I’m pumped to have Andy White (someone I know and am lucky to hang out with) share a guest post about something he knows a lot about – startup communities. He is a great guy and legit entrepreneur. Andy is an angel investor and is a very active participant in the startup ecosystem. He writes checks – having invested in several regional startups. Previously, Andy was the Founder and Board President of SchoolCenter, which is now a part of Blackboard, Inc. He also contributes to many nonprofit organizations, including three terms as an Executive Board Member for the SIF Association. Currently, Andy is the Executive Director for BoomStartup, a mentor-driven seed accelerator program based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Do you have a startup community? Want one or a better one?
“There exist entire ecosystems – worlds within worlds — that most people are unaware of. Startups are but one. — Patrick McKenzie
A community exists inside an ecosystem. The startup community consists of entrepreneurs. These are the hackers, hustlers and hipsters that are passionate enough to go it alone.
Many new entrepreneurs have an irrational fear of sharing their idea; they think it’s going to get stolen. Here are some simple reasons why this shouldn’t be a concern:
– Once the company is built you won’t be able to tell enough people about it. Start now.
– A business is more than just an idea; execution is key.
– Feedback from others is the only way to find out what you don’t know.
– Any idea that can be easily executed isn’t a great foundation for a company.
The Why in Community
You need other people to succeed. You have no idea what type of help you’ll need until you need it. In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why you need to be part of a community, specifically, a startup community.
The advantage of the startup community lies in leveraging strengths — yours and those around you. This allows you to focus on your strengths and work with others who’s strengths compliment yours. Why spend effort becoming average at a weakness when you could spend it mastering a strength? No one needs average; everyone needs masters. Become a master at what you do and others will work with you to achieve the goal.
The Coffee Shop
Meet at The Beat. That’s what they did in Vegas. They went to a coffee shop.
Grabbing a business card is great, but members of the Vegas startup community went far beyond that. They started meeting up at a place called The Beat Coffeehouse. It all started with just a few entrepreneurial leaders; hackers, hustlers, and hipsters with passion. Just an informal gathering of individuals with a desire to build a community. The walls that separated the different groups crumbled down. The community grew.
The coffee shop represents a place where members of the community meet up to form real relationships. That is the crux of a true community — real relationships. These can only be formed when to you truly take the time to get to know someone. The community grows out of coffee shops, living rooms, libraries, and restaurants by the entrepreneurs who participate in them. How does your community interact? How often? Where? These are essential questions to ask. The location is insignificant. What is significant is that people learn from one another, they serve one another, and they grow from one another.
Real Relationships: Learn, Serve, Grow
Corporate Alliance is a regional networking organization, their moto is: “Learn, Serve, Grow.” Wondering if your relationships are real? Use this framework to gain perspective:
LEARN: The first step is really getting to know this person. What are their interests and passions? Ask questions and listen, then listen some more. Move beyond the business level and you might actually find a friend. Then you have an opportunity to help them.
SERVE: Seek to serve, not to be served. Don’t be thinking, “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” That just builds acquaintances. Be eager to assist, and be willing to be sacrifice. Are you asking, “ What can I get out of this?” OR are you asking, “What can I contribute?”
GROW: Do you know the person? Have you served? Answer in the affirmative to these two questions and you’ve probably built a bond strong enough to work together. Are you willing to work together? If not, then maybe you’ve learned enough.
The Environment of Everyone
Diversity is the DNA of a thriving community. You need hackers, hustlers and hipsters — young and old — that are fully engaged before you can succeed. This mix of young and old entrepreneurs enhances all aspects of the community. Don’t know where the hackers, hipsters, or hustlers are? Get out of your comfort zone and go to them. Then find some common ground where friendships can flourish.
Whether building a community or becoming part of one, the steps are the same: form real relationships, reach out and branch out, see where you can serve instead of where you can be served. Build the community.
Then, Incite Change
This can only happen if you make it happen. Startup communities must be built and lead by entrepreneurs. This may seem difficult with so many established organizations already out there creating noise. Filter through the noise and help others do the same. Here’s what you can do:
– Find out what others are doing on Plancast, Meetup, or Startup Digest.
– Attend a Startup Weekend, hack-a-thon or Launchup event.
– Begin an uncoworking or jelly group in the area.
– Always bring a friend and invite others.
The key is to participate and create experiences that include everyone in the startup community. Specialized users group are great for deep dives into the inner workings of a specific topic. However, they suck at building a community. Get out of your comfort zone and interact with someone new.
Opportunity’s everywhere, take advantage.