As a start-up founder (or soon-to-be founder! ), you probably have more on your plate than even you want to think about. So adding another regular activity with scheduled meetings onto your calendar might sound, well, unnecessary.
But, there’s one that’s definitely worth your time: a founder’s network. No matter what stage you’re at in your business, joining a group of founders who meets regularly to support each other’s entrepreneurial ventures is one of the best things you can do for your company.
Here’s a secret: Running a start-up isn’t like anything you’ve ever done before. You’ll face different sorts of problems—finding a way to pay employees, acquiring users, raising funding —and it can get lonely. So it’s to your advantage to have a network of people who “get” exactly what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the unique struggles you’re facing each day.
What’s more, being part of a network helps you develop long-term relationships with other founders, which is key when you’re looking to find (or refer) clients, a co-founder, or employees down the line. You can ask for help and advice from founders who’ve been where you are before , and you can pass your own wisdom and expertise along to others as you learn. It’s a win-win.
So, where do you find one of these networks? If you know where to look and what to look for—you’ll be well on your way to getting involved in one that will be a great fit for you and your business.
Where to Look
There are founder’s networks, formal or informal, no matter where you go. And while many groups are open to anyone, others are closed, meaning you need to be invited by a member or meet certain criteria, such as the size of your company.
As with anything, one of the best ways to pick a network is to get a recommendation. But there are other ways to identify potential networks, too, especially if you’re new to entrepreneurship and your space:
What to Look For
Once you’ve identified a few groups that look interesting, how do you know whether they’re the right fit? In addition to figuring out whether the logistical details work for you (location, days and times of meetings, any cost), there are several important factors to consider:
First, think about the composition of the group. Is it a larger group or a smaller one—and in which setting are you more comfortable? Large groups will give you access to a larger number of voices and viewpoints, and you're likely to make a larger number of connections. But many smaller groups act almost as mini advisory boards, where you can get focused time to share and get advice on your specific needs and challenges. For some people, it makes sense to join both types of groups, or to regularly attend a small group and occasionally attend events with larger ones.
Next, look at whether the members come from similar or diverse backgrounds. Are most people from your industry, or do they span a variety of fields? Are the founders at the same stage of their business (launching, growing, second stage) or do they range? Founders in a homogeneous group may be facing similar challenges, but a mixed group may provide you with a broader perspective and access to advice from people who’ve been where you are and succeeded. So think about what’s most appropriate for the stage of business you’re at. If you’re working on getting users on board, industry groups can be great. On the other hand, if you’re deciding how to set your company up, a wider range of viewpoints can be helpful—but a group that’s comprised primarily of established start-ups focused on growth might not be the best fit.
A Girl’s Club?
One of the biggest considerations will be whether you want to be part of an all women’s founders group . For many women, this environment is more comfortable, plus it can be a great sounding board for the specific challenges you’ll face as a female founder. That said, don’t ever hesitate to be one of the only women in the room—there’s nothing wrong with mixing up the scene (the start-up world could definitely use it!). Plus, you can always encourage other women to join, too!
The Right Format
In addition to the composition of the group, see if the format of the meetings works for you. Are you required to go to every meeting, or is there some flexibility? What percentage of the meeting time is devoted to a formal presentation versus members having the opportunity to talk and ask each other questions? Also, look at how members interact online (via email, Twitter, Facebook) and how responsive they are to each other’s questions—at some point you’ll want to solicit feedback in between meetings, and you can learn a lot about the group dynamic from these online interactions.
Most importantly, remember that even if a group seems like it’s great from the get-go, you’ll probably need to attend a couple of times to make sure the format and the people are a good fit for you. Don’t be afraid to try out several groups before you select one or two, or to join a new group if your current one isn’t meeting your needs—after all, these are people who will be integral in helping build your business!
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Photo courtesy of Dell's Official Flickr Page .
Nillie Goldman MBA, MSW, LSW is the Founder and Publisher of WebToTheRescue.com, a completely free and unbiased entrepreneurship website designed to help founders build their companies quicker, easier, and with more support, thereby increasing their chances of success. Follow @webtotherescue on Twitter.More from this Author