The Biggest Loser

During my first eight years living in Austin, Texas, I managed an informal volleyball league that played one evening a week. Each Monday I emailed my volleyball contact list asking who wanted to play the following Tuesday evening. Over time, as first-time visitors turned into regulars, more people invited their friends, and steadily the email list grew. At the same time, those who became uninterested were pruned.

Some evenings we were starved for players, while others we had enough for three teams. Although the attendance varied week to week, there was one characteristic common to all attendees: Everyone came to play.

It’s all about the players

Now imagine if my volleyball email list grew such that people who were genuinely uninterested in playing volleyball were also on my list. What are some possible consequences?

  1. It would be difficult to tell by looking at the email list who genuinely valued playing in our volleyball league.
  2. The email list might grow to an unmanageable size, requiring extra cost/resources to maintain it.
  3. Uninterested people do not value or prioritize playing volleyball, so for a given week some will respond with “maybe”, when in fact they will be no-shows. This makes it very difficult to anticipate attendance week to week.
  4. If uninterested people happen to show up (e.g. to sit on the sidelines and just talk), they could be distracting to the people who are really there to play.

The problems, summarized: Difficulty gauging dedication, unmanageable growth, increase in unpredictable behavior, and more distractions to the dedicated.

However, is there an upside? SURE! Depending on the size of my league, I may be able to claim I run the largest volleyball league in Austin!

Is the distinction worth it?

When building a community, quality trumps quantity. Lauding that someone runs the biggest community of whatever doesn’t necessarily equate to a healthy or successful community. Growing slowly and steadily with the right members engaged is the name of the game.

Million Dollar Ideas

Occasionally, I meet enthusiastic individuals planning to to make it big online, grasping for the elusive million dollar idea that will purportedly supply a lifetime of wealth.

It’s a trap

I can speak first hand. An alluring prospect, the chase for such ideas resulted in hunkering down and thinking really hard in some vein attempt to reach a focused state of idea enlightenment. The aftermath of this exercise has consistently been the same: a great deal of wheel-spinning and no ideas to show for it, or ideas that eventually wasted my time because nobody cared about them, including me.

The issue is an ordering problem. The assumption is that beginning with a killer idea will lead to passion. After all, if the idea will make you a millionaire, you would become passionate about it, right?

Don’t become passionate

Let me suggest an alternate approach. Begin with what you care about. Admittedly figuring this out can be as daunting an exercise as grasping for ideas, but it’s substantially more worthwhile. Obviously, you care about your friends and family, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What problems are you genuinely interested in seeing solved? Don’t get bogged down in the perceived enormity of them. How would the world/country/state/city/neighborhood/individuals improve if that problem was solved? What is your vision and the impact if you’re successful? Always start with what you care about, and maybe it will transform into your full-time occupation. As they say, do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Community building and entrepreneurship

People are much more likely to rally behind a vision than an idea. And YOU are much more likely to rally behind your own vision over the long haul, versus any million dollar idea. This is where community building meets entrepreneurship.

In my experience with Door64, finding and honing my vision and passion took the most time and effort. However, with that foundation laid, ideas now flow like water. With vision and passion, my brain spins 24/7 devising potential steps and paths to achieve them. Now the problem is filtering and prioritizing the ideas, not finding them. Each of ideas may not be worth a million dollars, but they are a means to an end — an end worth reaching.

Community Building: What didn’t work, part 2

In my previous installment, I described some points of failure for Door64 version 1, including lack of focus on the problem(s) to be solved. Solving problems for potential members creates value in exchange for their engagement.

Another cause of failure was a lack of vision for the desired outcomes of my endeavor. People do not engage meaningfully without a sense of purpose, and engagement within a community is what solves the problem(s) for participants.


As I had described, I observed a problem: Austin-area engineers were not networked with each other. Given that, the question is: if they did network, what are the desired outcomes? What changes in Austin’s technology community should I expect? By not having a long-term vision of success, I could not hope to convey the “WHY” to potential members. WHY should someone get involved with my initiative? Without the vision…the WHY, it’s impossible to sell engagement. If a tour guide can’t say where he’s headed, why would anyone join him on the expedition?

A community vision is the anticipated impact of your community when it grows to be successful at addressing the individual members’ problems. Again, at the individual member level, the desired outcome is solving his/her problem through engagement. Now follow the dominoes: How is the problem solved? What other problems may be impacted by your community? What are all the possible benefits of participating to individual members, the community as a whole, and to those external to the community? If you cannot define the impact…if you lack vision, you — the community builder — will lack the passion to follow through with growing the community.


As a community builder, passion is your drive to realize your community vision. First, you have to know where you’re driving towards; that’s the community vision. Now, if you are genuinely sold-out to see the vision realized and problem(s) solved, your passion will come naturally. In my endeavor, I initially believed that local engineers should be connected. However, it wasn’t until I really grasped a vision for the future of the Austin technology community at large that I became truly passionate about my initiative.

How can you tell that I am passionate about my vision? Well for one thing, I can easily talk your ear off about it! No one has to force me to share my vision for Austin’s technology community, nor persuade me to spend time working towards that vision. I am Door64’s biggest cheerleader, and I work to make an impact. That passion attracts like-minded people — people who have caught that same vision. You won’t have to beg people to join, but rather filter who gets to be on board. And with proper care and cultivation, you can experience a growing community of people who share your vision and passion.