This is a new long-form content exploration that Tech Collective is embarking on to discuss, evaluate and dissect a single topic.
Right at the start of the team discussion, we knew discussing the entrepreneur support network would be a touchy and potentially divisive topic. Boy, were we proven right by the fact we actually had a loud disagreement about this topic during an editorial meeting.
Well, if you’re reading this paragraph, you’re committed. So welcome, sit back and let’s discuss this topic openly.
To each their own, so the type of support network you create is dependent on what you need. What we’ve seen through personal experience and speaking to hundreds of entrepreneurs is that support networks are essential, but ultimately flawed due to a variety of reasons.
The pandemic highlighted major issues in the marketing industry, specifically how it was running scared during this period.
We want to drill down into this topic and air out some potential (hypothetical) dirty laundry to shine some light on negative behaviours, bad faith actors and even some potential major issues you may not realise you are facing.
So, if you have any negative feedback or get mad at us for some reason, take about two minutes to calm down and then send us that scathing message or leave a comment.
What is an entrepreneur support network?
First, let’s define what we mean by the entrepreneur support network. This means different things to different people and I’ll explain why in minute. But first, let’s start with what some of the more common examples of a support network is for entrepreneurs.
- Friends and family: So this is quite self-explanatory, but you need a stable or at least somewhat supportive home life. So whatever time you get to actually spend outside of the office, there needs to be a support system to allow you to unwind and take some weight off your shoulders.
- Other entrepreneurs: Shared pain (or experiences) is the best way to find solace and an understanding ear. Entrepreneurs often go through hardships that are difficult to understand unless you’ve gone through them yourselves.
- Mentors: From investors, to experts, to that guy who’s just done a lot of stuff and is interesting, mentors are a significant part of the support structure for the entrepreneurial community.
- The anonymous support group: Well, this might not be the best descriptor, because these are real people in online communities and groups that provide a listening ear. If you’re old like me, then you might be aware of forums and discussion groups – these still exist, but in different formats and are hosted on social media platforms or (shudder) Reddit.
So now that we understand or at least listed some of the more popular choices for the support network, let’s breakdown what are some of the issues these can cause.
Why support networks breakdown
We put out word to a few small groups of friends (read: support network) to find out if they had any issues to share. Most shied away, but we got a lot of good responses, anecdotes and insights from entrepreneurs that gave us permission to share it here. To ensure anonymity, we have blended their anecdotes into lessons and findings, rather than publishing them as quotes or in their entirety.
Let’s start with friends and family.
The problems with your familial support network
Chances are that your entire family may not be entrepreneurs and neither are many of your friends. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely road, but having your family and friends as a support group can help ease the burden.
Therein lies the problems as well. As you mature and evolve (every entrepreneur evolves whether they want to or not), there is a widening gap between your present and past.
What this often means is quite simple – do you have the same things in common with your family and friends as you once did. The answer is most likely ‘No’ or ‘Not that much anymore’.
What does someone who had or has a stable job with a pretty set scope of work understand about the pressures and insecurity of the entrepreneurial journey. Whether or not they still love and support you is not the question, but their ability to understand why you sometimes have to take calls at random hours in the day or have a fixation with your Slack messages is the question.
How do you communicate or find common ground with someone complaining about their boss and trying to find ways to reduce their workload, while you’re still wondering how you are going to meet payroll or find new investment in a down market.
We are the problem often times – we evolve and grow along a completely different path.
The problem with fellow entrepreneurs
As mentioned, shared experiences is probably the best way to bond and is also therapeutic. Therefore, a strong symbiotic support network of fellow founders is a great way to get through difficult periods or have conversations on the same topics that keep you up at night.
However, human nature might be the biggest hurdle that everyone is unable to overcome.
What words can hurt your startup? Well, there are quite a few, but we explore one that has deep roots in many startup failures.
What our own experiences and those within our community has shared is that support only extends until:
- The supporter sees success (or significant changes) and therefore, feels that he/she no longer shares the same experiences
- You are no longer relevant as a contact or business lead
- You do well and there is the inevitable jealousy
The problem with mentors
Small caveat here; as I personally have only had positive experiences with mentors, because in my career I have sought out people I know and have relationships with to be my mentors. The following is gleaned from numerous conversations with other entrepreneurs about their experiences.
Mentors tend to have achieved significant success at the start of their career and many years on, actually have the time to mentor founders and entrepreneurs. Real world problems require real world solution, and unfortunately the world has changed.
We have collated the top four issues that mentors often present to aspiring founders and emerging entrepreneurs.
- They have limited knowledge of the market or real-world issues because they are so far removed
- Mentors are often not the people who execute, so may lack the knowledge on issues that early stage businesses face
- The world is different now – digital vs traditional marketing and certain industries are now obsolete
- Differing set of values that restrict growth of a business such as reluctance to take on debt
The problem with the anonymous support group
If you know the problem with platforms like Reddit, then you understand the problems with the faceless support of the online community. While it has the potential to do good, often times it empowers those who feel they do not need to back it up.
To be honest, many entrepreneurs we spoke to did not consider this to be part of the support group community, but there is enough evidence online with social media groups and WhatsApp channels that it is an active community.
Why we have support networks of any kind is because we are human with the needs of a community to back us up. Therein lies the issue though, as we rely on people who have the same faults as we all do.
This isn’t to say we should do away with support networks if we’re a startup founder or an entrepreneur, but we should be honest with ourselves about the benefits and the potential downfalls of the network.
If you have any specific topics that impact startups or SMEs, please drop us a message here and let us know what you would like us to research and cover.