How do you start building a community?

I'm interested in hearing stories from indie hackers who have started a community. No matter how big or small.

What has been your experience as a community founder. How did you go about starting one? What did it look like in the early (and then later) days?

Do you have any interesting stories to share? Even non-interesting ones too!

  1. 4

    I'm at a very early stage with brabble, but I do believe the first 100 users are harder then the next 1000. A community is (in my opinion) one of the most powerful things to have, just look at reddit for years everything about it was horrible, UX? god terrible but because the large community you got addicted.

    What I am doing right now is get comments on podcast episodes. Once I have a few (and I really need to push for this) I start to promote that podcast episode like crazy, because when people see social proof/active participants they are more likely to trust the platform and start joining the conversation.

    it's a long road and takes a lot of time, but damn so fulfilling if it works out!

    1. 2

      Is there the ability to for people to talk to one another?
      How do you aim for community (rather than an audience)?

      1. 1

        Yes people can chat with each other! What I am working on right now is live podcasts. For example:

        You can live stream office hours and have people call in/live chat.

  2. 2

    With regards to my most recent community (INF Club), it started using the existing email following (less than 50), from my previous blog - IntrovertJedi.

    I started the blog in Summer 2019, and moved to Substack in October. For some initial context:

    • my audience is a pretty-defined audience of INFP and INFJ personality types
    • I have paid members, who have access to this 'community experience' (free ones receive free content + podcast episodes on a twice-monthly newsletter)
    • I initially gave away a bunch of 'free' lifetime paid memberships, to thank my early subscribers and also get the community-piece going (at the time, only 'paid' members could comment on Substack forum threads). I gave away about 100 of these... most folks found me through Twitter (there seem to be a good number of INFPs and INFJs on there), from me following/engaging with them
    • my audience grew nearly x20 times through a Summit I co-hosted in February
    • my current intention is to strengthen & organically grow this 'paid membership' community, in the following ways and through continuing to create high-quality, highly-valuable content.

    Curating a close-knit community is one of my biggest priorities, if not the #1, and I've tried to do this in a few ways:

    • I've really tried to focus on quality > quantity, giving the audience as many touchpoints to connect how they wish to (especially being introverts). e.g. from forum discussion (entry point), through to taking part in a virtual co-working session. I also have an 'INF Wall' (a directory of email addresses), so folks can connect in-private.

    • I have a monthly members' newsletter which I use to share bonus/preview content, as well as these monthly 'community' opportunities (e.g. discussion thread, virtual co-working). I also share member news/updates on these newsletters.

    • I started a podcast on the Substack platform, interviewing members of the community; I now interview 'guests' (outside the community), too, and the podcast is a public one, but these 'member interviews' are still key, and just feel nice and the right thing to do. Also, some members take part in an interview and actually prefer that their (written and/or podcast) interview is kept within the community only (i.e. private, not public) - I give them the choice.

    I'm hoping to enhance the community experience further, by:

    • continuing with the above (iterating as needs be / based on feedback/intuition)
    • adding online 'Mastermind groups' to the mix
    • perhaps adding casual (online) meetups to the mix (I currently host an introverts' meetup with 2 other folks, so my members - and email list - are able to join this; I have been thinking about a paid-members-only meetup, though.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share & reflect on this Rosie, this has been fun. :)

    1. 2

      I enjoy seeing your updates on how you are growing.

      In your case it's interesting to see how much 'stepping up' (doing the Summit) has helped your community grow.

      1. 1

        Thanks Rosie. The Summit has been a 'step up' in more than one way, including confidence/mindset-wise.

  3. 2

    ooph! love this! (you're so good at starting convos!)

    i will write a post in response to this!

    1. 2

      post it as a reply once you finish it, thanks

      1. 1

        i do what i can. this community is worth the time and investment. so huge. so grateful. gahhhh!

  4. 1

    Hi Rosie. I run a small community of 102 members for aspiring authors called Book Writing Clinic (BWC). Started in 2015. Members pay a membership fee of $70 only to attend a workshop for life. I send out free eBooks, podcasts, webinars and articles to members. We communicate mostly via email, WhatsApp. We have an inactive Facebook Group but members hardly visit. Age of members vary from 27 to 70. All are aspiring authors who want to get their story out to the world. You can get to see BWC Alumni Members via this link: https://issuu.com/pauluduk/docs/2bwc_alumni_members_-_portraits4. Best.

    1. 1

      Oh, interesting, thanks for this one.

  5. 1

    I started The Adventure Report as a way to share stories between the different siloed groups of climbers, sailors, travelers, skiers, and other group who all had their own groups, but didn't talk between groups.

    I was involved in several of these groups, so I invited around 50pp to the first gathering.

    It took the form as a monthly gathering where I would find 3 members to share their stories, and then have break outs in between. The in-person gatherings allowed high risk activities to decide how to engage and if to plan a trip with someone who you are taking a risk on; which I'd seen fail several times in messageboards and app based solutions.

    We started a facebook group, and importantly asked every week where people had done the previous week (or weekend) and later on (usually wednesday) where they were planning to go. This gave myself and other organizers a pulse on what locations people were going, who could present next, and an idea of local conditions. I began making a database of who went where, and noted their skill level, experience, and if I could get any relevant information.

    Certain sports (or activities) tended to band together, so there are less sailors or paragliders and more hikers, travelers, climbers/mountaineers, and cyclists; but it's a good sport for lots of people who live in the area to stop by and get info on a trip they might be planning or looking for inspiration.

    I organized a few trips, but realized how much effort it was taking, and realisticlly don't want to guide, but to go out with equals; and focused on the meetups. Since Covid-19 we've had zoom sessions and it's gone better than expected since people who've moved away can join: which might progress into a common set up: with in person meet ups happening ...less?

    We did have more 'newbies' in the beginning, which has be an interesting balance; because the content that intermediate and advanced 'Adventures' (a word we don't use) is different from those who are getting started; so it's always a balance.

    we're around 1500 on the facebook group, with 200-300 active posters, many of who share their trips reports every weekend (or for larger trips). Some new members have said it can get clique-y and I do wonder 'where' the the group wants to go; though it's interesting to see who subsets of people take on a new sport from a presentation (back country skiing is really in lately).

    I'm looking at writing guides to some of the more popular activities; how to navigate 'getting into' a sport that can take up large parts of your life, which simply buying gear and going to a gym isn't enough information.

    There are a few digital tools/apps that I'm considering working; since it's such a great group of people to get feedback from (this is San Francisco based btw, though doesn't have to be - I worked on a similar structure in Nairobi Kenya with the mountain club there.)

    We've talked about growing, but also see some of the down sides (need for larger venues, a lack of connections) and we're not currently charging that much ($15-20 for in person so that we can provide food).

    I love the connections I've made, and am curious to see what happens with the group in the future, and how we can help each other grow.

    1. 1

      Interesting how you are trying to connect separate but similar groups, a nice kind of cross pollination, and I guess a nice focused bunch of groups you knew existed to gather people from.

  6. 1

    The most interesting one I can think of: how my mentor built a tightly knit community in my Polytechnic days.


    He felt that kids like us in polytechnic could learn in better ways

    So he created a small group of students he picked out.

    They had to have certain traits. Like drive, good character, an openness to share with each other lessons they’ve learnt.

    He invited me to one of these meetings where he got seniors to share their learnings. They must have learnt a lot because he sent them out to war. To hackathons, to national competitions, etc

    He insisted that we all do a reflection and open sharing session after every competition. Or event we went to

    And this mentor was insane. He told me not to talk to him after attending an event. Unless I made 3 new friends

    So I had a habit of trying to make small convos at every event I go to, at least with 3 new people 😂

    After doing these many times, I became more extroverted. I was much less uncomfortable talking to strangers

    He had some flak for forming an exclusive group. We couldn’t bring new members in unless he approved. Even if we did, he would put them on probation and scrutinize them.

    He wanted to made sure there were no selfish people in the community.

    Many of us became entrepreneurs, well-performing students, more developed in a holistic way. more eloquent.

    What's the Result?

    Best of all, we still meet yearly for Christmas, and or Chinese New Year Gatherings. The group only gets bigger by each year. We all still talk to each other over social or in real life regularly. And it's always filled with interesting life stories, etc.

    PS: A friend I shared this with said he built a "Junto"

    1. 2

      Interesting. I'd never heard of a Junto.

      I love the 'long term' impact of how you still gather.

      Was there a particular vision or end goal for this?

      1. 1

        Yep! I think my mentor felt that the education we were getting in the polytechnic was not reflective of how the industry worked. He wanted us to get ourselves out there and go for events, participate, learn and make new friends.

  7. 1

    My experience is ancient and a little different. As an undergrad, I tried to start a chapter of the Campus Freethought Alliance, which was tenuously connected to Richard Dawkins. It didn’t go so well, mainly because I didn’t use my passion for it’s purpose to drive the community and to inspire others. I was young and impatient and thought things should happen overnight. That didn’t happen. What happened was a loose group of neuroscience majors, atheists and agnostics that didn’t have much of a campus presence to speak of. Lol

    1. 1

      Do you think it didn't work out because of lack of patience and vision/inspiration?

      Was/is 'Campus Freethought Alliance' a big thing? (No clue about what it is tbh!)

      1. 1

        @rosiesherry Yes, absolutely, as well as it being an extremely tough crowd to win over. The CFA is now known as the CFI. Other than being loosely affiliated with Skeptical Inquirer magazine, I don't think it's really that big of a deal, but, tbh, I don't know as it's been years since I've kept up with it. :)

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