Jun 5 2012

Your community of peers

Last week about 40 Foundry Group portfolio company CEOs and founders converged on Boulder for a half day of meetings followed by some social time. It was a truly amazing experience and such a great reminder of the importance of cultivating a peer group for you and your company.

We have a very active CEO and founder mailing list at Foundry, where there are daily rifs on any number of topics and where portfolio companies can reach out to each other for help and advice (we have a separate list for CTOs, one for Boulder companies and another for Bay Area companies as well – all designed to build Community – with a capital “C” – around the shared trait which is Foundry as an investor). These lists are great and have been extremely popular with companies (the four Foundry partners actively participate in the lists as well). It was creating this sense of Community around a shared investment from Foundry that precipitated the organization of the CEO/Foundry Summit. And interestingly, the entire thing was organized by the group, not by Foundry.

While we had talked about putting together a CEO meeting a few times I think we were concerned about “forcing” everyone to show up by decree of their major investor and wanted to be sure that it was an idea that people really supported. So when Charlie Wood (of Spanning) and I were having lunch in Austin a few months ago and he brought up the idea, I encouraged him to take the lead and use the group email list to coordinate.

The response was overwhelming and a few days after Charlie’s initial email, the date and basic outline had been planned. The agenda was crowdsourced to the group, each session was lead by a different CEO and everyone paid their own way. The results were pretty amazing. The level of conversation was extremely high and the ideas that were passed around the room super valuable. A couple of very specific company challenges were addressed (and I think solved or at least put on the right track) and we generated a number of topics that we wanted to go even deeper on the next time we’re together (with the thought perhaps of doing entire events around just a topic or two and letting those companies in the portfolio who are facing specific challenges around those topics attend along with some outside resources to help us all out). Perhaps most importantly CEOs and founders from across the portfolio (and across the country) got the chance to meet and spend some time together – often people who only knew each other by email.

Being connected to the Foundry family was an easy way in this case to bring people together, but I’d encourage all entrepreneurs reading this to consider pulling together a similar get-together (large or small) of their peer groups. We’ve done this a few times before (Jason put together a Digital Home summit and, along with Walter Knapp from our portfolio company Lijit, I organized a Digital Media Summit in Boulder – in both cases the attendees were both Foundry portfolio companies as well as many other companies from within the ecosystem). While there’s some work involved, the pay-off is enormous. On the more casual side of the equation but along the same general lines, when I was in San Francisco last week I brought together about 17 of our Bay Area CEO/Founders for dinner. No agenda in that case, but plenty of conversation and connection.

I think the main point is that by actively creating Community you end up with a peer group that can be really helpful to your company. And you can determine the qualification for membership to create the greatest impact for you and your business (“all businesses in our building”, “businesses with female CEOs”, “businesses working on partnerships with XYZ company”, etc.).

I’d encourage you to think about how to create that kind of peer group for you and your company.