Importance of building a community early on in a tech startup
By Saish Rane
Just this month, 1000+ API professionals flocked to Helsinki to take part in apidays Helsinki & North, the local chapter for apidays, the world’s leading API conference. It was founded and is chaired by Mehdi Medjaoui, who is also the co-founder of Alias by Code is Law, our portfolio company. The startup helps reconcile two different roles, i.e. developers and lawyers to collaborate on one challenging task: GDPR compliance.
Over the last decade, apidays has come to be the de facto community for API professionals with 75000+ attendees, 3000+ speakers as well as being present in 14 countries.
But first, what is a community?
There are quite literally hundreds of definitions of what a community is, but the simplest one that is used by community builders everywhere goes:
“A community is a group of people with something in common.”
Simple, right? It would mean that we take part in tens if not hundreds of communities on a regular basis! Furthermore, being an active part of a community and engaging for the development of such a community takes a significant amount of time and effort which rapidly limits the bandwidth that we can be available for such organizations.
This explains the reason why so many people sign up but drop-off just as soon as they enter the community. Let’s now have a look at how this world is of particular interest to us and should be to you!
According to the Community Industry Report 2022, 87% of managers & executives around the world agree that community is critical to a company’s mission and almost 80% believe community has had a positive impact on their organization’s objectives this year.
We see the same trend within the Elaia Family where we have companies of all shapes and sizes using community as a way to build sustainable competitive advantages like Mirakl with their industry-leading business partner & seller ecosystem, Elevo who are currently building their DHR community or even in digital life sciences with Sim&Cure or inHeart and their partnerships with Key Opinion Leaders in the fields of cardiology & neurology.
At Elaia, we believe that community is an integral part of building a thriving ecosystem of stakeholders and building relationships for the long term because it aligns everyone along the same values which then leads to stellar performances through collaboration that would have been difficult to achieve alone.
Businesses today have an overwhelming amount of product options and a myriad of platforms to communicate on, which means that most managers and potential B2B customers are turning to their peers and online forums for product or service recommendations.
Digital and hybrid communities are becoming all the more important especially in the post-COVID era for startups as businesses continue to invest in community, both in terms of people as well as infrastructure as a way to create indestructible moats.
More than one in three companies across the world have a full-time community hire and 62% of executives are looking into investing further into community this year. (Community Industry Report 2022)
According to a Gartner market guide, this is because online communities were limited to providing customer service and feedback until 2019 whereas from 2020 all the way to 2025, they will serve as a unique place for end-to-end customer journey enablement at scale.
Community can be seen as a successor or multiplicator of the product-led growth strategy that took companies like Zoom and Calendly to unimaginable heights in 2020.
A community is more than the sum of its parts as we will see further in this article that pulls the curtain behind illustrating the importance of building one in your startup.
In the end, it’s a people business
Community building is often overlooked as either marketing or made for a consumer centric business model. One thing that we tend to forget, however, is that even behind the tech, research and software, there are people hard at work bridging human interactions and technology in its purest form.
Community building focuses on them to come together under one roof (literally or metaphorically, you choose) and share everything that they have in common with other people who spend the same number of hours a day working on similar problems and maybe come up with solutions and break siloes.
Benefits for founders, for clients and the company
After reading this, you might ask, well, what is the real, tangible benefit that I’m getting from investing so much time and energy into building a community?
For founders, it serves as a validation of the business and your offering and even if you have 10 super-fans that are constantly providing feedback and engaging with you and helps reduce delays in feedback loops as you will have direct access to a group of beta testers that have the same interests and vision of the product/service that you do.
Additionally, in early-stage startups, having a community makes the founders feel less alone and allows them to share the same challenges that they are going through with others. This engagement within the community spurs them on and creates a collective movement to solve the problem that the startup addresses.
For clients, it is not only a forum to discuss about the product and what are the bugs but also a place to meet fellow professionals in the same field and share best practices of the industry as well as have a knowledge base of the early clients on how to navigate the system that is being built and troubleshoot almost instantaneously.
For the company, one of the best benefits is that it humanizes the company from being an entity to a group of passionate people working hard to solve a problem and hence leads to a solid brand equity both internally and externally. Through the exchanges in your community, it will also highlight the transparency and passion that you have for the problem you’re solving. After all, genuine care goes a long way in building solid business foundations.
One of the best examples of benefits from community building comes from our portfolio company Traefik Labs, the world leader in cloud-native networking and provides a powerful stack to simplify cloud and microservices adoption for all companies. They have built a community on GitHub that has amassed almost 40k stars, over 3 billion downloads on Docker, and more than 500 active contributors across multiple repositories. This unique asset has propelled them to worldwide adoption of their services from household names like Apple, NASA, Bose, Expedia, Mozilla and Sainsbury’s.
The benefit they’ve provided to their clients is by creating this vibrant community on GitHub that has provided a place where people who implement these solutions can exchange best practices, troubleshoot and contribute to the open-source origins of Traefik’s software.
This has created a tight-knit community with developers both from within Traefik as a company as well as the members of the community on GitHub as they share the same values. It results in tight feedback loops and lightning-fast issue resolution which means less time lost trying to find the problem and then plugging a makeshift solution which benefits Traefik Labs.
In addition, as peers and experts from the community tend to communicate amongst themselves, this community validation goes further to become a great awareness and distribution advantage.
All in all, this community also provides a reason for the founder to continue believing in open source and community-backed software that provides a veritable competitive advantage to Traefik.
In the second part of the article, we will focus on how to build a community in a few simple steps, stay tuned!