Inflective Havoc
Reflections on Our Big Entrepreneurial Times from Jan Horsfall

And Then You Give Again …

 After helping found Startup Colorado and Startup Colorado Springs and spending the better part of my free time over the past decade in support of our startup communities in Boston, New York, Colorado, and Colorado Springs specifically, I’m appreciative that there’s a huge difference between folks who really support entrepreneurship consistently and those who veer towards the rut of bureaucracy in some strange, elongated dance suggesting they’re supportive – when they’re really not.

The irony is that the same thing that separates entrepreneurs from non-entrepreneurs – innate passion, belief in innovation, irrational trust in peers, and unconditional support for their brethren – are the same things which slowly get chipped away as many of these once supportive individuals and groups respectively become just another ineffective, form-over-function, acronym – symbolic of bureaucracy and lack of support. Groups that start out supporting our newcos with so much gusto all of a sudden become detached and wither away. And every time I see it happen it makes me sadder than the time I saw it happen before. The only hope is reinvention and a sense of what brought you to the party in the first place. 

One of the difficult things associated with supporting entrepreneurs unconditionally is that there really isn’t much you get for the effort while it’s all taking place. You’re spending hours and hours of time supporting companies who have very little money, very little mileage on the odometer, who are operating against the tallest of odds – and who never pick up a lunch tab. It’s hard to tell people to help area entrepreneurs unconditionally when there’s really nothing in it for them other the good feeling one gets from helping these new companies avoid the risks associated with being startups. I remember Brad Feld suggesting at a Startup Colorado board session that “if people don’t get entrepreneurial support for what it is, then don’t bother with them and move on.”  Amen brother. Said another way: if you’re not willing to help unconditionally for reasons un-associated with your own well being, then please don’t get involved in the first place. And if you find yourself in this position after being an unconditional supporter, then rethink what you’re doing and reset. Otherwise you’ll just waste a lot of peoples’ time.

It always strikes me when the inflection point hits these local and regional support groups and they all of a sudden become more about who they are than the basic idea of supporting the entrepreneurs they set out to represent.  Sadly, too many times when entrepreneurial support groups find a degree of size and shape, they ironically start to quit acting like entrepreneurs and start acting more like the ineffectual bureaucracies they were built to replace! In the worst cases, it’s more about their perception of how they’re being viewed and less about the reality of whether or not they’re really helping startups succeed.

The beautiful, beloved Hawaiian surfer, Rell Sunn, was asked before she passed away at a young age, “why are you such a giving person?” Her response is worth its weight in gold and yet hard for a lot of people to understand: “You give and you give and you give – and you give from here (the heart) – until you have nothing else to give.”  There weren’t any conditions for Rell when it came to giving. That’s what made it easy for her. Entrepreneurial support groups come in all shapes and sizes, but they’d be well put to heed Rell’s commentary. If you’re really supportive of entrepreneurship, then it’s not about what you get in return or how you’re perceived by the community – it’s about giving again, unconditionally, until you have nothing else to give.

While a hard thing to understand in our cynical, ‘what’s in it for me’ society, try to remember what makes supporting entrepreneurship so special to begin with: the entrepreneurs themselves and their success over long odds.

– Jan

     

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