This is one of a few critical markers for your community maturity.
Our first influencers are the people we live with (parents, siblings, grandparents). This is a natural state where we are seeking approval, advice, and love. As we grow, we find others that influence our behavior (peers, teachers, friends). All of these influencers are easy to connect with – they are across the kitchen table or you see them in class every day.
A startup community is no different. In a healthy startup community there are natural influencers who emerge. Many times, they are the individuals who convene meetings, events, and startup programs like incubators, accelerators, and co-working spaces. These are important activities that drive beneficial interactions.
These influencers are important agents in the startup community – and in the best startup communities, they make themselves available to others. This is one of the key distinguishing factors that separates vibrant startup communities from the rest.
Sometimes the influencers are investors (angel, micro fund, VC). Investors are unsurprisingly viewed as influencers because the scarcity of capital gives those who wield it a ton of impact on community behavior. Many investors don’t realize how their actions set a tone for the community as a whole. Unfortunately, the nature of being an investor is one where there is an obvious curation or judgement on who to meet with.
In many less-developed communities, new entrepreneurs are viewed as community influencers simply because they are often the only individuals talking about startups. I applaud and appreciate their work as pure evangelists. They serve an important role but unfortunately at some point they need to be all-in on their startup not the community.
Successful entrepreneurs are my favorite type of community influencer; they have real-world experiences and advice to share, they usually have an ability to allocate time, and carry with them a credibility that the other influencers don’t have. This credibility cultivates a higher-level startup community when these successful entrepreneurs stand up and lead.
A critical signal for your startup community is how accessible are your community influencers?
Do they show up at events? When at events are they off in the corner or are they out front like a politician? Are they effective networkers and try to get everyone some facetime? Do they hold office hours to listen to and advise interested parties one-on-one? In these meetings are they “available” or are they checking their phone every 3 minutes.