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Building, Scaling & Selling a Thriving Community | Jay Clouse

Listen Up! IH - Episode 7


Take relentless action

👆 That's Jay Clouse's message for Indie Hackers

Communities are all the rage these days, everywhere you look it's like a new community is propping up. But Jay Clouse is a seasoned player in the game.

Back in 2017, Clouse created a community called Unreal Collective, a community for creators, tech founders, freelancers, agency owners and podcasters.

Before long he had scaled it from a 12 week program for 5 members to a thriving community of more than 100 business owners.

And then, he sold it to entrepreneur Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome.com - a platform designed to help solo entrepreneurs build online businesses.

Typically, that's the last thing you would expect from a successful community creator - selling a community is hard, even harder than scaling it.

And surprisingly, after Clouse sold it he stayed on to run it.

He became an employee of Smart Passive Income.

He appeared on the Indie Hackers podcasthosted by Courtland Allen back in March 2021.

They discussed building, scaling and nurturing communities.

Some Lessons👇


Unreal Collective - The Community

How he built it?⚒

Jay Clouse started UC's alpha program with 5 people over 12 weeks. The program was entirely free.
It was created as a holistic experience meant for accountability, guidance and support any entrepreneur would need while building a solo business.
Clouse calls it a "virtual accelerator and private community."

It was a bare bones community built on top of Slack and weekly Zoom calls.

He gathered feedback, iterated on the experience from the initial cohort and used the social proof to sell the next version.

With impactful testimonials and social proof from the members, every subsequent cohort got easier for him to sell.

Eventually it has become a program with 100+ business owners, freelancers, creators.

And today it's so valuable that Pat Flynn's company SmartPassiveIncome acquired it.

Pat Flynn is a passive income guru. Through his platform SmartPassiveIncome he helps entrepreneurs build successful online businesses than can generate passive income for them.

But Why Did He Sell It?🤔

Clouse has written an extended Twitter thread explaining his decision to sell.

Here's the gist-

The co-Ceo of SmartPassiveIncome(SPI), Matt Gartland, was part of the UC community.
Matt had joined the community shortly before his creative agency was acquired by Pat Flynn to become SPI Media.

He liked the experience, respected the way Clouse had built the UC community.

He asked Clouse to help SPI with their community SPI Pro.

Clouse consulted with them for over 8 months, he helped them set up and run the SPI pro community in it's very early days.
They liked his work and wanted to bring him onboard full time.
They even discussed merging the two communities.

Clouse saw the similarities in the two communities, both were extremely focused on helping solopreneurs build successful online businesses.

And he could sense that Pat Flynn and SPI truly cared about adding value to the community members.
There was thoughtful, curated effort to serve the business owners who joined the program.
It was apparent right from the onboarding experience, to the weekly events, to the mastermind matching programs.
It wasn't just an email list thrown on a digital community platform.

So he agreed to the acquisition of UC by SPI.

He joined SPI in the Community Experience Director role on 1st Jan 2021.
And now he actively runs the SPI Pro community.

Plus he is still working on his other projects like writing, podcasting and his freelancing course bundle freelancing.school


Challenges in Scaling a Community💪

Communities are inherently fragile.

If the members get upset with something, like a sudden change of platform, or tone of communication, they can very quickly start to quit.

The subscriber count can reduce significantly, and the community can even go down to zero.

Clouse calls it the Negative Network Effect.

As communities grow they change in nature. They feel less personal, more unruly, less curated. They become harder to run.

To address this, Clouse segments his community into many subgroups by topics so the members still get the more personal, curated experience while the overall community still grows.

But you can't do that with something like Slack or Facebook groups.

That's where Circle comes in.

Going With Circle

When the members of the UC community first moved from Slack to Circle, it was a culture shock.

While Slack is a platform primarily designed for business communication, Circle is designed to run communities from the ground up.

It was a very different platform with very different feature sets.

With circle you can segment members based on topics or cohorts. You can even create separate channels for resources and useful links. It has been designed to give a wholesome community experience.

But it was important for Clouse because it helped him run the community better.
He could grow it big while still providing a very personalized experience to each member.

So to make the move easy, he didn't charge the UC members for the entire first year of SPI Pro. They signed up for the 12 week cohort, and now they are getting a full year's experience.

SPI Pro is the premium, private community experience provided by SPI over and above the free resources on their platform.

They help entrepreneurs come together, help and grow their experiences through expert help, peer accountability and growth challenges.

Clouse thinks this will help them make up their mind if they want to continue or not after the year. He is hopeful that most members will continue.

Another challenge with using a new platform is to teach the users to come to a new platform regularly.

In that sense Facebook groups is perhaps the best platform to host communities.

But FB groups is chaotic. There is no threading, no segmentation, and users often receive 20+ posts a day with no context or meaning.

Clouse also uses Twitter as a community platform.

He knows about the "growth hacks" people use to "build an audience" there. But he prefers to grow slow and have genuine human interactions with his followers.

He asks them questions, responds with valuable advice and tries to crowdsource the experience and wisdom of his followers. Much like a paywalled community.


Lessons on Building a Community📝

Few lessons we can learn from Jay Clouse about community building from scratch

  1. Use your initial network. Test the waters with people you know.
  2. Get feedback. Iterate and improve the experience. Use social proof to sell.
  3. Know who your people are. What value they expect, what are there aspirations, and how much they can pay for the membership. Make a positive ROI for them.
  4. Think what worked in offline. Look at communities in your hometown - familiar faces, warm welcoming atmosphere, a safe space to communicate and grow together.
  5. Value comes from connections between members. This is very different from "building an audience". It's not about the founder, it's about the members.

Advice for Indie Hackers😇

Final words of advice from Jay Clouse

  1. Take relentless action.
  2. Do it everyday, progress compounds, even if it's slow initially.
  3. You may be slower than your peers, but its ok.
  4. Not everybody can be a breakout success, but if you expand the surface area of your luck, good things will happen.

Thank You for Reading🙏

Listen to the complete episode on the Indie Hackers podcast.

Every week, I listen to the best podcasts around Indie-Hacking and share the most actionable and inspiring tips from some awesome conversations.

Subscribe to Listen Up! IH and get them directly in your inbox👇

https://www.indiehackers.com/series/listen-up-ih

ICYMI: Last Week I wrote about Evan Britton of Famous Birthdays

Thanks to Seth King for editing this post.

Cheers,
Ayush

  1. 2

    Wowww @ayushchat this is such an incredible and kind write up! I'm blown away. Thanks so much for sharing my story. Happy to answer any follow up Qs from Indie Hackers!

    1. 1

      Glad you liked it Jay🙏

      One question - for someone wanting to build a community, what's the best way to increase engagement among the members?

      1. 2

        It's tough to pick a single tactic...so instead I'll say the most important thing you can do is get members comfortable with each other. Host real-time video calls, even meet up in person if you can. The more comfortable and "friend-ly" people feel with one another, the more likely they are to participate.

        1. 1

          Right, great advice.

          I think Post Covid in-person meetups would do really well.

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