How to grow a startup community: Start with community.

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a startup guy. I’ve been building things on the internet since 1994. Most of that was with my great friend Bracken, in Dallas, Texas. Yes, Dallas. We’ll get to that in a minute. I’m a life long learner, self taught (never went to college), and a Techstars alum. I’ve raised money, and love all things lean. My background is “hacker” but I’ve crossed over to “hustler” and have settled into “both.”

The past seven years have been a remarkable learning experience. My wife, and team, moved from Dallas to the Boulder area in 2006. We were introduced to the Boulder startup community – Brad, David, and the whole early ecosystem through a group called CTEK. This is pre-Techstars, and just as things were getting rolling in Boulder.

A pivotal moment (for me) in Boulder is when I met Jason Mendelson. Jason was a partner at a very young VC firm called Foundry Group. He’d recently started a meetup called Boulder Open Coffee Club to meet local entrepreneurs. There were less than 10 people at the first “BOCC” in 2007. When I took it over in 2010, there were about 35, and when I left Boulder earlier this year, there were regularly 60 to 70 people every two weeks. We were all packed into a local (sadly, now closed) coffee shop. #rip #atlaspurveyors

My time in Boulder opened my eyes to how a startup community thrives. BOCC and BDNT are two of Boulder’s longest running and most attended meetups. BDNT’s Boulder event has 300+ people every first Tuesday of the month, and the Denver version has roughly the same, later in the month. It’s my opinion that one of the reasons that these two events continue to thrive is the opening format. The openings are roughly the same, and focus not on the event itself, but rather the community.

In July of 2013, my wife and I decided to move back to the Dallas area. Part of the opportunity here was to bring many of the things I learned about community in Boulder/Denver to Dallas. There are a million things happening here, but the community itself has been fragmented. This isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s not malice, it’s just that we’ve all been busy building things and not focusing on the community enough. I’ve taken on the role (self appointed of course, with some magical support) of helping open the world’s eyes to what’s happening in Dallas.

So, how do we grow community? We standardize the opening format for all events – startups, developers, marketing, design – all of them. Why? To start every single meetup with community first.

Here’s the proposal:

1) Introduce the event, and describe precisely what it’s about. It keeps everyone on topic.

2) Leaders, introduce yourself. Many times (and I’m guilty of this) we don’t provide the attendees a way to reach the organizers. This is simply irresponsible when growing community. Sure it’s also a plug, but it’s OK in this context. You’re the entry point. Be it.

3) Go through a list of 10 or so community events. This step is about spreading the community love. What else is happening? Attendees need to know what else is happening in town. Share it. Every. Time. In Dallas we have LaunchDFW and Startup Digest to reference. Read from those (or something similar in your community) if you’re unsure.

4) Ask the attendees if they’re hiring. If so, have them give a quick pitch on the spot, and and overview of the open positions. Make sure interested parties connect after the event. This gives everyone an opportunity to help the attendees fill the positions. It also gives other attendees some perspective on the opportunities available. Keep it to 30 seconds each.

5) Ask if anyone in the crowd is looking for work. Again, a quick pitch on their background, and exactly what they’re looking for. This works time and time again for co-founder matching, and to gives attendees a chance at being hired by great companies. Keep it to 30 seconds each.

That’s it. I’d also propose a 2b wherein you ask the new people in the room to introduce themselves. This isn’t practical for major events, but it works really well from smaller events (I’d say under 60) to give the other attendees an idea of who’s in the room.

That’s all. The whole thing may add 10 minutes to the beginning of your event, but you can see how it’ll have a profound impact on community – simply by raising awareness, and helping people find jobs.

If you like the idea, share it. Let’s make all startup communities better – by starting with community.

  • Michael Sitarzewski is the Publisher of Launch DFW, co-founder and CEO of Epic Playground, Inc., makers of inboundgeo. He is a veteran entrepreneur (and a TechStars Cloud alum) with a specific focus on Web-based software and services. Sitarzewski has been a part of the internet startup culture since 1994 and has had two exits along the way. After a seven years in the Boulder, Colorado startup community, Michael returned to Dallas, Texas, in 2013 where he’s focused on growing and increasing the visibility of the burgeoning Dallas startup community. He is the EIR at The DEC, a mentor in the RevTech accelerator, and leads several events in the Dallas area. Sitarzewski considers helping people understand and leverage technology his life's work.

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