Cluster to prosper: working with a network of peers can help protect you from bad or inexperienced investors. Photograph: Maskot/Getty Images/Maskot.
There was a time when the lone-genius business founder was revered – the Howard Hughes type who operated in secret, acting only on intuition. That time has passed and now instead of looking within ourselves to find inspiration, entrepreneurs are looking outward and coming together to support each other, collaborate, test and exchange ideas.
At a Guardian Business Made Simple panel discussion in Edinburgh last month, I debated with other entrepreneurs whether incubators (which support startups at the early stages) or accelerators (which aim to drive the growth of companies with a business model in place) are the holy grail for startups. What we all agreed on, was that being part of any programme can never be an end in itself, and should only ever be viewed as an instrument for building a successful company.
Steven Drost (centre) and panellists at the Guardian’s Business Made Simple event supported by Vodafone. Photograph: Ross Sneddon
If you want to build a successful business, the best option in my view is working together with a network of your peers, or what I call “clustering”. There are many benefits of joining these clusters. You meet likeminded people who are as driven as you. You can find (friendly) rivalries, possible co-founders, partners, advisers, investors and employees much more easily than you could if you were building your company in isolation.
The incubator I work at was founded on this clustering concept. Being part of an incubator is a great way to build a network. Other options include enrolling on an accelerator programme if you’re sure that it is worth selling equity to; or joining a supportive co-working space.
Forming a network also allows you to stay on top of the most recent business thinking and gives you people to bounce ideas off and compare notes with. A good community of peers can help protect you from bad advisers, which is crucial if you are a fledgling startup. It is more difficult for bad behaviour to thrive – such as inexperienced investors offering predatory investment terms – if discussions around best practice flow between entrepreneurs helping to effectively police your community.
Discussions with peers around funding can also be helpful. There are many different options open to startups, from angel and venture capital investment to crowdsourcing. And there is no one solution – it often depends on what stage you’re at.
Before trying to change the world by building a startup, make sure you are informed, especially before you become part of an incubator or accelerator – do your research to join the right one for you. You have a better chance of success if you have the right environment to work in. And that environment isn’t about ping pong and free beer – it’s about good people.