I run a software developers group in Reno, NV called Northern Nevada Software Developers Group. Within the contexts of Startup Communities, our group acts as a feeder, but unfortunately we haven’t been as welcoming to entrepreneurs as we should have been. Conversely, some of our guest entrepreneurs haven’t been as good at consuming our material as they could have been. What follows are some observations and pointers to help make industry groups better feeders and entrepreneurs better users of such resources.
We get a wide range of entrepreneurs that attend our meetings. Unfortunately the vast majority of these entrepreneurs only attend one meeting. During that meeting, they make a feverish pitch for their newly minted company which typically motivates one or two developers to get more information, but many pitches often result in no interest at all.
I didn’t quite know how to put this issue into words until I read Startup Communities. The mantra of “give before you get” really applies to our situation and having entrepreneurs blow in and out after one session certainly doesn’t have any “give” to it. In the group members’ and my view, most of entrepreneurs are only showing up to get a few warm bodies on a project. They aren’t there to learn something or foster any sense of community. Meanwhile, I’m spending time, effort and money to engender a sense of community for developers and I want entrepreneurs to be a part of our ecosystem.
This pattern of “get before giving” has led me to be less accommodating to the entrepreneurs at our meetings. In most situations I’ll allow them to do a short pitch, but I’m often not very encouraging of their ventures and am generally quite standoffish. Over time this behavior stifled entrepreneurial interest and the experience has taught me that I need to be much more inclusive and welcoming to the entrepreneurs that attend our meetings, no matter their intentions.
I started inviting entrepreneurs to speak to our group in the hopes that it would help inspire more entrepreneurship both within the group and the community, but our meetings haven’t been well attended. I think this bears out Startup Communities’ point that there are entrepreneurs, and then there’s everyone else. I’ve come to understand that our role as a feeder is to encourage entrepreneurship and the commingling of professionals with entrepreneurs seeking talent.
My perception of the startup ecosystem has of course been colored by my own experiences. Having been one of the first full-time employees of a local startup I know the trials and tribulations of working at a young company. Long story short, the company failed and the experience didn’t exactly motivate me to want to join another early stage startup. Since then I’ve often dissuaded others from joining startups in the hopes of saving them from having to experience the same end result. I’d like to believe that I’m protecting the group members, but I’ve learned that I need to let everyone make their own choices. The fact is, their individual startup experiences will ultimately differ greatly from my own. So, if a group member wants to hear my stories, I’ll open up and tell them, but I’ve ceased trying to actively persuade them.
Expecting startups to fail is a failure on my part and is a perception I need to change. It’s not easy to walk away from a failure you’re a part of and for a long time I was embarrassed about my own startup failure. Young startups fail all the time, many of them for reasons that are impossible to overcome, but in my case I felt I should have and could have done something about it. Becoming comfortable with the the natural life-cycle of the startup ecosystem is something I need to work on and attending various events like startup wakes, open coffee clubs and hackathons will hopefully put me on the right track.
Industry groups are an important part of the feeder ecosystem. As a group, we can add a lot of value to our startup community, but in order to do so it’s vital that we check our preconceived notions at the door or we’ll never be the best feeders.