Building A Startup Culture When You Work Alone

Teamwork CC Thompson Rivers

Entrepreneurship is a lonely pursuit on the best days. And it’s even more acute when you work alone. As a solopreneur I have clients scattered across the United States, and the globe. Meeting in person is not an option.

As a summer intern at Google I got to experience the gold standard of company culture working from the “Googleplex,” with its party bikes, ball pits, pool tables, and a Friday afternoon happy hour where founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin would take questions from employees. “Googliness” might have been hard to pinpoint, but there was no question that it was a thing.

This blog post is part of a Startup Edition series on building company culture

Organizational cultures get a lot of attention these days because a job is more than just a paycheck. A well-known startup culture is a huge selling point when trying to attract the top candidates to work for you instead of one of your competitors. Talent is extremely mobile, and  companies need great individuals much more than talented workers need companies.

So how do you replicate the fun, mentorship and interpersonal bonding of a large company culture when you work by yourself? Here are a few ideas.

Mastermind Groups

Mastermind groups are online communities where like-minded individuals come together to privately chat, brainstorm, and exchange best practices. Entrepreneurial mastermind groups tackle different topics, such as JFDI, founded by my Startup Edition colleague Justin Jackson, host of the Product People Podcast.

Most of the best mastermind groups are subscription only. Entrepreneur on Fire founder John Lee Dumas charges $165 per month to join his community, Fire Nation Elite. The Tropical MBA‘s Dynamite Circle is $97 for three months–a dollar per day.

While paying to access an online chatroom might seem anathema, a membership could pay for itself in a matter of days. Startups like Dan Martell’s Clarity allow you to dial up expert advice on demand, but mastermind groups are filled with experts who are happy to give out their expertise free of charge. And a mastermind group is target-rich environment for finding collaborators, new clients and strategic partners. The ability/willingness to pay to be part of a group is a good filter, too. Off the bat you know this is a serious person.

While Reddit, Hacker News and the Union Square Ventures Beta are online communities, I’ve found that the exclusivity of a mastermind group lends itself to better decorum and more valuable conversation. We naturally place a higher value on things we have to pay for, and our professional reputation is a buffer against bad behavior.

Coworking CC Bianca Lanaspa

Coworking days

America is becoming a land of consultants and freelancers. Wall Street may have decimated the notion of gainful employment post-recession, but many people who could work for corporations now enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being their own boss. Of course this is no substitute for the human interaction, banter and team spirit that naturally forms when you work in an office.

Coworking days are a great for solopreneurs who want to create their own startup culture, because they bring folks together for a day or an afternoon to simulate the proximity and collaboration of working in an office. Just pick a time and location, and tell colleagues to meet you there with their laptops.

To get the most out of a coworking day you have to be a master of overcoming distraction, since there’s the temptation to gab with your new-found friends. Another fun way to enjoy coworking days is to rotate locations, so that each week/month, you work from a new place, and get to explore your city a bit more.


Activity-based meetups

Run Startup Run is a monthly jogging meetup for technologists are startup enthusiasts in and around Palo Alto. In spite of the name, I’m sure all fitness fanatics are welcome to join, though they should be ready for a hefty dose of geek speak and industry gossip.

Meetups are a great way to bring people together around a shared theme, and to build new friendships and connections. Activities are a nice way to take in-person networking a step further, because it breaks the ice, and allows smaller groups to interact on a more intimate level. In fact, the last startup I crashed was started around this premise, that people form stronger bonds social bonds when they learn together.

Activity meetups are a great way to leave the house (cafe), and to do new things in a group setting. And as with all networking functions, you may meet future collaborators if you have an open mind.

So do you have a strategy for building startup culture as a solopreneur? If so, we’d love to hear it. Share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks!

This blog post is part of a Startup Edition series on building company culture

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2 Responses to “Building A Startup Culture When You Work Alone”

  1. Dan Andrews October 25, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Appreciate the shout Chikodi!

    • Chikodi Chima October 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      My pleasure. Keep up the good work :D

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