I often draw parallels between cultivating a thriving startup community and constructing a growth-oriented business. Building a company – especially in the early stages has many more questions than firm answers, just like a developing community. Building a company leans heavily on co-founders, advisors and mentors all of whom have interest but not responsibility – just like the leaders in a startup community. Building a company is a multi-year effort filled with many ups and downs – your startup community and entrepreneurial ecosystem will follow that same trajectory.

However, this analogy, while convenient at a meta level, has many flaws. It is incumbent on everyone in the community to understand the similarities as well as some pretty significant differences. 

Let’s deep dive into those differences:

Company vs. Community: A Philosophical Divide

At its core, building a company is an inward-focused endeavor. It’s about finding a business model, aligning efforts toward a common goal, and scaling the operations efficiently. The leadership in a company is typically hierarchical, decisions are top-down, and the ultimate objective is to build company value.

In stark contrast, building a startup community is outward focused. It’s about creating an inclusive platform where ideas, resources, and support flow freely without a central point of command. The value lies in the collective strength and diversity of the community, not in the success of a single entity.

Competition vs. Collaboration

In company building, competition is a driving force. It unites the team with purpose and many times serves as a guidepost for strategy. At Rand McNally we literally had a picture of MapQuest on a wall with a red “X” across their logo.

In community building, collaboration is the fuel that keeps the engine running. The secret is to encourage leaders to see each other as allies in a collective journey rather than as competitors.

These are unique leadership styles and understanding when to adopt one of the other is paramount. 

Value Extraction vs. Value Contribution

Companies are usually measured by the value they extract: revenue, profits, market share, ROI. These are typically hard numbers and thus a very quantifiable metric(s). Leaders with more of a complicated mindset are required as the company scales.

Conversely, a startup community is gauged by the value it contributes. The focus is on what can be given, not taken—sharing knowledge, offering support, opening networks, and paying it forward. This contribution ethos is what sustains and enriches the ecosystem for everyone.

The secret to building a healthy & robust startup community is understanding that it’s not at all like building a company. 

In fact in many ways, it is the opposite. As such as you and your community leaders discuss strategies and tactics, it is imperative that current business executives shed their company building mindset and adopt a community building mindset. This mindset is rooted in collaboration, openness, and mutual support.