Giving First Changed My Life

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It was 2006 and I was sitting in the back of the room at the Boulder / Denver New Tech Meetup in the Wolf Law Building on the University of Colorado campus.  I was a regular at these monthly standing-room-only Meetups, and the energy and enthusiasm in the room was palpable. The appetizers were done and the beers were gone, time to fight for a seat.

Local good guy and nationally renowned Venture Capitalist and co-founder of TechStars Brad Feld was scheduled to speak. The ethos that he went on to speak about that night changed my life forever.

#GiveFirst, as you may know, is a very simple core tenet in which you walk into a room and instead of asking someone who they work for, what kind of car they drive or what they can do for you- your entire approach to networking and building community is flipped on its head.  The question is a genuine ‘how can I help you today’?, or perhaps ‘what kind of challenges are you facing that I might be able to help with’?  The ‘genuine’ piece here is key…that you’re not looking for something in return, that you are truly interested in giving of yourself, your experience, your time, your energy and perhaps your resources to help whomever you’ve just met, accomplish their goals….with nothing expected in return.  Nothing at all. Sure, like Karma, you may indeed see something come back to you over time, and most people do, but that’s not why you’re offering your assistance to your newest friends.

This incredibly simple ethos has become the super powerful centerpiece for the Colorado Startup Community.  The rising tide, everyone giving first, does indeed lift all boats. I’ve seen competitors sitting down to compare notes on the market, co-founder relationships being formed, investors sitting down with first time entrepreneurs…the list goes on…

The #GiveFirst ethos has permeated startup communities all over the globe.  Powered partly by the massive scaling of Startup Weekend (now part of TechStars) to more than 100 countries over time as well as TechStars itself into Berlin, Adelaide, London etc.

Tamara Chuang aka @gadgetress wrote an excellent article on the origin and power of #GiveFirst recently for the Colorado Sun.

Well regarded Psychologist and Wharton Professor, Adam Grant, went on to write Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success in 2013.  He talks extensively about Givers vs Takers in the work realm and how Giving is both fulfilling but points out that altruism is also a measure of the man himself- he invokes Samuel Johnson to make his point…. “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”  Grant’s TED talk on the topic has more than 5 Million views.  Unsurprisingly, Grant and Feld are friends…

So….how exactly did #GiveFirst change my life?

I had been building software engineering teams for six years for the likes of IBM, Level(3), Sun Microsystems- but it had gotten old and super-transactional in nature.  There was no soul in the business. I needed to find and be that change. It was clear there was a real need in Boulder to help attract and retain top talent in the engineering realm, but the model was broken.

In addition to becoming a founder in a tech startup in September 2010, I also decided to start a recruiting business specifically to support the Boulder startup scene.

It was no secret that recruiters were not held in high regard, and for good reason.  They would often tell you what you wanted to hear, put a shiny bow on all conversations, and well, they were perceived as douchebags who were only looking out for themselves.  This reputation (in many cases, not all) was well deserved.

My tweak in fostering ‘an ethical revolution’ in the recruiting realm in founding Technical Integrity was to build #GiveFirst into our DNA as an organization.  We’d put aside the pushy-salsey notion of what it meant to be a recruiter and act as a true partner to the startup community.

We went on to organize some of the earliest Startup Weekend’s in Colorado, we were organizers of both Boulder and Denver Startup Weeks, we held office hours to help people navigate their job searches, we donated regularly to local non-profits (more than $55,000 and counting since 2010) and we just demonstrated we were there simply to build community and there was no expectation of anything in return.

Over time, we proved the approach to be the right one.  People trusted us to be genuine partners to the community, to do the right thing and live and die by our namesake of having Integrity in everything we did, and of course to help scale fast paced software engineering teams when needed.  There is no doubt that it is because of this new, selfless approach to help others succeed, that 2018 was our best year ever.  2019 will be no different.

After thousands of hours in volunteering in the startup community over the years in Boulder, I moved to the high country of Colorado, outside of Aspen in 2014.

I founded a new non-profit, Aspen Entrepreneurs, based on the #GiveFirst ethos, alongside leaders in other rural communities like Telluride, Montrose, Grand Junction and more.  This group of leaders has since started Mountain Venture Summit, a celebration and meeting of the minds of rural startup ecosystems around the country.  At last year’s Summit we had more than 35 rural / ski communities from around the country represented, and 2019’s conference in Mammoth, California will have far more than that.

This has become a massive movement, all based in #GiveFirst ethos.

I was also honored to have been invited to become part of a guiding light in our state as a member of the Steering Committee for Startup Colorado, which embraces #GiveFirst and “strives to empower and sustain entrepreneurial communities across the state by amplifying a collaborative support network, making connections to key resources, and helping high-growth companies access trusted, flexible capital.”

Those of us that embrace #GiveFirst are all here to help one another- and when there’s a room of 100 people who are asking how they can help you accomplish your goals, it becomes truly humbling, rewarding and so very powerful.

There are of course limitations on how much time you can accept coffee meetings, and everyone’s definition of what’s right for them is a very personal one…but I know for me, I wouldn’t trade any of my time spent helping others, not even for one minute.

Dave Mayer

CEO Technical Integrity

Founder Aspen Entrepreneurs

Most recently- Founder of Massive Impact– A one stop shop, educating and empowering consumers about the most sustainable gear and apparel in the outdoor realm.

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