📻 — Building Your Startup & Product The Right Way: Community First

This is your Community, Daily.

Reading Time: ~ 6 min.

Good morning yeniverse!

For starters, two fun — and very motivating reads — to get the mind moving as well as some exciting news about our… ***drum roll plz*** …

… our first #yenED live & interactive workshop of 2021!!

I’ll be sharing how I build a “strategic planning” document for the year — or what I call a “Direction Document” — and how I use this to create focus, alignment, and direction for my project, my team, and for my future.

Most folks know, intuitively, that a little bit of planning can go “a long way” but very few people know how to actually design a document that they can use — I’d love to show you how.

🛑 — TL;DR: It is the most important document that I create each year.

Truth be told, the biggest “value” is getting early-access into our community platform where we’re leveling-up and growing together.

Okay, enough of that! Here are the two good reads that I mentioned:

  1. Makerpad Year in Review — They are growing like crazy and 2021 is going to the year for this industry; I can feel it.

  2. Twitch Statistics — A yenizen shared this with me and it’s blowing my mind. This really makes you think about adding Twitch to the menu of community building tools for 2021.

  3. Bonus: If you missed YEN.FM’s most-read issues of 2020… here.

To infinity & community,

— john

Building usable software isn’t hard — we make it hard.

Another way of saying this is that we simply over-complicate the process even and especially when we have the best intentions!

Usually it’s because we’re too excited about what we’re building to control our emotions when it comes to scoping features; often, we can solve this fundamental issue by adding a framework that helps us clearly listen to our community members (and customers) and then guides us to features that make sense.

I’d love to share with you my process and how this directly impacts not just what I build (i.e. the software) but also how this frames the very community that I’m building around it.

This is especially important if you’re building a CommSaaS — a B2B SaaS product’s where you’re intentionally including community as a fundamental part of the product-market fit process.

Useful Product Feedback Requires Customers & Community BEFORE You Start!

When you start building your next project, business, startup, or community you’ll actually want to build in a way that takes into account your (future) community and customer-base.

In short, you need a community before everything else.

How does this actually work in real-life? It’s not too hard (again, we overcomplicate these things to the nth degree). It starts with a shift in perspective and then a change in behavior.

  1. A founder / creator (a #fullstackfounder!) understands that getting community insight is HOW they decide which products to build (or retire), how to price, and how to position and/or market them to a wider audience.

  2. A founder / creator then builds websites and related workflows that captures these insights in a usable way.

That’s it. You can literally watch me do this as I build out our own little community platform.

The first part is a major mind-shift for a lot of folks. The idea that you would start with community — FIRST — before anything and everything else feels like a radical departure from “best practice” but it’s actually not.

Instead, it double-clicks (yes, I said “double-click”) on the fact that building a product for a real human being is what this is actually about. Don’t make many of the classic first-time founder mistakes, like:

  1. Not building for users that you actually like and love

  2. Not having a clear idea of where your first users / customers come from

Michael Seibel addresses both of these issues head-on in this wonderfully-short (but jam-packed) video:

Here’s the TL;DR on the first and second question:

But, we weren’t actually terribly in-love with the people who chose to use the platform as it continued to grow — and only when Emmett refocused the company around video game streaming did we regain the love for our users because we loved gaming.

Ouch. But, let’s be intellectually honest for a moment: Most startups are essentially “solutionizing” their product and service! Meaning, they have (pre)built their solution and now are trying to find a customer.

That is really, really bad behavior and you end up building something that no one wants — not even you!

🛑 — If you do not actually LOVE the users and community that you are looking to serve then you’re doomed to fail.

On the second point, Michael drops the hammer:

… it’s interesting that you chose a problem where you don’t know anyone who has the problem, including yourself.

Again, I can’t stress how important this is! You can’t get useful feedback if you’re not serving folks that you really want to serve and you’ve already gone too far down the path if you’ve built a product without a single user in-mind!

The serious creators and founder knows that in an internet-powered world businesses that leverage community can do so at a faster pace thus driving product iteration, innovation, and revenue development faster as well.

Ultimately it creates better business outcomes and you save a ton of time, money, and heartache — trust me, I would know.

Here are a few other top-line considerations that might be worth talking through with your trusted partners, team, and community that can help frame this perspective and behavior-shift appropriately:

  1. Your community is already decentralized — They are everywhere, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tiktok, and more. The question is whether you have built a system or workflow that can get the feedback you need to build the right solution to their problems. Tools like Slack, Discourse, Whatsapp, Telegram, and even community-centric tools like Discord, Circle, Forem, and more can provide those types of necessary experiences. There are, of course, many feedback-specific tools available as well, like Intercom, Zendesk, Hubspot, and more.

  2. The fundamentals are the most crucial — Getting the basics right for a community-driven product are paramount. Starting with your “why” as well as your base-level “OS install” are must-haves. Tons of playbooks to choose from so there isn’t really one-size fits-all type of thing.

  3. Patience is a virtue because it takes time to build trust — Most folks are already feeling strapped for time and community feels like “digital speed dating” — but the bad kind. The Full Stack Founder understands that this is a long-game, a marathon, not a sprint. Building a “direction document” can help create the context and expectations for your journey and path forward. Most communities will die becaues their founders give up, not because their members lose interest. Hard but important truths to bite-down on and swallow. Building meaningful things will always take a meaningful amount of time.

Once you’ve created a simple system for engaging with your community, getting the feedback you need isn’t difficult because the channels of communication have already been built!

Now, it’s a question of organization…

Simple Systems Work Best

What hasn’t been determined is how you sort, categorize, and choose which pieces of feedback that ultimately translates to the very things that you will build and deliver back to them.

For that, there are just too many products, tools, philosophies and workflows to be comprehensive, especially for this quick post, but one thing I’ve seen to be true over the last 20+ years of building open source and community-centric software is that when there’s real trust and a genuine relationship between the creators and the community, the decisions on how to prioritize what and when end up mattering far less than the relationship itself.

For instance, creating a simple landing page (< 15 minutes) with a form or email address is all you need to get started in most cases!

Remember that you are more than likely going to go overboard with your communication systems in the beginning — that’s because technology is easy but community is hard. Signing up for yet-another-Twitter account takes most of us < 30 seconds (if we’re not distracted by our ADHD).

Great, enduring products are always backed by even better communities and the modern startup with make community front, center, and everything in-between as the relationship between community and product (design & engineering) was intimate from the jump.

Meaning, you and your team never spend anytime building any product (or feature) without first listening to the community — if your tools can’t do that then it’s time for a serious upgrade.

Never stop listening to your customers and community because without them you’d never have a business in the first place.