Tea talk

TGIF everyone, glad to see you back here in our weekly e27 Tea Talk!

Last week, our fellow BD executive, Tracy Pham, wrote a nice resource piece on the common pitfalls many young startups face. Awesome, Tracy, it was nicely done!

So, to build on this momentum, today I’d like to echo what Tracy has brought up in the previous series – Misdirection in the core vision. While it’s easy to talk about the mistakes of others, this week let’s talk about something more personal regarding e27.

Here’s the story –  last week, when I was in a community meetup to promote our TOP100 Programme and share the missions we aim to achieve this year, a ‘big brother’ in the ecosystem shared a surprising observation with me, he said:

“During your peak time, e27 was like the Southeast Asian TechCrunch, with the highest industry standard across the region. How come nowadays you guys have been losing the focus and falling behind the “mainstream’ startup network?”

While it is common to receive such feedback from your competitors or unsatisfied clients (and there’s nothing wrong about that), I was shocked when I heard it since this was the first time an ecosystem old friend made such a strong comment. It made me wonder what we had done wrong for the past few years or if it’s just simply a case of differing perspectives.

To quench my curiosity, I asked the person out for drinks after the event as I was craving to find out the truth and the root causes behind this. To my astonishment, the reason was so simple yet essential to any startup community builder. After the second round of ‘shots’, he asked me: “have you guys been contributing back to the community after your success?”

Before we answer this question, let us first define what a community builder is. A community builder is a person or an organization proactively leverages their time and resources to support the development of a specific group of people sharing the same values. In our case, it’s a group of people who believe startups are key drivers of disruptive innovation that can change the world.

Being a community builder isn’t an easy job yet everybody still wants to become one. From my perspective, the reason lies in 2 different concepts:

  1. Being a community builder provides you with strong network connections that facilitates the growth of the whole ecosystem which you happen to be part of. (community-driven).
  2. Being a community builder also gives you a better brand image and positioning which may lead to higher sales and quicker company expansion. (business-driven).

You can be community-driven, business-driven, or both. And they are not mutually exclusive.

Over the years, e27 has been an ecosystem builder. Some people see us as a community builder, forgetting the fact that we’re also a startup working hard to sustain ourselves AND assist the ecosystem.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that e27 only cares about growing our own businesses. But business is important because it provides us with the means to further work with partners to support the ecosystem. Unfortunately, we may have failed to let people see or understand that our mission remains to be empowering entrepreneurs to build and grow their companies.

Thankfully, where there is a problem, there is a solution. To find out what we can revamp better to win our communities back, I apologized sincerely on the spot for what we had done to make this person feel that way and asked for his mentorship on what we should do moving forward.

And luckily, being a startup means it is easy to take action to correct your mistakes. So, after another round of drinks, my new mentor walked me through the following 3 key concepts that everyone should know if they’re keen on being a startup community builder.

1. Know the importance of give-first value

Building a community is not about earning money. Instead, you need to be a helper so you can bring in more people into your community. Hence, the value of contributing without expecting to get anything (such as fees) in return is essential to many community builders.

Such a humble mindset will allow you to win people’s minds and gather them to do BIG THINGS, which is more valuable than short-term paychecks.  But does that mean you’re not a good community builder if you gain profit? Our answer is no. We understand how business works and we know that if you’re not earning, you won’t be able to sustain anything. The main idea is if you want to be a community builder, you have to try to help the community without quid pro quo mindset.

2. Cultivate a startup-centric mindset

The startup is the foundation of the whole ecosystem. If you’re not mentally prepared to be startup-centric and ready to serve them,  the ecosystem could collapse.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but this mindset IS very crucial for those who want to build up a startup community or become an ecosystem builder. Because if your end goal is not to empower startups but service other stakeholders, you’ll lose the reputation and credibility gradually.

3. There are no enemies within the same ecosystem

As the startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia is under rapid development, more and more similar businesses, communities and ecosystem builders are springing up, which results in some divergences within the region. Competition is good, but seeing competition as an enemy is poisonous to the ecosystem. Quoted from my new mentor,

“Startup’s enemy is not another startup. It’s the outdated system or business model that we’re trying to solve. The same idea works with any other stakeholders. Your enemy is not anyone in this industry but the one we’re gonna disrupt.”

So stop holding grudges against each other; time to broaden your vision and team up to fight the biggest enemies with a consortium.

After this short yet profound encounter, I promised to attend as many events as possible from our community partners and check on them regularly to show that we genuinely care.

Also Read: [e27 Sharing Corner]: Looking into common pitfalls of young startups

At e27, we believe that every startup deserves a fair chance to succeed and shape the world into a better place. There are always ups and downs and there will be things we might miss out but we will always shift back to the main focus in supporting the ecosystems with our resources. It’s not an easy job but we have accepted the challenge since day 1.

How about you? What are you doing as a community builder that has had successful results? What do you expect from your community builders? Let us know in the comments below!

e27 Tea Talk is the weekly column managed by Tracy Pham and Norman Kuo, and we hope to see you join in on our stimulating discussions and give constructive feedback as we navigate through the startup journey together. :)

Image Credit: tashka2000 / 123RF Stock Photo