Putting Together a Local Off-line Group

I’m happy to report I will finally be starting my first local Entrepreneur Fathers chapter—my own! I’ve been meaning to start a local group for a number of months (actually, it’s probably been over a year now), but now I’m really going to do it. I would probably still be just talking about creating one some time, but I went and opened by big mouth and announced my tentative plans to Tyson (a friend and fellow home schooling father), and he got excited enough about the whole thing to hold me to my word. I guess that was always one of the main points of the group—having other people to hold me to my commitments—but then Tyson went and proved my point for me. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that…

The structure for what I wanted was actually synthesized from a number of different sources and ideas, which is frequently my modus operandi. I read or listen to a bunch of new or hair-brained or just plain strange ideas, and get them all bouncing around in my head, and then 2 or 3 of them collide to form some weird amalgamation. Come to think of it, that’s how I tend to cook, as well. If I want to make some new ethnic dish that I’ve never made before—say hummus, for instance—I read 5 to 10 recipes for what I want, narrow it down to 2 or 3 that look like what I’m after, then cherry-pick the aspects from each that I like, and combine them into 1 recipe that nobody’s ever made before. I then whip up this culinary concoction, tasting and adjusting as I go, and oddly enough, I’ve had many more hits than misses with this method. I just have to remember to write it down for future use, and jot a few notes down for further refinement, after the first attempt. So that’s what I did when I decided I needed to start an entrepreneur group—I pulled together pieces of various ideas and recommendations, and stuck it all together—a bit of a social mashup, if you will.

One such idea came from the Cashflow clubs popping up all over the place in the past few years. I really liked the idea of having a get-together with a bunch of other people who are also entrepreneurially minded where we play a game that helps us look for and see business opportunities in the real world. Well, that and I bought a copy of the $200 game about 6 years ago, and I’ve played it about that many times since. Like most things, I have a hard time following through with something unless I have someone else is around to keep me honest. In any case, I wanted a group I could play Cashflow 101 with, but I didn’t want that to be the sole focus of the group. That, and I wanted a fairly small, intimate group, where we could all play in the same game. Some of the Cashflow clubs I’ve seen have over a hundred people show up, so the whole room is filled with different groups each playing their own game. I wanted to know everyone in my group, and more than that, I wanted to like everyone in my group.

Another idea is that of the mastermind group. Whenever I’ve been around entrepreneur circles (or would-be entrepreneur circles), they’ve always talked about mastermind groups. Eventually I found the original source and figured out exactly what they were talking about. In his 1937 book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill outlined the creation of what he termed a “Master Mind Alliance,” which he defined as a group of people coming together in a spirit of harmony to coordinate their knowledge and effort in order to attain a definite purpose. I think the term has probably come to mean somewhat more or less than that to different groups and different individuals, but I really liked the general concept—have a number of people all involved in achieving a common purpose. In my case, I wanted a group that helped each member become a work-at-home entrepreneur by analyzing the plans and ideas of each member, and giving feedback and suggestions. When you get a number of different people together with a common end in mind, real synergy becomes possible, and that’s what I was after.

One of the most common activities I’ve found among adults in the Thomas Jefferson Education community (of which I am a part) is that of a book colloquium, that is, a discussion of a given work by a number of people who have recently read it. It functions much like a book club, but it tends to focus on the education of the participants—what did you learn, and how are you going to apply that in your life, versus how did you like the story. Since I spend a great deal of time reading business and marketing books, I really wanted to be able to discuss those ideas with other entrepreneurs. I wanted to have some help sifting through each author’s views and picking out the real gems, while being able to discard the fluff and personal biases that most books invariably contain. This would also help me challenge my own ideas, as well as those of the author, to have a whole group going through a critical analysis of a given book. In this case, differing perspectives could become a real asset.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, one of my biggest problems has always been following through on my decisions. If I can’t do it perfectly the first time, I avoid doing it at all. (Although I usually keep studying the subject, while not taking action. This is known as analysis paralysis.) So one of my prime reasons for forming a local group is to have a relationship with a number of other fathers to which I am held accountable. Once I commit to take a certain action, I had better do it, or I’ll have to explain to 4 or 5 of my friends why I’m a flake. If I’m going to worry about what other people think of me, maybe I can use that pressure to accomplish what I really should be doing anyway. What I seem to need most are close friends who can hold my feet to the fire.

And there you have it, the genesis for my local entrepreneur group—a mix of Cashflow club, mastermind group, business book colloquium, and accountability agreement. What follows below is my concept of how the whole thing might work, as I originally sent it to Tyson. However, I fully expect things to change to meet the needs of our members, and as we see what works and what doesn’t. Nothing is perfect the first time, but you need the feedback from taking action in order to make improvements. “Ready, fire, aim” is the quickest path to improvement.

What I envision for the local Entrepreneur Fathers group is one that meets weekly on either Tuesday or Thursday nights from 7 to 9pm, but the same night each week. Its members would discuss business classics every other week, with one of the other weeks being used for brainstorming/masterminding of members businesses, and the final week starting with a formal presentation by one of the members and ending with a game of Cashflow. I’d like to shoot for 7 members, which just feels like the right amount; enough to get a number of different perspectives, but not so many that we don’t have time to cover everyone’s business ideas/concerns.

I would like to find some place neutral (like a room at the library) and cost free for 3 of the 4 weeks, with 1 of the weeks being held at a restaurant private room. (I’m a big believer that shared meals encourage camaraderie.) Maybe on 5th weeks (i.e. quarterly) we could hold some kind of whole-family event, at a park or member’s home, so that we remember why we’re doing this and it doesn’t just turn into a “boys night out”.

In the discussion that has followed, we’ve already decided that 1 book per month will probably be the limit (although I typically read 2 or 3 and listen to audio books of several others). I had originally planned on 2, one every 2 weeks, but Tyson is currently running a business from home and working on finishing his degree, so a lot of reading isn’t a workable option for him. So maybe we’ll read and discuss half of a book in one meeting, and the second half at a later meeting. As long as we’re reading, thinking, and applying ideas to our businesses, I’ll count that part of the goal as accomplished.

To be more clear, here’s a more structured outline of our proposed weekly meetings.

  • 1st Tuesday: Discuss first half of business classic
  • 2nd Tuesday: Mastermind (held at restaurant)—discuss, brainstorm, critique each member’s ideas/business
  • 3rd Tuesday: Discuss second half of business classic
  • 4th Tuesday: Formal presentation by member; play Cashflow 101
  • 5th Tuesday (quarterly): Whole-family social

And there you have my Grand Idea. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but I’ll admit I’ve been struggling with it for a long time. It’s funny how many non-useful social norms got ingrained into me through the course of my public school career. I get so worried about doing things wrong (i.e. not perfect), that I don’t do anything at all, which of course means I make no progress at all. Oh well. I’ve found my new best way of getting things done—tell other people what I plan to do so that they can embarrass me into actually doing it.