The Power of Peer Groups

For the past two days I’ve been at an even called SERGE (Seasoned Entrepreneurs Gathering Exchange). I co-founded it with two long time friends, Martin Babinec (founder of Trinet) and Keith Alper (founder of Creative Producers Group). Martin, Keith and I have known each other since the mid-1990s when we were much younger entrepreneurs playing leadership roles at the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (now simply “EO”).

We each invited about ten entrepreneurs and their partners to the event. 50 people showed up – 25 entrepreneurs and their partners – and we spent two days on Miami Beach hanging out and covering a lot of different topics. All of us were between the ages of 40 and 50 (+/- a few years), have each had at least one successful business, and were from all over the US and in plenty of different industries.

We had a solid 12 hours spread over two days in a conference room where the following eight topics were discussed.

  • How Will You Measure Your Life?
  • Mentor Manifesto
  • Impact in the Public Interest – Doing Something That Matters
  • Finding and Managing High Impact Board Members
  • B Corps – Leveraging Social Purpose To Drive A Business
  • Setting Up Family Office to Manage Diversified Portfolio
  • Leading the Team: CEO Habits That Set The Pace
  • Maximizing Impact of Your Angel Investing

One of led on each topic (for example, I kicked things off with “How Will You Measure Your Life?” – talked for about 15 – 30 minutes, and then facilitated a discussion for the balance of an hour.

It was amazing. If you’ve ever been in an organization like YEO, YPO, EO, Birthing of Giants, or Gathering of Titans, it was like a “super forum”. Two days with peers, talking confidentially and intimately about a wide range of issues, and getting to know each other at a different level. In this case, there were three intersecting groups (mine, Martin’s, and Keith’s) so you got the added bonus of meeting a set of new people that were highly vetted to be your peers that you could immediately trust and engage with.

Partners were included. Some – like Amy – participated for most of it. Others didn’t. This was the only big miss – we should have worked harder to include all the partners in the entire discussion, and have several of them lead topics. Next time.

Once again I was reminded of the power for entrepreneurs of spending time with your peers outside of the craziness of the daily schedule. 50 people invested two days of their life in this event – the feedback I’ve heard so far was awesome. And – for me personally – it was very rewarding.

If you are an entrepreneur, do yourself a favor and find a peer group. If you don’t know where to start, try Entrepreneurs Organization. You’ll thank me in 10 years.

  • Sounds great and I like this a lot: “Leading the Team: CEO Habits That Set The Pace” — will you be sharing more on that subject. I’m more and more intrigued with the challenge of creating intense focus against a backdrop of a million distractions.

  • What were your thoughts on B-Corps? I don’t remember seeing you talk about them before.

    As someone actively involved in the startup scene and who works at one of the founding members, it would be great to get your opinion.

    • I think B Corps are interesting and simply being a B Corp (vs. a Benefit Corp) is non-controversial.

      It’s unclear what the real impact of being a Benefit Corp is going to be – both on the positive and negative side – and I think it’s going to take a few going public / being acquired to really understand the implications.

      • Yeah, it’s an interesting dichotomy of trying to make money and be a successful growing business but also adhere to the social/environmental/charitable commitments you made that are non-negotiable.

        There are certainly going to be lawsuits when the first one goes public and is not “maximizing shareholder value” to live up to their commitments. I doubt this will be a problem with someone like Etsy who just eek in to B Corp status and do so by focusing mostly on employee benefits (which are both tremendous things they should be applauded for).

        It will definitely be an issue with someone who is significantly lowering profit margins by donation percentages of top line sales to charity, or only sourcing locally (a la Ben & Jerry’s).

        The most simplistic and unfortunately common defense against that is to view those increased costs as marketing expenses but I think that missed the fundamental point of why most of these companies became B Corps in the first place.

  • I’d like to bug you for the download on the family office bit – an obvious area of interest for me. Will ping you or perhaps you can send me to whomever lead that discussion?

    • Martin led it – I co-led it (by adding how I do it.) Ping me – let’s talk about it any time.

  • Austin

    Didn’t meet EO’s revenue threshold:

    “We currently do not accept applications from companies below $0.25M in annual revenues.
    “Keep growing, and we’ll see you in our Accelerator Program soon.”

    • Search for another peer group. Or create your own!

  • DJ

    This is great. I’m in a similar group that’s focused on broader ideas about self-improvement and life satisfaction. The main difference it it’s open to non-entrepreneurs.

    You might like David Deida, particularly “Way of the Superior Man.”

  • Mark

    Thanking you now!

  • HI Brad,thanks for your share ,from the view of marketing ,that I can see a very successful article ,and finally lead to a EO .Why ,coz I had so much curious to open a new link to EO after finish of reading !and the point is that I could understand all of it ,it’s awesome .most of the time ,I try my best to understand the views of the points of every blogs or info I ‘m interested,but coz I don’t have any overseas study backgrounds (BTW ,I’m from Guangzhou,China ) ,that most of the time ,stops me to learn more .Thank you so much again !

  • You’ve got good company, Brad: Benjamin Franklin. Check out the Wikipedia entry on Junto (club). A subset of MassChallenge companies have periodic breakfasts and call themselves the Junto, covering more mundane topics like “which CRM integrates with Google Apps better than Salesforce?” But every CEO needs a peer group…just that sometimes it’s called a Board.

  • Brad – was great to partner and share time together in launching SERGE. You did much to make it a success and I appreciate your post here prompting others to seek out entrepreneur peer groups. Taking time out of the business to learn from peers through EO and other groups was absolutely a key piece of my entrepreneurial journey and it is still fun to see that come together with the more seasoned group we had together at SERGE.

  • Thanks Brad, definitely agree. As a 20-something starting a company with a bunch of 20-something friends that are starting companies, do you think it’s enough to just catch up online or individually when we’re in town, or it is it important to have a scheduled meetup when we all get together? Do you think annually is enough?

    • I think the scheduled / more formal dynamics on a regular (at least quarterly) basis are super helpful.

  • Elisa Miller-Out

    Thanks Brad for co-hosting SERGE and for this great blog post about it. I found it to be an incredibly inspiring event and am still processing all of the great learning I got from the other entrepreneurs. I’m also a member of a monthly peer circle through an organization called the Social Venture Network and I’ve gotten tremendous value from that circle as well.

    • Thx for coming to SERGE – it was awesome to meet you and get to know you.