At January’s Startup Lean Coffee, we kicked off the new year and new decade with an in-depth discussion about communities, followed by engaging discussions about scaling and fundraising.
With so much of the last decade consumed by online communities formed around social media, many are looking for ways to connect in person.
Social media made connecting easy; but relationships are as difficult as ever to form and nurture. Communities can help members build relationships by curating members, facilitating personal introductions, leveraging in-person activities to build new relationships, and allowing relationships to extend online.
Communities can be defined as groups of people who share common interests. How a community defines itself makes a big difference in who joins it and what value members get from it.
For example, a community of freelancers might be massive and global, consisting of copy writers, photographers, designers, software engineers, project managers, bookkeepers, personal trainers, professional coaches, voice actors, and many more independent professionals. While they might all have similar experiences with the flow of finding work, agreeing to terms, getting paid, and getting health insurance, they may not have much more in common.
On the other hand, a community that only consists of freelance marketers, designers, and software engineers might find that they have a lot more in common with one another, especially in terms of the kinds of projects on which they tend work, allowing them to share more relevant opportunities and even collaborate on projects together and ultimately build deeper relationships with one another.
Betaworks Studios is an amazing community for builders. Members apply to join and member connectors get to know members and facilitate warm introductions where appropriate.
Lunch Club uses AI to make curated connections for 1:1 lunch or coffee meetings.
It’s important to emphasize that curating community members is not a license for discrimination, and countering bias in human- or AI-based curation requires intent.
Technology makes it easy to identify and match people who share a common interest, enabling highly efficient community-building; but online platforms also make it easier to deceive people. For example, advancements in synthetic media allow nefarious parties to create “deep fake” audio and video content that appears to be almost real and may soon be impossible to differentiate from real content without sophisticated analysis. How do people who don’t have PhD’s in Artificial Intelligence know who and what to trust?
Ultimately, humans still rely on in-person interactions to build trust. Meeting in real life may not be very efficient if your goal is to build a large community, but it’s the most efficient way to build a close, trusting community.
Startup Lean Coffee is an example of a close, trusting community. We meet in-person every month and share our experiences, questions, challenges, resources, and expertise in starting businesses. We follow an open meeting format called Lean Coffee to facilitate trust and sharing.
Lean Coffee works for smaller groups. Startup Lean Coffee meetings have been as small as 4 participants and as large as 20. For larger gatherings, try an unconference format.
For networking dinners, try leaving an open seat at the table so that people circulate, talk, and start to build real understanding, trust, and relationships.
Once a community has established a level of trust, extending it online can be incredibly rewarding. Betaworks Studios has a wonderfully vibrant Slack space. Many Meetup groups have extremely active email discussions between in-person meetings. In fact, Startup Lean Coffee was born out of an email discussion of the CTO School Meetup group.
We now have our own monthly meetings and Slack space. We created our Slack space so that we could continue conversations that start at our meetings and allow participants who meet at events to connect directly, anytime, anywhere.
Startup Lean Coffee is a monthly gathering of founders, early employees, advisors, investors, and anyone involved or interested in joining the startup world in any capacity. Our sole purpose is to help each other improve by sharing questions and experiences. All you need to bring is your attention, curiosity, and willingness to share.
We follow a Lean Coffee meeting format, a lightly facilitated meeting where participants democratically build an agenda and discuss each topic for a fixed time, voting to continue discussion or move on to the next topic after the time runs out.
Feel free to continue conversations that were started at our meetings and start new ones on our Startup Lean Coffee Slack workspace. Please treat our Slack space like our in-person meetings: ask questions, share interesting information, create channels.
Startup Lean Coffee is graciously hosted by Betaworks Studios. Participation is free; but space is limited. We usually meet on the 4th Friday of each month. Sign up for the next Startup Lean Coffee, which will be on Friday, February 7th at 9am.