In the elk-infested mountains of Estes Park, Colorado, I recently attended a weekend-long Techstars retreat wherein Andrew Hyde shared his research on community-building. He studies it like a science, he said.

Photo by Aimee Giese

Photo by Aimee Giese

Hyde is the creator of Startup Weekend, and basically a bit of a legend. He started with Techstars by showing up in their basement and insisting he be hired as the “Community Manager.”

“You need a community manager,” he insisted (so I was told). “You’re so exclusive. You need someone to be the membrane between all the people who want access, but can’t get it.”

Why not, Hyde said, cram the whole 3 month accelerator program into one weekend? You’d get 54 hours to pitch an idea, build a team, and launch a small company, all in a friendly weekend-long competition.

Crazy. But it worked. Eventually.

“The first attempt totally died,” said Marc Nager, former CEO of UP Global and part of the original Startup Weekend planning team. But they kept at it, and 32 Startup Weekends later, Hyde, Nager, and a small team began to scale the event.

Now, Startup Weekend has become a global phenomenon. There have been over 2.9K events to date, in 150 different countries. We’ve held three here in Fargo, with the fourth in the works, and it’s done wonders in bringing startup culture to our city.

And it all came back to Andrew Hyde, and his vision to kick start the entrepreneurial journey. Hyde has kept busy since then, traveling to 67 countries and 94 startup weekends. He’s got a bucket list on his website of 51 items, of which he has checked off 23 so far – things like building a cabin in Alaska, running a marathon, and watching a sunrise above 3,000m.

“I’ve seen a lot,” Hyde said.

Andrew Hyde: Community Building Pro Tips

Photo by KK.

Photo by KK.

So that’s Andrew Hyde for you. He now spends his time traveling, writing, doing speaking gigs, and studying communities from around the world with an intense analytical eye. Here are some of his pro tips on community building that I gleaned from his talk, in a mad scramble of note-taking.

1. It’s all about the newcomers.

The first thing Andrew Hyde did when he started talking to us that weekend in Colorado, was ask this question:

“Raise your hand if you are one of the newest Startup Weekend facilitators here,” he asked.

Two hands went up. Hyde pointed straight at them.

“These are the most important people in the room right now,” he told us all. “How the newest people are welcomed into the group determines our success.”

If the newest people don’t feel welcome, he went on, then it’s dead. The program, the community, whatever you are working towards – it’s dead. Focus on the newcomers. They must feel welcome; they signify the sustainability of your community.

2. What is a startup?

He then asked the room how they define “startup.” It’s something I’ve wondered myself. A few scattered answers emerged:

“A project where the outcome is unknown,” said one.

“A company seeking a business model.” That one drew a laugh.

“Any entity that is disrupting itself or the industry,” another offered.

To all these, Hyde nodded.

“For me, a startup is a project with passion,” he said.

This gives context for how Hyde sees the startup world, and building a startup community. While the definition of a “startup” is certainly debatable (and very heavily debated, in fact) – for Hyde, passion is at the root of it.

3. The Forever September Theory

The Forever September Theory is based off something Hyde has seen happen time and time again in communities with emerging startup scenes. The name comes from a phenomenon that happened on Reddit, he said, where one September a whole slew of new changes were made. The old users rebelled, the new users fought back. It was the clash of old and new.

The same thing happens in communities.

“Communities live and die at this Forever September,” Hyde said. “You’re going to get tired at one point of welcoming new people.”

But to that end, he said, you can’t give up. Just as Brad Feld says healthy communities have leaders that make 20 year investments – buying a house, hosting reoccurring events, etc. – building a community takes patience, and commitment.

“This idea for community is a long term game. We’re in it for the long run,” Hyde said. “ So be as amazing as possible to as many people as you can.”

4. Make it Free

Another key factor in being welcoming is making things free. This is part of being radically inclusive in a community, Hyde stressed. It’s a mantra lived out by Hyde and his cohorts – particularly Brad Feld.

Hyde shared a story from Feld, in fact, wherein an idea for an event was proposed. It was a good idea. Feld said, “Sounds great, make it free.”

“But…we do need a venue, and food, and -” the event planner countered.

Feld didn’t budge. “Make it free.”

Feld actually paid his own money to make the event free.

“That says something,” Hyde said. “It says, my ethic is so strong that you need to welcome people, that just make it free.”

If being welcoming is the determining factor whether a community is living or dying (see #1) – hosting free events is a crucial part of the puzzle.

5. Write about somebody else.

At the end of the talk, Hyde encouraged us all to do one thing. Write about somebody else.

“Telling another community’s story helps you tell your story,” he said.

In this spirit, Fargo, check out some of these other awesome communities that are doing awesome things.

Albequerque, New Mexico : where an amazing teenage girl named Taylor successfully organized the first Teen Startup Weekend.

Louisville, Kentucky : home of the longest firework show in the world.

Cedar Valley, Iowa : cool people here with an awesome Startup Weekend. Also, check out how Iowa is joining the startup movement.

Springfield, Missouri : They’ve got an extensive angel list of startups.

Cheers, Hyde, to your wisdom! Learn more about this guy, on his well-designed blog.

Photos courtesy of KK and Aimee Giese.

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Marisa Jackels