We create startups with the idealistic intention of building a community around it, yet often don't take the time to create a community within our own personal entrepreneurship. This dawned on me when I was in Silicon Valley and, quite inadvertedly, my friends and me had created our own brain trust.
A hodge podge of techies, entrepreneurs and artists, we'd gather together every week to drink, connect and recap. It became a magnet, as regulars would inevitably have a friend in town or another colleague interested in coming through and they, too, would stop by whenever possible. The diversity in people pushed our conversations beyond any discussions we could have had in a less public forum.
I left the Bay Area a while ago, but I'm still connected to the valuable people I met. Now we've spun off into interesting ventures, like tackling Silicon Valley diversity and leading the discussion on tech's human impact. More than that, they became the trusted colleagues and mentors for my startup adventures.
In short, they are my brain trust: A diverse, collective sounding board for your next entrepreneurial moves. And every entrepreneur should have one.
Do you have people to listen to your ideas and help you take things to the next level? Here's how you can cultivate them:
Rise to the occasion: As the saying goes, if you're the smartest person in the room, then you need to go find a better room. Your collective should push you to be more strategic, more ambitious and more successful, rather than stroke your ego based on past actions.
Being around smart, accomplished people will push you to higher heights. Attending my first TED Conference was both thrilling and intimidating, but the experience turned me into a regular attendee and, a few years later, a TED speaker myself. Connecting with the American Society of Journalists and Authors made me realize how much further I could go with my writing, inspiring me to become an active member and eventually join its Board of Directors. You should connect with people who help you recognize and encourage you to be your highest self.
Make the time: Our lives can be a blur of late nights/early mornings, airport hopping and crunch times. Cultivating a reliable set of colleagues and mentors should be built into your schedule, just as you would make time for strategic planning or for budget allocation.
Consider the return on investment. I recently offered to take a wise colleague out for an expensive meal. What I got was advice that helped me wrap up my startup gracefully. The priceless insight not only required me setting aside time for the dinner, but also energy building and cultivating the relationship to the point where I could have a long dinner with them. Relationships take time.
Talk to folks in other disciplines: Artists can often be bad businesspeople not because they are awful at math, but because they don't mingle with MBAs and accountants who could give them advice. It is easy to stay in the comfort zone, and it gets harder as we get older.
Connecting with other, different professionals becomes even more important after we get established. Early in our career, we are eager for leads, feedback and direction. As our work stabilizes, though, we think we already have the contacts we need and assume the work will continue to flow. It's not until we need the insight of an advertising specialist, or a media journalist, or another highly-focused professional outside of our field that we realize how narrow our circle has become. You don't want to be facing a difficult business decision and have no one to give you an informed opinion on it.
How are you building a reliable entrepreneurial community for yourself?