I admit that the thing I like best about being an entrepreneur is the absolute freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. This doesn’t mean I get to blow off meetings to go surfing; I am an actual adult, and I do take my businesses seriously. (That’s why we’re taking the time to talk about entrepreneurial organizations.)
What it does mean is that I have the flexibility and independence to build my career on the things I’m passionate about, which are, not coincidentally, the things I’m really good at. It’s no secret that I am a freak outdoorsman, care desperately about preserving the environment, and am a huge advocate for the energy transition (as discussed further during Digital Wildcatters BDE.
I’ve been able to leverage that passion with experience so that these days, I can run my businesses around kayaking and surfing.
But I’m going to let you in on a secret. I didn’t get here alone. Along the way, I’ve had tons of support from colleagues, mentors, professional organizations, and VC partners. The idea that an entrepreneur is some sort of lone wolf Marlboro man (remember when he was cool?) is pretty stupid — and extremely short-sighted.
If you’re in the position to buy a business, you’ve already had some measure of success (or you were born wealthy, in which case you still need trusted peer relationships to stay that way) — and I’d bet you’ve had mentors along the way who have advised you, whether it was a formal relationship or one where you bounced ideas off your golf partners. With the right entrepreneurial organizations, you can jumpstart those professional relationships that everyone needs at one point or another.
The Social Network
I don’t mean Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn here, although you need to be seriously active on LinkedIn. I’ve found that LinkedIn is a springboard to get your message and mission out there among anybody you’d want to interact with—customers, vendors, and employees. But what I’m talking about here is finding the organizations that work like neurons in your brain, firing off in different directions and opening pathways to new partnerships, business ideas, and customers.
As I said earlier, you didn’t get here on your own. A lot of experienced people shared their expertise, advice, and (occasionally) their money with you, so why think you can go it alone now? You can’t, but outgrowing that incubator sort of support team is a real thing that happens to entrepreneurs as they become more successful.
This, my friend, is the whole point of civic and professional organizations. Sure, you should be a member of your local Chamber of Commerce. But also consider groups where you could give back—a program like Junior Achievement comes to mind.
Find Niche Professional and Entrepreneurial Organizations
Once you’re a card-carrying member of your local Chamber and Rotary, go online to find the professional organizations that mesh with your business and culture. A high-quality group of your peers is an invaluable asset as you develop your new acquisition. This group also sets you up to hit your current goals and future opportunities. These organizations are where entrepreneurs and investors find common ground, a critical ingredient for your success with this new venture. The opportunity to connect with like-minded people will always be important. This will ensure your longevity, which is a necessary ingredient to your success.
Now, you probably want me to tell you which entrepreneurial organizations to join. But I’m not your Scout leader, and I don’t really advocate for any particular organization. What I will do is point you in the direction of some of the established entrepreneurial organizations in the tech space. These have a solid track record for supporting entrepreneurs on many different levels.
When you join the bigger entrepreneurial organizations, you’ll find that there are niche subgroups within these larger associations that more closely align with your business. These are potential gold mines for networking. But you’ve got to prove yourself to get invited to the cool kids’ table.
This global association is the gold standard for entrepreneurs. It’s been around since the mid-1980s and is a peer-to-peer network that channels the Gettysburg Address — it’s run by and for entrepreneurs.
The bar for membership at EO is tough to clear for many small businesses. It requires businesses to have over $1 million in annual revenue before even applying for membership. And it ain’t cheap to sign on — initiation is around $3,500, and annual dues are in the $2,500 ballpark. That’s a chunk of cash for a company that’s just been acquired. But EO members are fans that verge on the cultlike.
Check out their blog to figure out if it’s worth your money. With EO chapters around the world and tons of networking and support opportunities, there’s a reason this group is closing in on 35 years and still going strong.
Dynamite Circle (DC)
This is a pretty interesting group that had only been on my periphery until I started thinking about entrepreneur’s support groups (for lack of a better term). This one is a child of the digital age. It’s designed for entrepreneurs who are happiest being digital nomads but want the camaraderie of semi-annual meetings in places like Bangkok or Mexico City and monthly meetings in ten or so cities around the world.
DC is fundamentally a subscription-only Reddit thread. But the threads, or forums, are monitored by members. Also, it matches you with a mastermind in your field, a sort of Jedi mentor. There’s no million-dollar bar to clear for membership. Also, it’s a relative bargain at $499 a year — or $197 per quarter if you want to take them for a test drive.
DC is unusual because they have a spin-off called Dynamite Jobs, a platform dedicated to hiring remote workers. If you’re tired of hunting through the junk on mass-produced job boards, DC members get discounts on hiring from DJ.
This isn’t a replacement for your black AmEx. But it’s a cool way for entrepreneurs to get the bells and whistles you had in your corporate drone days. If you have managed to avoid former drone status, think of Founders Club as a super-fancy miles program or AAA. Members get deals on:
- Travel (one guy scored a room at the Peninsula in NYC for $500 or so, way below the rack rate of over $1,300 per night)
- The kind of stuff you buy during Amazon Prime days (European espresso machines)
- Even AT&T wireless plans
I don’t know about you, but I’d do damn near anything to shave a few bucks off my monthly phone bill, so Founders Club might work for you. There’s a $95 initiation fee and a $595 annual fee, but if you poke around online, you might find a better deal. FC also has the same concierge services as AmEx, although I hear the service is somewhat better.
It’s not all rental car upgrades and deals on airfare with FC. They also host networking events for members in some cities.
Vistage is a lot like EO, but it’s more focused. They say that for small and mid-size companies, they’re the biggest CEO coaching and peer advisory association in the world. I have no reasons to doubt that since they have over 20,000 members in 20 countries. Members get coaching from seasoned CEOs and peer workshops, and something here must be working. After all, their members report that their annual revenues grew by an average of 4.6% in 2020; at the same time, comparable businesses saw a 4.7% drop in revenue.
This success doesn’t come cheap, though. Vistage has a hefty initiation fee north of $2,000, and monthly dues are close to $1,500 for CEOs.
The Challenges of Being a Strong CEO
Remember the scene in Animal House where the parade is off the rails, and the ROTC nerd (a baby Kevin Bacon) is yelling to remain calm right before the mob tramples him flat? That could be you if you don’t have the leadership skills a CEO needs: full of good intentions and goodwill and getting run over by your employees, customers, and suppliers in one mad dash? Actually, the best CEO’s are cheetahs according to Geoff Smart and Randy Street in their book: Who: The A Method for Hiring. What is a Cheetah? Read the book.
Think of these entrepreneurial organizations as a business school on steroids. All the book learning in the world can’t prepare you for the real-world scenarios you have to manage every day.
I don’t care if your MBA came from Stanford or LSE, or you’re a high school dropout with brilliant ideas. The learning curve to being a successful CEO is steep and lonely if you try to go it alone.
Again, I’m not necessarily advocating for any of the entrepreneurial organizations I’ve mentioned earlier. I’m giving you some basic guidance on what’s out there. That said, one thing I hope you’ve figured out from your research is that what you don’t know is a lot more than what you do. This is all well and good until you’re the boss and your board, executives, and employees are looking to you for wisdom and guidance.
If you’re still thinking, “No, I’ve got this. I don’t have the time for meetups and rah-rah Zoom calls. I have this business to run,” I get that. You’re certainly free to disagree and chart your own path, and I wish you the best of luck. But when something goes really sideways and you need advice or support in a hurry, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? If you haven’t developed a network of peers and mentors, they might be your only option.