Community Building–Traction Channel #19

Community building as a Traction Channel involves investing in the connections among your users, fostering those relationships and helping them bring more people into your startup’s circle.  You probably know people who won’t stop talking about how helpful Yelp is for choosing a restaurant, or how awesome TripIt is for planning travel. These people are known as evangelists – passionate users who tell others about how awesome a product is. How to Build a Community Build an Initial Audience  (Summary from Traction by Weinberg and Mares)

  • Have an existing audience to jumpstart their community-building efforts.  Example-Wikipedia began with a small group of users from the Nupedia user group (an earlier online encyclopedia project). Stack Exchange is a network of high-quality question-and-answer sites, the most famous being Stack Overflow. Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood founded the company in 2008. Both were already “Internet famous:” Joel as the founder of Fog Creek Software, and Jeff as writer at Thanks to their well-trafficked blogs, Jeff and Joel presented their ideas for Stack Overflow to readers who gave them feedback before the site launched. They even had the community vote on the name for Stack Overflow.While this illustrates the power of an existing audience, it is an atypical startup experience. Few startups manage to get 7,000 users after 6 months.
  • Establish Your Mission  People want to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves: that’s why you need to have a mission if you want to build an awesome community. A powerful mission gives your community a shared sense of purpose and motivates them to contribute.  Example: Jeff Atwood said: “We had a manifesto, and an idea of what we wanted to accomplish. And people bought into the vision because it was about them being awesome!
  • Foster Cross-connections (through forums, events, user groups, etc.). By encouraging your users to connect around your startup, they feel more cohesive as a community and can come up with ideas that you may not think of yourself.  Example-Jeff Atwood said that failing to allow cross-connections was his biggest mistake in building Stack Overflow: “When people ask me what our biggest mistake was in building Stack Overflow.  I’m glad I don’t have to fudge around with platitudes. I can honestly and openly point to a huge, honking, ridiculously dumb mistake I made from the very first day of development on Stack Overflow… I didn’t see the need for a Meta. Meta is, of course , the place where you go to discuss the place.  Now we use Meta: a place where users can discuss how they can make the community better.
  • Communicate with your Audience  Community members love to hear from you the startup owner. You will want to connect with your evangelists and let them know that you value them.  Example: In reddit’s early days, any individual that wrote about would get an email from Alexis Ohanian (the founder), thanking them for their writing. Alexis also sent shirts, stickers, and other gifts to early users . Sending emails and gifts is great, but nothing beats personal interaction. It’s just easier to form a lasting relationship with someone you’re sharing some time. In that way, community building works nicely with other channels like offline events and speaking engagements. These occasions present great opportunities for users to connect with you and with each other.
  • Be Transparent  Being open with your community is the best way to get them to buy into your mission.  Example: Jeff Atwood of Stack Overflow solicited feedback every step of the way, and built the site their community wanted. When Stack Overflow launched , their audience was already excited and had shaped the direction of the site. This resulted in hundreds of users in the first days, and thousands during the first month.
  • Ensure Quality  The meaning of quality depends on the service the startup provides.  Example: Yelp, it might be the accuracy of its reviews; Wikipedia, the usefulness of its articles; reddit, the relevance of its links and comments.  Every founder emphasizes the importance of maintaining community quality.  Warning: Unfortunately, a common occurrence is that the quality of communities starts out strong but gets diluted over time as evangelists either leave or get drowned out by newer community members. This decline in the overall quality of the community causes more good people to leave, which creates a downward spiral from which many communities don’t recover. To prevent this negative cycle, it is important to focus on quality early on and set standards that can be maintained as the community grows.
Community Benefits
  • Building AssetsMany communities are a valuable asset for the managing company or organization.  Example-Consider Wikipedia: their goal is to compile the world’s knowledge in one place. To reach this goal, they’ve built the largest group of knowledge contributors and editors ever assembled.
  • Product Development-Users can also help you develop your actual product. Not only does this kind of community improve your product, but they will love you for giving them the chance to help.  Example: Tom Preston -Werner, founder of popular code hosting site GitHub, points out that open sourcing code generates free advertising and a lot of goodwill. GitHub is beloved by developers everywhere because they allow anyone working on an open source project to use GitHub free of charge. This drove a lot of their early adoption: when a developer wanted to work on a side project, GitHub was the first place that came to mind.
  • Inbound Hiring Communities are excellent for recruiting and hiring. Example: At DuckDuckGo all working there were  member of the DuckDuckGo community first. He calls this inbound hiring because everyone comes in from the community. People that come from your community already buy into your mission.
A startup entrepreneur, Tyler Crowley has devised a not-so-secret recipe for creating startup neighborhoods world wide from scratch.  There are four things that need to be in place in order to build a startup scene.
  1. The first is a venue that is cheap and central, where meetups can take place.
  2. The second is a monthly event where all of the startups gather.
  3. The third is an established hashtag everyone in the community can use to share photos and event info.
  4. And finally, a coworking space that is open 24/7 so that when an outsider lands in the city, they have a place to go and meet tons of people in the scene.
This recipe establishes a tech community and helps them market their accomplishments to the outside world, creating a narrative of a cohesive and collaborative local scene that journalists, politicians, and investors can follow. Chris McCann of Startup Digest suggests, that companies whose core function is the connecting of people are best set up to take advantage of community. Whether that’s a trade show thing, an investment thing, whatever: when a company’s underlying value is in bringing people together, and where people matter in the system, that’s where this community stuff can really take off.” Resources  ]]>