Maker Hunt’s AMA with Ryan Paugh from and YEC

Ryan Paugh has been at the forefront of building highly curated, technology-enabled communities for ambitious professionals. He first co-founded Brazen Careerist, a career-management site for high-achieving young professionals and ambitious college students, where he led the company’s community development efforts.

Ryan co-founded Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) in 2010. Its invite-only organization for top entrepreneurs 40 and under. Ryan saw YEC as a unique opportunity to apply the expertise he developed at Brazen Careerist to help fellow entrepreneurs access the resources, technology and most important, people they need to succeed. YEC’s members now generate billions of dollars in revenue and have created tens of thousands of jobs.

Now he’s working on CommunityCo — A company poised to launch dozens of vetted communities engineered to help ambitious professionals grow their network and expand business opportunities.

You can find out more about him at

Hey, thanks for having me! Here’s my intro…

I have been an entrepreneur for about 10 years and my focus has always been around community-building. My first company, Brazen Careerist, was a community for ambitious Gen Y professionals just entering the workforce. I then launched YEC ( which is our flagship community at CommunityCo. Through our work with YEC we have developed a strong model for building profitable communities that can help any ambitious person excel in their career which has let to us launching multiple communities such as FounderSociety, CoachesForum, and more to come.

Ask me questions

Q. Can you tell us a bit about YEC and some of the entrepreneurs that are in the organization? What is the main benefit in being a member? — Ben Tossell

YEC is a community of well-established entrepreneurs such as Rent The Runway, Red Mango, Hootsuite, as well as other name-recognizeable businesses. We also have many members with very successful businesses you haven’t heard of. Our benefits range from relationship-building opportunities to brand-building. We try to be at the center of our members business lives providing a bit of everything by providing a more concierge-level approach than other professional orgs.

Let me know if you want me to dive deeper than that…

Q. What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of building great communities? — Eric Willis

I think the most overlooked aspect of building great communities is building strong systems to manage them as they scale. As a community builder, it’s somewhat unnatural to think about community as a business, but I think great community builders know how to walk the line between managing a community and running a business.

Q. Can you give an example of some of the strong systems that you use to help you manage your communities? — Eric Willis

Sure! I think one of the fundamentals is a strong CRM where you can catalogue lots of data on each member. For example, with YEC we go as far as to ask our members what software they use to support their business that they couldn’t live without. That way, when our members ask about pros/cons of different platforms we can make extremely thoughtful introductions.

Q. Hi, Ryan. A newbie question. What are the first step in building a community? — Nodari Lipartiya

I think the first step is identifying a group of people you feel is underserved. Ideally, a group that you have some understanding and affinity towards. Then, start the conversation. YEC started as a private Facebook group and we expanded based on the feedback we received on what members would pay, what services they wanted, what types of people they wanted to network with, etc.

Q. As a community builder, what are your thoughts on this statement by @andreasklinger? (it really impacted the way I look at communities these days) — Jonas Daniels

I think that’s a very profound statement, but the one thing it fails to address is curation. Not every idea is meant to be solved in a complete open community. Some ideas are best incubated with smaller, intimate groups of people with something in common.

Q. What are the most important skills/attributes a community manager should have? — Eric Willis

When I hire community managers I often make decisions that would surprise you. For example, I’m often underwhelmed by resumes chock-full of name-recognizeable brands. The last community manager I hired used to sell oil. I liked her because she showed me great critical thinking skills and seemed to be incredibly organized.

Q. What advice would you give to us to grow a community like MakerHunt? — Ben Tossell

I don’t know enough about MakerHunt to make any profound recommendations, but I can tell you something I really like so far. I like that Eric reached out to me personally asking me to be a part of it in some way. It was an extremely authentic communication that left me with a great first impression of what you guys are all about. First impressions mean everything to people.

Q. What are the most significant benefits of building a community around your product/service? — Eric Willis

I think one of the biggest benefits of community building around your product or service is that you’re taking control over the discussion about your business vs. letting the discussion control your business.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your current role/community please? — Ben Tossell

I’m the COO which pretty much puts me in the position of mission control for every department in our company. If there’s a wall, I take a sledgehammer and break down the wall. In a more traditional business I would probably be a terrible COO, but I think with the community-oriented nature of our business it actually works out well to have someone like me in the driver’s seat.

Q. Do you think great community builders are born or made or a combination of both? —Eric Willis

I think probably a little bit of both. For example, I think a lot of people would believe that the best community builders are extroverts, but I’m a very introverted guy who has made a name for myself in the community building world. I think the common thread is a passion for connecting and supporting people. I have always enjoyed being the maitre d’ which initially drove me towards community businesses.

Q. What is a good moment to start a community for a company? — Nodari Lipartiya

Immediately. Community is not a tangible thing. Slack is not a community. It’s a vehicle for community. You should have community on day one of launching your product or service (maybe even before you launch) as it’s one of your most powerful customer service avenues for a new business.

Q. Do you have any books/blogs/people to follow to share with us about community-building? —Eric Willis

Yes, my friend David Spinks is a community-building messiah. You should follow him on Twitter @DavidSpinks and attend his CMX events.

You can also follow me @ryanpaugh on Twitter and reach out individually with questions at Always happy to help you guys.

Q. Do you have a “Community builders toolkit”? And if so what does it look like? / Is there a vague blueprint of how someone can go about building a community? — Ben Tossell

Yes. I have an entire playbook for launching CommunityCo communities. It’s a private document, but I’m always happy to help fellow community builders at different stages of development if you want to reach out individually.

Have you ever thought about publishing a book?

Everyone says I should publish a book. I have one focus right now which is growing our business. A book would be too much of a distraction, but someday…

Q. Can such a toolkit(like yours) be applied to every community, or you make customisations individually? — Nodari Lipartiya

I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all playbook. You have to customize to different tastes. It’s like cooking. It’s not a precise science.

Next AMA is with:

John Egan — Growth at Pinterest. I trend up and to the right. Mostly. — 3pm EST 27th May

If you liked this AMA please Recommend ☺. Keep an eye out on our Twitter — @MakerHunt for details/updates.

Special thanks to Ryan and everyone who participated. If you’re a maker with a product on ProductHunt, be sure to sign up to participate in the AMAs and connect with others.

Already a member? Get your questions ready for the next AMAs! For any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to: Eric, Jonas, Remco, Cat or Ben.

MakerHunt is an invite-only community for Product Hunt Makers to discuss post-Product Hunt life.

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