He’s the founder of Startup Weekend, a global initiative that brings together builders from all over the world to create and execute on startup ideas. As of today, over 1,200 events have been held, involving more than 105,000 entrepreneurs across 568 cities in 112 countries. Startup Weekend has created aver 8,000 startups in total.
He sold the company in 2010 and now focuses on Startup Week, a part of UP Global, a non-profit that focuses on entrepreneurship, grassroots leadership, and community-building.
Andrew is a true community builder and someone that I’ve personally looked up to for a long time.
He not only actively builds companies but also organizes other offline events and writes books to share his passion for life. He brought Ignite and TEDx to Boulder, Colorado and is the author of the book This Book is About Travel.
Still not impressed? This year, he has hosted over 138 dinners in his own home in Boulder, Colorado. More about that later…
In anticipation of his talk on building sustainable startup and local communities, we sat down with Andrew to learn a bit more about how he’s built such massively successful communities and companies.
Here are his 7 biggest community building lessons
1. You have a community when everyone feels welcomed and valued.
It’s incredibly important to make people feel like they belong in the community and that they’re appreciated as a member. “If you don’t meet those two requirements, you are a group or you’re trying to market to someone,” explained Andrew. “It’s that simple.”
2. Only lead a community that you have a passion to be a part of.
You can’t fake it. If you wouldn’t personally be a member of a community, you probably aren’t the best person to lead it.
“I think the first step is to think why you want to build a community. I think a lot of folks think that community is something that is great to be in the middle of, and that is why they want to lead events, but I’d argue that you should lead a community only if you have a passion to be a part of it. So if you are a part of a community, how can you make it better? That is always how I’ve built events. Also, the easiest technical solution is usually the right choice.”
3. As you scale events in new cities (meetups, conferences, events), jump in head first.
One thing Startup Weekend accomplished on an incredible level was its ability to replicate the model in cities all over the world. But according to Andrew, it isn’t just a matter of set it and forget it. Every city takes a lot of legwork to get off the ground.
“If it works in one city, it might culturally not work in another place (but it often works quite well!). Be open. Be honest. Realize that it will take a ton of time and resources for each city and you have to trust people you have never met.”
4. Startup Weekends work because they’re ‘just humble, community-led experiments’.
Andrew talked to us about why he began Startup Weekend. “I was always introducing people and thinking, ‘Why do you not know each other?’ It was stunning for me. There were people that would really like knowing each other and they never had a reason to bump into each other. So I created that — the ultimate ‘meet your co-founder’ event where you can work and know who in your community is skilled, passionate, and in it for the good of everyone. We had three weeks from idea to our first weekend in Boulder, Colorado (the event was held above a bike shop). It grew quickly after that.”
And even without Andrew’s leadership, the community continues to flourish. Why is that? “To be overly simplistic I think it continues to grow because it is a great event for those looking to be in control of their own destiny and want to be intellectually interested. Give the creative class a challenge and flexibility and generally you have some interesting outcomes.”
“The events grew without much hype, they were just humble, community-led experiments. I was quick to trust and young enough to just hop on a plane and help run an event in a city I’d never been to.”
5. Really respect your community.
Community Managers are often put in a position of authority in the community and sometimes, but it’s important that they don’t talk down to their community members.
“You need to speak up to your community.”
“When I say that I mean really to respect them. Simple stuff, like events starting when you say, and more meaningful actions like gifts and really focusing on the organizers. Think about the messaging a concert uses: it is generally speaking down and lying to their audience. Don’t do that. You can get away with it, but it isn’t the quality you should be giving to the world.”
6. Welcoming new members should be core to your community and should be led by veterans, not by you.
In the early days, there’s a good chance that the community professional is the one doing all the welcoming. As it grows however, Andrew has found that it’s really important to encourage your existing members to do the welcoming.
“When your community has been around for a while, members become leaders in different aspects. The new member welcoming should be core to your community, led by the veterans and seen as a way to give back and check into what is next and new.”
7. There are drawbacks to being a community builder.
“It’s important to take care of yourself and also to strengthen your existing friendships and relationships”, he says. “I overextend myself and take for granted the amount of time it takes for an event. Because I deal with so many people I have tons of friends that should be closer than they are.”
Thanks again to Andrew for sharing some of the biggest lessons he’s picked up along the way. If you want to hear his full story and dive in deeper, come see him speak at CMX Summit on November 13th.