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There’s endless writing about how lonely it is to be an entrepreneur. How hard it is to be at the top. And how stressful it can be to become a founder, leader, entrepreneur.

Like anything in life, choosing to do something without a community of people to support you is a lonely path. And you can probably make the argument that you don’t learn the basics in life without teachers, peers, mentors, and cheerleaders. No Olympic athlete ever won a gold medal without both falling on their ass repeatedly and without good coaching.

So, why would an entrepreneur set out on their journey all alone?

There are a few books I’ve read that exemplify why other people are important in achieving your life goals – and why it’s important to take time to stop-look-listen as well as to share your experiences, hopes, and dreams. (More on those books later…)

In the throes of creating the most incredible, must-have solution to a big problem, sometimes we forget to ask others to join in the journey….we sometimes forget to surround ourselves with people smarter than us, and we forget that it is necessary to both give and take.

Personal Growth as a Bank Account

I like to look at the give and take component of personal growth as a bank account. Sometimes there’s debt and sometimes there’s a surplus. Being mindful of this concept is valuable. I like to keep my debt relatively low and I do this by making sure that I build a strong savings account so that when I really need help, that I don’t go into massive debt getting there.

How does this work? How do you build a big savings account?

Become a Mentor

Becoming a mentor builds equity versus cash in your savings account because every time you Give First as a mentor, there is a return to the person you mentor — as well as to yourself. You can be a mentor to a someone like you but less experienced (an entrepreneur who is more wet behind the ears), or to a person more senior than you (if you have a skill set that they do not have); to someone who is like you (a math major helping another math major); an alumna of a college helping a student in that college, etc. You can help a sibling, a neighbor, a classmate, a coworker. You get the idea. It’s never too early to mentor and to be mentored.

Find a Mentor for Yourself

Finding your own mentor is the corollary to becoming a mentor. There’s no order that these two need to come in – it’s a virtuous cycle. But the more that you allow yourself to openly share, the more that you receive. A mentor is someone whom you trust and respect. They can be explicit in the relationship – scheduled time, specifics asks and answers — or it can be less defined, a relationship that is based on simply wanting to grow by learning from another’s experiences.

Participate in Networking Events

Peers and people who have aligned interests are great ways to grow your network and yourself. I’m a big fan of openly sharing and engaging, of honesty and transparency, and of helping someone over rough patches that I’ve already learned how to navigate.

Networking events are also awesome ways to add another person to your personal network, find that new investor that you’ve been seeking, do some A/B testing on your messaging and, most basically, a change of scenery. It’s too easy to be too busy to make the time to change the scenery and engage with other people – making the effort and following through on the intent is important.

Join an Organization to Get Connected

If you are a part of a network like Techstars, really use the Techstars family. Take advantage of Connect (our private network for Techstars founders), meet with other founders, engage with your MD and others that are interesting to you, find new mentors and reach out to investors. What you reap will be at least proportional to what you sow.  

I remember the point in my journey as an entrepreneur when I wanted to become a better CEO – and my intentional journey to do this. I joined Entrepreneur’s Organization (better known as EO) and benefited hugely from my forum. It was there that I expanded my network for life, I joined both my local board and the International Board, learned about a different type of governance, explored the world, and was exposed to cultural differences, went through the Birthing of Giants program, and further blew my mind up. I credit EO with a rapid growth of my understanding of the journey that I was on and my ability to be much more intentional about my path.

Just remember: you are not alone. Dive into the network around you and learn from your it. Get connected. Be a mentor and find a good one. Take control of your learning. Everything is a teachable moment if you let it become one.

Oh, and back to those few books that inspired me …

  • Into Thin Air – such a lesson on the dangers of being singularly focused and not always allowing others to lead.
  • The Boys in the Boat – an accidental book about team work; as a former rower, it was a huge validation for me but the overall principles and underpinnings are amazing.
  • Lean In – I wasn’t a huge fan, at first. And then I decided it was a must read simply because it’s so available for anyone.
  • When Genius Failed – failure is something that we all need to do.
  • The Cult of Done – so many worthy principles in this basic manifesto.

At Techstars, you are not alone. Once you are part of the network, it’s Techstars for Life. Join us!


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Jenny Lawton Jenny Lawton
A long-time tech leader, Jenny Lawton is the COO of Techstars. Previously, she joined littleBits Electronics, Inc., as chief strategy officer (later promoted to COO), and served as interim CEO of MakerBot, a global leader in the 3D printing industry. @jennylawton