By John Osborne
Co-founder and Director of the Harbor Entrepreneur Center
There is a whole other layer of entrepreneurship that isn’t so obvious to those who aren’t in it everyday and doesn’t get talked about as much by those who are, but it’s starting to.
Who is the customer? Who is on the team? How does it get capitalized? What is the product or service it’s going to provide? What is the name? These are a few of the obvious questions to be asked when starting a business which founders get wrapped up in answering. If you show up to events with several startups and talk to founders, you’ll likely hear the optimism about the breakthrough being just around the corner. “We’re about to get the contract,” “I’m close to a partnership deal,” “I have an investor interested,” “the app is about to go live,” “the next version of the app is about to be released,” “we’re rebranding and launching a new marketing campaign,” and similar quotes will be resonating through the room. Most entrepreneurs live in the crosshairs of delusion, optimism, ambition, and uncertainty. For most people, simply reading this combination and absorbing for a moment what that daily life must feel like is enough to stick with their day job, but for many entrepreneurs, they embrace and thrive in this reality.
Every once in awhile, however, something unexpected finds itself in those crosshairs and an outlet is needed to figure out how to address it. These unexpected scenarios often don’t make it to the networking event chitchat. So where do entrepreneurs go to have the more vulnerable conversations?
My hierarchy of where to go for advice and feedback is 1st) paying customers, 2nd) target market that isn’t a customer yet but should be, and 3rd) those who have been through what you’re going through and got to where you want to get. If the unexpected scenario isn’t a product-related one, you’re likely not going to take it to the customer for guidance, which leaves those who have been through what you’re going through and achieved a level of success.
As recent as 2012, when I started fundingcharleston, there wasn’t any known network of entrepreneurs one could point to where you could have any of these second layer or below conversations. Fortunately, as our startup ecosystem evolves, those building businesses recognize they are not alone in needing this outlet in order to be the best they can be and have started assembling networks of entrepreneurs willing to take the conversations and support to the next level.
Below are a few of the initiatives addressing this second layer of entrepreneurship in our region:
The Harbor Entrepreneur Center offers entrepreneurs who have businesses with more than $250k in revenue and three employees the opportunity to join a Forum Group comprised of peer entrepreneurs who have reached at least that level of success. The model is based on each individual leveraging their own experiences to help one another grow.
Hatch Tribe offers a four-month long CEO Mastermind for women entrepreneurs who have been in business for at least 12 months and are running it full time.
Vistage offers a CEO and executive peer advisory board made up of 12 to 16 individuals and facilitated by the Vistage Chair of the group.
Women Entrepreneurs of Charleston offers women who own at least 50 percent of their business and are committed to growth the opportunity to join their organization, which includes a closed knowledge exchange allowing for an outlet to ask for help from peers.
“Plenty of people will think you're crazy, no matter what you do. Don't let that stop you from finding the people who think you're incredible—the ones who need to hear your voice, because it reminds them of their own. Your tribe. They're out there. Don’t let your critics interfere with your search for them.”
-Vironika Tugaleva, author of The Love Mindset and The Art of Talking to Yourself