“The Happiness of Community Building” at TECOM Conference in Shanghai

TECOM Conference took place at EXPLORIUM 2.0 in Shanghai

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to be on stage at TECOM Conference in Shanghai to share about “The Happiness of Community Building.” The line up was excellent, and it was great fun to share the stage with insightful speakers. Big up to Marian (interviewed here) for putting TECOM together.

The post below is a transcription of my talk. I added a bunch of personal anecdotes to it on stage, but you’d have to watch me live to hear them 😆. I’d love to improve my delivery of “The Happiness of Community Building,” a topic that I shared once before in Beijing, so please -> comment with your suggestions and improvements at the bottom!

Matthieu Bodin, speaker at TECOM Conference

Raise your hands if…

The act of building communities is selfish. We build communities because we seek happiness. And that’s ok, I honestly don’t blame you, I am the same!

In fact, what I have discovered is how Community Building has all the right pieces for somebody to find happiness. But at the same time, it is so easy to get lost along the way.

I have been building tech communities in the region for the past 8 years. It has been a fascinating journey that I’m glad to share today on stage.

Community Building has the elements to help somebody find happiness

Not a regular hobby

When it comes to Community Building, I don’t believe we’re referring to any regular jobs or volunteering activities. Instead, it is something that one decides to pursue with passion. You wake up in the morning, energized and ready to live according to your values and beliefs. You learn you grow, and that gets you one step closer to happiness.

Meaningful Connections

Community Building is also a wonderful chance to make meaningful connections. The people that you’ll end up spending time with form solid bonds on which you grow happy. You’ve probably heard of the Harvard Study of Adult Development and how they showed that we are happy and live longer also based on the quality of our relationships.

Build the world you want to live in

And finally, with Community Building, you have an opportunity to project yourself in a better world. One that you are actively engaged in creating. This sense of fulfilment is exciting. Your engagement looks good on you as you work towards something you helped imagine. Fulfilment and ownership, two amazing ingredients helping you get on a path of self appreciation and confidence.

Watch out – it is so easy to get lost along the way!

But, it is so easy to get lost along the way. Community Building is brutal and challenging. On the long run, most quit and call it a day. Most get their intentions twisted and eventually look the other way. As energy runs high, stakes get bigger and pressure goes up.

Impact is hard to measure and get value for

Your efforts are so hard to measure! As a Community Builders, it remains so challenging to assess your impact over time. And there are not many organizations willing to pay for the skills you develop, even though many get genuine value from it. There are no prizes for showing up early and cleaning until late. Years later, who would remember the first ones who laid the strong foundations on which we’re celebrating today.

Leaders might build territories

Let’s not underestimate people having change of hearts. Communities get created with positive intentions. But as power gets accumulated, leaders are tempted to hold on to it and modify their values. Eventually, they might create territories, trying to protect them with artificial barriers and real political plays. They become bad players in a community that should (and will) reject them.

Burning out can happen

And on a personal basis, Community Builders aren’t exempt from their own pain. I have seen many wonderful people feeling exhausted, burned out. They their community to seek help they couldn’t find. Community Builders are so engaged with their action that they give it all, consuming their energy entirely and getting face to face with deep fears. This is saddening me even further because I had my own dark moments last year. And I didn’t know where to get help from. I was genuinely ready to calling it a day and abandoning it all.

We won’t stop – so how do we build resilient ecosystems?

We won't stop!

And still, it is clear that all of us in this room today: Community Builders, hustlers, fighters – we won’t stop! Helping the next generations has big place in our hearts. Therefore, we must look at different ways to strengthen our movements. Build more resilient ecosystems with the proper set up to thrive.

Find values for your community

As you grow your community, seat down with your peers and agree on values and how you’ll keep everyone accountable. While that might seem too far fetched, it will help scale your impact and get your mission to resonate with people. I’d suggest to include respect, diversity, and inclusivity. Of course, the key will be in maintaining values as you grow. Techstars has a Code Of Conduct that we expect members of our network to accept and embrace. Feel free to take a look at it here.

Take care of yourself first, before helping others

Do you know how on the safety instructions of an airplane, they ask that you place your oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others? Same here. Take care of yourself first, physically, emotionally, and financially. Celebrate the extra long-term contributions rather than 24/7 sprints that get people exhausted (here is how I’m doing).

Brad Feld, one of Techstars co-founder wrote in his best seller Startup Communities that communities should be built with a twenty years ahead mindset. And the clock resets every day. We’re in this for the long run.

The final element that makes a difference for all of us is getting connected with our peers. Like-minded leaders who share similar challenges and opportunities. Having such a platform is truly game changing and powerful.

That is why I am so excited about TECOM. Get conversations going and make new friends today!

It’s just the beginning, isn’t it?

In conclusion, I genuinely believe that community building has all the right elements that helped me be happy. It could have been so easy to get lost along the way (and it often did), and I keep working at it.

We can make our part of the world a slightly better place

The way I see my role is so well said by a character in a movie I recently watched (Ricky Gervais and Dame Penelope Wilton in After Life). It goes like this:

“I thrive to make this little corner of the world a slightly better place. That’s all there is. Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing that it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not.

A society grows great when old men plant trees, the shade of which, they know they will never sit in.

Good people do things for other people. And you’re good, you have so much to give.”

That’s it, the end!

A major THANK YOU to the entire TECOM organizing team and EXPLORIUM. Click here to access pictures taken during the conference.

The importance of events to run a tech community

I discussed with Marian Danko, founder of weHustle and TECOM, about his projects. In his answers, it is clear that he pays strong attention to events to run a tech community. That is how he experiences the passion of that group and their mission. Therefore, it makes sense that Marian is a volunteer at Startup Grind and Angelhack. And that’s on top of setting up TECOM, a conference for entrepreneurs and community builders in Shanghai. Marian, believes in the power of offline gatherings.

Shanghai says – online first!

When I first arrived in Shanghai, I believed otherwise. WeChat is everywhere and is often the link between reality and people’s life. Communities wouldn’t survive offline because everybody’s attention was online.

In fact, somebody with good intentions could spin off a WeChat group instantly. And in a couple of hours, have two hundred participants sharing heated opinions on something hot and trendy. Spammers would most likely overtake the same group after a couple of days.

That’s how I came back to Marian’s opinion that communities need to crystallize their existence with in-person events.

In-person events aren’t dead

Startup Grind in Shanghai is thriving. They run sold-out events with inspiring speakers. This momentum creates a strong following with old and new faces. AngelHack is the platform for developers to hack on new technologies or APIs. While some hackathons run online, I have seen better results with offline experiences. It is about the people you connect, as much as the context in which you work.

I also have done my fair share of local events: Startup Weekend, DrinkEntrepreneurs HK, la French Tech HK, and Techstars. I have tested many different formats, setups, and audiences. There is a significant surge of engagement, support, and new initiatives after each gathering. My go-to reply addressing growth was: “host one event, get three more in the pipeline.”
Great participants attract their peers and the passion rolls to a broader circle.
Over time, running local events become the backbone of communities.

“The Happiness of Community Building”

Last week, we hosted a Community Leaders Academy in Beijing with passionate individuals. Most of them had been to a Startup Weekend before and some were considering to host one soon. More importantly, they are passionate about helping the next generation of entrepreneurs. Our three hours workshop started with “The Happiness of Community Building.”

I didn’t have a firm idea when I came up with the title but enjoyed the sound of it. These two concepts aren’t often tied together. And in practice, Community Builders don’t think of their happiness as they act and help others. A perfect opportunity to bring some debates to the table. Community Builders are often super-connector, invited everywhere, and extra insightful on the situation. But my own experience interacting with so many Builders throughout Greater China is very different. Community Building is lonely and challenging. There is no immediate reward, and large companies rarely consider it a hard skill.

My goal with this talk wasn’t to share a few tips but share a broader perspective to get the conversation going. These weren’t to be done at an individual level but agreed upon among peers.

The first idea was to refuse to celebrate constant hustle and around-the-clock work. The 24/7 or 996 (standing for working from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week) aren’t healthy and can’t last long – especially with a high-pressure environment. I was toying with this question: “when was the last time you got bored?”

The second wish that I had for the audience was to get connected with other Community Builders. It’s a population that has so much in common that you often feel being on the same level. There is a lot to gain by getting together and celebrating our wins and challenges.

The final message was to start acknowledging and talking about mental health issues. In many places, it is tricky to openly discuss being burned out, depressed, and/or having a mental illness. Unfortunately, Community Builders are likely to pay too little attention to their situation. But we do have the influence to take risks and start that conversation.

With enough time, I would have shared my own story. I would have highlighted how developing a discipline helped me reaching harmony. Luckily, I will have a chance to talk about this topic at an upcoming conference in Shanghai (link here).