Start by giving to the community rather than taking from it

It’s best to lead by not making it about you.

That’s probably good advice for life but its certainly good advice for getting involved in a startup community. As I wrote on Monday, people will help you out if you raise your hand and ask for help. But, you’ll be more successful if you help them out first.

Take the Startup Iowa facebook group as an example. I’ve seen several cases where people will leave a sort-of “drive by” post announcing their product launch, crowdfunding campaign or something similar. These posts get almost zero engagement. Sometimes they even get reported as spam (they are not spam, they’re just not effective). Typically, these posts are the first time that person has tried to interact with the community.

As you’d expect, it’s not the same for people who are active members of the community. People who have commented on others posts, offered them feedback when they have questions and given general support for what they’re building never seem to have this problem.

I think the lesson is clear—it’s always more effective to start by giving to a community rather than trying to take from it.

Joshua Baer, Executive Director at Capital Factory in Austin (and someone that I really look up to as a startup community builder) calls this “social capital” [source]

“People here help each other out and they lift each other up. That stuff goes around and it comes around. In Austin when you want to plug into things the first thing you should do is figure out how you can help somebody else out - you’re going to find that people are really receptive to meeting each other and to doing different things. When you build up that social capital thats going to come back to you and be helpful to you later.”

I think the same is true in our startup community.

How are you going to help somebody else out this week?

Hat tip to John Jackovin for a chat that inspired this post