How Communities Shape the Founder’s Journey

What we learned in two weeks with 10 entrepreneurs from across the globe

by Marie Paoli, Director of Partnerships & Programs at Blackbox

Communities are the most important social element of our lives, offering a sense of belonging and shared purpose that can level up what’s possible for us to dream, create, achieve, and inspire in the world around us. This is especially true for entrepreneurs, who take on daunting challenges in competitive, resource-constrained environments in which the odds are often overwhelmingly stacked against them. The lonely founder’s journey has become an oft-cited trope in the startup world, and for good reason — an estimated 90% of startups fail, and the weight of that responsibility ultimately falls in the lap of the founding team, particularly the CEO, whose bird’s-eye view of all areas of the business often translates to a profound sense of isolation.

And yet, entrepreneurs everywhere leverage communities of all shapes and sizes to find balance, to seek reassurance and guidance, and to connect and collaborate with like-minded people. From families, to friends, to teams, affinity groups, co-working and incubation hubs, professional associations, universities, accelerator alumni networks and more, there have never been more opportunities for entrepreneurs to tap into (and contribute to) networks of support.

Blackbox strives to create a distinctly powerful form of community for the rising entrepreneurial leaders who come through our doors. We are meticulous in our method for selecting each founder cohort, bringing together a diverse range of perspectives, expertise, and personalities to create an alchemical experience that allows the group to go deep on both individual and shared challenges.

The residential nature of our two-week program takes founders out of the day-to-day grind of running their companies and immerses them in an environment designed to accelerate growth around the human elements of entrepreneurship. They have the opportunity to experiment and consider important elements of their business and leadership from a fresh and global perspective. They forge life-long relationships with fellow founders from across the globe, helping the “lonely founder’s journey” feel a little less lonely.

We spent the last cycle of Blackbox Connect focusing on the role communities play in the life of an entrepreneur, and the role entrepreneurs themselves play in designing, building, and leading the communities of which they’re a part. We’ve compiled some highlights from the learnings we shared during the two weeks of the program, but we’d love to hear what this topic means to you! Comment below to share your thoughts.


What does community mean to you?

Marysia Belka is Cofounder & CEO of BitEvil, a Warsaw-based adtech company seeking to transform the online marketing paradigm to better empower users and reward them for their time and focus.
Elize Shirdel is Founder & CEO of HELM, a Toronto-based platform connecting parents to the tools and services they need to run family life.
“Community is who you look out for, and who looks out for you.”

A strong community relies on alignment, trust, and understanding, and belonging.

Blackbox speaker Rick Klau of Google Ventures discusses how OKRs as a valuable tool for achieving alignment amongst teams and across organizations, both forms of community
Shivani Siroya, Founder & CEO of Tala Mobile, on creating a company where people can belong and contribute
“How are we actually creating an environment that is equitable so that people can succeed once they’ve been brought in?”
Blackbox speaker Randy Komisar at Kleiner Perkins on the importance of finding founder-investor fit.
Di-Ann Eisnor, Former Head of Growth at Waze, hosted Blackboxers at Google’s Area 120 to share how Waze built a highly-engaged community of millions of users across the globe by focusing on creating real value and a sense of shared ownership
Michael Sippey, Head of Product at Medium, on how teams, products, and communities are strengthened by the diversity of perspectives that contributes to their creation and evolution

What role can entrepreneurs play in building community?

“I think entrepreneurs tend to become nodes in their communities… I believe that we have to be very mindful about the message that we are placing into this blowhorn because it then ends up amplifying our thoughts, beliefs, and actions and the impact they have on the community, ” says Blackboxer Siddharth Darbha, Cofounder of Bangalore-based Wagr, a smart wearable device and companion mobile app that makes dog parenting easier.

“Entrepreneurs tend to become nodes in their communities.”

“The sense of community for our users is a very important aspect of our business,” says Blackboxer Alexandre Borges Silva on leveraging community to grow Grão Direto, the agtech commodities trading platform he founded in Brazil. “Especially when we think about farmers, they have so much to share with each other; they have so much to help each other with experience and practices they are using in their business. They’re not just helping us to build a better product, a better solution, but they are helping other farmers with better processes and better strategies. So we take this very seriously — we organize events, we have a channel where they can discuss online, we always try to promote these kind of actions, for them to be together and to create opportunities for them to share experiences.”

“They’re not just helping us to build a better product, a better solution, but they are helping other farmers with better processes and better strategies.”

How has your home ecosystem contributed to your growth as a founder?

Blackbox speaker Pascal Finette of Singularity University shared how convening a “Doubt Club”, a safe, sacred community space for entrepreneurs to share their fears and challenges, was instrumental to his growth and development as a founder and leader

“We have a really strong ecosystem in Sydney,” says Blackboxer Claire Jenkins. “I first came into [it] when I was part of a program called SheStarts for nine other female founders and their companies. For me, being surrounded by so many motivated, passionate women of such diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking, it really enriched my ideas as an entrepreneur and helped me develop further.” Claire is the Founder & CEO of Vetchat, a Sydney-based telehealth platform for pets and their families.

A global community of entrepreneurial leaders

Since 2011, more than 400 startup founders from 60+ countries have come through our doors. Together, these Blackboxers form a globally interconnected fabric of entrepreneurial leaders working to build a better future for themselves, their teams, their users, and the world around them.


Thank you to our incredible community of nominating partners who play a critical role in supporting entrepreneurs on-the-ground and enabling us to scale our collective impact across the globe:

Google for Startups provides Blackbox Connect scholarships and the best of Google’s resources for 32 Blackboxers each year.

91springboard, a network of startup coworking spaces and incubators across India, nominated Siddharth Darbha of Wagr for the program.

Google Campus Warsaw nominated Marysia Belka of BitEvil for the program.

Communitech, an industry-led innovation center based in Waterloo, Canada, nominated Elize Shirdel of HELM for the program.

SeedRocket, a seed-funding venture program for Spanish startups, nominated Yannick Rault of Sheetgo for the program.

SheStarts, a Sydney-based startup accelerator empowering female founders, nominated Claire Schultz of Vetchat for the program.

Startup Farm, a Brazilian startup accelerator focusing on agtech ventures, nominated Alexandre Borges Silva of Grão Direto.

Techstars, a worldwide entrepreneur network and accelerator program, nominated Louise Doherty of PlanSnap for the program.


How have strong communities impacted your founder journey? Share your thoughts with us in a comment or by tweeting us @blackboxvc.

Learn more about Blackbox and our work to elevate entrepreneurs everywhere at https://blackbox.org.