Seth Godin gave voice to something remarkable in his book, “Tribes.” It’s something that those of us who got online in the early days (pre-Windows, pre-web browser) found so amazing — if not outright addictive. And, it’s the thing that has helped us re-shape our lives ever since. It’s being able to find, relate and build relationships with like-minded people.
In large, densely populated places like New York, finding like-minded people isn’t actually all that difficult. Close proximity to millions of other people mean that you literally meet new people every single day. The law of large numbers is in your favor, because the average person spends most of their waking hours out in “public.”
For the rest of the country, though, it’s more rare. We go from our home to our car (which we sit in alone) to a parking lot at work to a cubical and then maybe to lunch with co-workers (or, if you’re like me, eat at your desk while working — I know, I know), before wrapping up the day, getting back in your car (alone), and driving home.
It’s an existance in which it is possible to go weeks without actually having a real conversation with anyone new. Because in the suburbs, we are all taught to mind the invisible space around us, and not to breech other people’s. We don’t engage in actual conversation with strangers — hell, some of us rarely even manage to exchange pleasantries.
If you’re not socializing with new people, how do you find and build a tribe? And why should that matter for entrepreneurs?
Last Friday was an example of an event that was 100% about The Tribe of the Entrepreneur: Startup Lessons Learned Conference. Held in San Francisco, the event embodied the notion of tribes for two main reasons:
- It was a self-selected group of technology entrepreneurs who have organized themselves around a specific operating and development philosophy when it comes to building new businesses.
- It was simulcast around the world, to groups of tech entrepreneurs in other cities, who have also self-selected into that same philosophically driven community.
Due to scheduling conflicts, I was unable to attend, despite the fact that one of my most regular haunts here in Austin was hosting a day-long simulcast event (akin, in most respects, to a Super Bowl Party). Instead I watched Twitter with an endless fascination. Because my Tweetstream is made up of large numbers of technology professionals and entrepreneurs (and those who worship them), it was almost like watching Twitter or Facebook during the “the big game.”
The spectators became their own kind of sport for those of us not in attendance. And it made me consider the nature of the phenomenon I was witnessing in my rapidly scrolling Tweetdeck screen, and it brought my thoughts back to last week’s comment by Frank Peters: Do entrepreneurs build companies because they are trying to create their perfect tribe?
When I was growing up, my parents (and their collegues) had Active 20-30, Rotary, Kiwanis or Lions as a tribe-building tool for business. But it was an imperfect solution, because those groups were technically chartered to be service organizations. Business networking among professionals within a community was technically just a “perk.” But now there doesn’t need to be any dual meaning or conflicting agendas. If someone wants a business networking group, all they need is a web browser pointed at Meetup.com and a couple of quick search strings to see what’s going on in their neck of the woods.
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road:
- People tell you that your idea is too crazy, too expensive, too impractical, too whatever.
- Your parents don’t quite appreciate that their childhood stories of “job security” are a thing of the past, and constantly encourage you to give up building your own business in exchange for a paycheck and health benefits.
- Your spouse is crabby because you work twice as many hours as you did when you had a J-O-B.
- You start counting taking a shower as your “morning break” and a trip to the gas station a major misallocation of time and resources.
Who on earth could possibly relate to that moment when you can hear two different voices in your head, one telling you to give it all up and leave the headaches to someone else, find a J-O-B and walk away… and the other voice scoffing at being told what to do and when, wearing a suit and sitting in a cubical?
A tribe of other entrepreneurs can.
I talk a lot about why I think we’re in an Entrepreneurial Age and why I believe that entrepreneurship is the new populism, and most of that discussion ends up being about technology. And it’s true, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the tech. But the technology is just the pavement. Before our modern world, an entrepreneur needed a four-wheel drive to handle all the crazy off-road terrain. Now, even if all you’ve got is a skateboard, you can get started. And it’s because now there is pavement, where we used to only have dirt and gravel.
The really cool thing about it, though, isn’t even just how much easier it is for individuals to hit the road. It’s how easy it is to connect with other people on a similar journey. Along the way, without even realizing it, we end up building a tribe. After all, like any good salesman will tell you, success is always all about the relationships.
Do you know how to find your tribe?