The Florida startup ecosystem has made strides in the past few years. When I first arrived in Tampa in 2013, the local ecosystem was small and siloed. Since then, we’ve seen dramatic growth in the number of startups, support organizations, and investors, but with quick growth comes a series of problems that we will have to tackle to grow to the next stage.
We Need Mentors, Not Cheerleaders
One problem that I’ve noticed recently as our startup ecosystem grows is the increase of what I call ‘cheerleaders.’ You see these people a lot in startup circles, especially in Florida. These cheerleaders are constantly patting founders on the back, supporting the good, bad, and ugly ideas in our community. They can have the effect of propping up potential problems or pitfalls with an entrepreneur’s business because they are happy just to have startup activity in their community. In my eyes, it is incumbent upon the entrepreneur to find success, but a strong startup community can help steer that company – saving months or years of floundering. Some startups are just one conversation away from finding a breakthrough.
The Feedback Loop
Florida has been successful at fostering entrepreneurship, but is far less successful at scaling startups. According to the Kauffman Index, the state of Florida ranks number 3 in startup activity, but 24th in rate of startup growth – second to last among large states. I believe this is due in part to the feedback loop that is caused by cheerleading.
People in our startup community, and many others, have a hard time giving young companies real, honest feedback. Fundamentally, it’s very difficult to tell someone the project that they’ve devoted the last six months, year, or even more on will be difficult to execute. As a community member, it’s much easier to be a cheerleader than to have an honest conversation about why someone’s company is floundering, failing, or not finding traction. In Tampa especially, most community supporters are satisfied that people are trying to build companies period, let alone creating and scaling a successful company.
By cheering on all companies, regardless of their merits, we enable bad habits within our local entrepreneurs and perpetuate the stagnation of our communities. In order to move past the infancy of our ecosystem and help improve its overall health, we need to take an active role in providing advice and constructive feedback whenever possible.
General Community Members: If you are a community member, ask questions. Even if you don’t have relevant experience, dig a little deeper into what the idea is trying to accomplish. It will help the entrepreneur see from a new perspective, or refine their delivery.
Advisors: Try to add value where you are an expert. Giving bad advice can be much more harmful than just being a cheerleader. Be careful not to send startups down the wrong road.
Startups: Seek feedback often, but understand who that feedback is coming from. It’s on you to vet the feedback you are receiving. Carefully vet advisors and mentors. Taking bad advice can waste months of effort. Make sure you do your own diligence on advice and be strategic about how you implement advice. Question anyone who loves everything about your business.
I want to be clear, the courage and commitment necessary to start a company is something to applaud – we need these big thinkers and revolutionary ideas to move an innovative community forward. As these ecosystems take shape, it becomes all the more important to steer entrepreneurs in the right direction through real, actionable feedback. Entrepreneurs, investors, support organizations, and others stand to benefit from keeping it real. So next time someone runs a startup idea by you, do everyone a favor – keep it 100.
Credit to Paul Singh for the inception of this blog topic. His Results Junkies Tour stop in Miami got me thinking a lot about creating better startup ecosystems in Florida.