How to Build a Strong Community for Tech Startups
Connecting with people, forming a network, and getting a loyal following are tough tasks to accomplish, especially if you don't even have a product yet. However, the earlier you start working on growing your group of adopters and supporters, the higher the chance for your startup to dash to success.
This is the precise reason why many founders decide to build in public, sharing various insider information and internal processes with the crowd right as they go. This includes vital business updates, product development details and progress, and their experience, in general, like the lessons learned the hard way.
And while the "what we should or can't share" could be a matter of debate to the team, the "whom to share this with", "where to find these people", and "how to grow their numbers" are much more complicated questions. On this page, we'll guide you through where to start if you want to build a strong community and explain how to build an online community for your business.
What's a Startup Community?
A startup community refers to a network formed by a group of people who are aligned with a business. This implies both those who actively participate in the company's life, use the product or directly interact with the brand, and more or less silent observers who contribute in other ways, such as participating in polls.
As a rule, the community "hangs out" in a specific space, be it a social media channel, group chat, website, forum, or even a specially created platform, where people can connect, bring each other value, and share insights.
Who Is a Part of a Startup Community?
The community startup teams aim to create can be formed by various people who have the same vision as yours and may actually assist you in reaching your objectives. Some of the main ones include:
- potential and existing customers;
- other founders or contributors creating similar solutions;
- mentors and advisors;
Notable Startup Community Examples
Which companies have leveraged this approach? Providing a few examples, both renowned brands and small startups at early stages create such networks to build stronger relationships with customers or other individuals and grow a community around the brand. Here are a few cases when companies benefited from having a community.
Behance — owes much of its success to its backers and creators. This social media platform that was once a startup grew to become somewhat of a hub for creative professionals (such as designers) from around the world. It is used for displaying and finding portfolios, projects, and showcasing creative work, and thanks to the platform, people get to collaborate, engage, share ideas, get feedback, discover talent, and find career opportunities. None of this would be possible if Behance hadn't fostered the right community environment.
Etsy — the well-known online marketplace for handmade products, can also attribute a lot of its popularity to its vibrant community of artisans and craft enthusiasts. Right from its early years, Etsy enabled individuals to show their work, nourishing collaboration between sellers and buyers. Today, it's the go-to place to shop for handcrafted goods, and it's a platform that supports sellers, helping them turn their work into a business, and shares stories about the community members on the blog.
Kickstarter — an engaged community has played a significant role in the success of this notable leading crowdfunding platform. The idea behind it was to encourage product creators to show their projects thriving with innovation with the aim of getting startup funding from the community. The supportive nature of the platform also helped individuals get the chance to bring their ideas to life. The community even has specific rules that members have to follow to engage in discussions and participate.
MailChimp — like many other B2B tools, this email marketing platform has leveraged GitHub as a place for its tech community. Contributors and users of the platform share code and other valuable hacks and best practices for the tool's integration, client libraries, data sync, and other settings. This helps community users troubleshoot and resolve the tech obstacles they face.
Replo — during an exclusive "Startup Stories" interview with Upsilon, Justin Wiley, the Chief Business Officer at Replo, shared why building a community is a valuable asset for their company:
“Successfully growing a community revolves around consistently delivering value to its members. To achieve this, it's crucial to have a deep understanding of who your customers are, their needs, and how best to support them. At Replo, we ensure that every department, from business development and marketing to product development, engineering, and customer support, is geared towards meeting the needs of our community members.
It's this mutual support and dedication that drives the growth and strength of our community, creating an environment where both our clients and our company can flourish together.”
You can find the tips he gives on the matter in the full interview.
6 Benefits of Building an Online Startup Community
Why do startups build communities? And what is the possible impact of a startup community on your business? Let's explore the major advantages of investing effort into growing a startup community.
Extra Brand Exposure
More visibility won't hurt your startup branding, so having the product out in the public eye helps to raise brand awareness. Communities aid in getting additional exposure, letting more people learn more about what you are building, and raising interest.
Even if you don't have a product yet, this can help you create buzz around the upcoming tech product release or MVP launch. You'll be able to collect contact details, form email lists, and get subscribers, which can help you with getting leads and pre-sales.
Obtaining Valuable Feedback
Be it a product or feature decision or the case when you're unsure how to proceed, having a group of people to communicate with is a life vest. As such, you can make polls, apply questionnaires, run PMF surveys, ask open-ended questions, or test out a feature or product. You might only have a dozen fans, yet their input will certainly help you as they can serve as your beta testers.
You can do so to enhance your feedback loop in various phases of the product development life cycle when you need answers, insights, ideas, and first-hand points of view from those people whose opinion matters most. Obviously, this can impact the business decisions you make, and making the right calls at the right time is highly important when you're forming a startup or building a product that consumers want.
After all, if you manage to understand your customers and their needs, this can aid in choosing the right direction, getting closer to finding product-market fit, and growing the startup.
Getting Advice and Resources from Those Who Know
What do you do if you're stuck at a crossroads and have no clue how to solve a problem? Access to someone else's expertise or knowledge is invaluable. For instance, a tech startup community may:
- fetch solutions to your problem or faced challenge;
- provide you with startup resources;
- share tips, best practices, examples, and advice;
- let you stay updated on the latest news in the industry;
- or suggest an alternative angle to view the problem.
These people are interested in the niche and could also be founders, entrepreneurs, or tech specialists, so they can lend you a helping hand.
The same goes when you seek support from the crowd. The community can become the cheer squad to root for you when you need them most. Say, if you're planning a Product Hunt launch and could use as many people as you can to review the product page, leave a comment, and upvote you. Who else can you turn to apart from your family and friends, right?
Enhancing Your Team Culture
Achieving a great startup culture can also be one of the gains. Having a community of like-minded individuals fosters trust and a healthier environment within your team. Transparency can raise credibility, and people who share a common mission and vision get the feeling that they belong, thus making it easier to innovate and collaborate toward a common goal. Not to mention that this can become a competitive advantage as you try to attract or retain talent.
Finding brand advocates and your first customers is never simple. A community can not only foster the expansion of your loyal following but also keep the "new blood" coming in, as word-of-mouth promotion from your customer base is an amazing source.
While recognition, trust, and credibility grow, so will other vital metrics and figures, including sign-ups, subscribers, and early sales. This, in turn, can become leverage while you:
- seek additional talent and new hires to recruit;
- pitch investors and try to secure funding;
- are in need of networking opportunities;
- are on the lookout for collaborations or partnerships.
When Is the Best Time to Form a Startup Community?
Community building is an ongoing process, of course. Therefore, it's never too early or late to form or expand your network. Many founders neglect this task at the first startup development stages, however, it might be well worth the time.
Essentially, the earlier you start forming a community, the better. As such, take a look at Basecamp. In the early days prior to their product launch, the team had amassed an impressive following of up to 50k through their renowned blog. This certainly impacted their launch, as already having a community played a significant role in their launch success.
So, why is it important to work on having a community before you launch a product? The answer is simple: by having a community during prelaunch, you'll get the support you need when it's time for release, and the rest goes on the thumb.
How to Build Your Own Community for Startups in 5 Steps
What are the keys to building a successful startup community? Let's overview what you need to do to get started with community-building.
Step 1. Determine Who Your Community Includes
One of the most important questions to begin with is who your community should be formed of. This will influence your further strategy, including what kind of content you'll be sharing and via which channels. In essence, your target audience can be made up of various people who share a common interest in what you're building, like your teammates and the potential customers you'd like to attract. For instance, if you are developing call center software, your community might include customer service professionals, IT experts, and businesses looking to enhance their customer support capabilities. So, outline the community members:
- who these people are (segment them if the groups are diverse);
- why they should be part of your community (note what they have in common and the shared purpose that brings you all together);
- their particular areas of interest (in terms of what you're creating);
- which channels they prefer (e.g., you can reach them using a Slack group, YouTube, LinkedIn, Reddit, or others).
Step 2. Define the Objectives
Before you invest time and effort, finalize the purpose behind why you're going to create a community in the first place. To make the most of community-building, mark the major business aims you're planning to achieve with this strategy and your specific expectations, tangible benchmarks, OKRs and KPIs.
For example, if you're in the early startup stages, your goal could be to:
- attract a certain amount of subscribers, leads, or first clients;
- obtain feedback to validate product hypotheses or decide how to build the product;
- get the attention of investors.
If the company is more mature and you already have a product, your goals could be to:
- find new clients and retain existing ones;
- turn clients into brand ambassadors;
- enhance customer satisfaction with the existing product;
- get feedback to improve the product or offering;
- cut costs (e.g., on customer support, on acquisition thanks to referrals, or on content creation thanks to user-generated content).
Mind that the business objectives should correlate with the needs of the community. So, you must also remember what the community members are expecting in order to deliver value to them and earn their trust.
Moreover, note the channels you'll use and the ways you intend to expand the reach and get more people to join your network (for instance, using a specific social media channel like X a.k.a. Twitter). How you'll manage the community and who will be responsible for it should also be decided early on.
Plus, determine what kind of space you want to have once you build your community and what will make people feel included and welcome. It might also be reasonable to put together the guidelines and rules that members of your community should adhere to and possibly an onboarding sequence for the newcomers.
Step 3. Work on the Content Plan and Its Creation
You want to make your presence known, therefore, one of the ways to come into the spotlight is by sharing valuable information with the community. To stay consistent, you'll need a detailed plan of the content you'll be providing, including the when, how often, and where.
This could be your vital updates, blog articles, advice posts, videos, webinars, polls, and other content types, as long as the content has a personal touch and delivers value. If you're planning to run something big or that requires a lot of effort from the crowd, you can even try to spark more interest by providing perks like exclusive startup discounts, promo codes, or other benefits in return for participation.
Importantly, either way, this content shouldn't just be a PR move. You have to cater to the interests of the members, bring value, and encourage them to be active (for example, by asking to leave a comment or voice an opinion at the end of a post). This will raise your chances of getting the desired engagement and level of participation.
Step 4. Pay Due Attention to the Community Activity
Don't be a ghost, be the host. The worst thing you can do is ignore the comments or other activity in your channels. So, to build a strong community, thank people for their opinions, answer their questions, be proactive, and respond to comments. Remember that it's your duty to nurture the environment and keep the discussions running, and consistent and regular communication is key.
Step 5. Measure Progress and Success
No strategy makes sense unless you mind startup analytics. Is the input effort and time into community-building getting a return? How many new customers did you attract thanks to this tactic? You won't know this unless you track and monitor metrics like engagement, active users, referrals, net promoter score, subscription sources, retention, and others.
Make corresponding adjustments according to your findings. For instance, if you notice that the audience is more engaged on a specific channel, you can optimize the strategy and put more effort into its support over others.
Top Startup Community Platform Options
Where do you find people for your community? We've mentioned earlier that you have to select the most appropriate channels for your community, as they are your tools that help to reach the right people. Yet, what are the options for you to base or build your startup community platform on?
Offline events are still a great way to connect with people. By attending meetups, conferences, and industry events, you can get acquainted with like-minded individuals, find prospects, and establish partnerships. This can be handy both if your product is B2B-oriented or if you're seeking support.
Platforms to Build Your Community On
Secondly, you will most likely find a large portion of your community members online. The major sources include social media channels and forums.
In any event, you'll need a space where all the action will happen, a place where the community members will meet, discuss, and engage with your offering. Here are a couple of options to get you started.
Social media channels — being present on socials is a "must" these days. Depending on the specifics of your product, you can opt for a channel that best resonates with the target audience. For instance, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter are popular choices, so you can create your own LinkedIn group or YouTube channel if it makes sense for your case and your startup marketing strategy.
As such, some B2C app products, like fitness applications, encourage users to share their results or progress on Instagram. They expand their feed with user-generated content, run challenges, and hold other activities to motivate users to take photos and tag the app's account, thus growing visibility, brand recognition, and the community.
Blogs — running a blog, say, on Medium or Substack, is one more common path to interact with people. By sharing valuable content that revolves around a specific area of focus, you can get in touch with individuals who are interested in the matter.
Forums — niche forums can also be a start. For example, Reddit subreddits may be a wonderful source for niches, such as a SaaS startup community, where people discuss relevant topics.
Chats — Discord and Slack groups should be mentioned as channels as well since multiple companies use them as a place to communicate with the community. Many of such chats are closed, meaning that only members get access.
Specialized platforms — you may also make use of solutions like Circle that were designed to provide a space for hosting or basing your community. What is more, you can make use of tools like Zoom if you plan to hold webinars or other live meetups.
Within your own solution — once again, depending on the product, you have the option of embedding all the community space and communication features right within the solution or ecosystem that you're building (like Kickstarter, Product Hunt, Behance, and Etsy did). For example, you can apply tools like Typeform to run surveys on your website or within an app, let people leave comments on your blog, and help them communicate with other members.
Yet, you may also use a combination of tools, channels, and sources. Say, have the community "hang out" directly on the platform, yet let them know about upcoming events, updates, or other important information via email send-outs or social media posts.
Final Say on How to Build a Strong Community
So, we've overviewed how to build a community for your business. Indeed, this process is effort-intensive and will consume your time. Nonetheless, finding and gathering individuals who share a common vision can do your business a lot of good. You can expand the user base, obtain feedback, and ultimately deliver a better product.
As a tech partner for many teams with over a decade of experience in product development, we've helped early-stage startups and growing ones build great solutions that scale. So, if you need a hand with your project, don't be shy to contact Upsilon to discuss your ideas, we'll be happy to assist!