communities.  I leaned into the pain (hesitation, and fear in this case), took a step, and will look to bridge a divide.

When you find yourself at a difficult crossroads, lean into the pain. Take the difficult step that you don’t want to, but know in your heart is the right course. Look to make a difference, and you will.

Photos courtesy of 23rd Studios


What follows is the email I just sent to Macon Cowles and the Boulder City Council in response to Mr. Cowles remarks about the Boulder startup Community, and his response to me.

Dear, Mr. Cowles & the Boulder City Council,

I was disgusted, embarrassed, and upset to read the comments characterizing the startup community as a group of highly paid white men, and then putting the burden of increased housing costs squarely on our community’s shoulders. This is a terrible stereotype for a community that is actively inclusive.

I fully support the response from Nicole, Rajat, Jason, and others in their Daily Camera article.

The majority of members of this community are hard-working, middle class Americans who believe that they can have a positive impact on the world through their efforts. And I would venture to say most of whom would align with you on working to make housing more affordable in Boulder.

I challenge you to compare the Boulder startup community to the Boulder community at large. I wonder, are your stereotypes reflective of the city population as a whole? We, as a city, certainly suffer from a lack diversity, but it’s not from a lack of invitation or openness that the startup community here exemplifies.

By making such off-hand, unsupported comments you tear down what thousands have worked so hard, for decades, to achieve. We stand out as an icon for cities around the world. I have personally been contacted by startup leaders from Canada, Denmark, Tel Aviv, Singapore, Hong Kong, as well as dozens of cities throughout the US, all of whom look to Boulder when building their own startup communities.

What Boulder has built is a model that cities—around the world, large and small—look to for guidance. For a city council member to stereotype it, and tear it down, is embarrassing and counter-productive.

I would like to invite you to get involved in the startup community, to attend events, and meet the people who make this community the global icon that it is.

Personally, I am working with a friend to bring two new events to Boulder this year. The first one, NewCo will shine a spotlight on entrepreneurship and innovation in the city. I would like to personally extend an invitation to the entire city council to attend. If you are interested in getting to know the startup community, please reach out to me and I will give you a ticket, and do what I can to introduce you to the diverse, hard-working Americans who make our community amazing.


Dear Rich:

I apologize to you and agree that it unfairly stereotyped the startup community.

I offered my apology to the writers of the OpEd in the Camera, in the following email that I sent to them this morning:

“Jason, I am sorry for what I said and the offense it caused to you and the people you referenced in your OpEd this morning. My comment gave short shrift to contributions and energy that startups and other high tech entrepreneurs have brought to our community.

“I would appreciate it if you would forward this email to Nicole Glaros and Rajat Bhargava, as I do not have their email addresses.

“Not reported in the Camera was the context of my comments, which was the diversity of Boulder, and the recent release of Google’s numbers with respect to the demographics employees.

“I would like to find a time to meet with you, offer my apology in person, and get acquainted. I respect your accomplishments and would appreciate a chance to get our relationship on a different footing. Would you be interested in this?

“Thanks very much. And again, I offer my apology to you.”

Also, I accept your invitation to get involved in the startup community and would welcome to get the opportunity to get to know you and the startup community better.

Thanks very much for writing. The best number to contact me at is the -3062 number below.