Community Building March 12, 2020

Community First, Everything Else Second

John Saddington @8bit

[Featured image via @oli]

When people ask me what I’m building the answer comes to me as easy as it is swift: I’m building a community, full-stop.

Now, I know that that’s not what they were thinking when they asked me that question—they were thinking more “concretely”—a discrete technology or software platform.

But, I press the point and I have typically added this to the mix:

I believe that every project (and every founder/creator) should build their community first, product second.

Hell, I have it squarely in our Twitter bio:

twitter bio

But it’s a bit disingenuous because what I really want to say is this:

Build community before everything else.

I believed it when I first started building software more than 20 years ago and I believe it even stronger now, especially as a serial creator and builder of stuff.

Someone asked me the other day why I’m so committed to this problem space and why I’m obsessed with solving the problem of early-stage community building.

Again, another easy answer:

Every single time I launch a new project or start a new company I have to also build a new community to support it!

You see, building technology platforms and performant software isn’t something that I typically struggle with—building a community from scratch is a much more complex thing and multivariate challenge!

In other words, when you first start out, you’re not only pre-product and pre-revenue, you’re also pre-community!

And if you follow the “golden rule” of listening to the customer (i.e. solving their problems explicitly) to drive product development, you already know that if you don’t have a vibrant and active community (early-users, early-customers, passionate fans and/or followers), you won’t have the data you need to build a product that people really want!

Go figure, right?

Zero community means zero sales which means zero revenue which means zero business which equals one very dead startup.

As I’ve written in a previous post:

In other words, I’ve learned that community development (also known in most circles as “customer development” but it’s much bigger than that exclusively) is something the business should invest just as much as software development.

In fact, I’d argue strongly that the activities of building a community should start way before any software is written (and those activities should never stop). Although this may make the most sense for early-stage startups or entirely new product lines, it’s really a universal business truth because any company’s (future) customers originally begin as just community members who haven’t purchased a product or service yet.

Consequently, I need to solve this problem. I want to be able to build community, quickly, but not too quickly to mess up the natural flow of real, authentic relationship-building.

There’s no question that this is a very delicate dance, to say the least! Gratefully, after messing this up more than I’d like to admit, I’ve successfully put together a handful of communities in the past and have codified and refined my workflows to a very fine point.

So much so that I’ve been able to programmatically apply these skills, behaviors, and habits with repeatable results (and I’m teaching these skills, habits, and behaviors in YEN.CAMP).

I want to give those workflows to the world, in an automated way, so that any creator who knows how to build a great product or service can also build an amazing community that’ll support them for the rest of their lives (or the project’s life).

And that’s our mission. That’s my personal mission. That’s why we do what we do: YEN exists to help businesses engage and grow their community.

We’re doing this by first training up passionate and committed community builders using proven tactics, workflows, and strategies. Secondly, we’re building a software platform that automates some of this for them.

It may not sound extremely sexy at first glance but, to be honest, community is everything to me. Without community I literally wouldn’t be able to do what I get to do!

And I fucking love what I get to do, even if it does breaks me from time to time.

My friends, my relationships, my community sustains me, drives me, gives me strength when I don’t think I can make it. It gives me safety when I need it most and comforts me when I think I’m going to quit. My community also challenges me to be the very best version of myself.

You see, for us in the #yeniverse, we believe in community more than anything else. It’s just what we do. It’s who we are.

[Originally posted here]

  1. 5

    Can you post a few tips on how to engage a community. For example we have a small telegram group where people come for support queries but we are lacking engagement. People just ask support queries and exit. We want to be able to build a community so that users can help each other. Let me know your thoughts on this

    1. 3

      Do you have people engaging with the incoming users after they ask a question? Creating conversations can keep them coming back short term.

      Also, can you tag users? Maybe if someone asks a similar question that has been asked before, you could tag the first person and encourage they work together so the second user also finds a solution?

      Community management is hard work, but as I've learned from @8bit, you just need to stick with it and it will begin to grow naturally. You just need to figure out how to create that welcoming environment where users are excited to collaborate and work together.

      May I ask, what's the topic of your community?

      1. 3

        it's a long-term investment. most people drop off. that's their mistake is that they quit too early. building real relationships is hard. i mean, what do people expect?

        lol. whoot.

      2. 1

        Thanks, yes it does seem lot of hard work ... :D
        Our community is about bitcoin or cryptocurrency

    2. 1

      i've always found that a small, manageable, and persistent communication tool (like telegram or slack or even the small app that we're using atm) can build an amazing and vibrant community.

      so, you need to enable and unlock those types of things.

      if they are coming and not staying... you have a "leaky bucket" issue... in many ways. you have to start asking questions of these people... like:

      why are you leaving and not staying?

      i mean, it sounds so simple and obvious, but, it's kind of what you have to do!

  2. 3

    I love this post, I never thought about it but it makes absolute sense and I clearly see that it IS what works best despite the time that needs to be invested into it . Thanks for sharing!

    1. 1

      of course! lmk if there's anything i can do to help you!

  3. 3

    Do you have only offline offerings, John?

    And by the way, you don't look like you are 37 :)

    1. 2

      If you're interested in hearing an unbiased opinion on YEN.CAMP from a current participant, feel free to message me @AlexMartynov. I'm going through it as we speak!

      1. 2

        Thanks Dan. I'll probably take you up on that a bit later

    2. 2

      thanks! i got lucky with some good genes... it's crazy to think i have a teenager and have been married 15 years!

      offline? no. not with covid-19 right now... 🤣 ... not laughing.

      but, the YEN.CAMP experience is 2-3 hours a day for 5 days... async mostly, but with real-time communication and coaching.

      offline is great. we had some in the earlier versions / iterations of our company:

      https://john.do/yen-retreat-sf-2019/

      https://blog.yen.io/a-visual-retrospective-the-sf-yen-retreat-2019/

      https://john.do/yen-retreat/

      those were good times. we had just crossed over 1,000 community members. but, we don't have those numbers anymore after the pivot.

  4. 2

    I love the idea of community first. In fact, in my current project, I started with the community first approach. Let the community tell me what they need and then I'll build it for them.

    Of course, things are a lot more better if you have someone to guide you along.

    And that's what the #yeniverse is all about!

    1. 1

      let's keep going my friend! so grateful to have you onboard as a fellow #yenizen!

      we are stronger, together. ™️

  5. 2

    Great read. Am confused myself whether I should introduce some incentives to my community, /,, or just sit back and wait for the long rum. My target community is university students. I haven't paid anyone to post yet. But am thinking their immediate needs are money for airtime, bundles, food etc. But am running on a Zero budget. Not sure which direction to take.

    1. 2

      you never know until you ask!

      sometimes the only thing that's needed that's standing between you and a significant amount of velocity and momentum in your business is a brave ask—meaning, people are literally waiting to be asked to help!

      it's kind of crazy.