February 22, 2022

Defining success for your startup community: part three

Jamie Langskov
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Defining success for your startup community: part threeDefining success for your startup community: part three
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Editor's note: 

Welcome to the third in our four-part series focused on helping to answer common founder questions around building a startup community:

  • How do I know when it’s time to start a community for my startup?
  • What should that community look like and how do I know if I’m doing it right?
  • How do I measure the success of my community?

Don’t miss part one or part two!.

You know you’re ready when…

You’re ready to start phase three of the community building journey once you hit the final stretch of development toward the launch of your beta product. By now you should have a clear definition of who you are building this product for and what their needs and expectations will be. You should also know what areas of your product might still need testing, feedback, and further development. It’s time to finalize your minimum viable product (MVP) requirements and begin testing for factors like scalability, security, performance, and stability in a production environment.

The phase three community: beta testers

Phase three of community-building is when you will start to think about scaling up your Design Partnerships program. Because you are entering the beta testing phase of product development, your immediate need will be to recruit more beta testers into your community. This is a great time to help your Design Partners start developing their evangelism muscles by empowering them to advocate for you within their organizations and personal networks. Ask them to help you recruit more beta testers who fit your ideal customer profile (ICP) and empower them by providing them with whatever they need to be successful in those efforts: slide decks, demo instances, videos, blog posts, tutorials, account credits, and more are all useful tools for any product advocate to have in their toolkit. Creating these assets and managing more relationships within your community requires a lot more time than before, so if you haven’t already, this is a good time to consider making your first full-time community hire*. 

Just like in phase two, community building in phase three means facilitating connections between your members through group discussions, but now you’ll be working with a larger group of members and the dynamics will become more complex. Continue to give your beta testers lots of opportunities to give you direct feedback one-on-one, but also maintain a regular group session for discussing what is and is not working in the beta version of your product. 

More discussions, feature requests, comments, questions, and bug reports will likely happen asynchronously as this group grows, so it’s also a good idea to start thinking about the longer term home for your community. Will you host your discussions in Slack forever, or will you move to a more easily searchable and discoverable format, like a forum? Be thoughtful in both how you gather feedback and how you share progress with your community. For many early adopters, seeing their ideas take shape and getting recognition amongst their peers for their contributions is a major motivator in participating now and in the future. 

Build, test, win! 

If Design Partners are the heart of your community, your beta testing group are the lungs that breathe life into it. Your focus in phase three of community building is on getting your product to launch readiness and crossing the finish line hand-in-hand with your community. To achieve this, you need to reach sufficient membership size to both give you direction on how to prepare your product for market and plant the seed of advocacy for your growth phase. Therefore, the key success metric for phase three is membership growth. We haven’t yet reached the scale and launch phase of the process though, so we’ll qualify this metric as “strategic growth.” Ideally, your community is baby bear-sized: not too big to allow everyone to feel heard in the build process, but not too small to account for outliers to overwhelm opinions or feature requests. 

The second success metric for phase three is to build a core group of engaged, potential advocates that will be your cheer squad for phase four. This must take into account all you’ve learned in phase two about your members’ personal and professional motivations, plus the outcomes of the experiments you’ve tried in phase two. What kinds of activities best caught the attention of your members? This is a good time to evaluate your work so far, double down on what’s working and reevaluate what’s not. 

For the core advocacy group, it’s less critical to achieve exactly once per day engagement and more critical to evaluate the strength of your core group’s bond with your community. It’s generally a good signal if your members are checking in with your community daily, but this is a guideline more than a hard requirement. Don’t over-pivot on tactics because your members only check in three times a week instead of every day. Engagement quality is more important than the quantity right now.

Where do I start?

In particular, two core tactics that work well during this phase are: small, exclusive group activities and member spotlights. These can take various forms, including beta group feedback sessions, workshops, small group coaching sessions, live Q&A webinars, or even social gatherings, like speed networking or virtual cooking classes. Member spotlights can happen in several ways, including member interviews or AMAs from the community, co-creation of content like blog posts or webinars, or even something as simple as a shoutout in the community when a member accomplishes an important achievement or goal. These are just a few ideas and not the only ones that work.

Additional thoughts on scaling your community

By now, you should also be thinking concretely about how you will scale the program you’ve built so far. It’s not reasonable to expect to continue one-on-one engagement as a primary means of empowering your community members. Consider how you might implement self-service and peer-support strategies that can be facilitated by your team, but ultimately powered by your community itself. We’ll dig into this more in phase four.

*Note: Depending on the technical nature of your product, the learning curve for users to adopt your product, and whether or not you are building an open or closed-source product, your first community hire may be a community manager, a developer advocate, or an open source project manager. 

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