The Personal Value of Community

Three lessons I learned about my journey building community

My journey into the world of community started from the ashes of a failed tech startup over a decade ago. I was a co-founder of a company launching an enterprise human resource analytics platform during a time when the world’s financial systems were on the brink of collapse.

While the global economy certainly did not help, the problems with my startup were more profound and self-inflicted. I learned some important insights about startups from that failure:

  1. Tech startups should not outsource their tech.
  2. Choose your business partners very carefully.
  3. Networking with founders, investors & advisors is not optional.

I could write a book just about the first two points alone, but the last point speaks directly to the idea of community. Driven by ego and pride, I was exclusively relying upon myself to figure things out. The problem was that I was getting a lot wrong and making critical mistakes along the way.

The startup folded, but the lesson about networking hit home. It was towards the end of 2009, and I jumped headlong into the growing Meetup culture in New York City (NYC) to start building the network that I lacked during my startup journey. I went on a startup meetup binge, going to an event every evening of the weekday, and sometimes even doubling or tripling up.

It was during this time that I met a couple of guys looking to bring in top entrepreneurs across NYC to be part of a new startup accelerator program. It was called WeWork Labs, and being part of that first group of fifty was an incredible experience in seeing how a community takes shape. It was the catalyst for shifting my thinking about the importance of community dynamics in unleashing human potential and value creation.

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The personal value of building community

Building a network and being active in the community led to incredible opportunities. I took the lesson of “give to get,” from well-known venture capitalist Brad Feld, to heart, offering my time to entrepreneurs during office hours, advising startup founders, and freely dispensing lessons learned on my blog and growing social media presence. This led to building a great portfolio of startup investments, access to fellow investors and influencers, speaking opportunities, and consulting gigs advising startup founders on building their go to market strategy, sales processes and teams, and fundraising.

One downside though was the challenge of managing my time. I had a habit of saying “yes” to any and all meetings, so I would often meet with a dozen or so startup founders a day in between my other work. Often, each meeting was about the same topic, how to sell to big businesses.

I loved meeting with entrepreneurs, yet, at the same time, it was incredibly draining. It seemed wasteful to convey the same information over and over again. If all these folks have the same questions, why not bring them together with experts on sales to learn as a group? That was the birth of an idea that became the Enterprise Sales Forum.

Consequently, in August 2014, I ran an experiment to see if anyone would come to a meetup with salespeople and startup founders. Six years later, the experiment turned into a movement to catalyze sales professionals worldwide and to raise the bar on sales skills. Of all of my professional achievements, the Enterprise Sales Forum will forever be my proudest.

I share this story because community is not just about building value for others. Community will transform you in ways you will not expect, and always for the better. When you get started on the path of building a community, you will be pushed to learn more, to become resilient, to grow emotionally, and to become a leader of people. I learned all those lessons, and then some.

The value you take from the experience depends on you. If I had to summarize what I learned along the way though, I take away these three lessons about community building:

  1. Keep an open mind, having a growth mindset will help you navigate the twists and turns that comes with creating a community. This means taking risks on occasion and being experimental even in the face of obstacles or naysayers.
  2. Stay humble and embrace that community is a team sport. If you start to see growth, it is easy to jump to conclusions about the future and leap into expansion and monetization. That is the time to pause though and let the community help shape the future instead of doing it yourself.
  3. Take ownership and be generous with praise. Mistakes will happen, situations will arise. Be the leader though and address challenges as they come with honesty and integrity. Conversely, be open with recognition for those in the community that do good work and contribute actively.

I know from my own experience with the Enterprise Sales Forum and many other communities I have been involved in that these lessons hold true. I can also say that in this journey. I have learned more over the past few years than I ever did at any point in my professional life.

My book Community-in-a-Box comes out later this month. If what I shared here resonates or you want to learn more about the in’s and out’s of building community, I encourage you to sign up for the newsletter on the website for announcements about the book release and additional content.

Community building is a wonderful and challenging experience, and the book captures the unvarnished truth about the journey and what it takes. Do not be discouraged that it seems hard! I messed up more times than I care to admit. I alienated chapter leaders, goofed up event logistics, said many dumb things, pissed off sponsors, and got into needless spats with members. That is why this book Community-in-a-Box exists, and why I am sharing this book with you. Hopefully you can take the lessons I share to heart, avoid the pitfalls, and head towards the path of building a healthy and long lasting community!

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Thoughts on developers, digital transformation, enterprise agility, community building & software engineering culture. Author 👉 https://twitter.com/marksbirch

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