Boulder and Denver, a Mile High Sibling Rivalry


Dear Xconomy,

Welcome to Colorado.

We’re glad to have you, but there’s a… thing you should know about. From the outside, the startup environment in Colorado just seems like one big funky but remarkably effective family of startup goodness. But, like any family, we have our internecine feuds. We are speaking, of course, about the whole Denver vs. Boulder thing.

If you ask a lot of people, they’ll tell you there’s nothing there, no rivalry at all. Those people either share a PR person’s loose affiliation with reality, or they are from Fort Collins, or Colorado Springs, or even Golden, and will try to tell you that it’s all really the same. It’s not.

Here’s the thing about the rivalry: It’s real, but it’s actually not all bad. In a weird way it’s kind of productive. It’s like the feud that went on between Tesla and Edison. It’s awkward but ultimately results in progress.

So, first the perceptions:

Denver’s view of Boulder: A quirky suburb that’s fun to visit for a day or for a restaurant and provides an endless stream of only-in-Boulder stories. (The latest is a dead elk that was family to some and “meat” to a couple cops straight out of a mashup of Fargo and Dumb and Dumber.)

Denver’s view of Boulder’s startups: They have weird names, weirder business models, and the “scene” is more like Glee than a business environment.

Boulder’s view of Denver: A big, boring city that doesn’t really have anything to do with Boulder. It’s as much a part of Boulder as, say Seattle or Chicago. It does have an airport, but with an Express Toll transponder in your Land Rover, you never even have to see Denver to get to the DIA garage. If you ask a Boulder VC or VC-funded CEO what the D in DIA is, it will take them a minute.

Boulder’s view of Denver’s startups: Fixated on “revenue” and something called “EBITDA,” and they don’t care at all about changing the world. Many of the startups don’t even have T-shirts.

Line of Demarcation

There’s a hill outside Boulder that is the defining line. Somehow that hill allows reality to remain out of reach of Boulder. Ask some Boulder residents to meet you for lunch in Louisville—which is literally one freeway stop away—they’ll look at you like you are asking to meet in Madagascar, and they will proclaim that they’ve Never Once Stopped There.

Boulder startups know more about Founders Den or General Assembly than they do about Galvanize or the Innovation Pavilion.

Denver startup leaders know that Boulder startups have funny names, but would be shocked to learn that Boulder startup Sketchup was bought by Google and its Boulder building has the largest number of Google engineers between California and the East Coast.

Boulder tech leaders also love to trumpet Boulder’s success, as they should. (Here’s one and here’s another and here’s another just from the last couple weeks in the Wall St. Journal. Not one of those mentions Denver.)

Denver startup leaders aren’t much better, having just launched a new site called Built In Denver. It would have killed them to call it Built in Colorado?

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Scott Yates is founder and CEO of BlogMutt, a Boulder-based startup that finds writers to create content for the blogs of clients. BlogMutt launched in 2010 and closed a seed funding round in late 2012. Follow @scodtt

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