The future of business and product development is community-led. The trajectories of companies are increasingly being dictated by the communities they cultivate and the people they connect.
This community-led movement is one of the major megatrends—along with the explosion of entrepreneurialism and the rise of community funding—that’s reshaping how we work, innovate, and incentivize collaboration.
Loads of companies are already recognizing the importance of community. According to the 2021 CMX Community Industry Report, “Every year, more and more organizations agree that community helps them hit their objectives, and even more ‘strongly agree.’ This year, 86% also said that community is critical to their mission, and 69% plan to increase their investment in community [management] next year.”
Tech leaders from companies like Hopin, Meetup, Atlassian, Mural, and Product Hunt have even banded together to create the Community-Led declaration and movement. Their website boldly proclaims, “Community-Led companies are the future. We believe that a thriving community is a company’s most valuable asset.”
So, what does community mean in a business context? Why does it matter so much? And how can you participate in this collaborative future? Read on to find out.
An audience is about consumption; a community is about participation and co-creation.
What is a Community-Led Business?
An easy way to start understanding community-led business is to compare it to the traditional model of having an audience of customers. An audience is about consumption; a community is about participation and co-creation.
In contrast with companies pushing ideas onto customers, communities pull ideas from members and improve the product or company for everyone through active participation. This fundamentally changes the process of product creation, flipping the old model on its head:
Traditional: Build software, then find customers.
Community-led: build community, then build solutions with that community
Another great example is Zapier, an automation tool whose community of users develop and share custom “zaps” that connect actions across multiple platforms.
Both of these communities not only love and use the main product, but they also enhance it for themselves and others with their own creations. In some cases, they even build new businesses by monetizing those creations.
The key to community is the ability for people to organize around a mission and feel like members, meaning they can collaborate, contribute, and participate in something bigger.
Why Does Community Matter to Succeed in Business?
People are no longer satisfied with spending their money and time building someone else’s dream. Likewise, creators don’t want to keep contributing to platforms that make money off their work without sharing the upside.
We all want to feel part of something meaningful, not just cogs in a machine or data points in a marketing funnel. The great resignation has made this crystal clear, and the rapid increase in entrepreneurialism is solidifying the shift.
Communities support this movement by aligning the purpose, passion, and interest areas of a business or creator with its community members’. Those members are people with a strong desire to support the business and the rest of the community. They can also work together to develop their own creations that add to the ecosystem of the product, platforms, and community.
The best communities are co-creating together and disintermediating the big, centralized players. They give people a platform where they’re recognized and rewarded, and they can see how their contributions are giving value to their peers.
Additionally, the emerging future involves more ownership and upside going to the community members doing the work. This means there’s even more incentive to participate and improve the community.
For example, blockchain incentive systems are based on this idea. The more people use the chain, the more valuable it becomes. Users are awarded increasingly valuable tokens for their efforts. Mining Bitcoin was an early version of this. Now, digitally native organizations like Bored Ape Yacht Club are using non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to align, connect and distribute rewards to people for their contributions. Artists and musicians are also increasingly raising capital from their communities through NFTs.
There’s been a lot of buzz about these unique, blockchain-based digital artworks in the past year, but a lot of it has focused on the extraordinary prices being paid for some pieces. What NFTs are really about, however, is not buying a JPEG. They’re access—your member pass and a badge of honor for being part of a community you believe in.
So, now that we’ve looked at the importance of community, how do you create one?
An easy way to start understanding community-led business is to compare it to the traditional model of having an audience of customers.
How to Get Started in Community-Led Business
I want to give you a few pointers for thinking about your community, and for a deeper dive, I encourage you to check out some of the excellent guides out there such as this article by Lenny Rachitsky and David Spinks.
Clarify and communicate the vision and mission.
If you want to attract people to become passionate, engaged, long-term members of a community, it’s essential to give them a strong “Why” they can believe in. What is the purpose of the community? And what are the benefits to members (and to the world)? Make this clear from the outset so people can know instantly if it’s for them or not.
A great example is Nobody Studios, the venture studio I helped found last year. Our vision is to use Crowd Infused™ Innovation to build companies that have a massive positive impact in the world. We’re growing a collaborative community of Nobodies where people can bring their ideas to life with other amazing entrepreneurs.
Design the community you want.
Be intentional about how you structure the community to align and serve both your own goals as well as your members’. Focus first on providing specific benefits people will care about (e.g. merch, tokens, recognition badges, or the ability to make something cool and share it).
Also, provide an easy path to entry and participation that gives people an instant feeling of welcome and safety. Build features and community elements that foster a sense of belonging. Here are a few questions to consider:
- How do you want to connect with members?
- How do you want them to connect with each other?
- In what ways can members contribute, give feedback, or even help develop the product or the community?
- How can members realize benefits and rewards for their contributions?
For example, Atlassian made a decision early on to focus on products, not services. It’s well-known for its lack of a sales team or a professional services group to help users customize their software. Instead, it created a network for independent agents and companies that could deploy and train new users on its products—ultimately leading to a robust marketplace ecosystem.
Make it easy for people to share their contributions.
Community sharing has numerous benefits. It fosters a sense of belonging and connection. It provides inspiration, knowledge, and resources to help members grow and improve. And it gives people the opportunity for notoriety when their work is recognized and appreciated.
These elements have been hallmarks of successful open-source communities for many years, and now communities centered around a business or product are finding great success with similar approaches.
Figma is a great example. This online design tool offers a social platform that allows members to create profiles, follow each other, publish designs, and even remix other members’ work.
Support and Collaborate with Your Members
It’s up to you to guide the culture with specific guidelines and processes to make sure they’re being followed. Make it a positive and safe space for people to bring their creativity and passion!
Maintain open channels of communication so members can express their views and feel heard. And use those same channels to proactively give value as well as ask for help.
Also, consider providing recognition for people’s contributions. Salesforce Trailblazer, for example, offers a leaderboard that shows who has answered the most community questions.
These are key principles for successfully building a community around your business or product. And if you’re interested in becoming part of such a community, we’d love to have you join us at Nobody Studios! We’re growing a large-scale, inclusive, collaborative community of Nobodies where people can bring their talent, influence, and capital to help build amazing products and businesses.
We’ll soon be launching our crowdfunding campaign, which will offer investors lifetime equity across our portfolio of companies. To get on the waiting list, email [email protected].
I’m personally very excited about the community-led movement overall, as I think it’s giving people much more fulfilling pathways for work, collaboration, and wealth building. Here’s to a more collaborative and equitable future!