How to use a community to make you an industry leader

Some startup communities grow far beyond their founder’s dreams — Pete Davison and Mike Casey started Fishburners.org as one of Australia’s first tech startup communities in 2011 and it’s now home to nearly 200 startups and more than a thousand members.

Say you’re a [professional] in [startup category], like [product manager] in [aged care SAAS]. There are general meetups for PMs you attend but nothing addressing aged care, or there are aged care meetups but not for PMs.

You might be surprised how few people you need to bring together regularly to create a viable community that supports and learns from each other. If you all work using very different tools/methodologies, as few as you and two others can be the nucleus of something viable.

There will be reluctance initially, as you all work for competing startups. But practice Chatham House rules and be patient but persistent, and you can usually turn people around with their own FOMO.

The magical power of being the person who kicks it off and continues to convene it doesn’t just put you at the centre of that community, it’s actually difficult to prevent yourself becoming perceived as the leading authority in that area.

It’s as if the more you talk about about how little you actually understand about the subject matter, the more people believe you’re just being humble and that you’re actually a peak authority on the topic.

You can create the same effect (and have it apply to your startup rather than yourself) if you’re the first to bring together individuals from current and potential customers of your startup with relevant subject matter experts from their industry.

Say your startup is selling a SAAS solution to the head of sports depts in schools: you create and host a regular meetup for people interested in using tech in school sports programs. Invite individuals to talk about what they’ve tried and how they rate it.

Invest your time in sharing and promoting the insights that come out of those meetups (with their consent because: Chatham House rules) but when you make them feel like an industry expert, it’s a powerful sales tool for you.

Managed well, communities of professionals/customers create value in knowledge, relationships, content, brand and sales leads; all of which grows in value over time, becomes part of your defensible moat and your personal or company positioning.

None of this is new, it happens every day. But when I suggest it to most startup people, they tell me that it couldn’t possibly work; that their startup or they themselves are just too unknown for it to work. That’s a common misconception that you should drop.

Nobody knew Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar before they started buying a few beers for the engineers they met at industry events, and getting to know them over a brew. Years later, they’d boast about how Atlassian didn’t need sales or marketing.

Few knew Niki Scevak when he started Startmate — a community of ex-operators who were angel-investment-curious. The successful paper returns of those first few years were a part of the proof that he and Rick Baker needed to raise Blackbird Fund 1.

Lauren Capelin has done it repeatedly! She strode into tech startups talking about #sharingeconomy and built her brand, knowledge and experience in creating bustling communities for Reinventure Fund, Startmate and now @AWSstartups.

There’s more! Who are the emerging startup people you know, who’ve figured out that building a community or bringing one together is also the way to achieve their goals? For me, Emily Casey, @usmangiki, @jacob_muller_ @cmack4life, @gwilliamsALTS, @joshingabout_, @samuel_b_phd, @HstlandHrt and Sam Clarke.

Who else?

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Alan Jones

Alan Jones

6.3K Followers

I’m Alan Jones, coach for accelerators, partner at M8 Ventures, angel investor. Earlier: founder, early Yahoo product manager, tech reporter.