On Building a Mob, and Successful Startups

How to have the best marketing asset any startup could ever ask for —

You’re looking for a silver bullet, aren’t you?

You’re looking for that Dropbox-like “growth hack” that will take your business skyrocketing to 500 employees and a multi-billion dollar valuation. It’s okay, it’s natural. It’s understandable.

Well here is a secret, those shots-in-the-dark are just that — a shot in the dark.

There will be a stunt, a key, a jolt, every now and then that can potentially spark a viral trend for a company, but they are hardly consistent and seldom reachable without some beautifully creative inspiration and a unique use-case. If you’re really looking for one of those keys, look more closely at the unique opportunities your product gives, where it lives, and where your customer’s use-cases are. Now, if you’re looking to build a consistently successful, opt-in, organic marketing stream that will beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt make your business more money and drive a ton more revenue I’ve got a secret for you.

Building a community, your own personal mob is the only “growth hack” you will ever need.

In this post I’ll show you:

  1. Examples of startups that have built mobs that have carried them to incredible success
  2. The benefits of building your own mob
  3. How to build your own mob
  4. The questions you need to ask yourself in order to define your voice and build your own mob
  5. And the most pivotal point of marketing Steve Jobs ever had (hint, it was while building Apple’s cult following)

So let’s get started.

The benefits of building a mob are absolutely vast, reaching far beyond the likes of simple “growth hacks” but to a level of cult-following that will propel any business forward, in any field.

Some of the many benefits of building a community are:

  1. It will drastically increase your chances of your content going viral
  2. It will give you direction for future products
  3. It will give you direction for your brand’s voice
  4. It will give you free press as you gain more attention from bloggers, columnists, journalists etc.
  5. It will give you feedback
  6. It will give you a constant feed of interaction
  7. It will simply give you more business, more money, and more revenue

Building a community, a real, engaging and influential community will give you many things that a simple “growth hack” cannot.


  1. It’s sustainable, meaning it won’t drop off after the virility has run its course.
  2. It’s compounding, every effort will bring in more reward, and due to the way social shares work and SEO chimes in to content marketing, it will only grow with the more content you stack onto it.
  3. It’s engaging, it’s not something that will bring in a ton of users and then diminish, it’s not a candy crush, it’s a long-term, humble interaction between you (the business) and your customers.
  4. It’s opt-in, people want to engage with your community, people want to become a part of that community, people want to give back to that community. You’re giving them value, so they follow you, essentially giving you the rare opportunity of a soft-sell, a hot-lead, an easy-in.
  5. It’s a mob, when people talk about “mob mentality” it’s true, the things people can do when a group of people have a single direction is just incredible. A community is your opportunity to build your own mob, one of which you control the outcome, so if you have a new resource, they will be your driving force to make it successful, they will be your source of virility, they will be your “tribe” as Seth Godin would put it.

You want a community because you want advocates. It’s as simple as this, brand advocates are the most essential asset of any business. Advocates have taken brands to billions on a number of occasions, Apple, RedBull, GoPro, they all have a mob. There is a way to build this mob in every business, and I’ll give you the steps to get started.

“You can always amplify reach. But nothing can replace genuine passion for a brand. By focusing on the most influential and passionate fans, you will always have that brand love driving organic word-of-mouth and, with that, business success.” — Mark Curtis

There is a core voice for every business, there is a core audience for every business, sometimes the two don’t meet. Focusing on aligning these two will be what makes or breaks your success in creating a thriving community.

If you don’t focus on aligning your message with your actual core audience, you will be throwing content in the dark. So here are some steps to take

How to build a successful community:

  1. Focus on the context — what your customers love, where, and why?
  2. Focus on the content — what strengths are unique to you that you can utilize as a content stream?
  3. Focus on the value — what do your customers want, what would they benefit from? Can you give it to them?
  4. Focus on the relationships — engagement with each customer, “support staff”, but more like customer engagement staff.
  5. Focus on the feedback — what are your customers responding to? What are they enjoying? What is working and what is not, evaluate and iterate.

Now these may seem ambiguous, or vague, so let me elaborate and give you some steps.

Answer these questions when you’re getting started:

  1. What are your core principles? This is what you value. Simplicity, minimalism, brevity, design, or maybe robustness of features, whatever it is, define it.
  2. What is the core solution you’re providing? Be high level with this step. You’re a task management app, okay so your core solution is “productivity” which is essentially self-improvement. People who are using your service will be interested in other ways they can be productive and other ways they can improve, so give them that sort of information.
  3. What information can you provide? To synergistically help existing users, and attract new ones. The focus was on productivity, what are your other core principles, things you value, are you highly startup-focused? Show your users other productivity startups they can take advantage of, you’re building relationships with other businesses while bringing better value to your audience. The fascinating thing here is that by showing other solutions within your lateral (or your core solution) you are adopting other business’s audiences anytime they share your mentions of them. The fastest way to grow your audience is through adopting someone else’s.
  4. What is the most apt way for you to interact? If you’re a design studio it may be on Dribbble where you can post your work and get feedback, if you’re a web startup it may be through Twitter with web-savvy users, your focus should be on one social network to start, lest you get burnt out, expand from there.

Have a home-base for your content, this should (in most cases) be a blog, but obviously different companies have different unique opportunities within their space. Gain inspiration from competitors, or other businesses in your space, sometimes it’s easiest to see what other people are doing with their core solution, and adapt it to your core principles.

Examples of some incredible companies that have built a beautiful mob:

  1. Buffer. Buffer is a productivity app, that is their core solution. In reality, they are a social media sharing app. The focus is on the productivity and the self-improvement though. That’s what their community cares about, and that’s what they feed them. Science-backed, elaborate information about self-improvement and productivity. They’ve built one of the strongest communities of any startup, with only 15-20 employees currently (but expanding fast). They focus on “customer support” more than anything, guaranteeing that their mob is well taken care of in any circumstance, and that has been their most rewarding marketing channel, from word of mouth by supporting their mob.
  2. Basecamp. Basecamp is a productivity tool for designers, by designers. Project management tool, that’s their app, but it was built by web design consultants when they needed a better solution for interfacing with their clients. Design is their culture, as well as code. 37signals, which was the company that built Basecamp (which also just rebranded to be called Basecamp altogether) created Ruby on Rails, an enormously popular development framework for the Ruby programming language. This led to many Rails conferences over the years, and a cult-like following of designers and developers that loved their lean practices and outlooks on business. They wrote multiple New York Times Best Sellers, which I would say are some of my personal favorite books, Rework, Remote, and Getting Real. All of these books aligned perfectly with their audience, their target audience and the mob that they had built over the years. They built the content, built the movement, built the value and established a mob that organically made them hit the NYT best seller list multiple times. It doesn’t get much better than that. But actually, it does. Basecamp was built for businesses like 37signals, and with their mob it built steadily but rapidly across the tech industry. Soon massive corporations like Twitter used it for their internal affairs, and now it’s been so popular that churches use it, government associations use it, everyone who needs to manage something uses it. Their mob made them the height of the market, and practically untouchable in their own right, with no sight of slowing down, actually just speeding up.
  3. GoPro. I use this example a lot, but it’s for a good damn reason. GoPro is the epitome of creating a mob of a community. A movement of inspiration and incredible feats. GoPro is an inspiration, that’s their core solution. They build action sports cameras, they create inspiration and motivation for millions. They created a business based around documenting incredible things, which is what every action sport “hero” wants to do, incredible things. Their cameras were called the “HDHero” with the tagline “Be a Hero” which for any action sport fanatic would send a quaking chill up their spine. We all want to be a hero, we all want to strive for our greatest endeavor, we all want to reach for unimaginable heights, but even more than that, we want people to see us doing it. We want people to say, “That’s incredible, I want to do that.” That is what we live for, and that is the most incredibly viral sensation a company could ever ask for. We as customers have an emotional need for their product. They just supplied the tool and the avenue. Every day GoPro would post a picture to their Facebook page of a user-submitted shot from someone doing something incredible somewhere in the world. They would also post a user’s video. These pieces of content would get incredible traction from their massive Facebook following, which led to even more people following them, submitting their stuff, hoping to be featured on GoPro’s page, and to be acknowledged and inspire millions of other people to live their life to the fullest. They found their content stream by enabling their mob to post their content, the viscerally emotional need their users had to have their content seen is what made their success so apparent. Their mob made them a billion dollar business and a world-wide leader in inspiration. All rooting from a guy wanting to videotape himself surf, and strapping a disposable camera with a plastic case to his wrist.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

This was Steve Jobs speaking directly to his mob, from his heart, because his mob was wrapped around his vision of the world. Steve established Apple’s mob and polarized it with this statement, which is why it became his most well-known quote of all-time. This is the most influential marketing Steve ever did, not the secrecy of his product launches, not his decisions against the competition, this quote was the defining moment of his marketing excellence. This is where the mob was defined, this is where the rebels found their home.

Are you still looking for a “growth-hack” to take your business to the next level?

Or are you now looking to build a mob, a group of people unified under one common interest, an emotion, a need, a passion. Are you looking for your audience? The one that will push you, accelerate you, empower you, back you, love you? Are you ready to engage, to build, to unleash your group, your core “tribe” and dominate your market with the personality and vision unique to you and your company?

This is what every startup needs, you need a mob, you need the pitchforks and fiery brooms, you need the chanting, the advocates, the lovers, the fighters, they are your source, your backbone, without it you won’t last in this new age of marketing, without it you won’t have a “growth hack” to save you, you will be lost in the ether, while another mob takes your lunch.

Build your mob, define your mob, empower your mob, and watch them fight for you.

This post originally aired on my blog, check it out for more startup growth strategies revolving around content marketing, community building, SEO, CRO, and social media.

I’m a content marketer and SEO consultant, having worked with brands like Best Western, Holiday Inn, MFG, Bidsketch & Olo to boost revenue through clever content and organic search. I’m also a consultant for hire.

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