There are two vital things that the "loners" - the boy in the basement or the girl in the garage - are lacking (apart from cash, company and commiseration) in trying to build businesses by going it alone or sitting in some coffee shop/co-working space.  The first is  the value, impact and influence of the entrepreneurial environment they're missing out on, with its almost tangible atmospheric benefit of contagious energy, excitement, and osmosis. Second, is the aggregated power of connecting with the people assembled in an amazing and enormous place who could be surrounding, supporting  and sustaining these guys as they build their companies. That includes the ones they're specifically going to need to meet and hire (sooner rather than later) if they really want to see their startups grow and succeed.

Seeing others succeed around you is often the single most powerful spur to your own success and a powerful tool to help you model your own behavior. Looking and listening is how we learn.  As Springsteen says,  he learned more from a 3-minute record than he ever learned in school.  Lateral, high-speed learning is a critical skill for digital startups right now, especially as technology keeps quickly leaping from applications in one industry to the next and across markets. Seeing not only becomes believing, it also becomes the shortest path forward. If you can see it and share it, you, too, can be it. And duplicating and design drafting others' ideas and innovations aren't just forms of flattery, they're essential business strategies and skills. See When to Steal From Other Founders.

There's a reason that vacuums suck and almost no chance at all these days that anyone is going to build a real business by themselves. It's what you learn after you know it all that makes all the difference. And you can't learn all this stuff by yourself or in school. You can only effectively expand your knowledge beyond your own experience base by learning directly (mentors and coaches) and indirectly (instances and examples) from qualified others who've been where you're headed and who've done successfully and repeatedly what you're trying to do. One hit wonders may be super smart, but it's an even money bet that they were just right-time, right-place lucky. Not a lot of worthwhile and transferable lessons in their experience.

No one can actually teach you to be an entrepreneur, but at 1871 we can show any entrepreneur how to be better, smarter, more effective and more likely to be a winner. That's what we do every day.  People who think that incubators and accelerators are all about coffee, beer or real estate really don't know squat. The best of breed mega-incubators like 1871 are all about a community focused on ongoing learning and shared experiences. We say "learning" because while "education" is something supposedly done to you, real learning is done by you. One of the earliest things you learn at a place like ours is that the closer you sit to the action, the better the view and the more rapidly you absorb information. There's just no substitute for paying careful attention. You learn a whole lot more by observation than you do from conversation and you never learn anything important by talking. And today what you will ultimately earn depends entirely on what you learn.

One of the most powerful aspects of the hyper-active and serendipitous environment at 1871 are the hundreds of planned, programmed and accidental interactions, intersections and connections that are constantly taking place between the 1,600+  members, mentors, sponsors, investors, partners, educators, government officials and just plain-old visitors and guests who spend time here at the fast-beating heart of Chicago's technology ecosystem. If you think you can't afford to be part of such a place, all I can tell you is that you really can't afford not to be and if you think education is expensive, try being ignorant in today's competitive world and see where that gets you. The truth is that you can't learn anything unless you're willing to risk something.

It's only after you choose to leave a place of such aggressive and ferocious learning that you really come to appreciate what you had and what you largely took for granted because the benefits were so much a part of just being there that they blend into the overall environment. We used to say (in the game business) that you never knew the real value of a brand or celebrity endorsement until you no longer had one. It's very much the same kind of thing when new entrepreneurs are embedded in the kind of all-encompassing bubble that we've built for our member businesses. See "6 Reasons to Stay in the Incubator." In this life, you often don't really know what you got 'til you lose it.

 At 1871, we've made startup success into an actual science. We've learned a great deal over the last couple of years, which lets us continue to set the curve and raise the bar for what really matters if you want to help entrepreneurs build better businesses. And we've learned - apart from the foregoing - that it all comes down to four critical considerations that are a part of everything we strive for:

(1)  It's critical to learn to be fast first - then you can take the time and have the luxury to work on being the best at what you do. Successive approximation always beats postponed perfection.

(2) It's critical to develop the ability to continually learn and then to constantly re-learn the essential skills in your business and to expand those skill sets as well. You and your team can never be reluctant to do so.

(3) It's critical to be able to rapidly draw on the talent, resources and funding that you will need to immediately scale your startup as soon as the moment is right. You'll never be able to do this fast enough by yourself; you need to make yourself part of a complete ecosystem where all the necessary tools and solutions are readily at hand.

(4) It's critical to develop the ability to learn faster than your competitors since this is the only clear and sustainable competitive advantage from here on out. To do that successfully, you need to be in a place where you're surrounded by challenges, changes and new solutions and not stuck somewhere in a cellar or a silo.

Sounds pretty simple when you say it. Doing it well is a lot harder.

Published on: Feb 23, 2016