27th January, 2023
Building an awesome community even when nobody gives a shit
Last year, Mac Reddin raised a $50m Series B round for Commsor.
It’s remarkable to think that this wild success started as just a “silly idea” for a no-code hackathon. It was called “Commsponsor” at the time. Came in 50th place at the competition but it showed traction amongst customers. That was 2019.
Today, the Commsor product helps companies unlock the power of community-led growth by helping them with analytics and automations that help in proving the ROI of community.
But that’s not what most people talk about when they think of Commsor. They talk about Community Club - the Slack community started by Commsor for community professionals.
So, it’s funny to think that this community started as a Substack newsletter whose first edition got sent to 6 people, 4 of whom were Mac’s family! He barely had a couple hundred followers on Twitter and didn’t even have a LinkedIn account.
That’s why Mac’s story is the perfect case study on how you can build an awesome community even when nobody gives a shit. You can listen to his story in his own words on our podcast or continue reading for some actionable advice.
Why start a community around your business?
Mac started Community Club because he wanted to sell more Commsor subscriptions. His customers were businesses that wanted to manage their communities better. So he created the community where all community managers would hang out. This way he would have an “in” when selling Commsor.
And it worked!
The impact of Community Club is so huge that it feels like everyone in the community industry is a part of it. In fact, almost every guest we have had on the podcast so far has acknowledged Community Club as having played a role in building their own community career. No wonder Mac considers this 4500-member Slack as the most valuable asset of their business!
So today, Mac advocates all businesses to adopt a similar community-led sales strategy.
If you have a business, SaaS or otherwise, it can be a great sales strategy to start a community where your customer persona hangs out. Somewhat counterintuitively, this works even if you are a B2B businesses because ultimately the users of your product behind the table are real people. Commsor itself is a B2B startup!
One caveat - don’t just put up a banner in your community and start selling to the community members right away. We’ll talk about the right way to sell to your community in the last section of this case study.
Prepare for manual outreach in the initial days
Mac started Community Club as a weekly newsletter that later invited the subscribers to join their Slack community.
But as I mentioned before, he barely had a couple hundred followers on Twitter and didn’t even have a LinkedIn account when he started Commsor. No wonder the first edition of Community Club newsletter got sent to 6 people, 4 of whom were Mac’s family!
So, how did he get more subscribers?
- He searched for people who had the “Community Manager” in their LinkedIn bios.
- Then, he manually reached out to them saying something like, “Hey you’re in Community, do you want to join our community?”
- This is how they got their first 400-500 subscribers! After which they soon hit critical mass that was enough to get the compounding growth through word of mouth.
In hindsight, he says that this manual strategy of starting the community was better than opening it up to let anybody join. That’s because existing culture always beats new culture in a community. With this manual outreach process, he was able to build the positive culture that he wanted.
Surviving Thriving in the “no”s
When nobody gives a shit, a good thing to learn is how to thrive in the “no”s.
Today, “community” is the new tech buzz word. But not too long ago, Mac was struggling with getting people to bet on the future of online communities. Especially investors. He says that raising the first $100k was 10 times harder than raising the next $10M. He got turned down by the prestigious YCombinator, was beating pavements of New York City, hearing “no”s from 50 investors before he got his first “yes”.
I asked what motivated him through all these rejections, he said it was:
- His desire to prove people wrong. “If you tell me that I can’t push this button, fuck you, i’m gonna push this button!” He believes it’s a good trait for founders to develop.
- His deep understanding that what he was building was important. He could see that advertising is not longer effective. Things like Facebook and Twitter are starting to fall apart. People are looking for a more humanistic way to bring marketing, advertisements and sales back into the process.
That’s how Mac was able to not only survive but thrive under the barrage of “no”s.
Be thoughtful when selling to your community
If you start selling to your community in a thoughtless manner, members will call this out as a marketing gimmick, thus defeating the purpose of the community.
20 yrs ago, why did sales happen on the golf course and not in the business rooms?
It is not because people like golf - it is because it lets you build a relationship. Businesses are built on relationships.
Online communities are just a modern, internet-native, scaleable way to build the same relationship that you would have expected to build at a golf course or an in-person event.
In order to reap the benefits of community, you may be tempted to start selling to the members as soon as possible. But that’s not effective. Remember, the entire point of building a community around your business is to build relationships.
Mac believes that the old school way of selling disregards human emotions. In fact, a lot of members of Community Club don’t even know what the company behind their community sells.
So, you need to change the way you do sales with a community-led mindset.
Remember this classic sales quote –
“People hate being sold to but they love buying.”
If you try to sell to every single person in the room, maybe 1 out of 10 will buy but 10 out of 10 will call your bullshit. A better strategy is to let people come to you. Take the more humanistic approach to understand when a person is ready to buy and then just nudge them in the right direction.
Sales is just one area of the business that benefits from a community. But Mac is a proponent of community-led companies. He asks businesses to put community at the center.
When done right, community can be the beating heart of your business. Your biggest asset.
Make a scary pivot in the Community Industry
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