Back at the end of January, I wrote an article called The Top Four Things Startups Want From Their Startup Community, based on what I had learned from the 100+ entrepreneurs who attended that month’s ExitEvent Startup Social. Those four things were, paraphrasing:
1) Aggregated data on the progress of the community and its startups.
2) A means for closed communication among the community’s entrepreneurs.
3) More information about the individual entrepreneurs themselves.
4) More information about what’s happening in the community, more often.
Then this past weekend, a discussion I had over beers with James Avery, founder of Adzerk, about his company’s just-landed deal to serve ads on Reddit, shot off on a couple of tangents. One was the state of the Triangle’s startup community – had it come very far from where it was three years ago, who was leading it, what were the next steps. All those kinds of things.
It wasn’t that direct, not like either of us were saying “I believe our startup community needs to do these three things to be successful.” It was more like, “Dude. You know what sucks?” And then the two of us would finish the round while agreeing and disagreeing with one another.
Anyway, it prompted me to turn the question from the aforementioned article around. What do the entrepreneurs, from early stage to veteran, need to be doing to maintain the viability of the local startup community?
Here’s what I think:
3. Informal and Formal Mentoring
I say this every chance I get. Unless our startup community is one of the big three – Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston (and maybe not even Boston), we can’t wait for the multiple-exit entrepreneurs to invest in or otherwise help along the next wave of startups.
The help, the advice, the introductions — the senior leadership role in the community must be played by the working entrepreneurs who have a foothold on initial success.
These are the ones with the customers, the revenue, the funding (where that makes sense). The ones who have been through the ringer already or are at least going through it now.
2. Make a List, Check it Twice, and Get Involved
One of the reasons I started ExitEvent is that I was showing up at entrepreneur-focused events and finding only one or two entrepreneurs there. So one of the philosophies behind ExitEvent is to do whatever is most valuable for the local entrepreneurs at the expense of everything (revenue) and everyone (everyone) else.
But ultimately, it’s up to the entrepreneurs who show up — physically to the Socials and digitally to this website — to keep me honest and, if they DO get something out of it, to spread the word and encourage their fellow entrepreneurs to come along.
1. Build a Successful Startup
The best and most favorited line from the article on Adzerk was when James said, “The best thing I can do for the startup community is build a successful startup. Of course, I don’t want to end up being a hermit or anything.”
I’m in total agreement with the sentiment, but it was only kind of implied that there’s a time commitment involved to get #2 and #3 above done.
I look at it this way. I spend 50-60 hours a week working diligently on making Automated Insights a success, meeting all of our internal goals and milestones. Then and only then do I commit 3-5 hours a week on ExitEvent, or attending some function, or judging some competition, or having coffee with someone who needs advice or an ear to bounce an idea off of.
Of course, this is only when we’re not slammed with deadlines, which is all the time of course, but you could tell when we were doing Yahoo Fantasy Football and other things like that, there were weeks where I was off the grid completely.
Luckily, I can write articles like this in about 15 minutes in one sitting. And fun fact, what you see here or in TechWire or in the News and Observer, it’s all likely been done either after 11:00 p.m. or before 6:30 a.m.
Which is nuts, right?
But I do things like ExitEvent and functions and advice not only because it’s good for the startup community, but it’s ultimately good for me and for my startup. The indirect benefits — everything from making new connections to learning new ways to do things — those are all really valuable.
And if I get to have a beer while doing it every so often, then my sanity stays in check as well.