Every startup community builder is faced with prioritizing their activities to create the largest impact possible. This task is further exacerbated by funders who wish to see quick wins, now. (I mean they have people to answer to as well, right?) Prioritizing the top of the funnel should be your highest priority and always available.

Regardless of how mature your startup community/ecosystem is, it is imperative that you always have an emphasis on building the top of the funnel.

To me, top of funnel refers to the initial stage in the founder journey. It’s the broadest part of the journey where individuals first consider taking an idea and figuring out if there is a business. The metaphorical “funnel” represents the path that potential founders take from crafting their idea to eventually launching a startup.

Every marketer knows the funnel reference for the process of developing awareness of their product/service to create interest to finally a paying customer. 

You can also look at your startup community as a funnel except insert founder for customer.

Your top of funnel activities represent a chance to build a pipeline of founders. The larger the pipeline, the better chances you have of breakout companies. Since no one really knows which ones will break out (at this earliest of stages), why shouldn’t you emphasize pipeline building?

The last research I found was that the average age of first time entrepreneurs was over 35 years of age. (The average age of a first-time successful founder is 45.) That is up 2-3 years from when I ran my first accelerator program in 2010. Many new to entrepreneur-led economic development make assumptions that the majority of new founders come out of college (age 22-25), are white, male, and computer science graduates.

I share these assumptions with you to illustrate the opportunity you have in prioritizing top of funnel activities in your region. I frequently share that you need to build multiple doors and windows into the entrepreneurial room. Think of each window or door as addressing the assumptions. For example:

  • An event targeted at new women founders organized by current women founders.
  • An event targeted at and hosted in a neighborhood of primarily minority founders with participation by successful entrepreneurs talking about their personal experiences.
  • An event hosted at night or early in the morning targeting curious new founders with an idea who have been in industry for 15+ years (not during the day when they are working their jobs).

The challenge to create awareness of your startup community and the #givefirst ethic that is there to help them take their idea to launch a startup is large. Add in diversity of race, gender, age and educational attainment and the challenge grows even larger.

I have yet to see a community operating at an optimal level in this regard. That is why you are never done building the top of the funnel and why it should always be a priority.