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How To Build a Startup Community

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If you’re feeling lonely in your city (don’t know any other entrepreneurs)… or that it lacks a real sense of community, here’s 3 strategies that will help you create a startup community super quick.

A few years ago when I moved from San Francisco, back to a small town in Canada (to raise my kids)…

I realized I knew more entrepreneurs in every other city in the world than I did in the city I was living in.

After a year of finally figuring out the routine and schedule with my kids, I thought to myself, “I’ve got to get to know more people!”…so I went on a mission.

It started off with a Facebook post asking, “Who do you know? Who are some of the entrepreneurs who are growth minded that you admire in this city?”

I was really surprised that there weren’t a lot of responses – there were maybe ½ dozen names mentioned.

I live in a town with 100,000 people, so I figured there had to be hundreds… they had to be living here!

I started picking up the phone and calling people and quickly realized that nobody had “the list.”

So I decided that I was going to create “the list!”

To me, “growth minded” meant that you had aspirations to double your business within the next 3 years.
I really wanted to get to know them, to understand their story, what they were passionate about and why they started their business.

So, I got their names and sent them a cold email which pretty much said, “Hey, I’m Dan Martell. Here’s my cell number… I’ve got a quick question. I’m free now if you have 5 minutes.”

Surprisingly, people actually responded… it was ridiculous! I even sent those emails to some of the most notable entrepreneurs in the city!

I started building a spreadsheet and over a 3 week period, I cold-called 179 entrepreneurs.

It was really important for me to find people that I shared values with so that I could invite them to an event that I was creating.

So here’s what I did.

1) Create a dinner or an event

…or better yet, combine them into one.

Out of those 179 conversations I had, I whittled it down to 48 people who I felt needed to know each other and created an event called, “The East Coast Kitchen Party.”

Here’s what I promised:

1. Amazing food
2. Incredible people that they were going to meet that they didn’t already know
3. A speaker who was going to be amazing

Regardless if the food was bad – I guaranteed that the speaker was going to be amazing (but I knew that all 3 were going to be great!).

I charged them $80 just to cover my cost and to get their commitment and then created tables of 8 for the dinner.

I brought these people together and what happened as a result was incredible.

We had an amazing speaker, a woman named Shaa Wasmund (if you don’t know her, check out shaa.com).

She came in and delivered a message about how you really need to start looking at the community and giving back – and how the people who have had success need to take an active role in mentoring and sharing with others.

She challenged each table to agree on a date and a location (restaurant) to meet at again in the next four weeks.

Everybody committed to doing that.

I can’t tell you the impact it had on our community and personally on my life.

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I now feel I have a peer group of people I had never met before that are now good friends – people who I recently went on vacation with, people who I call if I’m having a struggle and I want to bounce some ideas off of.

I feel like I’ve really found this new sense of community in the city that I grew up in.

So create a dinner or an event. It could be just 8 people or as elaborate as I did with 48 people. It could be a technology meet up with other tech entrepreneurs.

Whatever it is, just create an opportunity or a reason, to reach out to people and bring them together.

2) Reach out to notable people

Notable people are a really important part of the “ingredients” that need to go into making the event spectacular.
I call them “the elders”… folks that you may not necessarily have a chance to come across throughout your regular day.

Find the people in your community who own the car dealerships, the people who own the malls or the people who you read about in the newspaper – the older people.

These are the people who have experience, who have been building companies – maybe 2nd or 3rd generational type companies – and who really have a passion for upstarts, people that are just getting going. Bring those people together.

3) Play matchmaker

Playing matchmaker is one of the most important aspects of the event and one of the things that I love to do when I organize dinners (I did a video recently on creating founder dinners). I love to introduce people that I know should know each other but haven’t met yet.

When I created this dinner is I would ask them, “Do you know this notable person, do you know that notable person?” Usually the answer came back, “Well, I know OF them, but I’ve never met them.” Then I would put them together at a table.

I really tried to make sure that they didn’t know at least 50% of the people at their table (this was tough because I come from a small town and there were only a handful of growth oriented entrepreneurs!).

If possible, I tried to make sure that it was the first time they were meeting 4 of the 8 people.

There was a bit more structure that I really don’t think matters as much as creating the event, reaching out to notable people, and playing matchmaker during the dinner.

Again, it could be as simple as a dinner or as elaborate as an event like I did.

Doing this for you as an entrepreneur will really help you create that sense of community, especially when you don’t feel like you know people or you are having a challenge.

It gives you a reason to bring people together and create a lot of value for everybody.

I don’t think there’s one person that would have said that it wasn’t one of the most spectacular nights of their month – if not their year.

I know it was one of the number one things I did that year that really helped me feel a new connection for my city and community.

It was also an opportunity for me to give back to a lot of people that have given back to me.

All of these notable entrepreneurs – even though they weren’t officially mentors of mine – what they had created in this part of the world (where I am from) had really inspired me to go out and live a bigger life.

Leave me a comment below. If you plan on organizing something like this to create a startup community, let me know what it’s going to look like. If you’ve already done this, tell the story in the comments below. I read and respond to every one of them. I’d love to hear from you!

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