An online startup is nothing without a passionate community built up around it. This kind of community gains momentum as it grows, propelling your brand forward, but getting it started can be one of the most challenging aspects of business.
Paperlust launched in 2015, and we have rapidly built a thriving community of independent designers around our brand, creating wedding stationery, engagement invitations, baby announcements and other paper products. Through a lot of experimentation and tracking, we have gained valuable insights on what made this process work for us.
Here are eight pieces of hard-won advice to help you build a community around your startup.
1. Building a community is hard and requires vision, so stick with it.
This needs to be said first because it is the key to success. Nothing else you try will work unless you are prepared to work at it. There is no shortcut or easy answer. Building momentum for your startup requires vision and perseverance: a delicate balance between sticking with it and knowing how to experiment and when to make changes.
2. Engage, and find out what pain points your potential community has and how you can help overcome them.
By engaging with your target demographics you are able to learn what people need and want. In particular, you should focus on the pain points and frustrations they are experiencing. Get to know these well and begin to consider how you can address them.
Know what the market currently offers to help alleviate these pain points and know the ways in which these solutions fail.
A thorough understanding of the field as it stands is crucial to being able to situate yourself in the market and make sure your community-building efforts are effective.
3. Give back, become a resource, somewhere people can learn new skills.
Once you have gained an understanding of the potential community, use what you have learned to work on a strategy to address these things through your startup. At the same time, however, you should share what you have learned in the process with others.
This works to establish your brand’s expertise in the field and helps to foster important relationships and signals that you have more to offer. Giving away value for free shows that you are confident in what you have to offer.
If you are able to meet needs and alleviate pain or discomfort, you will become an invaluable resource to others. Aim to meet the needs of your target group better than any existing product or service, and use your knowledge and skills to give back to the community in which you are situating yourself.
4. Don’t launch with your end product, find an MVP and go. Your suppliers will help you shape it over time.
Leave room for growth and development, and invest initially in the products and services that will be doing the grunt work early on. Building towards your end product makes the most sense, allowing you to create an established space into which you can launch, down the track.
Building a brand, a community and a supply chain will give you what you need to move towards your end product in a far stronger position.
5. Reach out and engage with existing structures such as universities and offer students a chance to engage with the marketplace.
Students are a great target when building community around your brand. They are fresh, developing their own careers and workflows. If you are able to provide value and address their pain points, they will come to rely on your product or service and will become your biggest brand advocates.
Universities are always looking for ways to bring opportunities to their student base and make a great place to begin when seeking engagement. Find ways to offer value specifically to students and universities will be glad to work with you.
6. Collaborate with other brands and services. You are creating something from scratch, so learn from others and seek out the halo effect of established brands.
Startups cannot succeed in a vacuum. Reach out and engage with adjacent brands. Get to know them. Build relationships. Find out how you can collaborate with them and make an effort to offer value to them in return. The halo effect is a powerful thing, but it is best when built on genuine brand alignment and not on pure self-promotion.
Focus on meaningful connections — not just on trying to build numbers fast.
For Paperlust, this meant working to create ongoing relationships with businesses like Party With Lenzo, who plan kids parties, or Ivory Tribe, who curate a directory of wedding venues — brands who were reaching a similar market but not in direct competition with us.
Most importantly, however, we focused on reaching out to these and other brands building a community around their platform. Engaging with other communities is one of the most effective ways to grow your own community.
7. Have a unique proposition. Calling yourself ‘the next Uber’ is not enough. Even for an established market you need a point of difference.
Know what your brand has to offer, and be clear on what sets you apart from the competition. Have your ‘elevator pitch’ perfected and keep that in mind anytime you are talking about what you do. How do you address your customers’ felt needs and pain points better than anyone else?
Knowing who you are similar to is helpful, but not as helpful as knowing how you are unique.
8. Make it as easy as possible for your market to get content on your platform, even if this means assisting and doing the work for them to maximize this.
Eliminating barriers to entry is crucial, especially at this point in the process of attracting your core user base. To maximize participation you must minimize what you are asking of potential users. Be prepared to assist and put in extra work up front to help get people over the line. Find out what is standing in people’s way and do what you need to remove that blockage.
Building a community around your brand is both a challenge and an opportunity. Growth happens slowly before it happens quickly, but with perseverance, you can gain momentum and create an engaged network around your online startup.
What startups have a strong sense of community around it? Tell us below in the comments!