Extreme Collaborators

The more you want to accomplish, the more help you’ll need. Successful people don’t get there all by themselves. If you are doing something big, it requires loads of support, advice and encouragement. More and more, young innovative businesses get this. They are moving away from a personal accomplishments mentality to a new collaborative paradigm. Donna Fenn highlights this trend of buddying up in her latest book, Upstarts, How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business. Within the first chapter, Donna writes “today, an increasingly complex, competitive, and global business environment makes it virtually impossible, not to mention foolish, for any entrepreneur to cultivate a lone-wolf mentality.” Through case studies, Upstarts reveals that working in teams is second nature to members of GenY as they change and re-define the very definition of teamwork. I recently asked Donna (DF) about this new idea of community and how the buddy system helps her in her work: AM: What kinds of qualities attract you to someone when you meet them for the first time?
Warmth, humor, generosity, curiosity. I think that most people can come off as intelligent if they try hard enough, and while I love to surround myself with intelligent people (preferably people smarter than I am because that’s how I keep learning!), it’s impossible to make solid, long-lasting connections with people who are aloof and self-involved. AM: What person has had the greatest impact on the shaping your career?
My parents, initially, through their unwavering support of my career goals, and now my husband and children for the same reason. They understand, value, and support what I do and that’s golden. Professionally, I would have to say that my colleagues at Inc. magazine (and there have been many of them over the years) have taught me volumes about how to navigate and analyze the world of entrepreneurship, and how to write about it skillfully and objectively. I owe my expertise to them and to the amazing magazine they produce every month. AM: How has a “buddy system” helped you to stay the course at a time when you might otherwise have felt like quitting?
I work at home, not in an office, so I have lots of buddies who I reach out to depending on the nature of the challenge. My book editor, Leah Spiro, and my agent, Esmond Harmsworth, are my most important sources of professional support and I don’t know what I’d do without them. Longterm projects, like book writing, can be isolating and frustrating. You need to keep connected with your buddies regularly enough so that you’re not just reaching out frantically when there’s a crisis. Regular checking in can help you avoid getting to the point of crisis. On a day to day basis, my husband is my best buddy; he can almost always help me see clearly and get grounded when I feel that I’m straying off course. AM: Which communities do you enjoy getting involved with?
I love women’s business groups, like NAWBO and the women involved with Nell Merlino’s Make Mine a Million program. There’s so much enthusiasm and energy there — it’s inspiring and infectious! Same with young entrepreneurs and students, who I’m increasingly involved with now because of Upstarts! AM: What advice would you give to someone who is feeling isolated?
Seek out ways to connect with your peers and find a mentor. In this age of social networking, it’s easy and you’d be surprised at how receptive people are to connecting and giving advice (not just online, but in person). But the best advice is not to wait until you are feeling isolated. Make it a point to go to conferences, networking events, or just make a regular date for coffee with a colleague or friend.

AM: What is the greatest single lesson you’ve learned from writing Upstarts? DF: Without a doubt, it’s the power of collaboration. I feel that I really created a community of young entrepreneurs who helped me write the book. They not only shared their stories, but they also got to know one another, helped me do further research, even advised me on my website, book cover, and title. And they have been incredibly helpful in getting the word out about the book. To circle back, I have found the majority of them to be warm, witty, generous, and curious people!

Donna Fenn is an internationally recognized author and journalist who has been writing about entrepreneurship and small business trends for more than 20 years. In 2005, she wrote Alpha Dogs: How Your Small Business Can Become a Leader of the Pack, which was translated into Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, and Vietnamese. She is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, a blogger on Inc.com, a featured expert on SBTV.com, and a community leader on Work.com. In 2001, she was a co-recipient of the Women’s Economic Round Table Entrepreneurship Prize, sponsored by the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. From 1988 to 1992, she lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she was a correspondent for The Associated Press covering a variety of issues including business, culture, the economy, and The Gulf War. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Washington Monthly, Working Woman, Working Mother, Family Money, CFO, Corporate Finance, Pink, Parents, and New England Monthly. She lives in Pelham, NY with her husband and three dogs. She is also the proud mom of two amazing GenYers.


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