“Harvest” the Social Tribe for a Startup
I have been very fortunate for the last 15 years to surround myself with fun and smart people in my life outside of work. I typically refer to this group as my social tribe, or even Tribe 416. Although my social tribe does intersect with my work tribe, the main focus of the social tribe is VERY different. This is the group of people who I forward random emails too, that I invite over for impromptu BBQs, or bullshit about Sleekfest shirts.
Like most social tribes, when you are a part of the tribe you feel like your tribe is stronger than others. We have no shortage of that, and it is a fun part of being part of a tribe (social or work). You feel like you can tackle problems in your wheelhouse and do it better than anyone. Ever.
Cocky much? But that feeling is intoxicating. As I have covered in an earlier post, I have had that feeling in a work tribe in the past and certainly there is no shortage of it with Tribe 416. However, once that environment was absent from my 8-12 work day, I was CRAVING it. And in fact many of friends had never really experienced it at work. So why not try to leverage our personal relationships, our experiences, and our smarts (albeit somewhat warped at times) as a group and start a business?
So in early 2011, a core group of us started to put our heads together to brainstorm ideas. We all had full-time jobs so these meetings had to occur after work. Fortunately for us, this was when we typically gathered. We called our meetings “Harvesting the Power of Us” and for several meetings we gathered together to talk business (with more than a little bit of Sleekfest shirt design mixed in with plenty of Natural Light). We even put together a draft charter documenting the purpose and process for turning the ideas into reality.
Each of us has achieved success in our own industries. We have also all worked together on trips, parties and other social activities. So it is time for us to combine our diverse expertise and experience and come up with a profitable venture — a business to run or an idea to sell.
In early 2011, XXXX shot an email to XXXX proposing the idea of forming some sort of Think Tank or Mastermind Group with some of our friends to develop ideas. The ultimate goal being to develop a potential business or product that we can take as far as we want. They both basically had the same notion: “Why haven’t we already done this?” Well maybe it was more along the lines of “Why haven’t our drunken asses and all our jackassery amounted to something?” Business416 was born.
Out of the 3-4 meetings came 41 ideas. Like most brainstorming ideas there were no bad ideas. The more the better, and we gathered ideas both at the meetings and before and after meetings. From those 41 ideas, about 5 ideas made the cut to be flushed out to more well-formed business cases owned by 1-3 people. All of this was captured online (thank you Google Docs) and was discussed pretty heavily for a period of about 3 months.
So the result? In May/June 2011 we petered out. Organizing and running effective meetings took work, and at the time, nothing really caught enough of our attention to do the work to turn something into reality. Although the result is disappointing, it was fun and I learned a lot from the experience.
- Meetings Must be Organized, Transparent, and Drive to Decisions - I know this sounds like a no-brainer to most, and I have learned this over my work career for years. However, it was further reinforced in this environment. Bring together a group of folks that don’t know each other well? You have problem generating discussion. Bring together a group of close friends? The problem is focusing! I even insisted on minutes and action items. You think I have been working in the government for too damn long?
- An Idea Needs a Passionate Owner Willing to Do The Work - We had plenty of good ideas, some that could and probably still can make money. But seeing ideas to fruition takes TIME and requires re-prioritization of other endeavours (like wings, drinking, and even regular work). When we were in the first couple of meetings this was easy. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm. But once the new ideas stopped, it was time to actually DO. And at the time no one really found something they could truly pour themselves into…a necessity for an entrepreneurial effort.
- Necessity Breeds Action – All of us had jobs that paid well and ultimately were not too unhappy. Like myself, we wanted to find something that we owned and was OURS. But, because many of us were in the middle of what Ben Sands calls the “Danger Zone”, there was no external motivation to move forward and give something a try. It is hard to venture into the unknown when the known isn’t that bad.
I like to hope that this process helped all of us consider the path we want to take in our careers. Today we still talk about these ideas and even document where they could go if they were encouraged to flourish. For me, it helped me codify that even if I don’t have the idea, or own the business, or run the website, I want to help those in my social or work tribe see their ideas to fruition. Seeing someone passionate about an idea is infectious, and any help I can provide to make it flourish gives me a great amount of significance and joy!
Project Manager and Solutions Architect
Project Manager and Solutions Architect with national-level technology advising and business development experience. With over 14 years of experience, I have successfully supported multiple DoD and IC customers in the areas of identity management, network interoperability, cybersecurity, Web 2.0 technologies, shared services, collaboration systems, and information sharing. Possessing a unique ability to translate complex technical concepts into business processes to meet strategic mission needs, I was requested by the White House National Security Staff (NSS) to serve as technical advisor for the development of the President's 2012 National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding (NSISS). A former co-founder and CTO of Ennovex Solutions, a technology services firm specialized in adapting solutions for government and technology sectors, Mr. Heald has expertise driving business development, leading proposals, and capturing new business.
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