Don’t Lean Too Heavily on Startup Community Leaders

October 6, 2014

3:32 pm

The morning portion of the first day at our annual Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference is wrapping up, and the early sessions have been ripe with food for thought. We heard Sarah Evans, a digital correspondent for companies like PayPal, Cisco, and Cox Communications, moderate a panel on how we can make our communities a better place for startups.

In attendance on the panel were Lisa Besserman, founder of Startup Buenos Aires; Matt Haggman from the Knight Foundation; Melissa Withers, chief of staff at Betaspring; and John Curtis, acting mayor of Provo, Utah. Each panelist was able to offer unique insight into startup communities based on their own niche experiences.

Evans concluded that, when you have a solid foundation for a strong community, you can then determine what the actual, quantifiable impact on innovation a community can have. And once the community starts to have an impact, it becomes a matter of sustaining that forward momentum.

As Evans aptly noted, though, sustaining momentum is easier said than done. However, those tough moments aren’t without their own reward.

“When the chips are down and the times are tough, it’s an opportunity for honesty that can help cull the community,” said Withers. “Sometimes, building a community isn’t the same as building a company, and we risk getting too drunk on our rhetoric.”

That is, over-saturating a startup community could in fact lead to a decline in actual companies that produce and uplift the community at large.

“Leadership is a double-edged sword. You often need the iconic leadership to penetrate the noise, but if you lean on the tip of the arrow for too long, it will break off,” said Withers. “You need to create the drag that pulls the rest of the community up with you. You need leaders at all levels because we depend on iconic leadership for too long. It starts a gift, then morphs into a crutch, and then ends up as a brick around your neck.”

There’s also the fact that when you’re dealing with a startup community versus your own startup company, the stakes are much higher. Instead of commanding your own fate, you essentially hold the fate of every community member in your hands; it’s bigger than one person and has a calculable impact on everybody’s lives.

So, after all of this, what’s the answer we ultimately arrive at? How are we making our communities a better place for startups?

“Talk less, do more,” said Withers. “Don’t plan, just do, and then quickly assess and do more,” added Haggman.

According to Withers, time is the enemy for startups, and it’s always heartbreaking to see amazing people miss the boat and run out of time. Startup life is a grind, and it will absolutely test you in ways you can’t ever prepare for. But at the end of the day, if you have a supportive startup community around you, you can succeed, maintain that success, and then pay it forward to the next generation of startup founders.

On October 6-7, Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference is gathering hundreds of attendees, industry leaders, and inspiring speakers in downtown Vegas to meet the hottest startups and investors from around the country, learn and collaborate with others turning their communities into startup cities, and enjoy music, parties, and llama spotting. Check out more Tech Cocktail Celebrate Conference coverage here.

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Will is a Senior Writer with Tech.Co, based out of America's Finest City: San Diego. He covers all territory West of the Mississippi river, digging deep for awesome local entrepreneurs, companies, and ideas. He's the resident Android junkie and will be happy to tell you why you should switch to the OS. When he's off the clock, Will focuses his literary talent on the art of creative writing...or you might find him surfing in Ocean Beach. Follow Will on Twitter @WJS1988

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