“One connection can change the way you think about things, or the way you do your business. That’s what community is about.” – Jan Smejkal

Just this month, we announced the launch of our Chapter Manager program.

The Chapter Manager program celebrates the power of community. After all, the program’s genesis and intention lies within building community on campuses and in cities across the United States.

It was perfect timing to welcome Jan Smejkal for our weekly LIVE! to talk about harnessing the power of community. For Jan, community is second nature. He’s spent the past several years building communities in China and the Asian Pacific for Startup Grind.

He joined me on LIVE! from a Starbucks in Hong Kong as the sun rose on the other side of the world.e delved into the power of community on a global basis,

Jan plans and attends events all throughout Asia to build community, and he shared that the two critical pieces of building community are 1) Always being available and 2) Offering Value.

Always being available sounds like an excessive commitment, but it’s just the same as always being available to your friends or family. It’s about being present for those who truly matter to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s the weekend or late at night – if someone in Next Gen needs something, I’m there for them. This sounds like a great responsibility, but it’s also a great privilege. As I shared in the LIVE!, the greatest part of being a community leader is knowing the community is there for me, too. It isn’t a transactional relationship – it’s a friendship, and Jan and I both truly enjoy being there for members.

For the ‘offering value’ component, Jan discerned that community isn’t just about knowing everyone, or “shaking hands,” as he called it. Offering value, rather, is understanding each person’s unique needs and talents, and pairing community members accordingly. I saw this in greater depth: I believe that you can offer even more value in accordance with how many people you know. If someone needs an account manager, a community builder can connect them with not just one option, but several. The more people you know, the more people you can help.

As for keeping track of the thousands of people throughout his communities, Jan says he doesn’t have a CRM. He emphasizes the power of people and connection by truly remembering them. So, when someone asks him for a contact, several people come to mind.

Of course, one difference between my work and Jan’s is just based on the location. China is a hotspot right now for entrepreneurship, and I was interested in talking through the ways that global communities connect. Is it different? Well, according to Jan, not at the heart of it. Connection and offering value are the same anyway. But Jan shared that the biggest difference between China and the United States is the technology. Whereas we use Facebook in the United States as our main means of communication across groups (especially for Next Gen), China has several apps and platforms that don’t quite fit the bill, like WeChat, which only allows large groups of people (up to 500) to chat in a ‘chat room’ (imagine all those notifications!).

I so enjoyed my conversation with Jan because of the immense amount of similarities between our work – to be a community builder and leader can hardly be called a ‘job,’ but if it was, it’s the best job out there. The nature of our work is simply connection. Community makes the world feels smaller, regardless of boundaries by different countries, cultures, and walks of life. Jan’s time with Startup Grind proves that, and Next Gen seeks to prove that everyday, as we welcome and envelop more members into our community.

Remember that you don’t need a formal role to become a leader in your community. Anyone can harness the power of community on a local or global level simply by reaching out, saying ‘hello,’ and offering assistance to all whom they meet.


  • Haley Hoffman Smith

    Speaker & Author of Her Big Idea

    Haley Hoffman Smith is the author of Her Big Idea, a book on ideation and women's empowerment which debuted as a Top 3 Bestseller. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Washington Examiner, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown in May 2018. She is the founder of the Her Big Idea Fund in partnership with Brown's Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, which awards grants to women who apply with BIG ideas, and Her Big Lash, a cosmetics company.

    At Brown, she was the President of Women’s Entrepreneurship and started the first-ever women’s entrepreneurship incubator. She speaks on topics such as women's empowerment, innovation, social impact, and personal branding regularly across companies and college campuses, most recently at Harvard, TEDx, SoGal Ventures, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and more.