📻 — Q&A with Kim Johnson on Building a Community-First Product

This is your Community, Daily.

Reading Time: ~ 10 min.

Good morning yeniverse!

I had a ton of follow-ups and questions from yesterday’s issue on the pitch decks I used to raise > $4M in venture capital and so I thought it would be fun to have a bit more of a formal hangout on the topic of raising venture capital and pitch decks!

If you want to hang out for an hour and chat about these things, feel free to sign-up here for next week’s #yenHOURS! It’ll be more of an open “Questions & Answers” format, so come with questions ready.

And for those who have asked “how to network with VCs” and people with lots of money, here’s an answer for you that should do you just fine.

Relationships over everything folks; today, tomorrow, forever.

Links for you:

  1. TL;DV😕 Beyond burnoutLandy React landing page. Windmill UI.

  2. Free React / Next.js education course templateFun. Owning funnels.

  3. Free landing pages for startups. Smart event matchmakingDoge.

  4. Whatsapp sales calls. Pretty code images! Meetings, notes, tasks.

  5. Visual prototyping React. Interactive docs. Review, live, sites.

  6. Social media publisher. Influencer? Money! Emoji email address?

  7. Global payroll. Phone to computer. Get hype… docs? Webcams suck.

  8. Growthrate. Is community management right for you? Butter. Plaid now.

  9. Reddit scaling trust. What is skittish. Good example of a MVP.

  10. Phone as a webcam. Cool! Spontaneous internet. Social media goodies!

To infinity & community,

— john

Kim Johnson, the Head of Community @ Geneva Chat, had a live-event yesterday that I attended. Admittedly, most of those who landed there were expecting a video-based call but the were doing a comment-based AMA.

Not a terrible outcome but a different one than expected! You can read over the event here as well as the comments in their original form.

But what I’ve done for today’s issue is simply curate some of the responses that might be a bit more useful for our readers!

How Do You Build Community in a Truly Authentic Way?

And how do I get “bought in”?

Here’s she had to say:

  1. Get to know your people. Who they are, what matters to them, and why they care about what you’re building. It’s essential. Getting on the phone, understanding the different pockets of people and how they relate to and differ from each other — spending that time will allow you to build something that meets people where they are, instead of asking them to meet you. 

  2. Invest in the behind-the-scenes. One of the things that often catches people as they grow and scale community efforts is not having the infrastructure to continue to thoughtfully build and manage relationships. It’s the less sexy part, for sure, but building this as you go makes life so much easier in the long term.

  3. Take your time (in community and all life things!). Community literally cannot be built in a day. Build a foundation and continue to water it and build as you go. 

Very cool. Three more questions asked via Keji:

  1. Which do you think a new brand should focus more on: audience or building a community?

  2. How do you distinguish between the two?

  3. What are your top go-to metrics for measuring engagement / health of your community?

Kim says:

Completely agree that audience and community are not the same. They’re both important, but can’t be conflated. Jennifer and Alexa said it really well. I would add: your audience members are the people who you create storytelling for.

Your community members are the people who you create conversation with. When done well I think the community you build and the conversations that happen amongst that community can actually become a part of the stories that you tell to your audience. They serve each other in that way.

In terms of metrics I would say: 1. how often are people engaging in the space, 2. how often do people take part in the events, programming, or opportunities you share with them 3. how much are people talking about the community/getting other people interested in taking part!

I love the focus on the conversations!

What’s the best way to launch and start a community?

Kim says:

I believe the best way is to find the people who are already excited about and/or engaged in what you’re doing and start with those people first and foremost.

In the early days, you don’t have to worry about having a massive group. Start with the people who you know will rally around what you’re doing and work with them to become a megaphone for you! That early authentic network effect is really invaluable.

Here’s another good question — Jem asks:

We asked people if they wanted to join our community before we had launched the platform for it. We’re about ready now, so sending out our little email invites very soon.

What do you recommend including in this? What gets people interested after a short gap of time? Any content ideas or insights would be amazing! Thanks!

Kim says:

To answer your question Jem, I would add a few things:

– give them a preview of what to expect in the community
– personalize, personalize, personalize: make it clear how excited you are for each person to be a part of this!
– host something virtual in the first 2 weeks! give people a “moment” to lead up to/get excited about

Ooooooh. Yes, good quesiton via Aditi:

Can you please share some strategies that glossier used to make the community such an integral part of the business? Where it almost feels like marketing is community led completely.

Kim says:

Honestly, I would say this starts from the top. A true belief in community from the leaders will make community an integral part of the business organically.

In the early days though it was really about making Glossier the facilitator of beauty conversation and not the focus. We would create venues and experiences that weren’t just focused on the brand, they were focused on bringing people together around beauty and building true connection from there.

Jem has another one:

How would you go about seeding a community with people that’ll keep conversations going? What would attract them, how would you access them, what do you look for?

Kim replies:

Honestly, in my experience, there isn’t a way to shortcut this. It takes time.

Everything from: who is engaging most with your social content and getting connected with them to build a relationship to see if they’re a good fit for helping you seed a community to people who are extremely active in other spaces (outside of yours) related to the community who you can build connections with and can become some of your first voices.

Kim speaks truth! This stuff takes time. Like, a long time. Longer than most folks think. Sophie follows-up:

How do you move from a community being between your brand and individuals to being something that is self sustaining between members of the community without your direction?

Kim replies:

Honestly I think this is all about hosting conversations regularly that aren’t just about the brand. When I was at Glossier we hosted a lot of beauty conversations that weren’t focused on the brand but were focused on people’s experiences with beauty.

And similarly, at Geneva, we’re working on experiences that are about community building as opposed to being directly about Geneva. What that does is it allows people to see the community you’ve built as a space for that conversation broadly (beauty / community building) as opposed to just the company itself.

Zoe has a business question:

What is your definition of community, and how does that differ at a brand like Glossier (DTC) vs. Geneva (B2B2C?)?

Kim says:

Oof I find defining community so hard, but ultimately I would say it is a group of people who connect with each other around shared experiences, beliefs, or interests.

I see Geneva as a community of communities which is probably how it differs most from Glossier. Glossier is a community around beauty at its core. At Geneva, we see so many different kinds of communities come to life (beauty, sports, environmental activism, motherhood, etc).

Serena has a few:

What top 5 tips can you share for community building on a shoestring budget?

And Kim does not disappoint:

A few thoughts here:

1. start with a tight group and grow from there

2. surprise and delight people. you don’t need to promise a ton of swag and product upfront if that’s not feasible. it’s so much more delightful for people to not expect a ton and get surprised by a product or item from you 🙂

3. host small groups. if you’re hosting virtual get togethers or roundtables make them small and intimate. this probably means more of them, but will facilitate better connections early on

4. spend time in the community. nothing takes the place of the community leader taking part in conversation and showing up with people in the way they want people to show up

5. make it casual and fun! don’t let the business side of things make you forget that community is supposed to be fun! a way to think about this is to think to yourself: if i were in my community members shoes what pieces of this would I love? And build on those as much as possible

Dana has a good one too:

What are some of the tools you use to manage communities? Also favourite books/ podcasts related to community management


In terms of engaging and building community I use Geneva! In terms of managing members behind the scenes and operations of Community I love Airtable for the flexibility and Notion for planning and organizing the team around what we’re building.

Books: Get Together by People & Co and The Culting of Brands by Douglas Atkin!

Maria has a specific question:

I am interested to know your opinion concerning how to create a community that talks about (female) tabus – how to build a trust environment where women are open and feel confortable to share and talk? And related to this first question: do you think there are barriers towards an open community on this subject?

Kim brings it:

I think there are a few pieces to this:

1. set a really thoughtful foundation for the community space that you’re creating. don’t start with a ton of people. Start with people who can help set the tone and build from there

2. create opportunities for people to connect “IRL” (over video). While we cant get together in person, I do think that the ability to connect with someone physically even if it is just seeing their face over a Zoom (and in a small group) is really important to break down barriers and walls.


What podcasts would you recommend to learn more?


To be honest, I’m not the biggest podcast listener, but the ones I have listened to and would absolutely vouch for (both because the podcasts are great and the hosts are also amazing) are: Get Together and Means of Creation (second one is less community focused, but a really interesting space for conversations around culture and the internet)


What do you see as the major similarities and differences between brand building and community building?


Ultimately I think when you’re building a brand or a community you’re creating something that is bigger than the products you sell. You’re building something that (ideally) people want to take part in and that they believe in. Building in a way that is “people-first” is pretty core to both of those things I think.

Cristina asks:

Re: 1 *Get to know your people*: how have you been doing this? surveys, IG Lives? What has worked best for you recently?


I quite literally do the old fashioned way. Cold outreach to our most engaged and try to get on a Zoom with them and chat and learn more about them and how they show up. Not scalable but in the early days I think that’s ok and important. Always love a survey too 🙂


How do you keep engagement and make sure you are constantly providing value to the members of the community?

What’s the best way to ensure growth?

What’s your opinion on the different platforms out there to build a community on? How do you choose which is one is best? (Slack, Geneva, FB Groups, Clubhouse, Substack, and so on)

Could you share some strategies that have worked for you and that anyone could apply for starting a new community that would lead to possibly creating and launching a product?

Kim drops it:

In terms of constantly providing value — create touchpoints and rituals that are engrained in the space and people know to expect. That kind of consistency is key.

On growth: early on, be really intentional about who is there. Invite people wh you know will be thoughtful members, from there have those members help you find more people. If done well you will actually start to see people who are coming to you to take part instead of you coming to them!

On platforms: I’m biased but I would of course say Geneva 🙂 Honestly, reason being is we’re building an all-in-one space for communities and groups first and foremost. Because we’re bringing together all of the ways people communicate (chatting, posting, P2P audio, P2P video & more soon), the power is in the hands of the group leader to determine how their members engage.

On starting a new community: start with a really clear focus and grow from there!


Totally agree re focus. It’s super important. If you cant clearly identify why you’re bringing people together then what’s the point?!

I would say:

1. start narrow and expand. Don’t try to create a digital community that facilitates conversation about a ton of different things to start. Focus on the topic that you know people are there for and expand as you go (this should happen anyways because as relationships are formed the conversations will expand).

2. Be extremely intentional about who you bring in to start. Bring together people who may all be passionate about the topic but in totally different ways. My belief is that the thing you’re bringing people together around should be the through-line and from there you should try to reach all ends of the spectrum of experience and identity.

There were many others but they didn’t quite have the “juice” that warranted repetition here… but there may be a few new ones since I attended the live event. Feel free to check it out and subscribe to Femstreet — I’m a subscriber myself and I’m a fan.