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The Power of Community in Startup Growth

This is a guest post by Chloe Chen, member of the NUS Entrepreneurship Society and organiser of Unicon 2024.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel for Elise Tan and Andrew Tan, co-founders of Asia Startup Network in late January. In a fireside chat titled “The Power of Community in Startup's Growth”, featured in Asia’s largest student-led entrepreneurship conference – UNICON, Elise and Andrew shared their valuable insights on the lonely road ahead for aspiring entrepreneurs...

And that it need not be lonely, you are part of a relevant community.

How can one start building a community?

I started off the panel with a question for our audience comprising university students and graduates – how can anyone build a community? Andrew commented that a community is a lifestyle, and a long-term commitment to growing the members, which in our case are early stage startups. Student clubs could be a solid place to start networking, and by forging a deeper web of connections within these wide student networks, paving the way to a community. Elise added that a community is a group of like-minded individuals seeking to create win-win situations. I wondered if an extrovert would suit the role of community builder more. Elise emphasized that because as a community manager, you inevitably need to talk to many people. Hence, being an extrovert is often a better fit but it is not an impossible role for introverts. But success usually comes more naturally when one plays to her or his strengths.

Why is having a Community important for an Entrepreneur?

With tilted, attentive heads in the audience, and with our speakers’ answers piquing my own curiosity, I then asked a fundamental question in our drawing board discussions: why community would be important for an entrepreneur. Between Andrew and Elise, the consensus was the loneliness of being an entrepreneur, as one is usually carrying immense financial, physical, and mental burden. It helps to be able to hang out with like-minded individuals discussing the challenges they face, providing guidance, receiving feedback from each other, forging connections or simply discussing a relatable topic of trying to chase the Singaporean dream at all costs; Communities provide the backbone for an entrepreneur to stand tall and stay strong. Being part of a community had been immensely helpful especially during the COVID period where we were isolated from each other. 

This was how Asia Startup Network was born. Andrew candidly opened up about the many struggles that numerous founders were going through, and that “it took a village” to keep them afloat. Especially in tackling numerous unknowns, Elise shared that without a support network, many entrepreneurs would be taking longer winding paths to reach an increasingly fickle dream.

Rather than reflecting the competition between firms in the same industries, collaboration would subvert the zero-sum game that many entrepreneurs were fated to compete in. The duo said that those seeking to sap resources out of the community rather than pouring in their hard-earned insights would be the weakest link. They could endanger a community’s survival, by being the very competitors that a community cannot sustain.

When I asked Elise how current startups can better build and leverage a community for their own business, she replied that entrepreneurs may see communities as  a marketing channel. Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective methods for business outreach, and this can be done within a community. The community would encourage customers to ask questions, help each other out with product issues allowing customers to feel heard and involved when they are able to contribute ideas to “product refinement and decision making”.

With Andrew, I wanted to know how he envisioned networks serving as a bridge to tackle industry-specific barriers, and possible areas for partners from different industries to collaborate on expediting better solutions. Andrew shared about his ambition to “build an ecosystem” – for his unique community to be more than the sum of its parts. He lauded the efforts of SuperApps, such as Grab, which is a ride-hailing system with peer-to-peer functions in the same application. 

What continually came up during our panel was the idea of “finding your tribe”. Just like how a tribe is loyal almost to a fault, and tight-knitted, a community should be one consisting of people who would go the extra mile for you.

Community helps you kickstart, or maintain, your momentum, pushing you towards your goals.

What I Got from this Experience

Through discussing community directly and indirectly with Elise and Andrew, I sensed incredible vigor and passion from the two of them. While I was initially intimidated by the sheer strength of their communities, this experience made me realise that community already exists for me, and other students like me. By putting effort into nurturing a community, we are able to grow immensely, along with the people we choose to build up.

Hi, I'm Chloe! A travel enthusiast and survivalist who loves backpacking and taking one too many espressos. I'm majoring in business and political science at NUS College. I'm open to networking and exploring new opportunities always, so please reach out to me if you want to connect.

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