14th March, 2023
How being insanely focused on the product can enable you to build a raving community
Should you be product-led or community-led? That’s a debate I’m seeing more frequently in the tech circles, particularly within the community industry.
Product-led people advocate for putting product at the centre of the company’s strategy while community-led people advocate for putting community at the centre of the company’s strategy.
He decided early on that Heartbeat will be a product-led company. This focus allowed him to create something that could gather raving fans - who he later gathered into a community. Today, this community - called the Hearth - has become a place where hundreds of Heartbeat customers help each other out in all aspects of building their own communities using Heartbeat.
Read on to understand why Murtaza made this decision, how he started the Hearth community and how he engaged it.
Why build a product-led company
Murtaza decided early on that Heartbeat will keep doubling down on improving their Product and ignore the other things that they were bad at.
Why? Because of one powerful idea that he learnt when playing a video game as a kid! It’s the idea of “min-maxing” –
Imagine a game in which the character has a different skills like attack, strength, defence, range and magic. The game does a little bit of math to determine the character’s over all combat level. What some gamers ended up figuring out was that if you took just one skill like archery, took it to level 99 while leaving every other skill at level 1 and go into fights, you will hit like a truck. You could go around killing everybody in 1-2 shots.
You can get outsized returns with just 1-2 skills. This insight has stuck with him as he started building startups.
He realised that if you figure out what’s the thing that you’re really good at and just keep doubling down on that skill, you can win.
For his startup, Heartbeat, Murtaza realised that the skill they were incredibly good at was - PRODUCT. He confessed in our interview that they’re not great at marketing or being community-led or even fundraising. But they are incredibly good at building Product.
That’s why he made the strategic decision to be product-led. Today, he believes that the reason why he wins sales versus other competitors is because of Product.
Starting a community as a solution to customer support problems
In 2022, Heartbeat did a successful marketing campaign that brought in hundreds of new customers. With this giant volume of customers also came a giant volume of customer support tickets that they were unprepared for. Very soon, Murtaza found himself spending 18 hrs per day answering support tickets.
This prompted him to bring all these users in this common online space so they may answer each other’s question. That was the beginning of The Hearth community.
And it worked. Customers were helping each other, reducing the support load for Murtaza and his team. Then, it started working.. too well.
These customers soon started to fill in the gaps in Heartbeat’s own documentation, sharing tips on how you should set up the Heartbeat community and even creating video tutorials and walkthroughs for this. You can find a lot of these videos by going to Youtube and searching for “Heartbeat community”. Some of these videos are upto 30 mins long and get 1000s of views!
I asked Murtaza what motivated these customers to create such videos. He mentioned 2 reasons:
- Reviewing tools - some of them were in the business of teaching teaching founders how to make their business better. They found Heartbeat to be one such tool and decided to do a review style video on it.
- Goodness of their heart - Other people just wanted to help others. They had just learnt how to set up their community using this tool and wanted to help the people behind them.
The lesson I’m taking out of this story is that if you build a truly awesome product, you will attract raving fans who can be the perfect spark for starting an engaged community.
Building an engaged community
Soon, Murtaza realised that what had started as a way to solve the customer support problem has taken a life of its own.
He decided to take the help of a community consultant to help him make this community into a truly awesome space. (Fun fact: we interviewed this consultant, Bri Leever, in episode #12).
Today he believes that the playbook on building a good community is still being written. Nobody knows the best practices. So, he draws a lot of inspiration from what he sees working in other communities hosted on Heartbeat. He mentioned 2 examples during our chat:
- Importance of being selective
- Importance of focusing on a niche
This he learnt from the Tog Knowledge community. What’s powerful about this community is that its creator, Joe, is very selective about who he admits into the community. It’s for only those who are serious about improving their photography skills. He even periodically reaches out to inactive members to ask them if it is still a good fit - if not, he removes them.
This has the effect of protecting the experience of everyone else who is putting in their time and energy into engaging in the community.
This he learnt from the Cat and Dog Coexistence Club for people who have a pet cat and a pet dog who are fighting with each other. This was started by Naomi, a pet trainer from New Jersey.
The unique thing about her is how focused she is on her niche. When someone asks her to do dog and dog training or a cat and cat training, she simply refuses. She believes that there’s enough trainings for these situations. By focusing on her niche, she becomes the only person in the world that does this.
Business impact of the Hearth community
With the Hearth community, Murtaza wants to be a lighthouse for the best community building practices.
He believes that their job isn’t to be the experts but to be the facilitator of conversations where these best practices can emerge, share it efficiently and continue building a playbook for what great community looks like.
This may sound like a philanthropical initiative but it has a direct impact on Heartbeat’s business as well –
Teaching their customers about better community building practices makes it faster for them to use Heartbeat to build and launch their community. They can track it with a simple metric of how long it takes for a user to launch their community on Heartbeat. Right now, about 50% of the communities are launching within 7.5 days.
The smaller this number, the better it is for Heartbeat’s bottom line since it is in the business of providing a platform where people build communities.
You can listen to the full episode where Murtaza also talks about his hiring philosophy, why he has only 3 full time people working on Heartbeat, becoming homeless and more. Just search for “Beginner Maps” wherever you listen to podcasts.
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