A couple of weeks ago, I went out to get a few beers with a friend of mine. He's working for a big corporation, but over the last year has become really interested in startups.
In his spare time, he's reading TechCrunch, watching This Week in Startups, and day dreaming about starting a business of his own.
But the thing is, he isn't quite ready to make the big leap yet.
For now, he just wants to meet new people, learn about their experiences… and yet he's not really doing this…
Does this sound like someone you know? What about yourself?
I've heard this story so many times before, and I'm tired of explaining how easy it is to participate. I had to write this post.
Why? Because here's a CRAZY THOUGHT!
What if all these passive observers stop surfing the Web and actually get involved in their local startup communities? Wouldn't that be awesome?
I believe that the world would become a much better place.
So if it's you who needs this — read on! And if it's someone you know — send them here!
Because here are the five easy-as-hell ways to get started.
1. Join Conversations Online
Reading blogs and watching videos is great. Now it's time to start talking, engaging and building relationships.
Without a doubt, Twitter is the best place to start.
Twitter is the most open social network, and it feels a lot like a cocktail party. You're welcome, even expected, to interact with people you don't know.
Follow your heroes, follow anyone they talk to, follow bigger and smaller names in your city and start talking to ALL of them.
What to talk about? Anything! Ask questions, reply to their thoughts, comment on the links they're sharing… Just don't be mute.
Trust me that nobody's gonna judge you unless you're being an ass. On the contrary, soon enough you'll make a few genuine connections within your local (and global) startup scene.
"...Wait Misha, didn't you just say that surfing the Web is bad?"
Being a passive observer is bad. Being a participant isn't.
Getting active on Twitter is a fantastic first step because when you meet people in real life, you won't need to break the ice.
2. Go to a Meetup
Meetups are community-organized events in your city. They are mostly interest-based, free (or cheap) to attend, and open to anyone. This means no barriers of entry for newcomers.
Meetup.com is the main site for hosting and discovering such events. If you've never heard of it before, you're in for a treat!
In my opinion, Meetup.com is one of the greatest things that have happened on the Internet since the beginning of the Internet.
It's as cool as Twitter because it's all about making connections and learning new things. But it's better than any social network because you're pushed to interact with real people in real life.
Here's some homework for you. For the next month, instead of watching TV after work, browsing the web, or whatever else you're doing to murder your braincells, go to a meetup about startups.
3. Sign up for a Startup Weekend
Having fun talking to people online and going to meetups? Time to take it up a notch!
Startup Weekend is a global initiative that brings together aspiring entrepreneurs — developers, designers and marketers — and challenges them to execute on their ideas.
The experience is intense but also incredibly rewarding. In 54 hours you learn what it's like to ideate, build, strategize, and pitch a startup company.
After the weekend is over, some find themselves working on cool projects full of potential. Others walk away with new knowledge, connections, and a spark of entrepreneurship in their eyes.
I'm sure you will find it rewarding as well.
4. Ask Someone out for Coffee
This point will probably seem the scariest of all, but here it goes.
Ask someone you don't know to have a coffee with you.
I'll tell you a big secret (not really) that most people in corporate jobs don't know. People in the startup community are some of the friendliest, most open and approachable human beings I've ever encountered.
They don't wear crowns. They don't feel like they are better than everyone else. They understand the value of sharing experience and learning from others.
Basically, they aren't full of shit.
And sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but almost anyone will be happy to connect and chat with you as long as they have the time to do it and as long as you have good intentions.
So just send someone in your city an email or a tweet and ask them out for coffee. Tell them your story and that you want to learn more about what it's like to start a company.
It helps if you have met them online or offline beforehand. It helps if you can get an introduction. And it really helps if you're still in school.
But don't be afraid to reach out to those you don't know. Just be honest, straightforward and people will understand.
(if you're in Vancouver, you can start with me.)
Volunteering is a great way to get involved. There is a massive shortage of smart people in any city and everyone needs help with something.
Here are a few ways you can get a volunteering gig:
- Talk to meetup hosts. How can you help?
- Connect with your local Startup Weekend organizers. How can you help?
- Reach out to accelerators / incubators. How can you help?
- Talk to startups too. How can you help?
See the pattern here? The key questions is "How can you help?"
Which brings us to the next point...
Next Step: Contribute to the Community
Once you get comfortable being a participant, it's time to become a contributor.
Online, this means curating and creating content. Share good reads and, maybe, start a blog.
Offline, this means offering your advice and expertise to the people you meet, volunteering and, if you're feeling adventurous, organizing something yourself.
Final Step: The Switch
I've given you five ways to get involved in the startup scene. All of them are painless and straightforward.
But at the end of the day, nothing beats actually founding or joining a startup company.
It's like learning to swim by being pushed into the deepest end of the pool. It's scary, dangerous even. But if it works out, it will make for a good story.
So yes, get off TechCrunch and get off your ass.
Dare to dream. Dare to build. Dare to give up the roadmap.
And if you ever succeed, please, find time to respond to tweets, go to events, and share cups of coffee with those who are just starting out.