By Ayla Kremb | 5 April 2021
Building a virtual community is a double-edged sword. While we’re given this amazing power to meet people virtually from anywhere in the world, it’s ironic how this way, we’re less likely to build authentic and meaningful connections.
This is especially true If you’re building a startup. Throw in a global pandemic, travel restrictions, and remote working trends into the mix, we learn that it’s more difficult than ever to build those kinds of networks we need right now.
Therefore, building support groups and communities for founders has become more important than ever. Earlier this month, three global fund founders talked about the necessity of communities in a virtual event hosted by the Singapore Global Network, featuring guest speakers Tanya Suarez, Co-Founder & CEO of IoT Tribe; Eric Bahn, Co-Founder and General Partner of Hustle Fund, and; Brian Ma, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Iterative Capital.
Before founding Hustle Fund, Eric Bahn was first a startup founder of 15 years. And when he described the overall experience of being a startup founder, he used the words “lonely,” and sometimes, even “depressing.”
“I felt like 95% of the time, things were going badly, even in the companies that worked out well. And I’m sure a lot of founders out there feel like ‘this is just too hard.’ In reality, it is the harder path in life. But it’s also very rewarding in other ways.
“I really want to emphasize ‘lonely’ because a lot of my friends, and even my parents, or other people who I thought were really close to me, couldn’t really understand what I was going through as a founder, because it is such a unique set of challenges.”
And so, building from his experience as a founder, he sought to create a community around VCs and founders that could essentially fill the void of having to go through the startup journey alone with Hustle Fund, a seed-stage VC fund based in California and Singapore.
Eric and Hustle Fund thrive on and have created a less-competitive, more welcoming environment, where founders and VCs have an opportunity to build genuine connections through their shared experiences .
“One of the things that gets me really excited about this community movement that’s starting to happen around VCs, but have has also existed with founders for a long time, is that it’s a way to counteract some of the loneliness, knowing that you actually have people that you can lean on to in hard times. I think one of the really exciting benefits of being a founder now is that VCs and founders together are trying to find ways of building a much more authentic community, and in Hustle Fund, there’s usually plenty of room for other folks to come on board.”
In 2017, Tanya Suarez founded Iot Tribe to create a platform that would bring together corporates who are in need of new solutions, and startups who can offer those to them, specifically in areas such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and immersive technologies (VR, AR, MR).
IoT uses an equity-free approach, and the reason why IoT Tribe does this is because, Tanya says, they want to attract the best in class founders while also allowing the corporates to have skin in the game and take these new solutions seriously to a higher level.
“We were very keen to do that in an equity-free way because it’s very difficult to understand the value of a technology until you’ve seen what deployment actually looks like, and you’ve seen what difficulties can arise in that deployment. For instance, until you’ve actually proven how it can be integrated into an existing stack, or whether they can come across geographies or across multiple jurisdictions because of data protection laws.”
Support networks in the startup community are very important. Tanya believes that it truly takes a village, or in their case, a “tribe,” to raise a child – or a startup. According to Tanya, a support system really isn’t all just about the initial acceleration program, but it’s also about giving founders all the support and the mental resilience to build out a network that they need to really scale their business.
“You might have the most fantastic tech on Earth, but if you don’t have a sales team that can help you convey the message adequately, if you don’t have a person in charge of human resources as you grow to help manage the talent in your team to ensure that things like diversity policies are not just written but also implemented, and if you don’t have solid financial structures behind you, then you’re not going to last very long. I believe one of the most positive effects of having a support network is that they make founders realize that they don’t need to go through that journey alone.”
IoT Tribe accelerates the growth and adoption of disruptive technologies globally. Operating from London, the company runs deep tech accelerator London Tech Calling for Singaporean companies, as well as a space tech arm in Europe working with the European Space Agency and several European tech companies.
Brian Ma’s story is very familiar. Before co-founding Iterative Capital, Brian co-founded three companies, including a startup called Decide.com which was eventually sold to eBay. Since then, he focuses his efforts on building the strongest and most supportive network in Southeast Asia for early stage founders.
Iterative funds 10 companies every quarter. Brian hosts meetings with the founders every week in small groups of four to five companies, where they walk through everyone’s greatest challenges in their journeys — challenges including digital marketing, or product deployment, or anything else. In addition, Brian also has one-on-one meetings with each of the startups.
“I think 90% of the founder journey is really, really hard. During my one-on-ones, typically I ask ‘hey, how’s the program for you? What’s been working well?’ And by far, like 85% of time, their answer is, ‘it’s just cool to see other people struggling with the same things.’”
Brian says what surprises him is that a lot of the time, founders are just glad to hear that other startups are going through the same struggles that they’re dealing with. Brian says being in a community is a tremendous help, especially on peoples’ mental well-being when things aren’t going well.
“I’m amazed at how these founders say that just having someone to talk to where you feel like you don’t have any filters, and you can talk to them about what you’re struggling with, is incredibly beneficial.”
These are just three startup communities in Singapore out of many. It’s undeniable how having a support network can have a tremendous impact on the outlook of a founder, especially in these trying times. If you’re a founder in distress, know that there are plenty of opportunities out there for you to meet like-minded people, regardless of the circumstances we’re all currently facing.
This article was first published on Mission+. Mission+ is a digital innovation studio that combines engineering prowess, design agility and commercialization expertise to deliver market-ready technology products.
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As MISSION+ ecosystem manager, Ayla has a passion for connecting with and sharing the stories of top performing individuals at the intersection of tech and business. With a background in corporate innovation, R&D fundraising, and tech commercialization, she has a unique insight into the cutting edge technologies being developed in a diverse set of industries, from B2B utilities, to hardware and consumer tech. A global citizen originally from Sweden, Ayla has lived, worked and built a network in Europe, the USA, Singapore, and now calls Canada home.
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