The 8 Pros & Cons Of A Startup Community
Six years ago, there wasn’t really a “startup community”. Not that there wasn’t a community of startup founders, but it wasn’t referred to as such. And it certainly wasn’t as organized as it is now. Our definition of a startup community is the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole – which is the sum of every organization, person, and event that empowers venture creation and growth.
A startup community is, for the most part, a great thing. Remind yourself for a second how lonely it is to start a company. You can’t talk to your friends and family, because their advice will send you down the safe path, i.e., get a job. You can’t talk to your employees/vendors because who wants to be on a sinking ship (and yes, every startup is taking on at least a little water). You can’t talk to consultants because they’re incredibly expensive, and they almost all specialize in the later stages of business. So who do you go to for advice? Who do you surround yourself with to make the process not so darn lonely? What events do you go to to remind yourself there are thousands of other people out there who don’t think you’re crazy? This is where a startup community comes in.
But don’t let the community’s immense value and good intentions fool you – every startup community has a seedy underbelly. This essay is meant to profile both the cons AND the pros of the startup community. When the sum of its parts are all calculated, there is a net positive value for the city and the entrepreneurs that build it – but it’s important you remain cognizant of its shortcomings so you can best leverage it.
Cons – Wantrapreneurs Everywhere
There are a lot of fans of entrepreneurship. Just look at the viewership rates of Shark Tank compared to the amount of people that ever get their businesses off the ground. The gulf between those two numbers is called wantrapreneurship. It’s the people who relate to entrepreneurs, yet are in a perpetual state of pre-launch. They’re like the guys that jam out with their friends once-a-month and then tell people they’re in a band.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. They’re nice people, and often well intentioned. They’re allowed to be fans of whatever they want. But their habits and advice have a tendency to steer the true entrepreneurs in the wrong direction. Even Ozzy Osbourne would have made a worse musician if he practiced with the people that do covers of his songs.
Cons – Networking Gets Misconstrued As Selling
Let’s demystify entrepreneurship real quick. It’s making stuff, selling stuff, and repeating – over and over until you change careers, retire, or die. A lot of times, networking is misconstrued as selling; and because startup events are great networking opportunities we sometimes lie to ourselves by thinking that this counts as sales.
There are a handful of fatal errors in this line of thinking, the first of which being that networking events aren’t scalable. Let’s pretend you do get some sales…are you then going to hire people over-and-over again to go to networking events on your behalf as you get bigger? Can you ensure there will be a constant flow of perfect events that you can attend when your sales are low? No, of course not. It’s not a healthy engine of growth. This doesn’t mean it’s not a great tool, it’s just not optimal.
The second one, of many more we won’t list, is it’s seldom the right market. Unless your market is pre-launched, radically early-stage startup founders, with no funding, no budget, no experience, and a dismal chance of any of these things changing anytime soon – you’re trying to sell to the wrong market. If you insist on networking events being the place to sell things, then you should strive for more niched events that are more relevant to the problem you’re selling.
Cons – Jealousy And Insecurity Are Rampant
Few people make it through the startup gauntlet. It’s the statistical reality of founding a company. Thus the ones that do leave behind a mountain of people that didn’t accomplish what they had hoped. Naturally, this makes them jealous, as it would anyone. So as entrepreneurs emerge from the muddied waters of the early years still breathing, it’s like that same community that helped them up is scared to let them leave. We’ve witnessed very few fatal blows that a jealous or insecure person imparted on a newly minted success story – but we’ve witnessed hundreds of pithy remarks, sneers, low-blows, and gossip of the same people who the community used to cheer on. This isn’t conspiracy theory. This is fact, and human nature. We don’t write about this to complain, we do it to warn you it will assuredly happen – and that it’s okay. It’s the natural progression of entrepreneurship.
Pro – Cluster Density
If you hang around a startup community enthusiast long enough, you’re bound to hear words like cluster, density, or collisions. They’re cliche words, yet still very apt descriptions of an important concept.
Let’s attempt to explain this in our own way … if startup success is the execution of a number of tasks – and one of those tasks is accumulating and befriending enough of the right people – the faster you can accomplish this, the better. The ‘right people’ might be advisors, co-founders, vendors, investors, etc. Now picture these people spread out, working their own missions, each from the comfort of their own homes, or spread out throughout the state or region. How would you find them? How would you vette them? You couldn’t. Now picture if they all showed up at the same time and the same place (either in-person at events, or digitally in forums and things like it); this is referred to as density. The likelihood of you striking up a conversation with the right person increases exponentially; this is referred to as collisions.
Pro – Cheerleaders For Your Startup
A great member of the startup community is also a cheerleader of the other members of the community. When they find themselves at happy hours, concerts, the gym, family functions, wherever – and someone mentions a problem that the have – a good evangelist will promote another startup that could help solve their problem. So when you’ve invested in the community itself, the community has a tendency to repay you in the form of an army of influencers singing your praises.
Pro – Attention For Your Startup
Most individual startup events shine light on a couple startups, e.g., 1 Million Cups, or a handful of startups e.g. BetaBlox Demo Day. So when you aggregate the hundreds of startup community focused events every year, there are many chances to get your startup in front of a crowd. These opportunities are not only great for crowdsourcing the answers to your problems, they’re also great for practicing your pitch with an audience.
Pro – Friendly Faces
If all you did was build your business from behind your computer in your home, you’d just be begging to go through bouts of depression. Even loners need the company of others once in awhile. This is one of the most important things that working at a large corporation can provide, because everyday you show up to a place where you’re surrounded by others on the same mission. But as an entrepreneur, environments like this don’t ju
st magically appear – you have to proactively find or create them. Startup events are great examples of the types of environments we’re referencing. The therapeutic value they represent shouldn’t be underestimated.
Pro – Bridges In-Between Silos
The startup community isn’t just composed of individual people. It’s made up of many entrepreneurial focused support organizations and vendors. These are things like universities, civic grants organizations, community foundations, incubators, co-working facilities, etc. There are tons of these things; most of them aren’t all that valuable, but enough of them are. You just have to find the right ones. The startup community is one giant filtration system to help you find the right entity, at the right time.
Don’t let our list of cons give you the impression that we’re jaded by the value of the startup community. Nor should you let our long list of pros trick you into thinking it’s the magic bullet to success. Neither of these sentiments are correct. Our position on the subject is that the value of a well organized and engaged startup community far surpasses the costs of creating one. But as current or aspiring members of said community, our belief is that you should utilize it, enough. Not so much that you drown in the disadvantages we mentioned above; and not so little that you don’t accumulate any of the advantages. How much is enough is up your particular situation?