Largest community of mobility engineers, Airheads, who I have been marketing to for the last 10 years.

Why build a community for a tech product?

First published at Wiselike AMA.

First the reason for building the community needs to be clearly defined. So “why” rather than “how”. My two favorite reasons are as follows.

(1) To use it as a long term competitive advantage. We have done exactly that with the Airheads Community @arubanetworks when launched back in 2003 with <100 members (now grown to 40,000+), to compete against a much bigger competitor Cisco in the networking space (their backyard). Cisco can develop great products to come close to our technology leadership and try to convert customers back to Cisco… but that’s much harder to do when we are able to target the “mid-brain” with many customer focused activities, and focus on improving the emotional intelligence of our technical staff to put customer first. Very, sometimes impossible to beat. So if you are asking yourself, should I build a community, just start with one with few users and use it as a marketing engine to “protect you”. When the times are tough (e.g. your competitor just launched a killer product, your team and products are being criticized in public in press articles, your efforts to close the biggest account in your company’s history just fall flat, etc), your community will be there to depend on and get you the “buffer” you need.

(2) Build products that are “outside in” rather than “inside out”. Communities enable your products to get better in terms of solving real customer problems, and prevent you from defining a product roadmap purely on “cool technology”. After you launch release 1.0, whatever comes next should be centered around who is going to continue use your product and how much they are willing to pay for it. A well rounded community with lots of MVPs allows you to listen before you build — you will be selling as you are building the product. Extreme scenario of this is selling through the community. For instance, Product Hunt, where the product is the community. Another one is Threadless, where again folks “sell community” rather than “t-shirts” where the marketing activities focus on how to engage the designers and buyers more than anything else. A good podcast episode to listen to on this extreme scenario is James Altucher’s interview with Erik Torendberg from Product Hunt.

If you were to look at the how, I would recommend to find someone from within your audience (your community) who is passionate about the topic / product at hand, and would love the chance to let the rest of the world hear about it. A community builder will then find the best tool designed for your audience; for instance, you can even use Slack to get things started.