Community building for founders

I feel like there is an upwards tick in the desire to build communities. Most people just seem to love the ideas behind it.  They see the outcomes and get excited, but often they don't see what is needed to get a real community going.

The reality, whether the community is part of a business, a business as it self or passionate side project, is that to get a community off the ground requires doing things that don't scale.

Paul Graham is best known for talking about doing things that don't scale to get a startup off the ground.  I believe similar principles apply for communities.

What kind of things are considered as not scalable?

  • researching places and members to invite
  • manual outreach/invites
  • creating discussions and responding to comments
  • creating content yourself
  • looking at every data point
  • organising events
  • listening, surfacing and collecting content to share
  • moderating everything
  • looking for opportunities

This is time consuming stuff, but it's what virtually every community needs to get off the ground.  Sometimes you can take a long time to get the ball rolling.  If you are trying to build a sustainable community this can be frustrating, but it generally needs to be done.

As you are starting the community it is crucial to not go too fast. The foundation you set at the beginning will cement the future of the community.  

As a community founder you need to make important decisions that involve:

  • listening
  • experimenting
  • creating value
  • communicating
  • figuring out a business model

The founder needs to be aware of all the little pieces that make things tick so that they can then start to think about and implement stronger foundations for the community to thrive.

I would even argue that doing things that don't scale will always exist within communities, even once they have scaled.  However, the difference would be that when a community scales it often breaks off in many ways, for example -  specialised sub-groups or channels and local meetups.  

People on the ground will still often have to adopt the many practices of doing things that don't scale and as community leader it will be your responsibility to ensure that happens in a way you feel is acceptable, consistent and right for the community.