Hard things about communities

The challenge of starting communities

Peter ‘pet3rpan’
3 min readMar 22, 2021


Communities thrive because of their contributors.

But, people only contribute to communities if they trust that their time and energy are going to be put to good use.

This trust takes time to build and cannot be rushed.

Let’s take a look what the journey of a contributor looks like:

Over time as community members contribute, and are increasingly validated and rewarded for their work, they become increasingly more willing to increase their commitments to the community — whether time, effort, or resources.

And the more their peers give and the more they gain from the community, the more likely they will also continue to give back to the community.

Underpinning these positive behaviour cycles is trust.

People need to trust that…

  • Their contributions are going to be put to good use
  • The intentions behind the community are earnest
  • The community is capable of achieving and making progress on its goals
  • The people in the community share the same values as they do

Without this psychological safety, people won’t invest emotional energy into the group. Most communities fail to attract contributors because they weren’t able to properly create trust early on.

When starting new communities, you have an initial window of opportunity for this trust to be built before individuals start dis-engaging. Most communities fail here.

A community’s first win

Communities only become real when they achieve their first win.

Enthusiasm is not enough to keep a community alive.

They have a million other places they can spend their time and energy

Why this community? What do people want to achieve and how is the community going to help them do so?

For people to trust the community, it needs to show real value first.

When no value is created, people dis-engage.

A lot of the time, this will look like asking your community what goals they want to achieve and executing upon it on their behalf. While others might help, the reality with new communities is that you will most likely be pulling most of the weight.

By empowering those around you to have an influence on what matters and what is to be executed, you prove that the goals of the community matter.

You are your community’s first contributor.

If you do not show up, no one else will.

Real trust is only formed when you put the interests of others over your own.

This trust forms the center of gravity for most communities and is what makes people willing to self-sacrifice and commit themselves to a larger vision. But only when they get value from the community, do they a reason to give back.

Most never get there.

Earning this trust within a community will take time.

But it all starts with a community’s first win.

Questions to think about when starting new communities

  • Has the community collectively identified its initial goals to achieve?
  • Do you think people care about those goals?
  • Why do those goals matter to participants?
  • Are they achievable in the next months or so?
  • Do you have a step by step plan to achieve those goals?

Why do really smart people fail to build communities?

  • Unrealistic expectations of the process required to build a community
  • Trying to copy what other existing communities are doing
  • People want to play house more than they care about creating value

More on this topic another time…

Re-posted from pet3rpan.net