Ahoy Connect, 2022
This is part 2 in a 3 part series on community. Check out part 1 on why community is on the rise here.
How companies and customers interact is evolving. Community is a differentiator, especially in complex sales environments because it informs so many functions of a business
Communities, if executed correctly, provide tremendous value to businesses by driving or nurturing leads, increasing customer retention, improving products, creating content, and/or increasing engagement. A community, itself, can also be monetized by effectively facilitating conversations and connections amongst members. The low cost to implement and maintain a community makes it an attractive strategy or business model.
Companies large and small are turning to communities to engage and retain customers. Communities are proactive because they encourage engagement and activity. Marketing, by contrast, is reactive because it is past data of pushed content. Today, 75% of large companies and 40% of small companies have at least one online community and 86% of companies see it as critical to their business growth. Startups, in particular, are seeing community as a competitive advantage because, according to the CMX 2020 Industry Report, 79% of startups are hiring a dedicated community manager within the first year of company existence. The shift towards community is happening and there is a lot happening to build out this new function.
There are many companies that are employing community strategy or building community products. Through research and my experience as a community leader, I’ve defined specific areas that I want to develop as part of my personal investment thesis. They are the following:
- Startups that build tools to better measure and facilitate community will outperform.
- Startups that build a “go-to-community” strategy will outperform.
- Startups that build community products for niche communities will outperform.
COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT TOOLS
Community touches many parts of a business including, marketing, sales, product development, and customer service/success. The space for community tools overlaps heavily with marketing, events, and social media tools as well as including specialty tools for specific community purposes. Community managers have to shift between tools to complete manual processes in order to keep the community running when their time is best spent working with members.
Two of the top frustrations for community managers at companies large and small are that it’s hard to quantify the value of community and all of the efforts today are largely manual. In fact, 45% of CMX 2020 Industry Report respondents say that they don’t know how to calculate the financial and business impact on a community. With tools for community spread across social networking, email marketing, CRM systems, chat applications, and virtual event platforms, it’s difficult for small teams to determine the financial impact. It also requires many manual processes. These frustrations leave room for innovation, particularly for startups that focus on ROI and process automation improvements for both enterprise and small businesses.
The following companies are examples of how startups are solving these problems:
Solution: Connects disparate community tools into one platform in order to determine how your community engages and the value your community provides to the business
- CRM insight into community members
- Analytics on community channels and activities
- Process automation
Commsor is an example of a startup that is working on these problems. The company was founded in 2019 by Mac Reddin, a serial entrepreneur who founded a wildly popular community for minecraft as a teen. The software connects hundreds of disparate community tools into one platform in order to determine how your community engages and the value your community provides to the business. On the surface it may look like a CRM. The key difference is that it tracks both the member’s impact on the company and how the member’s impact in the broader community. The company is focused on B2B/Enterprise customers. In addition to their core product, they run a community for community managers which includes ongoing education. Commsor also started a community VC fund in conjunction with Felicis Ventures, one of their investors.
Solution: Connects disparate community tools into one platform in order to provide data visibility, gain insight and act on community opportunities, and determine ROI
- Connects existing tools
- Monitor cross channel health
- CRM for community members with analytics for action
- Process automation
- ROI calculation
AhoyConnect is another startup that wants to be the “HubSpot of Community”. The software determines the ROI on a community by connecting community tools and systems together with other functional areas, like customer success, marketing, or finance, to determine how community impacts the bottom line. The founder, Tomas Jasovsky, is a designer and product manager by training that has worked in tech for the last 10 years. Today, it is a “closed” platform, working closely with 10 initial partners with hopes to open up to the public in early 2022.
Solution: Dynamic data set of resources in ecosystems with additional tools to track user behavior
- Use proprietary technologies to dynamically update ecosystem data
- Can customize for the customer need
- Currently working with direct marketing organizations and universities
- Closed first enterprise contract with Meta where they mapped AR/VR resources. Contract included partnering with HP, Snap, Qualcomm, and other big tech firms.
Ecomap wants to be the platform that powers ecosystems. The founders, Pava LaPere and Sherrod Davis, set out to solve a problem that Pava had as a student who ran the entrepreneurship center. She used her training in data science to dynamically map entrepreneurship resources in her school’s ecosystem. Today, they are mapping ecosystems for NGOs and enterprise customers to improve connectivity within communities. They are currently members of the TechStars Equitech cohort in Baltimore.
COMMUNITY AS A STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE
One of the key findings I’ve had in writing this piece is that community is much more than a go-to-market strategy because community encompasses more than sales and marketing, it includes product development, customer service, and customer success. Because it can impact so many parts of a business, it can be, on its own, an effective business strategy. Products and services that are inherently collaborative benefit the most from employing this strategy. The magic of bringing a group with common interests together to learn from each other only enhances the features and use of a product or service. All of the following companies have focused on community as a strategic advantage for their business and have seen significant results from it.
Solution: Financial education and budgeting application for couples
- Creative content on how to manage finances for modern couples
- Connect all your accounts to one system and control visibility
- “Banking experience” backed by Piermont Bank for joint accounts
Ask Zeta is a financial education company that is focused on couples. Couples today manage finances very differently than in the past. Aditi Shekar taught personal finance and understood this herself, so she built Ask Zeta. The company started as an education and budgeting app and has recently started integrating banking experiences. Community is their key to growth. Ask Zeta meets customers where they are already living on the internet by working with influencers and interacting on social media sites from Instagram to Reddit. They also produce content focused on building financial success as a couple.
Solution: The data catalog for metadata and data management
- Data is easily discoverable
- Functionality for self-service analytics
- Easy collaboration and access to data
- Has flexibility to work within data governance rules
Data.world set out to liberate data across enterprises so that all data consumers can leverage data and analytics in decision making. Community has been central to their business strategy from the beginning because the majority of data catalogs are technical and difficult for a nontechnical employee to utilize. This isn’t Brett Hurt’s, the founder and CEO, first rodeo. He knew how critical it would be to build a strong community around their product and made a key community hire, Patrick McGarry, former Developer Evangelist for RedHat, early in the company’s development. They established an open community where people can easily share and analyze data. They wrapped this community with events, both online and offline, to drive users to the platform. They also worked with partners to share open data sets on the data.world platform for users to access. By building a community around their product, customers could see how the product could benefit their organization, which resulted in more inbound from prospects.
COMMUNITY AS A PRODUCT
Belonging, the desire to feel connected to others, is central to human existence. Communities provide this sense of belonging and centralize resources for members for mutual gain. Web 2.0 brought resources and people, but they are silo-ed and disconnected. For that reason, people are willing to pay to join private communities with like minded individuals and centralized resources. Technology is an efficient way to scale these communities and entrepreneurs are taking advantage. The following companies sell community as their product.
Solution: Highly curated cohort-based learning communities for individuals at an inflection point in their careers
- Focus on careers paths that have been created in the last 10 years
- Leverage an inflection point in one person’s career, like promotion or starting a company, as a way to build trust
- Built a large community of brand promoters
On Deck educates and empowers community members to achieve career success across professions. The company uses cohort-based learning to upskill professionals in their area of expertise, from startup founders, to data scientists, EdTech and life sciences. Founder Erik Torenburg started the business as an events community for startups. He refined the idea to become a curation business, with selected participants, and focused ruthlessly on alumni NPS. On Deck created a consistent experience with highly curated cohorts whose participants were bound to provide value to one another. They focus on the outcomes of the participants and build a hype circle around them. This community provides quantifiable value to its participants and it’s widely shared all over the internet. The creation of a highly curated learning community in specific professions has made this one of the fastest growing companies over the last year.
Solution: Closed curated B2B communities for executive level professionals in roles that are being created due to new technology and market trends
- Started as an association for social media and saw opportunities in CSR, Data, DEIB, and other emerging functions
- Focus is directly on businesses, not individuals
- Create a curated space for information and best practice sharing, ensuring that each member adds value
Board.org is a confidential, vendor-free, peer-to-peer membership communities for people leading change at the world’s biggest companies. The company started in 2007 when social media leaders at fortune500 companies were being overwhelmed with vendor inquiries and needed a private, confidential way to share information. Socialmedia.org became the model for other communities the company created around data, corporate social responsibility, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. In these communities, participants have access to resources and best practices used by other large brands without the fear of being pitched by a vendor. Because confidentiality is central to community success, participants share freely about plans for execution and some of the biggest challenges in their organization. This allows for high quality content and learning for all participants.
Solution: A community that promises endless summer vibes
- Music player that combines the vibes of Miami Beach with 80s nostalgia
- Launched a sunscreen that amplifies the brand essence of endless summer
It was a drab winter day in Scotland and Marty Bell, founder of Poolsuite, was listening to sexy poolside music when he had the idea to combine the music with 80’s beach videos. A designer by training, Marty gathered a group of friends to design a retro interface to listen to the music and watch the videos. It spread across the internet like wildfire because “Marty Bell knows how to make shit go viral” according to Worklife.VC. After years of being a side project, Marty decided to pursue Poolsuite full-time in 2019. In 2020, Poolsuite launched a sunscreen and sundries line, Vacation, and Jacuzzi Club, a private community for creative business leaders. It was clear, people loved the brand and wanted to be a part of the community as it grew from a cult favorite into a full blown community.
Web3 was the obvious next step. In November of 2021, the company launched an executive membership program where it raised nearly $2.5M by selling 2,500 NFTs. These NFTs gave members access to exclusive parties and content at Art Basel, but this is only the beginning. They also plan on launching their own token to grow the creative community. This community is a great example of how web3 can better enable communities to thrive without traditional venture capital investment.
These are just a few examples of companies that are innovating in community. This is by no means an exhaustive list of innovations that are being made in community across industries. Community solutions will continue to evolve and I’m excited to see how this impacts company growth.
What community themes and companies are you most excited about? Sound off in the comments.
Stay tuned for my third installment where I dive deep into Web3 and community in a few weeks.