Why Now Is the Moment to Build A Powerful Customer Community

LAUNCHub Ventures
LAUNCHub’s Look
Published in
7 min readNov 15, 2021


As co-founder of Orbiit, Bilyana Freye is an evangelist for the power of communities to teach, uplift, and ultimately transform the way business is done. From allowing customers to answer each other’s questions to building a powerful sense of loyalty, customer communities have a tremendous amount to offer. But she also doesn’t want companies to waste their time and effort approaching it the wrong way.

Because on the one hand, communities are more important than ever, with many seeing the Chief Community Officer as fast on its way to becoming a standard board member. But on the other hand, a lot of what gets labelled a “community” isn’t going to unlock any of the benefits that genuine communities bring.

That’s why Bilyana spoke to a group of LAUNCHub Ventures community members (we think she’d be okay with us describing them that way) to talk about why now is the moment to build powerful communities and, just as importantly, how to get that right.

Start by understanding what a community is NOT

Before any real discussion about communities can happen, Bilyana made it very clear that everyone needed to be clear about what does not automatically count as a community:

  • A mailing list
  • A Slack group
  • A Facebook group
  • A member directory
  • A group of people who attended a one-off event
  • Any group where all the communication goes in only one direction

Pretending any of these count as real communities isn’t going to get you anywhere. In fact, this list shows the yawning gap between how most customers understand community and how many companies view it.

So what is community?

Bilyana’s definition is simple: a community is about commonality of purpose multiplied by frequency of touch.

In other words, a real community has a reason to exist and has to be active, with communication going both ways (from those managing the community to its members and vice versa) but most importantly, between members. Often, though, it comes down to a classic “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it” kind of situation. When you’re in a well-functioning community, you can feel it.

A community can be paid or private, membership based or open, global or local, online or offline (or both), based around interests or identities, sponsored by an enterprise, or simply a group of customers. All of these details can change as long as it’s got those two key criteria.

Understanding a community is also about understanding where it is in its development as different stages require different approaches. Bilyana referred to community leader and author of ‘The Business of Belonging’, David Spinks, who breaks down the successful lifecycle of a community into four stages:

  1. Seed, earliest days of forming it
  2. Growth, finding community-market fit, seeing the community organically growing instead of only growing with your work
  3. Maturity, the community becomes well established with clear norms and a leadership structure
  4. Pollination, when a community becomes to large it takes on a life of its own, breaks into sub communities which become their own seed communities

Why customer communities are so powerful

One of the community categories attracting the most attention from businesses today is the customer community. The reasons are fairly clear when you look at the potential benefits:

Ultimately, though, being a part of a community that is as passionate about the product, service or sector that unites members is simply a more compelling experience than simply being a user/buyer. It’s something unique, difficult to replicate, and powerfully compelling. If you want to develop a business which can’t easily be copied, building it around a vibrant community is a great strategy. There’s simply nothing that can quite replace it.

Why building communities is so difficult

The first reason is simple: most of us are bombarded with scores of invitations to all kinds of communities. The more communities we join, the less time and energy we have to devote to each one. All of that is just from the perspective of prospective members.

For community managers, their limited ability to reach scale, depth, and consistency brings its own major challenges. In many cases, with just one person handling community management, the budget and resources necessary to manage hundreds of thousands of members just aren’t there.

To make matters worse, the community tool space is quite fragmented. This results in disjointed data, making ROI very difficult to accurately track. When it’s hard to prove value like that, it becomes nearly impossible to get the resources necessary to properly manage the community.

Tips for getting started

For community managers or founders interested in the power of community to fuel growth but uncertain about how to go about it, Bilyana has put together a concise list of tips:

  • It’s never too early or too late to try to create a community.
  • If you’re early on, let the founder lead the community. This could be forming an advisory board, learning what people are looking for to create an early strategy.
  • Don’t try too many things at once, start with formats and tools you’re comfortable with. Don’t start with a “spray and pray” approach.
  • Be consistent and persistent. You can’t expect huge results right away. Bilyana recommends trying something 3 times (like a roundtable) before concluding it isn’t working.
  • Put yourself in your community members’ shoes to understand how you can be worthy of their attention. Leading with empathy, transparency and authenticity is best.
  • Invest in a community CRM early on (you can find suggested tools at the bottom of this article).

Engagement strategies for your community

Her engagement strategy begins with getting personal, focusing on handholding and founder-led activities. Build deep 1–1 relationships. It’s hard to get any engagement on a page where you have something in common but you don’t know many people in the group. She prefers curated 1:1 peer conversations.

Then once you build that connective tissue and a few members have had great conversations, you can start incorporating group events like 4–6 person roundtables. From there you can move into large-scale events. So by the time you send that invite to a big event, people have already had some great discussions with tangible outcomes so they’re more likely to prioritize that bigger event.

Only at this point should you consider building online tools and methods which require members to create profiles, dashboards, etc. So you lead by creating value for your members before asking them to do something like this.

Consider what kind of community you need

Finally, before you dive head-first into community building, you need to be clear about the type of community you need and what its goals should be.

Two types of community you need to think about

Keep in mind that there are two basic categories of business-oriented communities. Confusion about which one you need to build can result in unfocused efforts that won’t get great results.

Marketing-led communities

  • Focus more on relationship-building
  • Utilize initiatives like customer networking programs, events, conferences
  • Measure metrics like NPS, activity/engagement, referrals, etc.
  • Are likely to be managed by a community management, events, or marketing team

Customer success communities

  • Focus more on helping customers help each other and alleviate burden on CS
  • Utilize dashboard tools like Zendesk
  • Are more personal and results-driven in nature
  • Measure metrics like content consumption and contribution (for example, questions asked and answered)
  • Are likely to be managed by Product or Customer Success

Some common problems

What’s the right split between actively managing a community and letting it develop on its own?

Bilyana made it clear that at this stage you’re describing the holy grail. You want an engaged community which asks and answers questions on its own. At this stage, it’s about staging the type of interactions you want.

Also, understand that some people will always be more passive in communities, consuming instead of reaching out. While others will be more about connections and 1:1 approaches.

What are some global community-led companies which make good case studies?

Spendesk, a fintech leader, had a community before it even had a product. The founder started with speaking with prospective customers, adding value, listening, and addressing their needs while building the product. This meant the community was built alongside the company. You can find more details and best practises in Orbiit’s full Spendesk case study.

What can you do with a community that’s “losing its spark?”

If it’s a large community, try and find some members who are still engaged, then do a focus group or individual chats to understand the value for those people and then take it from there. So always be member-led instead of just trying a bunch of top down approaches (spray and pray).

You can also empower members to run with certain initiatives as for many people it would be a badge of honor to take on that bit of power or responsibility.

Tools to help you

Today there are a ton of tool options, almost an overwhelming number. Commsor has put together a comprehensive list of community tools for all kinds of needs. That said, you should start with a focus on the business outcomes and this will tell you where to focus your community and what tools might be appropriate.

If you’re a community manager looking for a community of your own, check out the Community Club, the Community Leaders Institute, or CMX by Bevy.

Bilyana also highly recommends reading “The Business of Belonging” by David Spinks, founder of CMX and head of community at Bevy.

Lastly, feel free to reach out to Orbiit directly. You can find a contact form at the bottom of their homepage.



LAUNCHub Ventures
LAUNCHub’s Look

We partner with ambitious Central and Southeastern European founders and support them to reach their full potential.