What scaling a startup taught us about human relationships

Part of the excitement of joining a startup in the early days is that you’re never anonymous. You can’t get away with simply being present — you’re part of a team, you’ll be needed, you’ll be known.

Done right, this is an environment where employees and founders alike feel valued and valuable, and then you’ve got the launchpad you need to grow like crazy. A team of three becomes a team of ten, twenty, fifty, two hundred, and at some point you realise you don’t even know the name of the person sitting ten feet away from you, let alone have an understanding of the (hopefully vital, but maybe not) role they play in your business.

That intimacy your team once shared — the very thing that made your growth possible — is put in jeopardy by none other than its own success.

You’re not the first to face this challenge

Just like a hockey-sticking startup, we’re acutely aware that if we reach a tipping point where size overpowers the intimacy of our community we’ll lose the very thing that drew people to us in the first place. And we’re intent on not letting that happen. Inlaunching our second coworking space this month, we grew from a group of 50 friends of the family to 500 fresh faces. Beautiful, friendly faces. But nonetheless faces of people we’re still getting to know.

We spend a lot of time helping people connect with each other and if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that we can’t force a bond. Since we can’t do it alone, we decided to explore what individual people in our community have been doing to strengthen our dynamic. Which got us thinking;

What can everyone in a growing startup community do to help keep the culture alive?

The key: Know your nodes

The people who are most at home in any community are the ones who feel a strong connection with its culture. That culture is normally embodied by a group of passionate ‘nodes’ like the team, early adopters and super fans who sit at the core of the community.

Back in the day you might have heard us called connectors or — heaven forbid — networkers, because we love to join the dots. The reality is far more human; we got to where we are because we are truly interested in people and relationships.

As a member, the easiest way to keep your community moving in the right direction is to seek out these friendly people who are throwing their all into making your experience amazing, and get to know them! It’s this simple:

  • Befriend that one person at work who knows what’s going on with everyone.
  • Talk to the passionate people running community groups like 3beards andTechLondon.
  • Look for the regulars at events like Creative Mornings, Geek Girl Meetup andStartup Weekends.
  • Find the creative minds behind the brands and philosophies you’re crazy about.
  • Or just spend as much time as you can hanging out with community managers!

(Insider tip for community leaders and proud nodes everywhere: Try reverse engineering this. Let down your barriers and make extra time for people in your community when they are really trying to connect with you as a person, not a service provider.)

But I’m too busy for bonding!

This is not just an act of goodwill. It’ll be worth your while.

Nodes know everyone. We’re passionate. We’ve explored our scene inside out.

A node is your ‘in’ — your connection to the core of a community that is (or could become) important to you.

And from experience as an official Huckletree node (aka Community Manager), we’re also pretty fun to talk to because we’re deeply curious about anyone who shares our passion.

As with all relationships, the more genuine our bond, the better this will work. It’s more natural (and way more enjoyable) for us to help you once we’ve gotten to know you and it puts us in a better position to surround you with more of the right people.

In other words, friends > transactions.

All that networking stuff we’re really good at, like bragging about you to friends, press and investors, inviting you to cool events, and helping you meet partners in crime, that’s just an added bonus.