Founders do not have an obligation to help build their local startup ecosystem. In fact, I would argue that the founders and startups that have the most impact on their local startup ecosystem spend very little time thinking about it. The best thing that founders can do to help their local ecosystem is to build a successful company.
I’m not suggesting that founders should cut themselves off from and to ignore their local startup ecosystem. I am suggesting that the primary ingredient to any ecosystem’s health and capacity to thrive over a long period of time is to have participants in the ecosystem succeeding. It is believed that the best startup ecosystems produce successful and enduring companies, but I think that’s backwards. The best ecosystems are a result of founders creating successful companies. Companies create ecosystems. Ecosystems don’t create companies.
Success begets success and mediocrity begets mediocrity. Ecosystems benefit the most from successes because it establishes proof points and belief that success is possible in the ecosystem. Show me an ecosystem that doesn’t have any successes and I will show you a fledgling ecosystem. An ecosystem gets better when the ecosystem produces success. Why? Because any healthy and active ecosystem need some participants in the ecosystem to be successful for others to learn and benefit from.
Are introductions to advisors, investors, and other founders important for founders as part of a startup ecosystem? Is it good practice to have founders supporting and rooting for other founders? Yes to both, but alone these things alone don’t make an ecosystem successful. The only thing that makes a startup ecosystem truly successful and valuable is when the companies participating become successful. Everything else pales in comparison. Why do successful founders and startups get the keys to a city and heaped with praise from the economic development agency? Because the startups that make it, the ones that create jobs and bring investment to an area are the only startups worth acknowledging. Startups that don’t succeed have no value to anyone outside of the startup’s founders and team. Hopefully they learned a bunch through the process, but this reinforces the point that a startup ecosystem can’t be successful and can’t add value to startups if there aren’t any successful startups as part of the ecosystem.
Founders, the greatest impact you can have on your local startup ecosystem is to not focus on and worry about the ecosystem and to put your time and energy into building a successful company. If enough founders in a startup ecosystem build successful companies, the ecosystem will take care of itself because successful companies attract the things that make the ecosystem valuable. Startup ecosystems don’t make great companies. Great companies make a great ecosystem. Most founders care about making their local startup ecosystem better to help pave the way so that the founders behind them have a better chance at success. Most founders I’ve met are champions and defenders of their local startup ecosystem. But the founders who really get it know that championing, defending, and fighting for their ecosystem is best accomplished by building a successful company that feeds people, capital, and know-how back into the ecosystem. Founders can’t do any of those things if their company doesn’t attain some level of success.
Ryan Frederick has had the privilege of being part of starting and growing several product companies and services firms. Ryan is a Principal at the product studio AWH. Ryan has authored two books. The first on increasing the odds of success in creating products, being a Founder, and starting companies called The Founder’s Manual: A Guidebook for Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur. The second, Sell Naked: And Other Advice for Growing and Managing Services Firms. Ryan speaks frequently about creating software products, growing services firms, and leadership.