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The Startup Tribe: first steps towards entrepreneurship

Challenges, fear and leadership lessons from the dancing guy

This article was originally posted on my blog Wantrepreneur on May 10, 2016.

What's a Startup Tribe?

This weekend, I took my first official steps into entrepreneurship and joined Escape the City’s latest intake of the Startup Tribe. For the next 12 weeks, I will be participating in Startup Tribe activities every Wednesday, as well as 5 full weekends in order to accelerate my entrepreneurial journey. This weekend (7-8 May 2016) was the start of this programme.

The decision to join one of Escape the City’s Tribes was actually integral to my decision leave my job and set off down this path. As I described in an earlier blog post on Abandoning Corporate Life, almost as soon as I’d decided to leave my corporate job, I googled Escape the City and found that there was an intake to both their programmes: The Startup Tribe and The Escape Tribe happening just a few weeks later. I had been on the Escape the City mailing list for years, and had been aware of the introduction of Tribes nearly two years ago, and had always felt drawn to it, so I excitedly jumped towards joining one of the intakes.

Choosing a Tribe: chase your fear

My next choice was deciding which of the programmes to join: Escape Tribe or Startup Tribe. The Escape Tribe focuses on helping you find your path towards fulfilling work. The Startup Tribe aims to accelerate your entrepreneurial journey and is aimed at those who have an idea they’re keen to pursue.

For a few days after deciding to quit my job, I couldn’t decide which Tribe to join. Should I participate in the Escape Tribe or the Startup Tribe? Gradually, as a result of a phonecall with lovely Mia from Escape the City, I realised that the option I was most scared of was choosing was the Startup Tribe.

A principle that I wanted to follow whilst making this decision was that whatever I’m most afraid of doing, I should probably just get on and do. I needed to run towards my fear, or risk regretting not having done so later. Fear can be such a powerful motivator, it’s very easy to allow ourselves to be controlled by it. However, we can use fear as a tool to expand our perception of what is comfortable: the more we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, the stronger and more resilient we become.

Two Tribes go to ... Bank

So the two new Tribes, the Escape Tribe and the Startup Tribe, came together for the first time this weekend. We spent two intensive days in and around central London. We visited the Scoop, Hyde Park, and participated in a challenge treasure hunt, ending up at the Escape The City offices near Bank.

Over the two days, we spent a lot of time networking, getting to know one another, making new friends, hearing about their aspirations, their ambitions and their business ideas. Some of this was in structured activities and others was networking over lunch or cocktails at the end of the day (thank you ETC for those!). For me, one of the most fun and interesting activity was a series of challenges at the start of the first day. We were split into randomly selected groups, and told to meet back at Escape HQ in 45 minutes, having completed at least two challenges each en route, from a list that included fun things like: hug a stranger, ask someone for £5, blag a free coffee, lie down in public, find and interview an entrepreneur for 60 seconds...

Jo meeting the challenge head on and having a bit of a lie-down in a coffee shop.

I loved this because the aim of the exercise was to encourage us all to step outside of our comfort zones. Having spent quite a lot of time thinking about fear in the run-up to joining the tribe and even before that, I leapt into this and was a little surprised (and, if I’m honest, a little relieved) that others in the group were slightly more hesitant. I had expected the group of entrepreneurs-in-waiting would be fearless types, bold, extraverted and confident – much bolder and more confident than me. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might be one of the ones considered more confident or brave. I certainly don’t think of myself as a brave person, but I do get on with whatever needs to be done.

'There has to be more to life than this'

Over the course of the two days, I spoke to so many people and heard many different reasons for joining the programme. One reason I heard over and over again that that they felt trapped in their current job and didn’t know exactly what to do instead, but knew there had to be more to life than ‘this’. Of those who had already made good their ‘escape’, and had perhaps been travelling or volunteering for a time, several were struggling to find the right idea for their next project.

At Escape HQ, we were introduced to Matt Trinetti, one of the founders of Escape the City, who introduced us to Leadership lessons from the dancing guy video (ignore the shaky camerawork - it's totally worth sticking with it for three minutes) and the importance of the ‘first follower’ as the key influencer. For me, this was probably the most concrete takeaway from the weekend, as it was something I hadn’t previously considered and will change my social media marketing strategy plans (ha that’s funny – like I have a strategy!). The main idea I’m working on is a niche product for a very targeted user group so building trust and delight within this group will be key – but more on that another time.

Bucket list items: check

One the second day, we each ticked an item off our bucket lists. As a group, we took a trip to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park and set up our own plinth, each taking it in turns to speak for 60 seconds on a topic, or ‘curiosity’ of our choosing. I talked about ‘fear’ and the power it can hold over us (can you see a theme developing?), and how I chose to do a skydive to confront my biggest fear.

I feel I could write a whole blog post on fear (indeed, watch this space), but I would encourage anyone who is reading this blog post to do whatever it is in life that they’re most afraid of. Fear can control us, limit our horizons and shrink our perspectives until we’re a shadow of the people we could actually be. If we run towards that fear, we automatically expand our horizons. We should all be chasing our fears, if we can be honest enough with ourselves to truly understand what they are.

Some highlights and themes from the Tribes’ speaker’s corner talks: the amazing human body and what it can do, education, trekking in Nepal, Venezuela, through north Africa, setting up a socially responsible tea business, expanding your horizons, setting up a restaurant, Tom’s shoes, saying ‘no’ more…

Again, I was surprised at my reaction to this exercise. I wasn’t particularly afraid, I was eager to get stuck in, and enjoyed my time on the plinth. I didn’t stress out over it before I did the challenge – but then, there was nothing at stake: no score, no prize, no overt judgement of my performance. I had an incredibly supportive audience of my peers, who would cheer for me even if I was crap! (Which I might well have been.) However, I did gallop through my spiel and jumped off the plinth before my time was up, so perhaps there were a few nerves there after all, and I’m refused to allow myself to acknowledge them at the time. Which just goes to show that if you bluff your way to believing you aren’t afraid, you probably won’t be.

Where's my head at?

After two full days, I reflected on the events of the past two days and how my thoughts had evolved over time. I had been a little nervous about meeting the group, but those nerves vanished during the first challenge walk back to Escape HQ on Saturday. It was during that walk I realised that the people surrounding me were a lot more like me than I had expected them to be. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, they were friendly, smart, successful, driven, inclusive, positive and excited about embarking on something different that would shape their future. They weren’t arrogant, confident, they didn’t have all the answers already figured out, or a business model ready to launch, which, now I think about it, was what I was imagining (which doesn’t say much about my perception of entrepreneurs as a whole).

Let's see how long this lasts.

My overriding feeling after the weekend’s activities, quite aside from joining the Startup Tribe, is one of relief and excitement that I’ve found a good path for me. Mentally, I appear to be further down the path to starting my own businesses than I had realized. Despite a really busy and exhausting weekend, I went into work on Monday feeling more relaxed and more energized than I had done in months.

I now feel that I’m running down a path that was hard to find, even harder to choose, but that feels more like where I ‘should’ be than I’ve felt for a long time. Although I’m still in the process of living my ‘old’ life (working full time and living in the same place), I’m becoming more committed to becoming an entrepreneur and making this a success. I’m realising I already have many of the tools I will need in the future.

For the first time, I don’t feel like an imposter. Let's see if I can keep this up...

Hey guys, if you liked this blog post, you might like some of my other articles on Wantrepreneur. The articles here document my journey from wannabe entrepreneur to entrepreneur: all the highs, all the lows. It's a work in progress and I'd love to hear what you think, so drop me a line at or on Twitter.

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