The Importance of Connections & Community as an Entrepreneur

It’s been 28 months since I’ve gone out on my own and became an entrepreneur.

For any entrepreneur, founder, or someone with a side hustle out there, it’s obvious there are several things that are drastically different when working for “someone else” versus yourself.

For me, I worked for “someone else” the first eight years of my professional life after graduating college at Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2006.

From 2006 to 2014 I worked within a department of 30+ at two different Universities — and at times within a division of 300+ colleagues at Rutgers University. Within months of starting my first full-time jobs I felt like I made professional, working relationships with dozens — from student employees to my boss’s to colleagues in cross functional areas. And those relationships go a long way when things get tough, when you need feedback or just need someone to go out to lunch (or a much needed happy hour) with.

Many of those “professional” relationships have now turned into true friendships. You know who you are :)

However, being my own boss, something has been different. I feel like it’s taken a good two years to create relationships and a close knit network that aren’t per se clients or that are completely transactional. I talked about this in the past but one of the reasons why is because you are by yourself a lot in the beginning. The meetings that I do take — cold or warm — generally have something to do with a potential transaction, biz dev discussions, or something with a goal in mind from one counterpart to the other and vice versa.

As I write this on February 23, 2017 (28 months later since going full-time on my own) I feel like I am finally part of a community and have connections that are “professional” relationships that hopefully will turn into long lasting friendships.

This comes from a couple of places and I will admit it takes more time then being thrown into an established organization.

First, it comes because of my involvement as a WeWork member. One of the best things that I did was get a feel for the WeWork (D.C.) community when my wife Courtney was a member at Dupont Circle and I would work out of their co-working space as her guest 2 times a week when we first moved to D.C.

Just going there to work and getting out the house did wonders for my motivation and mental health. The minute the opportunity came for me to pay for my own hot desk at Chinatown, I jumped on the opportunity in April 2015. Now today, I have grown my businesses and entrepreneurship endeavors to afford a one person office in Crystal City outside of D.C. in Arlington, VA. I can honestly say that just showing up to this co-working space day in and day out over the last year has been great for me mentally, physically to get out my house, and has made me feel like part of a community. And all of this I feel, plays into a big reason why I have thrived on my own.

It’s come down to even the little things like smiling and saying “Good Morning” back and forth to the Community Mangers, new members and guests in the lobby or elevator banks. It’s the repetitiveness and being nice (because being nice doesn’t cost a thing), that has started to build genuine connections. And I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now or feel like I do, if it wasn’t for WeWork. Thank you!

The second thing has been being fortunate enough to be invited to join the Crystal City Supper Club organized by Curated Table, found by Jessica Guzik — someone I now call a good friend. I’ve attended about three or four of these events and it’s been a great opportunity to be among a young group of diverse professionals that are unique and trying to “make it” — whatever their it is.

They are creators and entrepreneurs all the way to people with full-time jobs that have side hustles. Corporate to non-profit to small business owners. The number thing though: they are genuinely nice people trying to make a name for themselves in a non-cut-throat kinda way.

Last night I attended my fourth supper club dinner and I needed it. After a busy 30 days of up’s and down’s personally and professionally, I felt like I could just be myself. Sit back and relax and have a conversation with WeWork members and staff, new people as well some familiar faces from past dinners.

Walking away from last night’s event I realized how grateful I am for making these connections and be a part of this community. In a strange, but good way, a lot of my life is starting to overlap. I’m starting to run into people on the streets of DC and VA. I’m bumping into people at different events — events that I am hosting, events that I’m attending, or that I am working.

From students I’ve taught at George Washington and General Assembly all the way to people I’ve connected with digitally through LinkedIn or through Twitter, we’re finally now connecting and our paths are crossing. The best part is that they are beginning to be more than surface level conversations or small talk. In a weird way, they are starting to feel like the beginning of all the other professional relationships I made that turned into friendships.

And most important of all, I am rooting for every single one of them.

I will leave you with this — if you are bored and tired with your current “network” or are in need of making connections that are real, find groups like these in your respected area — and if there isn’t one, start one. Put yourself out there, and show up. A simple smile and being nice will go a long way. Trust me.

There are too many people to list, but if you are reading this or are part of WeWork or the Supper Club, I’m grateful for all that you do and who you are.