📻 — A CommSaaS Story: How We’re Building The Business & Community of Our Dreams

This is your Community, Daily.

Reading Time: ~ 8 min.

Hello yeniverse!

I wanted to give you all an update on our progress with our project — The CommSaaS! We’ve made great head-way and I want to include you all in the overall process…

… and share with you everything that I know about building the startup of my dreams!

Before we dive in… here are some good reads:

  1. Contribution, not compliance. Real power. White House and WordPress.

  2. Twitch guide for parents. Simplify standups. Another… Canva competitor.

  3. Content. Commerce. Bernie, everywhere! I would buy an iCar.

  4. Google safe browsing can kill your startup. Intel problems. Muscle Wiki!!

  5. A social network once a week. Online Tailwind editor. Why Gatsby?

  6. Performance reviewsLOL. Strategy “turns” is a neat concept.

  7. Insane bullshit of the day. Guide to writing landing pages. 🤙🏻

  8. This is how governments control innovation: Regulation.

  9. I can’t get enough of Justin Kan’s storm; too much goodness.

  10. Good thoughts on feedback. Weekly project goals work. Bumble-S-1.

Have a great day and weekend folks!! To infinity & community,

— john

When I first shared the story, workflow, & process of how we’ve built our #CommSaaS thus far, I received quite a bit of inbound requests for more updates and “status updates” on our progress for folks who have been following along and who are building similar projects, businesses, and communities.

As you know, the process is fundamentally-simple, captured in some very actionable (and repeatable!) steps:

  1. Start with Why: Crucial first-step! Most people skip this! You must determine why you exist and how you will operate your project.

  2. Landing pages work. Add an email newsletter and/or waitlist.

  3. Interview folks to understand their problems. Never stop!

  4. Build product(s) that solve their problems.

  5. Communicate to your community throughout the entire process.

The more important part is #5 because this is a behavior and system that you have to develop — and execute against! — from the very beginning.

🛑 — Let me double-down on this for a moment: Your project’s success is fundamentally connected to your ability to consistently communicate to your community and the broader universe of stakeholders.

Another way of thinking about this: Every single day that you do not communicate your progress to your (waiting) community is an opportunity for a competitor (or more interesting project) to capture your audience’s attention, interest, and eventual commitment and investment (e.g. sales).

If you’re willing to throw-away literal “money on the table” because you’re too busy “building product” then you’re doing it entirely wrong! It might sound extreme, but, I spend 100% of my time talking with my customers and community before writing a single line of code!

This is not a joke nor is it hyperbole as I have spent decades as a software engineer and product designer wasting time building for a fictitious audience when I should have been simply doing the necessary work of customer / community interviews!

Most folks can get through Steps 1-4 but they get “tripped” up on #5 because it doesn’t seem as discrete or “actionable” when it’s the most actionable and the most important!

Here's the TL;DR: If you do not have a consistent (and trusted) channel of communication between you and your growing community then you’re not going to build a product that they ultimately want.

And this is not The CommSaas Way™️.

If you’re not entirely in-the-know about our story and progress thus far, you can always catch up by reading the canonical post here — feel free to share it around while you’re at it!

In short:

  1. We figured out our “why” — which is effectively a manifestation of market and opportunity validation.

  2. We launched many landing pages, which funneled into a number of newsletters (3 over the last 3+ years).

  3. We interview (and continue to interview) folks every week! It never stops! We source these interviews via YouTube, Twitter, email, newsletter subscribers, and more. We ask the same type of questions for the sake of data integrity and analysis and continue to validate market need / demand. These folks often become yenizens in our yeniverse.

  4. We’ve built our first iteration of our #CommSaaS (or more traditionally understood as a community-centric B2B SaaS) in Q1 of 2020 and combined that with an educational experience to manually test-drive our workflows — per the postWe’ve continued to iterate and open it up to more and more early-community members and test-drivers, intentionally slow-rolling registrations to get the workflows, technology, and culture just right.

  5. We’ve communicated — daily — our progress via the communication channels, social networks, and platforms that we intentionally decided to use when we first started our campaign.

And that’s where we’re at, at a high-level and in a nutshell.

But, more specifically, here is how we’re doing this step-by-step as we continue to iterate through the 5-step process listed above (and, from a different vantage, the product-market fit process):

On December 18th of 2020 we did a small, private launch with our closest friends and early community members, many of whom were the very first yenizen graduates of our cohort-based education program: #yenCAMP!

This was our first, “publicly-available” version which is helping us test-drive our onboarding workflow(s), our general UI/UX, and many heavy engineering and/or architectural work that we’re doing to prepare for scale.

But even more importantly, it was an opportunity to “harden” our community and the culture that we’re building inside my startup organization: One thing that I say often (and occasionally teach) is that you must first decide WHO before you decide WHAT and this is the most important when it comes to the first few members of your community (and company team).

We all know this to be true but it’s much harder in practice! One of the reasons that it’s taken a long time for us to build is because it’s taken me a long time to determine who I wanted on the core team and core community.

And, as you know, this isn’t a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of decision! It takes time, patience, and a lot of failures, experiments, and “start / stops” before you find the right squad to build something meaningful with (and over a long period of time).

Finding your “tribe” or the folks that really “get you” is the most important factor in our success, especially in company-building and community formation!

If you fail the “who” test… you’ll never get the “what” right either. Impossible.

Consequently, since launching more than a month ago, we’ve taken our time to invite folks to the platform who really get where we’re headed and who understand the power and importance of authentic community-building.

And, if I’m to be more frank, I’m simply tired of communities that exist for themselves and not for the folks that join. There’s a lot of “talk” and very little “action” and it’s why I decided a few weeks back to take a step back from a ton of different communities that we’re effectively “calorie-less” in nature:

10 days after we went live with our codename: dogfood we hit 50 members, 10 days later we crossed 1,000 commits to our codebase, and last week we hit 100 members:

Where does this put us? It puts us right inside steps #4 and #5!

I’ll repeat what I wrote above as now you’ll have more (visual) context of what I’ve been describing:

We’ve continued to iterate and open our platform up to more and more early-community members and test-drivers, intentionally slow-rolling registrations to get the workflows, technology, and culture just right.

This is how you build a great community-centric, b2b saas. This is how you build anything community-centric! You start with the fundamentals, and then you build > get feedback > build > get feedback > build get feedback…

… and if your communication channels are intentional and effective, you’ll never tired of great conversations and never tire of building the right features that your community members are actually asking for.

Here are two recent examples of this tight feedback loop:

  1. Community members wanted an “edit” button on their posts! So, we designed and implemented it.

  2. Community members wanted to engage via their mobile device and our current design did not respect those types of viewports. So, we’ve spent the last few weeks designing and we’re currently close to launching a new mobile-responsive interface!

Here’s a quick peek:

One of the more obvious and powerful benefits of building an online project and/or software application in this community-centric way is that we minimize waste throughout the entire production cycle!

Meaning, we don’t spend any time (and money!!) building stuff that no one’s actually asking for — namely, the actual customers and community members! Yes, on the surface it appears foolish not to have an “edit” and a “delete” button and it seems even downright idiotic to not to build the product with a responsive layout that respects mobile use!

But, the one thing that I know to be true of most (if not all) software engineers is that we tend to over-engineer everything which ends up wasting a lot of time, money, and resources when we could have been more focused in our efforts to build stuff that people actually want and need.

When you build your online project, business, and community in a community-centric — CommSaaS — fashion, the system and workflow itself reminds you to minimize waste up and down the entire stack.

And this is The CommSaaS Way™️.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the other properties aren’t also working as well and in tandem with our software platform! In fact, they are an intimate part of our overall playbook as we grow, scale, and eventually monetize.

This very email newsletter that you’re reading now, for instance, is an integral and intentional part of our community and product-building strategy. We continue to complete our daily mission in delivering the best and most-useful content straight into your inbox every single business day.

We focus on the absolute best material, especially content and programming that will help you build the project, business, and/or community of your dreams; we don’t waste time on bullshit articles or simply “curate” the “good reads” of the week — there are 1,000 other newsletters who play that mediocre game.

Instead, we exist to help you build. That’s what we do, ever since we launched a net-new newsletter in late September of last year. Yes, things can move that fast if you want them to.

Right now, there are nearly 600 folks who read this newsletter and we’re growing at a steady clip each and every day.

This isn’t where I thought we’d be as I had some very aggressive end-of-the-year goals (1,000 subscribers) and the reality is that December, 2020 was an absolute dumpster fire of a month (do you recall?) and I simply did not do much of the product marketing work that I was planning on executing.

Thankfully, as we all know, you do not need many folks — only a handful! — to get a new project, business, and/or community started. So, we had more than enough when it came to do our soft-launch in December.

A few final things as I close out this update on the state of our business, product and platform we’re building, and community that’s forming around it:

  1. If you haven’t started building in the CommSaaS way… it’s time to get started doing it. It’s proven. It works. It saves you time and money. I — and the rest of the yeniverse can help!

  2. The “next steps” for us are the “same steps” that we’re currently working against! Get feedback, build product, invite more to test-drive. Rinse, repeat. It sounds simple because it is. Simple systems work best.

  3. Building in the open is core part of our strategy that isn’t talked about enough but must be mentioned! It’s how we’re building this newsletter, the platform, the community, and the business! This is something you can start doing, today (and it’s free)!

  4. Company-building is a fundamentally boring process, as it should be. What makes it exciting are the problems you solve along the way! But, if you don’t have a good problem-solving system (like the CommSaaS workflow) then you can’t build the business of your dreams. Sad.

Finally, we’re still looking for a few folks who want to take their efforts to the next level while also helping us test-drive our Alpha Platform and YENIVERSE — more details can be found at the bottom of this issue.

Let’s go make something magical this year, shall we?