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3 Reasons Why Community Isn’t Optional

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When you’re a busy founder, it can be easy to let your network whither, but meeting up in person isn’t optional. Here’s why. 

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

You’re busy, we get it. As a founder or passionate technologist, your work is bound to seep out of traditional boundaries and suck up a tremendous amount of energy, making it hard to find the time to meet up with old friends or make new connections. Or to put it another way, after a 12-hour, full-on day at the office it can be pretty tough to muster the will to get out of the house to  talk to actual humans.

But here’s why you should suck it up and do it anyway.

We interviewed participants in our monthly Founder Friday events, which bring together a diverse group of innovators for inspiration and actual, in-person communion. The genuine social ties nurtured by signing off Facebook and showing up impacted these founders’ businesses and ives to such a degree that this sort of connection really can’t be thought of an optional extra. Here are three reasons it’s essential.

Sounding Board

Sure, you probably spend huge chunks of time “talking” to customers and colleagues on Skype, social media or other tech channels, but there is still something special about getting your feedback face to face.

“I got to meet Julia Hartz of EventBrite at Founder Friday,” KidAdmit founder Tejal Shah says. “We had so much in common: working with our husbands, two kids, living in SF, so I introduced myself and we had a little chat. A week later we decided to meet up. I ended up sharing my idea and company to her and she was amazing in giving me feedback.”

The magic of in-person feedback has other advocates. On Fast Company Kevin Purdy has noted that, “as much fun as 10-person, 20-message email roundtables about the proper name for the new project can be, there’s a lot of context, personality, and creativity lost when you don’t argue things out in person.” Talking to people in person will force you to articulate your vision as well as giving you more nuanced feedback by allowing you to not only hear what people have to say but also how they’re saying it (and exactly what sort of person the feedback is coming from).

Battery Pack (aka Courage on Tap)

Given the right sort of environment, in person socializing can also give you the courage (and energy) of community. This can be particularly important for women who can feel isolated in the still male-dominated tech industry. “What was awesome is that I was surrounded by three female CTOs, which I thought was amazing. I’d never been to an event where that had ever happened before. Like never, ever,” Christine Lemke, co-founder of AchieveMint, said of attending Founder Friday.

The effect was powerful. “Super, super energizing,” she says of the experience. Tejal agrees saying meeting other founders “gave me the encouragement to start KidAdmit.”

Free Head Shrinking

It may not be the most talked about aspect of startup life, but founding a company can be brutal on your mental health. Inc. recently broke the taboo by highlighting these costs. “We idolize the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, like Smith, harbor secret demons: Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair–times when it seemed everything might crumble,” writes Jessica Bruder.

Getting out and talking to others facing similar pressures can help. “It’s a really difficult journey and to hear [people] talk openly about the challenges of it and also have everybody encouraging each other, it’s just incredibly inspiring,” Christine says. “Sometimes, when I’m mired in the tactical details of our business, Founder Friday gives me a chance to share experiences, questions and perspectives. It’s a much-needed recharge,” she adds.

So whether you want to improve your ideas, your energy levels or your mental state, the cure is the same: get out and talk to someone face to face.

Join us at the next Founder Friday in your city!

jstillman Jessica Stillman is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter @entrylevelrebel.