An Entrepreneur’s First Co-Founder: The Community
To do great work, you need community. I don’t think people generally comprehend just how important it is.
If you’re not the social type, perhaps you can get more work done today and tomorrow working behind closed doors. But if you do this long enough, you start to lose touch with the world. Your work becomes more and more irrelevant. What you can learn from your network is vast. And when you work in a community, you get hints along the way about which direction you should take.
Whether you’re a research scientist or a writer, the importance of community is there. And if you’re an entrepreneur, it goes even further: the community defines your chances of getting an outcome—any outcome.
“Release your product early and often,” they say. Your personal community, your user community (the small one that exists), and the entrepreneurial community will put you to the test. As you iterate, you’ll learn whether or not you’re on the right track.
When entrepreneurs are sequestered off by themselves, they wilt, at least just a little bit. And that little bit matters when you’re on a treacherous rollercoaster or on a dangerous mission searching for the Holy Grail. People who are as independent and gritty as entrepreneurs may not always like to admit these things. But I experienced it first hand. For a period of time, I had to work by myself. This was a discouraging time. Worst of all, it was terribly unproductive.
Then I realized this is a problem that many people in my situation likely had and that I had a unique opportunity to help alleviate it on a small scale. On the first floor of the building I live in, I had everything a group of entrepreneurs needed to work— desks, Internet, a ping pong table—so I decided to invite a few of my fellow entrepreneurs to work with me. Soon, a few joined me, and like magic, my ability to do great work was completely restored. The productivity of my new “co-workers,” most of whom had also been working alone, also increased. And along with it, our enjoyment of our work soared. (You can read more about our work group here).
The entrepreneurial environment is very cultural, and emerging companies are a product of the ecosystem. If money was made in enterprise security software yesterday, you’ll likely have an investor culture more friendly to enterprise security software today. Where there’s funding, entrepreneurs tend to follow. And where there’s a high density of entrepreneurs, there is energy and innovation and brilliance.
A high density of entrepreneurs is key to this entire cycle. When you have strong connections between the right minds, you have a lot of potential energy. It is only a matter of time before a spark comes along to ignite it.
Recently, thought leaders, particularly Bill Warner (an Xconomist), have started conversations about improving the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem. In a recent blog, Bill outlined the “plays” necessary to grow the region. These plays include finding new talent, funding first-timers, pushing each other, and spreading success.
To help with such steps, we should think about our community centerpieces—Xconomy, Cambridge Innovation Center, MIT Enterprise Forum, MITX, and so on—and examine the role they play in the ecosystem. Then, identify the gaps that can be filled. Are Boston’s university students aware of the Boston startup ecosystem? Do zero-stage entrepreneurs have an environment that spurs them on in Boston? These are examples of questions that need to be considered..
Gaps in the community drain potential from the ecosystem. I know from experience—I found myself in one. But in a community as motivated as Boston’s, I’m confident these gaps will be filled. I know I intend to play my role in the effort. Others are already hard at work.