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Four Athens Core Values

As the Athens startup community continues to grow stronger daily, at Four Athens we have been reflecting on the values that we want to embrace as an organization. When we started Four Athens, our values were naturally (and without much thought) reflected in the founders and easily translated to those that wanted to be a part of building the startup community. Those that didn’t agree with our values simply did not participate in the community.

As we have grown, it is more difficult to impart our values on everyone that Four Athens interacts with. In the past two weeks, we have rented 7 offices, rented multiple co-working spaces, held or attended events consisting of hundreds of attendees and spoken to dozens of people interested in helping to build and grow the startup community. Inevitably, this means the original founders (and original companies that adopt a shared value set) can’t interact with every new person in the startup community to impart core values on newcomers.

Why is this problematic? A startup ecosystem is fragile. According to Paul Graham, its default stage is death. Building a company is incredibly difficult – it is time consuming, emotionally, physically and financially draining. In order to build a successful company, founders need a lot of skill, even more luck and a supportive environment. This environment includes service providers, talent pools and money sources. If this environment embraces a shared vision of long term success and support, the entire community benefits. Big companies are created, industries are re-defined and everyone benefits. If those support pillars of the ecosystem do not embrace a shared vision, a few people win financially in the short term, but end up stifling long term success and prosperity.

Enter core values. Athens is early in the process of building a supportive startup ecosystem. We have many years ahead of us to refine and improve the process, but we want to encourage, early on, the acceptance of the following values of those that want to be involved in building the startup community in Athens.

Be Responsive. Seems simple. If someone contacts you, respond. Even if your response is a simple “no”. Ignoring emails, phone calls or information requests can be a death blow for an ecosystem – spontaneity, randomness and assistance build big things. It’s why we are holding our 50 Coffee Meetings Challenge. Respond to people. You will be shocked by the results. I promise, you are not too busy. Email me at jim@fourathens.com. I’ll respond and help if I’m able.

Be Engaged. Engagement is crucial to the long term viability of the ecosystem. This is crucial for founders. This value requires a more long term vision than being responsive. Founders need to be engaged to find talent, funding and customers. Finding a co-founder is not a one meeting event. Bringing on a partner is entering a marriage – don’t do it quickly. Engage over time. Finding funding sources is not a one week event. You don’t simply get introduced and then get funded. Building a team is not as easy as attending a career fair and collecting resumes. People help those that they know and trust. Become a familiar face to the community and people will find ways to help you. You’ll also find ways to help others. If you only engage when you need something, the process is that much more difficult. We realize that founders are busy, but commit to engaging once a week and you’ll find huge value in your decision over time.

Be transparent. We realize that people are busy. If you can’t help someone, tell them quickly. Let them move on to finding those people that can help them rapidly, instead of chasing after someone that is too busy. If you have an issue with a partner, service provider, customer, or employee tell them. It’s uncomfortable. But, you don’t have the time to waste worrying and obsessing over a perceived issue. Confront the issue and move on.

Be persistent. Building a company takes time. Stop reading techcrunch. Your company isn’t going to get bought for $1 billion in 18 months. You will get told “no” 99 times and then get the “yes” you need on time 100. Get to that 100th time.

Give without expectation. If you are responsive, engaging, transparent and persistent, you still need to give without expectation. You will set yourself up for disappointment if you help others only with the expectation that they do something in return. The startup ecosystem can only survive if people take a long term view. It is not about immediate financial return. Companies take a long time to build. If you’re starving a company for much needed capital early in its life, none of these startups will get off the ground. In particular, at Four Athens, we are very wary of consultants and advisors that want cash or equity quickly. For the most part, a startup should not be hiring a consultant early in its life. We understand consultants need to be paid. Therefore, they should be focused on providing services to (larger) companies that can pay. Startups need to focus on building internal teams, partners and those that are aligned with their values.

We’ve made a fancy poster of our values. Check it out.

jim
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