A few days ago, I shared some thoughts on the scarcity of time for early-stage entrepreneurs. Today, I'm going to share some brief thoughts on how this affects me specifically as an entrepreneur in Austin. Now let me preface my comments by saying two things. One, I love living here. I wouldn't have moved back from Seattle if I didn't really love Austin. Two, by no means is this blog post intended to insult anyone or any group. Everything written in this blog post is my interpretation/reaction to the community after 18 months of operating a startup here. It's one person's opinion, and if you want I'm happy to discuss at the next social gathering. OK... caveat aside... here goes.
Austin has an amazing startup community that I first discovered in 1997 as part of Stratfor, an early-stage startup in 1997 that we moved from Louisiana to Austin. When talking to people about Stratfor for the first time, I usually describe it as the Huffington Post of 1999 but with three key differences:
- it was subject matter specific -- international news and intelligence is Stratfor's game,
- there was no social media -- although we were doing live blogging/tweeting of major events back then, and
- as it was ten years earlier there was absolutely NO business model at the time.
The thing about Austin then (and now) is that the startup community is distinct and for the most part supportive. You don't have to talk to too many people before you meet folks willing and able to offer help and advice. Further, there is a lot of startup activity here -- a little less than 1999 but certainly the most I've seen here over the last decade. The cycle is refreshing, and it's great to be in Austin for it.
All of that said, I'd almost say that the community can be too supportive at times. Positive thoughts are great, but everything in moderation, right? Austin reminds me of that kid we all know whose parents shower him/her with so much positive affirmation, he/she won't be able to process failure or criticism later in life. Are you really doing people a service if you are light on constructive feedback and heavy on celebrating relatively minor achievements?
This dynamic in Austin is one reason why we don't do a lot of socializing -- at least in this stage of our business. But perhaps more importantly, it's also about where we are as an early-stage startup seeking its way. We get a lot of value out of "surgical" networking, where we find people or put feelers out for folks who should be interested in the things we do. More often than not, those people are on the East Coast or the West Coast -- not so much in Austin -- although there are certainly a lot of really interesting people who are doing or have done big things here in town.
All told, one good, meaningful, action-oriented 1:1 conversation over 90 minutes is typically our strike zone for networking. It's just the way it is for us in our specific situation today. Do I miss out on some serendipity by not doing the cocktail party scene? Probably. But I also get back 10 hours a week that can be put to use elsewhere -- and it is all about the scarcity of time after all. :-)
That said, there are some events that I hit with regularity if the schedule permits, primarily because there is a higher concentration of these folks. Texchange is an excellent organization with some outstanding events. SXSW obviously is a "must attend" event -- it's the one time every year when Austin becomes the center of the tech world. The Capital Factory Demo Day was off the charts. Events thrown by the Austin Technology Incubator tend to be high-quality as well.
I am extremely careful with time I spend on networking in Austin. Generally, I lurk, go to an occasional party, and go about my business. I value deeper, more meaningful interactions that might start at a cocktail party but are generally developed over time and not at the normal networking events. That's just how I go about it. How do you view networking in Austin? Agree/disagree? Looking forward to your thoughts.