Why community founders need to be open minded and put their own needs to one side
I often think about why some communities work and others don't.
Why have some succeeded, yet others failed?
I don't hold specific answers, no community or business succeeds in the same way. What I do have are ideas based on my direct experiences of communities that are loved by the people they serve.
Keeping a consistent vision helps community founders focus on the direction
I feel it is important for community founders to have a clear vision of where they believe the community is heading and what kind of impact they dream of making. They may not know how to get there, but the vision is what drives them and keeps them chipping away at making something happen.
For me at Ministry of Testing it was about changing the face of software testing and making it a viable, fun and more attractive career path. I was not happy with the (overly priced and very corporate focused) options that were available. Therefore, anything we did tried to be aligned with this in mind.
For Indie Hackers (my own loose interpretation as non-founder) it is more about normalising and supporting small, self funded and sustainable online business practices. This started with sharing open and transparent stories (interviews) then later on moved on to creating a community forum and a podcast (amongst other things). Whilst ambitions get bigger and resources increase, the vision is still the same - do the best thing they can for normalising and supporting small, self funded and sustainable online businesses.
Being open minded is key to survival, growth and long term commitment from community members
Having a community leader who thinks they have the answer to what people need is dangerous. Of course it does often happen, but these communities frequently become more like cults where people end up blindly following a single person.
A healthy community brings balance, where the leaders respectfully listen and engage with the community and maintain an open mind of what is really needed. They go in with an experiential and inquisitive mindset not with solutions. They get to know their community so well that they become best placed to make decisions on what to do next.
Community leaders will have:
- problems they'd love to solve
- a vision for a better future
- a true desire to do what they can to help the community
- a super long list of things they'd like to do, the ability to only tackle a few of them
Nod nod, sure, you say.
However, what often happens is people go in to building communities with the above in mind, but the reality is that they end up implementing their own selfish version of their ideas.
So what often happens when people build communities is this:
- ideas: are focused on what the founder wants
- goals: are aligned with the founder's needs
- problems they'd love to solve: help the founder more than anyone else
- a vision for a better future: is one that elevates the founder over the community and if it doesn't deliver on their needs then it is killed.
- a true desire to do what they can to help the community: only if it helps them first
- a super long list of things they'd like to do, the ability to only tackle a few of them: the things they choose to do end up being tracked and focused on trackable data and ROI (aka money)
The above list usual ends up with decisions being made that don't really benefit the community for the long term. The result is probably a slow and sometimes painful death.
What should happen is something more like:
- ideas: there are lots of ideas and possibilities, the founder will go through a lot of pain, successes and failures to figure out the right path. The community ultimately decides with their feet. The founder or leaders listen.
- goals: there's nothing wrong with goals and having something to strive for. It's great to plan for the future, but they need to planned for with the community's needs in mind.
- problems they'd love to solve: there are simply never enough resources to do all the things community leaders would love to do. Unfortunately communities are forever going to be underfunded and under appreciated. On the positive side, communities can often achieve so much with so little. Normally there's a small team making a big impact, often with unconditional help from community members.
- a vision for a better future: normally a community is created because there is a feeling of some kind of gap. People need something and some place to gather that others are not providing. The vision is what pulls people in, the principles behind it are what mostly matters. How it is actioned day to day is what matters. The daily actions need to align with the overall vision. If they don't sync up people will leave.
- a true desire to do what they can to help the community: community founders often turn away offers and temptations, the short term gains are just not compatible with their long term vision. Instead of asking what is good for themselves, they are asking what is the good for the community.
- a super long list of things they'd like to do, the ability to only tackle a few of them: this can be a hard one to manage and requires constant vigilance. On one hand the community community leaders want to do all the things! On the other hand their resources are limited. The key here is to choose things that help them thrive, but what also helps them stay sustainable. And sustainability isn't always about money. Ministry of Testing needs to make money to survive, Indie Hackers is owned and essentially sponsored by Stripe so what makes it sustainable is whole different story.
There is no one size or one way that fits all. As a community builder, these are the things I think about when building communities. My heart needs to be 100% in the right place and have belief that my work is making an impact. I need to be invested in the ideas and plans of where things are heading, otherwise I just lose interest along the way.