The community for community builders.
How did you go about building and scaling community at an early stage startup? What were some unique struggles you faced?
Hi Alex, I love this question! Outside of my current role, I've pretty much only built communities at early stage startups. It's a different ride each time, but I'll share a story from Kickstarter for this question :)
When I joined Kickstarter in 2010, we were a company of 9 people. There were at most a few hundred projects on the site, and maybe a thousand people had ever given money to a campaign. Kickstarter's founders had an early community of artists and musicians that they brought with them to the site, but beyond that there was no clear sense of who our community was, nor what it would really mean to build a community.
One very early community mistake I like to share is our first attempt at a Kickstarter meetup. We sent an email to everyone who had ever created a project, gave them the address to a bar, and said come and join us for some drinks! Well, about 10 people showed up, none of them had anything in common, and most actually came to let us know in person that they were frustrated with our product, our policies, etc. Total disaster.
It seems so obvious now how we did everything wrong, but it's the classic mistake of thinking that because people have used your product, they are somehow a community. They are not - at least not until you invest in understanding their motivations and what it is that actually connects your users.
So we learned and evolved, and frankly, our users were the ones who led the way. They came to us with their needs as different types of creators, and it became super clear that we actually had many distinct communities on Kickstarter - filmmakers, musicians, game developers, startup founders, writers, dancers, comic book creators, etc - and each of the communities needed different things from us.
We started focusing on building communities around these different creative verticals, and it allowed each to thrive independently of the other, while still benefiting the ecosystem as a whole and creating a scalable growth model that was entirely community-driven. More people creating great projects = more visibility for Kickstarter as a whole = more audience for future creators = more people creating great projects.
Segmenting our community enabled us to scale - we hired a CM for each vertical, and for the most part, that structure still exists today despite the fact that the site has grown to tens of millions of users.
What I loved about this approach is that it enabled different communities to have their own unique identities within Kickstarter. Startups saw us as a place to raise millions, while musicians saw us as a place to promote their new album, and artists saw us a place to create their own residencies. It didn't matter if you came to raise $500 for a side project or $1 million to start a company. We could be all these things - exactly what each community needed - simultaneously.
I love this, thank you for sharing. I'm always so curious to see how different companies approach structuring their community teams (assuming they have a "team" and not just one person) and what works for them that might not necessarily translate to a community that has a different structure.
That first attempt at a meetup resonates with me sooo much. We absolutely had similar things like that at reddit that were great learning experiences on what NOT to do again.
How did you make the decision to segment the community by creator type instead of having one community of creators?
Hi Cesar, there were a couple of deciding factors -
1) We wanted to over-deliver on experience and make sure creators from all our verticals felt they were being supported by people who understood needs unique to their different creative backgrounds.
2) In order to evaluate certain types of projects/campaigns, we needed specialized knowledge. E.g. It was difficult for someone w/o experience dealing with the ins and outs of book publishing to try and provide campaign support and advice to someone making a book.
Once we recognized how valuable that kind of domain-specific expertise was to our community, it made a lot of sense to build the team out to support each category instead of trying to approach as one size fits all. And ultimately this was much more efficient for us, because our in-house experts were often already part of these creative communities, providing us with credibility and trust in addition to specialized knowledge.
The community for community builders.