Community Building and Newtons’ Laws of Physics/Motion

Sir Isaac Newton has something to teach us about startup community building – what not to do.

Newton’s first law of physics states that “a body remains at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by a force.” For a second, and possibly with a frosty beverage or two in hand, let’s consider your startup community as the “body” in this metaphor. Go ahead, repeat the first sentence but replace the word “body” with “startup community”:

“A startup community remains at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by a force.”

If we apply Newton’s law then your community will:

  1. remain stagnant or at rest unless you create a force to remove that state, or
  2. continue to grow in a straight line (or similar trajectory) unless a force is created.

As a community building leader, you are either in fear of living in a stagnant startup community, or you are in fear that your current growth trajectory is either unsustainable or needs a new force to kick your community to that next level. This fear can lead to poor choices.

The key element in this borrowed metaphor is “force.”  What is force with regard to startup community building?

Typical startup community-building “forces” include:

  • Kickstarting an entrepreneur program at the local college or university
  • Building an innovation park or building
  • Creating a government-backed venture fund
  • Forming an immersive code academy
  • Recruiting a large corporation with a highly-relevant brand
  • Launching a new-age incubator (now called accelerator)
  • Announcing a regional re-branding campaign that includes the word “Silicon”
  • Hosting a conference to convene/cheerlead the crowd on all of the great things the community has to offer and we are just so close to having Amazon HQ2 and if we only had more capital from the west coast or at least convince Sequoia to put an office here . . .

Newton’s 2nd law of motion, applied here, states that a startup community’s rate of change of momentum is proportional to the force causing it.

While helping to build the Raleigh/Durham startup community over the past 8+ years and now working with Techstars and Brad Feld – author of Startup Communities – to accelerate startup communities all over the world, I have come to see all of these tactics put into play.

These tactics may feel & look like a “force” to you but they rarely exhibit the force necessary to create a change of momentum that sustains long-term startup community growth.

For leaders looking to establish or accelerate your startup community, I am here to share with you that Newton’s laws of physics do not apply to community building.  There is not one force that is so impactful that it changes your long-term trajectory.

Instead concentrate on lots of small wins over a sustained period of time (measured in years not months).  This will eventually build into something that noticeably improves your startup community. This is my law of community physics/motion.

 

 

Speaker, investor, mentor, startup founder. One of 3 or 4 Co-Founders of MapQuest (sold to AOL for $1.2B). Managing Director of $25M Venture Fund in late 90's. CEO, COO or President of various companies ranging from $200k to $20M in size. One of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory (35 investments across 7 cohorts), founder and MC of the Big Top Reverse Job Fair and national writer and speaker waxing poetic around startups and startup communities. Currently EIR @ Techstars with Brad Feld ~ Startup Communities, to help community leaders around the world grow their startup community.

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