Successful Startups Need Supportive Communities

A while back I was reading Paul Graham‘s “What Startups Are Really Like“.  The whole essay is great, Paul has a way of really getting to the point and understanding the culture, pain and joy of startups. I am always grateful that he so openly shares.  There was one part of this essay that really re-enforced something that has been bothering me about our local scene.

Here is an excerpt on community.

17. The Value of Community

… Others were surprised at the value of the startup community in the larger sense:

How advantageous it is to live in Silicon Valley, where you can’t help but hear all the cutting-edge tech and startup news, and run into useful people constantly.

The specific thing that surprised them most was the general spirit of  benevolence:

One of the most surprising things I saw was the willingness of people to help us.  Even people who had nothing to gain went out of their way to help our startup succeed.

and particularly how it extended all the way to the top:

The surprise for me was how accessible important and interesting people are.  It’s amazing how easily you can reach out to people and get immediate feedback.

This is one of the reasons I like being part of this world.  Creating wealth is not a zero-sum game, so you don’t have to stab people in the back to win.

What does it mean locally?

So how does this apply to Metro Phoenix?  As a community we fucking suck at supporting startups. People would rather talk behind each other’s back about a startup instead of give it valuable feedback.  They would rather disrespect what they aren’t doing rather than support the hard work being put into it what someone else is doing.  They would rather put time and effort into a product with hype coming out of Silicon Valley than support people doing something in their own backyard.  In a nutshell, it seems we would rather see each other FAIL rather than help each other succeed.  Frankly, it’s quite sad.

So if you find yourself talking about a startup based here, I ask that you do some of the following.

1.  If you are telling someone else how stupid the startup idea is.. Stop.  Find one of the founders.  Have the discussion with them directly.  Be brutally honest.  If you don’t know them, introduce yourself.  Even if it’s via email or twitter.

2.  If you find yourself laughing at feature x y or z.  Stop.  Find one of the founders.  Have a dialog with them about what is keeping you from getting value out of their product.  You might be amazed at their response.

3.  If you find yourself saying they don’t stand a chance.  Stop.  Find one of the founders.  Ask them how they plan to overcome what ever hurdles you see them having.  If there is anyway you could help them, do it.

4.  If you find yourself liking a product but not getting involved. Start.  Find one of the founders.  Ask them how you can help them promote their product for them.

The bottom line is if you aren’t finding a founder and being honest with them, you aren’t helping the startup community. You are only hurting it.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is be honest with someone.  I am not asking people to “cheerlead”, but instead engage with one another so that we can really start the process of community building.  We MUST stop attacking people and instead tackle problems.  So pretty please, with sugar on top, lets all do a better job of supporting those that are trying the near impossible task of starting up.


  1. Thanks for this Derek! I think maybe the community gets jaded by so many startups [or rumors of startups] that a new one stops seeming like a cause to get behind and starts being “yet another one of his schemes…”

    Directly confronting this is a great idea.

  2. I’m still new enough to this area to not really “feel” all the back-stabbing etc. that you describe, but I believe you. Interestingly, I think this gives me a valuable different perspective. I’ll bet that if more “new blood” moved to this area and entered the tech/creative scene, a lot of this problem would abate, since entrenched interests and old grudges would be diluted by new energy and ideas. I know that when *I* moved here, what *I* saw was a great, energetic community of talented people and innovative ideas like Gangplank. I fell in love with it instantly. I believe others will, too, if they will come.

  3. Part of the problem is the Phoenix metro has long had an economy based on amenities for retirees, golf, real estate and tourism, never really has had a strong tech economy outside of chip making and aerospace. The hideous summer weather is a big deterrent as well to many people.

  4. Incredibly well said! I think that some of the unsupportive behavior which goes on in Phoenix is a product of the business community here. This hasn’t been a tech startup environment in the past, so people aren’t used to them. Many business people are more used to the “I win, you lose” mentality, rather than the “I win, we all win” concept.

    Thanks for posting this and thanks for trying to change that mentality.

  5. it really is ridiculous to even think that Phoenix, or any other “technically evolving” community, should try and compare themselves with communities that have been successful in the past or present (regardless of geolocation). I hear so often from locals how Phoenix, as a whole, needs to figure out what works for us and run with it, but the leaders that claim to be at the forefront of the revolution are the same group that are the first ones to knock down the efforts of those that do NOT personally support your cause.

    Here’s a thought, work harder on your start-up and it’s relevance, get an equally supportive marketing team to sell your product, and open up the market to any and all interests (investors), regardless of location, and go from there.

    It just seems non-productive to call out those whom have not conformed to the same model in order to spark a revolt. Show me something that I can grab onto, in this volatile market, that makes me feel like I am part of something that can either make a difference or change the way we think, before you just write me off as someone who does not give a “fuck”!

  6. Good advice, and for more than startups. It’s amazing how negative words or casual snide remarks propagate and make their way around.

    It would be great if people would either try to work with people trying to get something off the ground, or at worst be silent rather than pick away.

    A real community will always have people with different goals and methods, and we should always support others fighting a common battle.

  7. We also need to stop taking things personally. Critiquing ideas is just that and has nothing to do with relationships. Thicker skins would be nice.

    Oh, and if you’re not willing to put your name and face on what you say, your opinion doesn’t count. At all.

  8. Phoenix has never lacked passion, as exemplified by the post and the comments. That’s a good thing as we cannot have community without passion!

    I’ve been to a few meetups here in the valley and things are moving in the direction of Derek’s vision. Its a natural process and it will happen, we can’t force it, we can just help it along.

    Events like Ignite, HackNight, TiE, [Insert Random Word Here]Camp, Open Coffee, Startup Drinks, and many many others are the second steps past pure passion and into organization.

    Organizations and companies like GangPlank, HyLo, OpenRain, Arkayne, Flatterline, and many others up and coming setting the bar higher for what passes as a startup in the valley. This is also a community evolution.

    Mature startup support companies like OffMadison, Terralever, Greenberg Traurig, Quarls & Brady, ATIF, and SkySong are all available to startups. The catch is you have to be a startup by anyone standards, including Silicon Valley, New York, and Houston. Thats the bar being raised in Phoenix.

    So what can we all do right now? To Derek’s point: build awareness, blog, give constructive feedback, Twitter, encourage each other, shine a spotlight once in a while, connect people. It doesn’t cost us much, and its realistic. Few of us are in a position to refer million dollar contracts but we can take 5 minutes here and there to promote something local as much as we promote Google Wave. You don’t have to be my marketing team, just an advisor.

    If you haven’t found anything to get excited about, look a little deeper. I can personally tell you all about how Arkayne will change SEO, revolutionize the web like Google did a decade ago, and revitalize the online marketing industry all while making it a better place for you as a blogger, publisher, and user. I’m on twitter, @ArkayneInc, ask my team about Arkayne anytime.

    Point is help where you can, commit when you can, and follow through on what you can. All that makes you a reliable community member, Phoenix needs more of that.

  9. Derek,

    I’ve recently launched a Phoenix-based startup to help realtors find information on foreclosed properties. I was reading blogs of local developers, especially posts concerning the startup community. I noticed your post about building and maintaining supportive communities and I thought you might be interested in our project.

    It’s a tool to help relators, investors, and individuals find data on foreclosed properties. We’re a three person company – one of which lives in Phoenix. It’s built with Rails and jQuery. You can check it out at – Let me know if you’d like a login.

    More importantly, I’d like to learn more about what’s happening in Phoenix. It seems like a pretty solid community – at least based on your recent posts. I feel the same way living in Chicago. Things are really starting to happen here. It’s exciting.

    Nice work on the blog, btw. I plan on starting something along these lines myself very soon.

  10. Cory,

    Awesome to see another startup here.. Would definitely love to hear more about what you guys are doing. It’s always great to find other creatives doing great stuff.


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