TL;DR: Your community will lead you to the problem, the product, and finally the business. André Barrence, Camilla Junqueira, and Ian Hathaway shared six practices to build strong communities, learned from their years of experience at Google for Startups, Endeavor, and Techstars:
What's the most important thing to create a great business? You might be thinking of having the best product, the most novel view of a market, or even the greatest talents on your founding team. The entrepreneur Sahil Lavingia cares to disagree – and we at Latitud are on his team.
What you really need is a strong community. "It's the community that leads you to the problem, which leads you to the product, which leads you to the business", says the author of The Minimalist Entrepreneur.
Let's remember the world we're living in right now: technology's getting cheaper every passing second, while paid media is only getting more expensive. People's smartphone space and attention are harder to grab.
Having a well-developed product and great talent behind it is incredible, don't get us wrong. But what people really want from your startup is having their individual pains solved and being able to connect with the rest of the world.
Don't believe us? Adobe bought Figma for US$ 20B, and one of the most strategic assets behind the graphics editing and user interface design app is, guess what, it's the designer's community they built in 2019. Another example is Duolingo, where our cofounder Gina Gotthilf was a VP of Growth. The language app lets people clear up doubts in forums, and this resource was essential to scaling the company to millions of users.
The next big thing is excelling at community-led development, go-to-market, and growth. Y lo lamento, pero those WhatsApp groups you have with your customers aren't enough.
Luckily, we have some experts on building strong communities in the house. At our Vamos Latam Summit, André Barrence (Google for Startups), Camilla Junqueira (Endeavor), and Ian Hathway (ex-Techstarts and current Far Out Ventures) shared six practices to build strong communities – and an even stronger business on top of it.
Going beyond your own little world is important in a community. You need to build an emotional connection with the other members to make the community work. That only comes with trust – and selfishness makes all your effort to build trust crumble.
You have a cold heart and like to see it rather than believe it? No worries. Harvard Business School's professor David Meister got you covered with his pretty trust equation. Practice what's above and run away from what's below to build trust, and then you'll build a nice community around you:
Sounds awesome being a credible, reliable, and vulnerable person solely to help people out, right? Well, we are actually not asking you to be the new Madre Teresa de Calcutá. Reaching out your hand also is in your favor, and we're not only talking about karma here.
First, givers refine their learning while they're teaching. Second, these connections make it more likely that givers know who to reach out to when they need help in the future. Thirdly, givers build a reputation within the community. And that's the most important part when talking about forging a strong community inside your startup: receiving help generates a strong impression, and people will always associate your brand with that support they once got. With a community, you provide support at scale.
Ian mentioned that, when he was at Techstars, they used the #givefirst hashtag everywhere. That should be your communities' motto, but don't just stay at the hashtag level. Really make giving back a way of life for everybody in the community. That means: the givers and takers scale should always tip to the givers' side. Each one for them shouldn't take more than what they've created. (That's also an alchemy lesson. You're welcome.)
Talking about how you should be giving back is quite easy, we know. But how do you actually help other people? Repeat this Buddhist mantra André shared with us:
"Building a community is like building a product.
Building a community is like building a product.
Building a community is like building a product."
Yes, it is, and that's why you should always be listening.
The era of content regurgitation is long overdue: you can't only be talking. The more you listen, the more you can help with the right connection, content, product, or anything else that can add value.
You've listened, but don't have anyone or anything to refer? You can always mention someone who might know more than you. As Camila said, remember that your goal can be not only helping people out but also "helping people help each other."
There are two words that André, Camilla, and Ian repeated multiple times throughout the talk, and they reflect activities present in great communities: leadership and curatorship.
Leaders create a center of gravity in society: people behave as the leaders do, Ian said. So it's really important to have strong leaders that are responsible for sharing and guarding the values and mission of your community. Otherwise, things go sideways with time and the community loses its essence quicker than you might imagine.
But leaders also need the right people to lead. Camila was responsible for Endeavor's closed community of entrepreneurs and she had to make sure the quality of interactions was really high. For that, she mentioned that building a good selection process and curating who entered the community was key.
Follow these criteria for selecting who'll be a part of your community:
We know that a founder's always wearing many hats – and none other than Rappi's Andres Bilbao talked about which ones you should actually wear right here.
Having great leaders and a selection process is a good place to start, but people also need to be constantly prompted to engage. The thing is: you're not always available to listen and encourage people to get out of their rooms and play with their friends.
That's where the connector and the cheerleader come into the scene. Some people call these roles Community Managers. Not sure about you, but I'd rather have pompoms.
Being a connector means finding people with specific needs and connecting them with others that might have specific solutions. Being a cheerleader means bringing everyone together, supporting people on a daily basis, and celebrating the accomplishments of the community.
These roles are CRUCIAL. Otherwise, the community will naturally stop engaging, contributing, and producing value as you intended. Hate when your crush starts ghosting you? Now imagine having a whole community ghosting themselves. Don't let that happen.
We've already talked about how giving back and adding value to people's lives is fundamental to keeping the community's gears running. But this added value refers not only to that piece of content, name, or product people were looking for like crazy. It can also be about emotions.
Let's do a quick thought experiment now, shall we? Imagine the best brands you have interacted with in your life, choose one that makes your heart pump, and ask yourself: why do you love it so much?
I can't lie: I'm a fan of Apple. The first thing that comes to my mind is Essentialism. I love how Apple keeps the product essential and with a clean design.
Why do I care about those? Because I love things being intentional and well-ordered. Hmmm, so that's how Apple got to my heart. It speaked to my soul and connected with me beyond the ordinary smartphone need.
Now, what is still lacking for having a community? Other people feeling the same way, of course. This can be translated into a single concept: collective identity.
(Warning: we'll get deep here.)
Identity can only be formed when you have alterity. When you know what you are not, you also know what you are. The next step is finding others who got the same a-ha moment. When you and them come together, voalà. There's a collective identity. There's a community.
The only thing worse than that ghost community we've mentioned before is a community that only comes to life when you want to sell something.
Do not build a transactional-only community. It's not going to work. Please.
You should strive for an emotional connection between not only your startup and the community, and also between its members. And remember how emotional connection is all about trust?
"Build a sense of identity in the community, so that people can also identify with each other. The founders are there for a reason: they want to trust others", said André. He nailed it.
When was the last time you looked for data on why should you shower? You never did. You learned it was important through experience, so you kept doing it every day. (Your mom and I hope so.)
There are some outcomes that you just know are important, even if they're not based on data.
One day, Camilla received a message from a co-founder of 99, the Brazilian startup that was acquired by Didi and then was considered the country's first unicorn. The founder told Camilla that he met his co-founder at an Endeavor meetup.
She discovered that a decade after said event. Now I ask you: how could Camilla have tracked that? It was the most important data for their community, and yet you can't track every business card exchange on your event's spreadsheet. Still, you need to retroactively gather these stories as a signal that you are on the right path. And give you that big motivation boost. Oof, we all need those.
Do not misinterpret me: measure what you can. Actually, measure twice and cut once. But keep in mind that some of the most important cases for your business you might just know years later. Keep them in a notebook before you have enough to build a spreadsheet.