Sunday, February 5, 2012
Founders: Are You Forgetting Something?
Don't be too focused on your product--because if you're not building a community for it, it may never get off the ground.
By Matthew Shampine
When you are first starting your business, it can seem as if there are an infinite number of items on your to-do list and not enough hours in the day. While it's important to put in the necessary time to build out your product or service, there is a danger in being overly focused.
As an entrepreneur you have to immerse yourself in the communities that revolve around your business. I've met a number of entrepreneurs who built their vision, but were confused why users did not come flocking once their site was live.
Case Studies: Building Community
For instance, if you're a tech startup building a fitness web application, then you should work on becoming major contributors in both the tech and fitness communities. Fitocracy—which makes fitness more engaging and addictive through game mechanics and social reinforcement—is a perfect example. In less than 16 months, co-founders Brian Wang and Dick Talens were able to create a community of more than 200,000 members—without spending any money on marketing. They openly told their own fitness stories to existing online fitness communities; they also contribute regularly on blogs and forums with fitness tips and other thoughts. The two of them were able to create a loyal following quickly by relating to others, offering solid advice and creating friendships with in the community.
Another great example is founder Kellee Khalil, of wedding inspiration site Lover.ly. Prior to moving to New York, Kellee worked to help build her sister's wedding-focused public relations company. The two of them spent years in the trenches together, learning about the industry from top to bottom. This enabled them to form close relationships with an incredible number of people in the wedding space; when Kellee started her own company, the community was more than happy to help.
Networking Goes Both Ways
It's important to realize that being part of the community is not just networking. You need to focus on building real relationships: Be authentic in your desire to contribute. Remember it's a two-way street and you should always offer to help out the others in the community.
You'll see that:
•You will get a more honest and realistic view of the industry that you're working in when you spend time with others in the community.
•Members in the community will gladly provide you with feedback and help you continually improve your product or service.
•When you launch your site, make changes to your product, or offer a new service, you will have a base set of supporters that will want—and be able—to help you.
•As you continue contributing to the growth of the community, you will start to establish credibility. It will be easier for you to start conversations with others you may need in the future.
Now of course, being a contributor to your industry's community will not make up for an inferior product or service. But it's a key step that you shouldn't procrastinate on. Relationship building can be exhausting, especially in the beginning—but you will find that the payoff for your business and personal growth will be invaluable down the road.