Solopreneuring can be lonely, but it doesn't have to be.
If you aren’t in an area with a vibrant startup community, it can make you feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway. We all need community, especially when we're doing something as difficult as starting a business, all on our own, with our own funds. Startup communities can be a great source of support, and brilliant places to find your own tribe.
I recently read The Startup Community Way, by Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway. Yes, the same guys who built startup communities like Techstars for over 30 years, and I am so grateful for the wisdom contained in this book. I've been on the receiving end of all the benefits of communities that Brad and Ian talk about in this fantastic book. I highly, highly recommend it.
I also know you're in a time crunch. So, while the book recommendation still stands, I'm also giving you the high points here.
The big seven
Brad and Ian talk about seven capital assets that are the core requirements to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and produce real economic value for startups, and in so doing, the larger economy.
1. Intellectual capital: Ideas, information, technologies.
We know this from experience - it is very, very rare that an innovative, disruptive idea springs fully formed from the mind of a single human being. I'm not waiting for it to happen to me - my ideal mind works better when stimulated by conversation, while reading, sitting in webinars by really smart people, and even while watching TED talks! For most of us, our best ideas evolve iteratively. For me, they get even better when I talk to a peer who can validate and poke holes in them, so I can make them stronger.
2. Human capital: Talent, knowledge, skills, experience.
Even for a solopreneur, building a startup isn't a solo operation. I lean very heavily on my mentors, on technical talent who partner with me from time to time, and on investors. Startup communities and others which I will list later in this post are great sources for all of these. Moreover, they're a great source of human capital I'll need down the line, and it gives me great confidence to know that when I need them, I'll likely have a pool of really great candidates to pick from.
3. Financial capital: Revenue, equity, debt, funding.
Most solopreneurs I know start with their own funds, then include their friends and family, then local angel investors and ultimately, venture capital. In the angel investor and venture capital world, nothing works better than a warm introduction. Good entrepreneurs also learn from one another and are generous with their learnings. I can't even count the number of times that a peer has given me critical insight into the intricacies of financing my startup baby, and kept me from making costly mistakes.
4. Network capital: Relationships, connectedness.
I'm a sales guy, I can schmooze at a cocktail party. But, if I'm being honest, I much prefer industry conferences, hackathons and startup weekends where my mind is being blown by speakers and experienced leaders. Some of the best connections I've made is when I've had an aha moment during someone's presentation and turned to the guy next to me, only to have him turn to me and say, "Wow, that was powerful, huh?". Kindred spirits make the best support systems.
5. Cultural capital: Mindset, behaviors, history.
A great idea won't survive a bad mindset. Starting a business is a marathon, not a sprint. We're going to get knocked down and rejected over and over and over. It's the job. We need thick skin, and sensitive ears, and they don't happen automatically. Moreover, what makes it even more complex, is that sometimes, these rejections are valid. Our ideas aren't good enough to survive the market. Striking that balance between a gung-ho attitude and being receptive to what's really happening takes practice, and a circle of supportive voices who understand that sometimes, the best form of support is a reality check.
6. Physical capital: Infrastructure, density, place quality.
Startup neighborhoods develop more naturally in larger cities and innovation hubs. While the US has the startup neighborhoods model down pat, we're seeing them emerge in other parts of the world. These areas seem to spawn diversity in the best way - genders and race, yes; but also points of view, skill sets, and innovative business models.
7. Institutional capital: Markets, a system of laws, stability.
For those of us based in advanced economies, this is less of an issue. However, there are aspiring entrepreneurs the world over who are struggling with supporting infrastructure. Sometimes, the best tactic isn't to swim upstream, it is to relocate to friendlier locales.
Let's start from the start
For me, that place is founder communities. This is where I feel most supported, and these are almost always the best places to start because as a solopreneur/entrepreneurs, we have lots to learn about everything we'll need to begin with. I find that spending time in these communities, in the beginning, gives us the sea legs we need to navigate other communities with more ease down the line.
Here are some of my favorite founder communities, listed in no order of preference.
GrowthMentor makes it easy to connect with other experienced founders for mentorship. GrowthMentors are all highly vetted, not only for their demonstrated exceptional skills in starting and growing a real startup but also for their soft skills and ethos necessary to be successful as a mentor. Beyond offering the ability to book calls with over 200 vetted mentors, GrowthMentor membership also includes access to a highly engaged Slack community where members can network.
GrowthX is a founder’s package to become a growth leader. It’s a great place to get macro insight from the best in business and the talent pool here is phenomenal. The community allows you to the soundboard with exceptional leaders through slack channels and forums as well as in person through curated networking sessions and offline meet-ups.
Upekkha is a fantastic community to learn. In fact, SmartCue is a Upekkha UP-22 cohort startup and I swear by the effectiveness of this community. This founders' community gives you access to real-life lessons and up-to-date resources that can help create results faster. Being part of a group like this can also save you years by preventing careless mistakes!
PreSalesCollective is a global community for pre-sales professionals to connect, learn, & grow. They provide pre-sales professionals with the resources, knowledge, network, and mentorship. Their forums allow you to build deeper, more meaningful connections with other pre-sales professionals for support, advice, and new opportunities.
Indie Hackers is a founder community where successful founders or individual “Indiehackers” share their stories and insights. At its core, it is a community that encourages sharing and honest conversations about starting and growing an online business while remaining independent.
Founders Network is a peer mentorship community focused on tech startup founders. Peer mentorship is lifelong, and members can tackle tactical issues through an online mentorship platform. Strategic issues can be solved using the community’s private Peer Advisory Board. Moreover, benefits include warm introductions to angel investors, venture capitalists, potential collaborators, and speaking opportunities, and you also get access to over $500,000 in startup discounts from Founder Network’s partners.
No Code Founders
The No-Code Founders community is focused on founders and entrepreneurs building businesses and products without code. Members get perks such as exclusive discounts for no-code platforms, tools, and events, and can also learn how to build a profitable no-code business at the monthly AMAs with the founders and top community members.
FoundersBeta is a great place where startups can find talent, and talent can find jobs at the fastest-growing startups. Members attend monthly online job fairs, remote networking, and online co-founder events. Additionally, they get access to courses on running startups and support with their product launch.
I've a soft spot for this one. Product Hunt is a community where product-loving aficionados and fanatics share and geek out over the latest websites, mobile apps, and tech products. It’s popularly termed the place to discover “the next big thing” in tech. A good product launch here reverberates through the ecosystem.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. These are just the communities I've been a part of, and I personally like them best. I would encourage you to do your own research on this one - depending on your idea, your business model, your startup stage, and your physical location, there are communities that are just right for you, and I've missed them on my list here.
Beyond founder communities
There are a number of social media communities that really pack a wallop. I use Discord, Slack, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, as well as WhatsApp and even boring old email. There are a number of lists out there that will guide you to existing communities that are specific to your needs. This list from Feedough is a great place to start.
Wherever you choose to start, my recommendation remains that you start building your communities yesterday. It doesn't need to take up huge swathes of your time and attention either. I, for one, don't keep notifications on (except for Slack, which I use for work), or I wouldn't get any work done. I do, however, schedule some time each day dedicatedly to communities. There are days when I receive and days when I contribute. Sometimes, I get on a quick call with someone from my mentor group. The point is, I touch base with *someone* every single day. It keeps me from feeling like Tom Hanks, and it keeps me grounded.
It is a wonderful time to be a startup - so much is happening all the time, so much is changing, so many new ideas, and so many amazing minds to engage with. For a solopreneur like me, toiling away in my own little cave, it can be a lifeline on the days when things go sour. Equally, it is a place to share the little wins, that I know my family would cheer for, but wouldn't necessarily appreciate fully. In a nutshell, I've found my tribe.
Today, my wish for you is that you find yours.