Startup founders can often become quite isolated. That they are required to appear optimistic and up beat to employees, investors, potential customers and the press. Meanwhile their family and friends probably have no experience of starting their own business and, as much as they may want to, they cannot relate to many of the challenges that founders go through. Which leaves startup founders with very few opportunities to connect with others they can relate to. Sometimes, you just want to admit that you have no idea what you’re doing and you’re not sure why you go into this anymore, without people freaking out.
Last week I had a number of conversations with some founder friends, many of whom said it would be great if there was a forum where they could be open about this sort of thing, relate to others in a similar situation, get some advice and maybe get some accountability too. Which got me thinking. What sort of format would fill this gap?
Here’s what I came up with…
- Trust: members of a group must, at all times, feel that they can trust the other members of that group.
- Equality: outward signs of success can often be misleading or temporary. Your apparent success or failure in business does not make your participation at the group any more or less valid.
- Openness: if you want others to share, you have to lead by example. Sitting back and staying quiet while others talk openly is unfair.
- Group size should be between 4 and 8, if a group grows larger than that it should make arrangements to divide in two. Groups smaller than that should recruit new members or merge.
- Membership is invite only
- Members must hold at least 5% equity, or have been an original founding member, of a business that they still manage.
- New members of a group will have a 6 meeting probation period. After which time they must be unanimously and anonymously approved as full members
- Each group has a chairperson, they are responsible for arranging and facilitating the meeting
- The position of chairperson should rotate every 6 months.
- Each meeting will consist of members updating the group on what they’ve been doing, their thinking on key issues and their current state of mind. Members may ask questions and have a discussion in response to each person’s update. The chairperson will ensure everyone gives their update. The final 15 minutes will consist of each member stating what they intend to do before the next meeting. The chairperson will record this and send round an email summary. In the spirit of openness, each member must give an update and say what their objectives are at every meeting they attend.
- No two members of the same group can be from the same company.
- Everything discussed at the meeting is strictly confidential. Even the broad subject areas or themes.
- If members feel they cannot continue to be in the same group as a particular individual they must raise it with the chairperson and the chairperson must discuss the matter individually with others in the group. If 1/3 or more of the group feels the same way then the chairperson must ask the individual in question to leave.
Not rules, just suggestions
- Meet every two weeks, at a meeting room or cafe
- If things go well we might invite the occasional guest speaker someone who had founded their own company, obviously.
- While equality is a key principle, when groups divide in two we might like to put people at similar stages of business in the same groups so that we don’t end up with massive differences in scale.
What Happened Next
I showed what I’d drafted to a number of the entrepreneurs who had given me the idea, and they all seemed keen on attending something along these lines. So next week, the first meeting will take place. We’ve already had eight people sign up so we’ll have to think about dividing into two groups pretty much straight away.
If you’d like to start a similar group with these rules then I encourage you to do so – let me know if you do and how it goes.