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.