Building Value, One Event At A Time
It’s amazing what can start in a coffee shop. These days, you can stop in virtually any Starbucks in cities big and small and find people creating businesses from scratch. No longer content with the typical 9-to-5 life, more and more self-starters are heading down the street for a snack, wifi, and a place to work. In the process they are building communities and networks to help one another.
A coffee shop was the backdrop for the founding of Fosterly, the community for entrepreneurs I helped build here in Washington DC. That sense of “let’s get together over a hot cup of joe and help each other out” is something you used to only find in incubators and venture capital-funded accelerators. Now, it’s as common as the corner cafe. We’ve even seen this spirit of cooperative innovation and entrepreneurship find it’s way into the local, state, and federal levels of government, driving more responsive public services.
Over the past several years, Fosterly has organized or participated in more than fifty events ranging in size from fifteen people to nearly fifteen hundred. We create collaborative co-working sessions where startups, investors, mentors, technologists and entrepreneurs of all kinds can come together to help each other build what they’re working on. Our mission is simple: help connect people who, together, can create opportunities with real and lasting impact.
Through events like the Day of Fosterly and GovFest, we have delivered workshops, panels, and unique engagement opportunities such as Media Match, where entrepreneurs share their stories to journalists in a customized speed-pitch format. Our experience building Fosterly has brought a few key ideas into focus about effective community building. Here are three of the ingredients for our recipe:
1. Stop Networking, Start Building Relationships
I don’t care what anyone else says; business cards are a thing of the past. In an age where it’s easy and convenient to Google someone’s information, it’s less important than ever to get in someone’s Rolodex (if they even still exist!). We believe that, rather than trying to collect names and numbers, connecting with people through collaboration is more effective. As such, we tell our event participants to share their stories with one another. “What made you quit your day job and take the leap” is a lot more revealing than “what does your business do.” We’ve found, time and again, that when you create environments where meaningful connection is easier, you create the opportunity for lasting, valuable relationships.
2. Maintain Focus
We believe that time is a limited, precious commodity, and that it should be respected as such. When you try to do too much, you generally don’t accomplish much at all. Fosterly’s events have been honed over the years to accomplish specific goals that ensure that both important conversations and meaningful actions take place. We drive towards three specific results with each event: a key learning that impacts business materially, a spark of innovation that leads to new opportunities, and a new and lasting relationship that mutually benefits both parties. If we can deliver these three results with every event consistently, we believe the value to participants is almost limitless.
3. Create Value Where None Exists (Yet)
Peter Thiel, serial entrepreneur and author, has been making the rounds for his new book “Zero to One.” In it, he argues that if you want to create and capture lasting value, entrepreneurs should look to build a monopoly. Not the kind that eliminates rivals or secures its place through government promises, but rather the kind that stems from being so good at what you do, no one else can compete. For us, it means differentiation from other events beyond just a better name or a bigger venue. We often ask ourselves “what are we offering that others are not? Why would someone give up their valuable and limited time to attend?” We regularly remind ourselves that, by attending one of our events, participants have to know that the time invested outweighs the opportunity cost.
I’ll be the first to admit - we haven’t succeeded in every instance, but we’ve learned some important lessons about delivering valuable experiences, and we're applying the combined learning from past successes and failures today at Collaborate.
I am so thrilled for Collaborate to begin. I'm thrilled to welcome speakers and participants from all across the innovation spectrum (including government, startups, public policy, and technology organizations), I'm thrilled to showcase entrepreneurship of all kinds, but most of all, I'm thrilled to create a place for all of you to create meaningful, long-lasting relationships (and the coffee's on us).