Scenes, Communities, Work, and what’s sexy

I recently had several discussions about Think Big KC, one of the bigger events for entrepreneurs in Kansas City. I was encouraging people to attend and lots of my friends and colleagues in our community weren’t sure why I thought it was worth it. This resulted in several side conversations about what really makes a difference to people starting businesses.

First, lets talk about why I believe in Think Big KC. Honestly, I think that Herb, Allison, Sara, Blake, and all of the other people that work to put this event together have their hearts in the right place. I haven’t gotten a single feeling from any of them that they are anything but genuine and that they care deeply about helping to build a stronger entrepreneurial community in Kansas City. That is important to me, because a community is something that takes heart to build. If you do it for the wrong reasons, you end up with a scene.

The problem with a startup scene is that it is too much like a crime scene. There are officials wandering around and everyone is just watching, but hardly anyone is participating. Gossip and news filled with hyperbole end up being more important than doing any actual work. People can be together in a startup scene and not know anything about one another, let alone spend much time trying to help one another. When the noise is over, a scene usually fades into the background and everything returns to normal.

On the other hand, a community is something that takes love and passion. People have to feel an emotional connection with other people in order for a real community to take shape. Individuals in a startup community seek to help one another because they care about each other, which benefits the community by reinforcing the cooperative environment. A community celebrates people who do things, even if they don’t get it quite right. Because the community invests in one another, people usually step up to help people fix things if they miss the mark. Perhaps most importantly, a community lasts as long as there are people that care about the other members and allow new people to find and join the community.

There is another problem with startup scenes. If you are going to live the scenic life, it is natural to want to show everyone how sexy you are. Sexy is what gets you attention on the scene, and we all like a little attention every once in a while. The reason I love Jeff, Dusty, and the rest of my fellow SPN contributors is because they also have their hearts in the right place. They care about community, and this caring pours out at you like an avalanche when you attend Big Omaha. They work tirelessly to bring a good mix of presenters and to make sure we all leave with something useful in addition to inspiration. Even now, Big Omaha has a polish to it that makes it a little bit sexy, which is ok because they focus on the important parts first. Still, sexy is not the goal. Perhaps their biggest challenge in the future will be keeping the event focused on those ideals and avoiding the attractiveness of building a sexy event where people just want to be seen.

When you are building your company, there is what’s sexy, and then there is what works. When those two things meet one another like they do at Big Omaha it is great, but when they don’t, go for what works. Sometimes those of us in technology related fields get caught up in the “tech” way of doing things and we forget that there is an entire world of information on what works waiting for us just outside. I challenge you to go for what works and to not worry about sexy. If you still don’t believe me, think about this:

If you were at Big Omaha, you probably heard Dan Martell share the awesome story of hustle where he was submitting resumes on Dice as a way to drum up business for one of his companies. That’s an awesome hack, and when he tells the story, it sounds sexy! Here is the reality though. I caught up with Dan later and asked him where he got the idea for that awesome hustle, and he said it came from someone he knew that was a sales person for an office supplies company. That is probably one of the least exciting things you could tell someone in our tech communities. Who would spend their time talking to someone in office supplies sales? Well, what this guy would do is follow the delivery trucks of his competitors, find out the schedule, and then try to convert their customers. He told Dan that he needed to find a way to follow the “delivery trucks” in his business. Because Dan cares about what works, he was there to hear some great advice in that moment.

This is what it takes to be good and be different. You have to know what works in your industry, but to get creative ideas, sometimes it takes seeing what works in another industry, perhaps one that isn’t sexy at all. But at the end of the day, what works is what is important. Sexy doesn’t pay the bills. Scenes will waste your time and when they fade, nobody will remember how sexy you were on the startup scene. However, if you invest in your community you will have the chance to change the fortunes and lives of as many people as you want.


About wfjackson3
I am an EE working out of industry. My nights I am writing ruby (on rails). Interested in entrepreneurship, technology, economics, integrated circuits, public policy, water treatment.

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