Are We “Winning or Just Looking Good While Losing” When It Comes to Supporting Founders?
We all know that no entrepreneur can succeed without a strong network of support. Think about it. Sayings like “your net worth is your network,” and “it’s not what you know, but who you know” go back decades.
So it should come as no surprise that I believe that the path to success for social entrepreneurs and diverse founders lies in looking at how we are all able to move the needle in a collective way. Each segment of a founder’s support ecosystem – from the capital providers to the various service providers to all the support groups and coaching platforms – is important. But today I want to take a hard look at the current state of these support ecosystems, and ask the question: Are we getting the best outcomes?
We know that Atlanta has risen in impact because our tech entrepreneur support infrastructure, particularly among diverse founders, is further along than its counterparts in many other cities. I founded Goodie Nation, a national support nonprofit for tech-focused social entrepreneurs and diverse founders, to be a part of that fabric and to lead that charge.
Goodie Nation exists to eliminate the relationship gap that stands in the way of success for too many promising entrepreneurs, especially those who are people of color, women, or aren’t located in coastal financial centers. It’s my view that by making sure that every entrepreneur, no matter their background or location, can access the relationships they need to thrive, we are building a more sustainable and prosperous future for all.
And there are many other valuable organizations in this vein out there as well.
However, allow me to share an observation on our infrastructure: Our current system of support organizations actually doesn’t play well together. Yeah we offer a lot of help, but the support needs to be working toward the good of the founders as a whole, not the parts.
What do I mean by this? I am saying that we as support organizations need to be asking ourselves: What is most important? The activities associated with helping the founders? The credit for building successful startups? Or that the startups are actually successful in the first place?
As I said in a Facebook post in 2015 quoting from Dreams by the great hip hop group Little Brother “do you really wanna win or just look good losing.”
So then the natural question is why don’t they work well together. There are several reasons why, but I’ve observed that some take the attitude that “my way is better.” Specifically, I’ve observed entrepreneur support organizations not working well together because they all desire the credit for the outcome of contributing to a particular founder’s success story. I like to call this “vanity support” – being more concerned with getting the credit for success or obtaining the next round of funding for your own organization, rather than the actual end goal of the community we are all trying to build.
Consider that concept in terms of your own success or education. Who actually is responsible for who you are today and how you got there? Who gets the credit for it? Is it your family? Your friends? Your neighbors? Teachers? Another mentor? Is it everybody? Is it no one? Is it the last person who gave you advice?
Rather than wondering who gets the credit for a founder’s success if they have completed more than one support program, what we really need to be doing is asking ourselves what is more important – the impact we are making and the work? Or the credit a single platform gleans for contributing to that impact?
Often this question is asked in a different way, such as, if you continue to do your job well, are you going to cause your organization not to be needed anymore? At Goodie Nation that’s actually our number one goal. To solve the need that created our organization in the first place.
My view is that everyone plays a role in this. As the saying goes, “it takes a village.” We know this concept to be true, but people don’t want to give the credit to the village. Instead of focusing on getting credit, the next round of funding or something else, let’s extend our connections and our relationships. Let’s take our collective networks, collaborate and be intentional towards the future. The village, the founder ecosystem, needs us.