Thom Ruhe capped off this morning’s 1 Million Cups (congrats on the brand new site going live!) 1st birthday event with some thoughtful comments. One sentence especially struck me: “I think community is becoming a form of currency in our economy.” I responded, via Twitter, “Always has been, we just see it now.”
I’m still thinking about his remarks. He touched on a point that’s dear to me and — I’ve discovered after living in the Kansas City Startup world for the past year-and-a-half or so — many (if not most) entrepreneurs. The point is simple: human relationships are everything.
Most of us have to do something to make a living. Most of us spend the largest chunk of our waking hours doing work of some kind. There are easier, safer ways to make a living than becoming an entrepreneur. If we don’t realize it beforehand, we soon figure out that there is no balance in starting a company. We eat and breathe our companies’ every waking moment. Our companies invade our dreams — or nightmares. Our families and friends have to come along for the ride, and it is a wild roller coaster of triumphs and tragedies.
Despite all that, millions of us around the planet, everyday, make the leap into this uncharted land. If the projections are correct (and I think they are), those numbers will only increase as we all witness the greatest reshaping of the workforce since the Industrial Revolution.
For well over hundred years, during the fires of the Industrial Revolution, our human experience was reshaped as the developed world became increasingly urbanized. People moved into cites to take advantage of more secure factory careers transcending the capricious whims of agrarian life. Beginning in the late 1950s, Levittown clones encircled our cities, pushing outward, creating more suburbs (until a new word, “exurb,” had to be coined). In 2008, for the first time in human history, more of us worldwide lived in cities and towns than in the countryside.
For all of the 20th century, cultural commentators worried about the ways in which, even as we moved physically closer, we were dissolving the bonds of community that held us together with tradition and a sense of shared fate. Those forces are still at work in our world, leaving us alone together in crowds.
But for the past two decades, with the rise of the web and mobile, something curious also happened. What have we actually done with this powerful information technology that more of us now carry in our pockets (80% of the world has a mobile subscription and more than 40% of the developed world now carries a smartphone)?
We’ve built social networks, connecting those we’ve known all our lives along with those we’ll never meet in person. We use those networks as rumor mill and information highway. We share support in times of need and flame out over tiny provocation. We share humor and tragedy and boring life details. News travels the world with a click in the space of a heartbeat. In short, we do everything with digital technology that we’ve done on front porches, at potluck dinners, and around campfires — but we’ve expanded the community to the biggest small town we can imagine.
There’s been no overarching plan, but we’ve turned each new technical development toward feeding our needs as very social animals. We’ve used our technology to re-imagine the traditional small town on a grand, global scale. And we’ve used those technologies to augment, not replace, our face-to-face connections.
Starting a business can seem pretty lonely. It often feels like you’re out on a wire with no net. It is exhilarating and terrifying. But once you’ve been bitten by the bug, it’s difficult to imagine life any other way. Why?
It’s not riches. Most of us won’t get wealthy. It’s not glory. Most of us will fail (although many of us will “fail forward” and carry those lessons into the next venture). It’s not control. We know, as the “boss,” that if it’s going to get done, then that responsibility falls to us — and we answer to everyone. It’s not for leisure. I can’t tell you the last time I took a vacation, nor can I predict when my next one will be (and that’s OK, because I truly love what I do).
I think, more than anything else, we become entrepreneurs because we see the possibility to make a meaningful difference in the world. Markets are the mechanism our world provides us to propose a new possibility and see who will join us. Whether it’s a hot dog stand or a tech startup, if we do it well, we provide value for enough people that we can support ourselves, our families and pay something forward to the communities who made our experiments possible.
I became a Sociologist because I believe in community and I think we can choose to help make the world a better place. I became an entrepreneur for that same reason. And I, for one, remain grateful for programs like the Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups — among the many, growing efforts here in Kansas City’s vibrant startup community — that help all of us connect with others pursuing our unique versions of this crazy dream. They help us see that we are far from crazy and far from alone. We’re very human and very together.
@KauffmanFDN @ThomRuhe @1millioncups #entrepreneur #community