It’s no secret that entrepreneurship is hard going.
Building a business from scratch comes at a high psychological cost – rates of depression are much higher among entrepreneurs than the general population.
“Entrepreneurship is lonely,” says Paul Heirendt, a serial entrepreneur who has mentored many other entrepreneurs.
“If you’re really an entrepreneur – you’re breaking down walls, trying new things and creating something out of nothing – it’s a devastatingly lonely pursuit,” he says.
“If you don’t have a support system, you shouldn’t even think about it.”
However, proactively surrounding yourself with the right people can pave the way to success.
In this post, you’ll get introduced to 6 online communities for entrepreneurs where you can get business advice and build that all-important support network.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be ready to jump into one or more of these virtual meeting places and start forging the connections you need in order to succeed.
Why online networks can be optimal
Online communities allow entrepreneurs to connect with people they wouldn’t usually meet.
“A lot of people aren’t in communities where they have that opportunity to connect. There aren’t [many] networking events,” Paul says.
This lack of local opportunity to connect prompted Paul to join forces with Rick Duree to create the XLR8 Entrepreneurship Alliance, an online platform that uses an algorithm to intelligently match entrepreneurs with the people that can meet their specific needs.
Social matching is just one of the benefits an online network can provide. And while some communities have focused objectives — such as connecting entrepreneurs with mentors or co-founders — others are more flexible.
For Kiranbir Sodhia, Director of Software Engineering for Microsoft’s HoloLens, Xbox, and Custom Silicon, more specialized online communities are part of his entrepreneurial toolbox, alongside resources such as Quora and Github.
“My expertise lies in consumer electronics, and I’m always happy to advise promising startups in this space. While LinkedIn itself isn’t ideal for finding these types of opportunities, mutual connections often introduce me to startup CEO’s and CTO’s through LinkedIn. Unfortunately, finding these opportunities can be limited by your circle’s activities,” Kiranbir says.
“The benefit of communities like FounderDating is the ability to search specifically for entrepreneurs and companies that require my expertise and advice, as well as highlighting my skillset as a resource for entrepreneurs. The process has become easier and more efficient as a result.”
Finding out where you fit in
With so many online communities available, which ones should you join?
The best way to find the right ones for your particular requirements is to dive in and explore.
“I would say people need to sign up for just about everything and see if it works for them. If it works for them, stay on it. If it doesn’t, bail quickly,” Paul says.
Molly Dickinson, founder of mdash, a freelance copywriting and messaging strategy company, also suggests testing different communities to find the ones where you feel comfortable to participate.
“Choose a community within which you feel excited to listen and encouraged to speak. Try out more than one and invite others to try them out with you,” Molly says.
“Don’t be afraid to be among the first to join, or the last. Remember: Any community is only as strong as we make it, so do your part to build it better.”
Bear in mind that your needs will change over time, and as an adaptable entrepreneur, you must respond to those shifts.
“If a platform’s not evolving, then you need to find something else that does help you accomplish what you’re trying to achieve with your networking,” Paul advises.
Once you’ve found an online network that suits you, be active!
“As an entrepreneur, you can’t walk into a networking event and expect to meet your new co-founder, advisee, or investor immediately,” Kiranbir says.
“Similarly, you can’t expect immediate benefits just by joining an online community. You still have to invest the time to find people, to ask questions, and to share knowledge. The benefit now is that these resources are available at your convenience.”
Now you’re armed with insights from some people in the know, here are introductions to six communities that will help you with your search for entrepreneurial support online.
These sites can provide everything from the most basic business advice through to matching you with a mentor — all you need is at your fingertips!
Overview: FounderDating allows you to network with other entrepreneurs, access accomplished advisors, or even seek out a co-founder. It’s easy to search for other members based on their area of expertise.
There is also a blog section with tons of useful information and a discussions section.
“I regularly read discussions of questions I find relevant to mdash and my career, and have good experience so far with asking a specific question about growing my business,” Molly says.
Fees: Joining is free for entrepreneurs and advisors. The co-founder network is membership-screened (only about a third of applicants are accepted) and has a $50 yearly fee.
You should join: …if you have a business idea at any stage of development and want to find an experienced mentor in your field, be part of informed and intelligent discussions, or find the perfect partner for your project.
Overview: StartupNation is a platform with almost 100,000 registered users. It has an active community, which discusses everything from how to write a business plan to legal and financial considerations.
The site has a range of resources, including a blog with articles by experts and thought leaders, along with StartupNation Radio.
“The intention of our platform is to offer users a chance to educate themselves, connect with experienced small business owners and entrepreneurs and overall to foster the entrepreneurial spirit that the StartupNation brand stands for,” says Ryan O’Bleness, Community Manager/Public Relations for StartupNation.
“Perhaps our community gives someone the courage to quit their day job and pursue starting their own business, or connects two people who go on to become successful business partners together.”
You should join: “ …if you want to turn your dream into reality. Join our ever-growing community to connect with entrepreneurs, build lasting relationships, find inspiration for your idea, receive advice or help others out,” Ryan says.
Overview: XLR8 is a social network powered by an algorithm that matches entrepreneurs to peers, co-founders, mentors, service providers, investors, and startups. “You’re matched to who you should be talking to,” Paul says.
“You fill out a profile by answering two basic questions: one is what you need help with, and the other is what you can help with,” Paul says.
“Even if you’re a young entrepreneur, there’s something you can help someone else with, and we’re trying to instill that ‘give-first’ attitude.”
XLR8 also gives you a feed of other community members’ posts; you can add your own post or respond to others much like other on social media platforms.
And, in the spirit of giving, XLR8’s sophisticated matching technology is used as an equity investment to support other startups.
You should join: …if you want to be guided through the process of making professional connections and find people with the right industry experience and knowledge to help develop your project.
Overview: Quibb is an exclusive members-only site where all types of professionals share industry news and analysis.
Much like other social network sites, members can share links, write posts, comment and like what others have shared, and direct message each other (note that there are no privacy settings, so everything members do is publicly visible).
Quibb is heavily vetted. Only around 40% of applicants are accepted to build a high-quality network, which sets it apart from other business news sites where there is a lot of ‘noise.’ It has members from almost 30,000 startups and companies, as well as entrepreneurs backed by top VC’s.
Fees: If you’re lucky enough to get in, membership is free. There is also the option of a paid subscription for those who want to support the site.
You should join: …if you want to be at the cutting edge of your industry and on top of any relevant news, or if you want to get your content in front of influencers.
Overview: TheFunded is a 20,000-strong community of entrepreneurs, founders, and CEO’s. Members discuss fundraising and discuss strategies for growing their startups. They also rate and review angel investors and VC’s – there are lists for both top VC’s and banned VC’s. All actions on TheFunded are carried out anonymously.
Memberships to the site are screened, with around 70% acceptance rate.
Fees: Joining is free for CEOs, but there is a fee for everyone else (around $400 per year).
You should join: …if you’re looking for startup funding for the first time, or if you’re a fast-growth entrepreneur being approached by several funding sources.
Overview: Ryze is a network of over one million entrepreneurs and business people from all over the world. It’s designed to facilitate communication between professionals by industry, interests, and location. Members can follow each other, join networks, post ads in the classifieds section, and participate in discussions.
Fees: There is a free membership option, which allows you to join established networks and contact members in your network. An upgrade to Gold membership ($10 per month) allows you to create and lead your own network.
You should join: …if you want access to a large pool of like-minded individuals and want to advertise your business.
Now you know what online communities can do for your entrepreneurial endeavors, it’s time to try some out!
The sooner you sign up, the sooner you can get access to the knowledge you need, and build the support network that will keep you and your business healthy.
Are you a part of an online community that has been a great source of support in building your business? Share your experience in the comments!