It feels like there's a community forming…

Just a few late night reflections on the (Sydney-centred) Australian Startup Community, and more particuarly, SiliconBeachAustralia.org at the centre of it.

While I’ve personally been playing the startup game on and off for a while now (first with Internetrix, which is now pretty established, then Omnidrive that taught a lot of lessons on how not to do things, and now Hiive Systems, which we soft launched over the Christmas break), including time in Australia as well as Silicon Valley, I’ve never really felt like I’ve been part of a community. Whether the community I associate with SiliconBeach existed or not in the past is something for others to say, but from my perspective, feeling like being part of the startup community is a fairly new thing.

Almost by definition, being an entrepreneur is a lonely existence.

It isn’t that we’re loners, antisocial or isolationists – there’s good reasons for feeling alone a lot of time.

Firstly, we’re kinda busy a lot of the time – more so than most of our friends or family seem to be – trying to create our dreams, but it really just comes across as being workaholics. Sure, we’re having fun in a perverse way with the stuff that really drives us crazy as we learn the things that don’t work, but it does make for a certain amount of loneliness.

Secondly, the things that we care about – investment, scaling, staff, company structures, marketing and so many more topics – isn’t really pub conversation, so while we’re quite happy to talk about whether Hayden should be dropped from the next Test or not, it probably isn’t the thing at the top of our mind.

I’m sure there’s plenty of other things that lead to being a bit lonely in our endeavours, but its late, and I’ll leave it at that…

The thing I’ve been most impressed about professionally over the 6 months or so is that I’ve seen a community start to form and take shape. Again, it probably existed long before I noticed anything or was included, but this is my blog, so I’ll take a naive 1st person reference point or we could be here all night.

So, why do I think a community is forming?

Firstly, entrepreneurs are building relationships. Real relationships. I’ve actually made real friends, people I’ve enjoyed beers with, had lunches and dinners with, and more than anything, have gotten to know and respect. I like these people, and really enjoy their company, and they seem to tolerate mine. Why are we forming real friendships and relationships? It surely isn’t just the work: I think its about a shared lifestyle, a shared passion, and a shared outlook. I might never work with any of them, and I don’t really care – while entrepreneurship (and thus by proxy business) might be the common thread, its the people at the ends of this thread that are worth knowing. This isn’t some virtual social network substituting for real friends and human relationships.

Secondly, people are having real conversations. Talk is cheap? Sure it is, but it takes time and effort, and you know a community is forming when there’s care and passion in the talking. There’s been a few little dust-ups and differences of opinion, but that’s a good thing in moderation: people care enough to contribute, and as long as they listen to the other guy/girl’s point of view, it’s all good. On the lower friction side of the equation, and following on from the relationships thing above, I’ve just come off a 40 minute Skype chat with @Nickhac, someone I wouldn’t have gotten to know – and massively appreciate and value taking the time to talk to – if it wasn’t for the SiliconBeach community.

Thirdly, people are interacting, not just occassionally, but through both casual and signifcant events that cost much more than money – they cost time. It’s now 4 months since StartupCamp was held in Sydney, and StartupCamp II is coming in a couple of weeks. This is on top of the regular Friday Drinks, a range of other events including BBall, and finally the conference circuit which those of us too busy can follow thanks to the likes of @kcarruthers. 2009 is looking like a bumper year for quality interaction in the entrepreneurial scene. I’m really looking forward to StartupCamp II in Sydney, and I really hope Geekdom can handle us, since there’s something like 90 people already signed up to come. I’m mildly concerned about what we’ll do without Bart there to guide us, but hopefully we learned enough last time around on the maiden voyage to have a stab at it.

A big thankyou… to you

So, in summary, I’d like to thank Elias for kicking off SiliconBeachAustralia.org, and I’d also like to thank all the other people who’ve contributed to the 1400+ messages over the last 5 and a bit months. Lets keep this community growing, and don’t be afraid to say hi – introduce yourself on the list, come along to StartupCamp or follow the action on UStream or startup-australia.org or technation.com.au if you’re too far away to make it in person.

But, most of all, if you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t need to be lonely…

4 thoughts on “It feels like there's a community forming…

  1. Nice post Geoff.

    This came across as really poinent to me…

    “being an entrepreneur is a lonely existence… we’re kinda busy a lot of the time… and… the things that we care about – investment, scaling, staff, company structures, marketing and so many more topics – isn’t really pub conversation”

    Throwing yourself at a company/startup takes all your focus and attention – and if it doesnt, your doing it wrong.

    When you do stop “working” to see friends and family etc, it can feel like you have nothing to talk about because all that has been on your mind for as long as you can remember are startup/company topics.

    Finding a community of fellow founders who can relate to these thoughts/issues/discussions and also add value and cross-polinate new ideas and experience into your own, turns out not only to take away that “lonely” experience of startupland but alse create something of significant value…

    Great post Geoff, and Thumbs up to SiliconBeach

  2. Hi Geoff,

    We’ve been out of the country for a while, but we’ll be at StartupCamp in full force 🙂 We’re back in Sydney on the 10th. Brian Menzies has done most of the organization, but don’t you worry, I’ll be running around like a madman making sure everyone stays on schedule!

    This time it’s held at:

    ATP Innovations
    Suite 145, Level 1, National Innovation Centre
    Australian Technology Park
    Eveleigh NSW 1430

    See you there!

    Bart

  3. Geoff – great post.

    A couple of other observations:
    1. This emergence is a very, very good thing. I’ve been doing stuff since the ’90’s and you are quite correct that even in Sydney it can be an isolated path. Mid-90’s I had a Lotus Notes practice and they developed a community around the partner program – that was close to a “user group” but had a mix of bootstrappers as well.

    2. oz entrepreneurs are often head-down-bum-up trying to figure out how to survive. As technologist we first think of solution/product first and networking second. Its a Maslow thing!

    3. In the bay area there are LOADS of events and supportive connections – walk into a cafe on Ramona or Univ in Palo Alto and basically every table has ppl cooking a business/idea. The eco-system has seen enough success to perpetuate helping each other. Oz could learn a lot about this pay-it-forward culture. Don’t get me wrong, its not purely altruistic – there is self-interest as well 😉

    4. Based on point #2 – I would love to see some meta-activism. We really need to push forward on getting Commercial Ready re-instated or something similar. I have been super impressed with #nocleanfeed campaign on twitter and (IMHO) entrepreneurs need to take similar action in regard to the grant system in oz. In the absence of a robust VC environment in oz the grant system was a critical contributor to innovation – it is completely perplexing that it was removed. I am no activist (yep Maslow again) but I would happily be part of a working group of siliconbeachers who also feel this is important. It does not need to be today – but we should get on it.

    regards
    David

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