Sharpen One Another: 4 Traits Of A Strong, Vibrant Startup Tribe

Being a part of something bigger than yourself can really help anyone find more personal and professional fulfillment and success.

Photo: Brian David Crane, founder of CallerSmart; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Brian David Crane, founder of CallerSmart; Source: Courtesy Photo

Silicon Valley is full of tribes.

I know because I quickly became immersed in one when I moved cross-country at 25 to live, eat, sleep, and breathe a startup. While working 12-hour days on a shared goal with people I cared deeply about, I made several close friendships.

Then, I left to work on my own company.

When I ventured out on my own as a solopreneur, with a remote team, I lost that startup tribe. While exciting things were happening in my life, I felt unplugged. I missed being face-to-face in a shared space with a team of people I admired. In short, I was lonely.

As one of my favorite verses from the Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

And that’s what I was missing.

I missed being around others who shared my values, who had my back—who challenged how I thought. I don’t believe you can get where you want to go alone.


The Law of Average

As Jim Rohn, an entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So, I decided to search for another tribe because my adopted one in the Valley no longer physically surrounded me.

Joining a tribe is especially important for solopreneurs that lack built-in relationships. Being a part of something bigger than yourself can really help anyone find more personal and professional fulfillment and success.

During my search for the right tribe, I discovered that there are certain things to look for no matter what type of group is on your wish list.


Vibrant Startup Tribes

Vibrant tribes tend to have at least these four traits in common:


  1. Healthy debate

    Every member of the tribe should feel comfortable enough to engage in healthy, friendly debates. You don’t want a cult of “yes” men. That just creates your own echo chamber. You also don’t want to be a part of a tribe that attacks one another personally — that’s a sign of immaturity.

    Effective tribes feel comfortable submitting challenging ideas and debating them without engaging in character assassination. You also don’t have to agree with everything your peers do. It’s still worth having a dialogue and learning from people who you don’t necessarily agree with.

  2. 10-and-10

    Does the tribe offer you a 10-and-10 opportunity, in which you can seek qualified advice from someone 10 years older than you and someone 10 years younger than you? I’ve found that an older, more experienced person can offer you valuable wisdom and perspective, while the younger person might know of a cutting-edge tool or service that could enhance your idea — and they should want to.

    Members of your community should possess a selfless desire to give and gain knowledge. People who talk the talk without walking the walk are only out to stroke their egos. They have no place in your tribe. Take the time to learn whether a person actually stands by his or her own advice or is just there to toot his horn.

  3. Genuine relationships

    Look for people who are in it to build real relationships. When I hear people say they’re “networking,” I’m turned off. My experience is that your tribe extends beyond business: It’s your life. Surround yourself with people you like and trust, not people only looking to make business connections or advance their careers.

    Genuine tribes don’t work when they take the form of egos bouncing off one another. Learn how to express your feelings and share your fears while promoting an environment where others are also encouraged to do so. Vulnerability and humility are key to strong, successful relationships.

  4. Cross-pollinators

    Personally, I enjoy being around people from diverse backgrounds, opinions, and ages. It’s one of the reasons I love to travel. So, I look for others who are comfortable cross-pollinating across different communities of their own. You want your tribe to be a blend of different personalities and interests. Variety is the spice of life! You don’t need to have everything in common with every member of your tribe.

You also want to spend time with these people. I see way too many groups that share a peak experience during a mountaintop retreat, then don’t see each other again for six months. That’s not the way to go! Connect, stay in touch, follow up, and give one another something to look forward to.


Doing Your Part

A few small tweaks can make a major difference in the strength of your tribe. After all, your tribe needs you, too. This might sound overly sentimental, but I find that taking lots of group photos can really solidify an event or meeting. Pictures are about capturing a special, shared moment. Distribute them throughout your tribe via text or Facebook.

It’s important to be both physically and emotionally present when you get together. Turn off your phone or put it on airplane mode. Do whatever you can to limit distractions. It’s impossible to connect with someone who isn’t there mentally, so make sure you’re as present as possible.

Also, expand your attentiveness beyond specific events. Acknowledge and respond to every email you receive from tribe members. Call them on their birthdays, and send them heartfelt Christmas gifts. Show that you care.

Building a vibrant and inspiring tribe takes continuous work. You’ll experience major challenges along the way, but your efforts to connect will be more than worth it. Your unique tribe supports who you are, so it’s important to be deliberate about protecting and regularly nourishing it. And it will do the same for you.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Brian David Crane is a serial entrepreneur and technology investor. When he’s not working on making iPhone caller ID better with his business CallerSmart, you can probably find him dancing Zouk or reading on his Kindle. Connect with @CallerSmart on Twitter.


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