February 10, 2022
Portfolio
Unusual

Defining success for your startup community: part two

Jamie Langskov
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Defining success for your startup community: part twoDefining success for your startup community: part two
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Editor's note: 

This post is the second in a 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 to support my product?
  • 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?


If you missed part one, click here.


Phase two of the community building journey coincides with the work of refining your product ideas and validating the assumptions that you’ve based those ideas on. To be successful at this stage, you’ll start engaging with design partners — individuals at companies that match your ideal customer profile (ICP). Design partners help you to fully understand the pains, needs, and expectations of your target users. They give you input and feedback that helps you create a product that reduces or eliminates those pains and meets the needs and expectations of your future customers. Their experiences and insight will help steer you toward product-market fit, which is arguably the most important milestone for an early-stage startup.


An ideal design partner will have a willingness to both provide constructive feedback with a sense of urgency and to try out and adopt new technologies ahead of their peers. Fortunately, these are also the qualities that make the best founding community members. To take advantage of the scale and organic growth benefits of a thriving community, you will depend heavily on a core of active, engaged, and excited community members who will become your outward-facing advocates in phases three and four of this journey. 



Building community alongside your product

To be successful in this phase, start by clearly establishing realistic expectations with your design partners on the time you expect them to dedicate to this work and the value and benefits that they can expect to receive in exchange for that time. Value can be added in the form of exclusive connections to experts and senior members of your team, influence over your product roadmap, and access to events, education, and other resources, depending on what’s important to your members.


Here’s a Google Slides template that you can use to define that relationship. Read more about qualifying, closing, and onboarding design partners in our Field Guide.


During the qualification and onboarding process, you’ll set up an agreed-upon plan for how often you will get together with your design partners to gather feedback. In between formal feedback sessions with individuals, you should also take on the role of facilitating connections amongst your new community members. 


At this stage, your community is still quite small, primarily made up of your team and your design partners. On the product side, you will be heavily focused on the building of your initial minimum viable product (MVP) and you’ll be engaging in traditional UX/UI user research activities, such as wireframes reviews, observation sessions, surveys, and user interviews. As much as possible, bring these activities together in a group setting, encouraging your members to share their feedback in shared channels and group activities. Community relationships will foster connections among those members that make them feel invested in the success of both you and their fellow members.


In a healthy, budding community, the early members are more than early participants; they’re community co-creators. If engaged properly early on, these individuals will help you map out the structure of your community, establish the rules and guidelines that your community will be held to, and put into practice the culture that will define your community going forward. Because of the influence that these members can have over the success or failure of your future community work, be mindful about who you invite into this critical role in these early days. 

Design partners are the heart of your community

Your focus in phase two of community building is on driving engagement with and between your members, so your success metrics should also be focused on engagement levels. Generally, industry standard benchmarks for community engagement follow the 1-9-90 rule:

  • 1% of your membership will be fully engaged and contributing content to the community
  • 9% will consume and engage with content created by others
  • 90% will passively consume content and may never engage or contribute to the community



Success at this phase is counted in measurable growth in engagement between these core members, with greater frequency and volume. Here is an example of phase two goals and corresponding KPIs:




The experiments you run and lessons you learn in phase two will give you an engagement model to scale for phase three and four of your community building journey. Keep in mind that your members are individual humans with a complex set of needs that include their personal and professional motivations, as well as the motivations of their employers. Understanding those motivations may require you to do research, ask questions, survey your members, and use your intuition to compile a list of activities and offerings that you believe will encourage your members to invest their time with you. Then, experiment, analyze, and adapt based on the outcomes of those experiments. The impact of your experiments on your phase two KPIs should give you a clear signal on whether the community value matches the needs and expectations of your members. 


Your design partners will not only help you develop a product that meets the needs of your target customer, but will become the heart of your community. If you cultivate relationships between your founding members, you give them a reason to care about your success, the success of their peers, and the success of your community. They have the potential to be your strongest advocates and trusted partners. Done well, the relationships that develop amongst this group will last beyond the initial business relationship between your company and theirs, incentivizing them to take you with them to future employers, recommend you to their peers, and defend you against detractors. This is the magic of community at its very beginning.


As we move into phase three of the community building journey, we’ll begin to think about scaling your community. You’ll take the lessons you’ve learned in phase two and turn the successes that you’ve achieved into a larger scale program that supports your company’s growth trajectory. 


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