How we built a community around our product

Philippe Gadiou
May 16, 2019 · 4 min read
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Community. A fashionable word for most businesses. A vital need for developers. For tech products, a community is at the very least a must-have. At best a decisive marketing asset.

Most tech companies rush to build a community around a free product. The first focus is acquisition. Some do it before even finding their product market fit. At Forest Admin, we did the opposite.

We chose to open our community only when our product was mature. In hindsight, we do not regret our choice.

From free users to paying customers

As explained in a previous post, a decisive step for Forest Admin in its early days was to make the solution 100% free. We called it the no pricing manifesto. That decision, taken in December 2016, made Forest Admin grow. We made our way into startups and smaller teams.

Users were curious, inviting each other and discussing the product.

But we chose not to build a community then. We wanted to focus on our roadmap and keep our eyes on our business model.

Sure, we wanted our product to be widely adopted. By anyone who felt the need for a ready-to-use admin interface. But our target remained businesses with defined operational needs.

Mid-2017 we introduced premium features available for paying customers. For our first paying customer, we decided the best way to provide top-notch support was through a private Slack channel.

Private channels, the dawn of the community

It worked well.

Soon, we started opening private Slack channels for every paying customer. Sure enough, we ended up with 100+ private Slack channels to maintain. Not a viable option. As is often the case, what was a great idea for one customer proved inefficient when our business started to scale.

But without even realising, we had a community in the making.

By January 2018, we decided to close most private channels and redirect everyone to a single channel. Only our enterprise plan customers kept their private channels.

Users from several companies started posting and exchanging on the single channel. The community was born among our paying customers. And we loved every second of it.

We sped up our onboarding time by up to 5 times. We improved our customer service and user retention increased. And we were getting amazing feedback from our paying users.

Our confidence in managing a community was building. We got organised. One developer was handling messages from the channel every day. Customer Success managers were tracking their customers’ inputs. The whole team got involved.

The product was improving. We were improving.

Opening the gates

At that point, we had a solid base of users in our private community. But we were not talking to solo developers installing the product.

We were confident that our product was mature enough by then. And so was our team. We were not going to lose focus and be overwhelmed by features requests.

We wanted to reach all our users. And we were ready to receive every contribution.

So we opened the community to anyone a few weeks ago. 90 users joined in the first 48hrs. The enthusiasm was uplifting.

Our general Slack channel now has 650+ users. It shows great promise. And there is nothing like getting positive vibes from users.

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Making the most of the community

An active community is a great asset. One we intend to take full advantage of.

With the active community comes a flow of feedback and issues raised. Which can be a gold mine. We use it to improve our documentation and optimise the pipeline of feature releases. A powerful tool to do so is to integrate user feedback directly into our sprints via product board.

We also intend to create a sense of belonging for all users. Interacting with as many as possible. Sharing every feature releases and bug fixes. Making sure that they understand our efforts and identify with our vision.

Finally, a major goal is to increase peer to peer exchanges between community members. We want to empower users who are experts of the product so that they become our ambassadors. Ambassadors who can reassure guests discovering the product better than we could. Ambassadors that may provide a helping hand to other users.

We still have a long way to go to make our community grow but we could not be more excited to embark on that journey with our users.

At Forest Admin we are proud of our community. We want to make the Forest yours. And we will always be there to guide you through it. Can’t wait to see you there!

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