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🏗️ — How to Start a New Community... From Scratch!

[This post was inspired by this one via @rosiesherry and a few comments that I've made in and around IH! Thanks everybody!]

Building community isn't hard... but it does take a serious helping of intentionality, time, and a commitment to love on your members endlessly. If you do this well then everyone is rewarded for your actions and behavior.

The timing of this tweet is perfect:

As I mentioned, there are just a few key ingredients and once you've got your system down, then, it's just repeating those things until... well, never.

You see, building community is very much similar to building a business: You start, you measure the impact, you iterate and improve, and you don't stop until the business is effectively "done" or finished (i.e. closed down, acquired, death by natural causes or everyone has moved on to new projects, etc).

That's why the YEN.CAMP is as much of a community-building bootcamp as it is a business-building one!

There are a ton of amazing resources on community building out there (like this) so I won't attempt to repeat those wonderful guides!

Instead, I'd like to share with you how I built the #yeniverse, a new community of entrepreneurs, builders, creators, and indie hackers that I've recently putting (back) together in the last 3+ months.

But, before we get to my step-by-step... let me give you some high-level on my philosophy on business & community building...

Loving the Fundamentals

I start all communities, big or small, venture-funded or boostrapped, by talking to customers, every single week and at every stage of the business. I count how many I do per day and per week and per month and these roll-up into a larger aggregate figures that align with our project's goals.

The amount of customers and (early) community members that I talk to depend on my focus for the next season / stage of the project and business. For instance, in pre-product stage I'm spending 100% of my time building community! This includes activities as creating original content, supporting content, and doing customer interviews in a variety of different mediums and tools.

Some of these folks may end up following me on Twitter or Youtube or here on IH but the goal isn't to get a following; it's to become "data rich" with customer insights and finding the patterns and opportunities in the market.

Along the way, some of these folks stick around and become part of the growing community around the project. These folks help validate the early concepts and prototypes and sometimes, if I'm lucky, will become alpha or early customers and community members.

After that, I usually find a natural cadence to how I spend my time, usually alternating between product design / development and content production / outreach. For instance, right now, I'll spend one week focused on product and do very little in terms of outreach, content creation, or other such things (outside the daily vlogs and blogs that I've been doing for years).

Then, the following week I'll go back into content production mode, writing original posts here on IH and elsewhere (like this post lol!) and spending a ton of time connecting with potential customers, doing (light) customer interviews, and filling the pipeline for new community members.

Rinse, repeat!

Note: I hesitate to try to break things down too clinically because these early-stages are precious in that you want to be flexible to adapt and design your approach on-the-fly. If, for instance, one week I spot an opportunity to focus more on product because of a large and necessary feature that I'm trying to ship, I don't beat myself up by thinking that I couldn't "keep my schedule", if that makes sense.

But, with that being said, I'd love to share my historical process of how I've built my community around YEN, now that we're 3+ months in.

Here's what it's looked like over the last few months... literally.

Step by Step

When we first started booting things up in early-February of 2020, we didn't have much except a few hundred interviews that we had executed in December, 2019 and January of 2020. Those 200+ interviews helped us isolate and identify our initial customer with some clear, validated needs.

Remember: Community Before Product!!

After that, here's what we did, step-by-step:

  1. We first started simply talking about the project on a few of carefully-selected sites, like IH, Product Hunt, our own blog, Twitter, and YouTube. These were intentional and by-design, only spending time on sites where I knew that we could become a valuable and positive contributing member. This last part is very, very important.

  2. We deliberately asked folks, at the right time, to follow the project more closely. We do that by adding links to our carefully-selected sites in #1 and our hope is that we can drive pre-community members to these sites to learn more about who we are and what we do. We never "force" these types of engagement and, instead, seek to become a useful and helpful community member on the sites listed in #1.

  3. For folks who start following the project, we ask them to do a customer interview, using books like The Mom Test as guides for our questions. When this is my focus, I'll do 18-20 of these a week! This # naturally comes down as we get closer to building our mvp but, as I shared above, we never stop interviewing customers and early community members!

(It's worth noting that the number of interviews that you "think" you need is usually too small of a sample set — usually, it's an order of magnitude larger! If you think you need 20 interviews... multiple it by 10!)

  1. Build your mvp using a product-market fit process or some similar, fast-iteration cycle. Doesn't matter what you call it as long as it allows you to get useful feedback, quickly.

  2. Price your product and don't be cheap. In fact, raise prices.

  3. Introduce the product offering to the community that has already begun to gather around your project! Usually, you're talking about it on the sites listed in #1. If no one bites (i.e. zero sales) then you have some very important data! It means that your positioning, pricing, and product are not aligned quite right yet. Time to iterate! Get more feedback, run more interviews, repeat the process from Step #1 if you have to! Nothing is sacred in these early seasons of startuplandia!

  4. Rinse. Repeat. Profit. And have fun!

I got my first sales ($177.00 in MRR!) in just six short weeks by building community before product.

Hopefully that helps! Let me know if you have any questions — I could do this all day!

  1. 4

    Yahoowser. Dude, this is awesome + so helpful. Reassuring to know I'm doing some stuff right... and you've got me thinking about other things I could be doing (e.g. more conversations, and counting/measuring these). I also love that you talk about raising prices - and thx for that link. So much good stuff!

    PS. I'll need to check out The Mom Test. Btw, Fizzle has a great little course about 'customer conversations' which sounds similar.

    1. 2

      no sweat man! i'm glad i can help!

    2. 2

      PPS. Woohoo - I figured out markdown! ;)

  2. 3

    "only spending time on sites where I knew that we could become a valuable and positive contributing member" I loved that! Noted!

  3. 2

    Great read, thnx John.

    1. 1

      of course friend! how can i help?

  4. 2

    Dude, you missed the most important step: where do you find these people to talk to?

    1. 1

      um. you missed, literally, part 1:

      We first started simply talking about the project on a few of carefully-selected sites, like IH, Product Hunt, our own blog, Twitter, and YouTube. These were intentional and by-design, only spending time on sites where I knew that we could become a valuable and positive contributing member. This last part is very, very important.

      tl;dr: hang out in places where your (future) community might be.

      1. 2

        oh sorry, I should have been more specific. what does "simply talking about the project" mean? You mean you just post it? And then keep posting it in comments? IH for example. Like what's your tactic?

        1. 1

          literally. commenting. writing original content & supporting content!

          building a real relationship takes a lot of time and work and a lot slower than most people think!

  5. 2

    Good read! Community before product +1. I learned this the hard way. I built a dating app first before really having a real in-depth validation and having a following, and we had to play catchup after the launch. Super costly.

    Now I just started on a new eco app. And this time before I actually wrote a single line of code, I found a Facebook group first and asked people questions in there.

    1. 1

      yup. me too! learned this the hard way... not once... not twice... too many to count!

      1. 2

        How much time did you spend on each? I spent more than a year in just one project!! Which made me $40 total :(

        1. 1

          have you seen this: https://www.indiehackers.com/post/lets-keep-building-4bd79e293b

          i've been building for decades! some of them last a few months... some of them last a few years!

  6. 2

    Community Before Product!!

    Great stuff John!

    1. 2

      i got your note and i can't wait to chat about your community & project! thanks for giving me some of your valuable time!!

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