Highlight from the #SGGlobal Storytelling Stage: Why Community is the Secret Sauce of Storytelling

The 2019 Startup Grind Global Conference officially come to a close, and we had the pleasure of hosting some phenomenal speakers.

Check out this piece by Jillian Richardson, Founder of The Joy List, who spoke on the #SGGlobal Storytelling stage on February 12.


How many times have you heard someone say, “What story should we tell our customers?”

This is the wrong question to ask.

The whole world of marketing is based on the premise that people value stuff. Yet us pesky millennials are changing that formula. We rebel against the idea of being targeted by a message. As a study conducted by Eventbrite shows, we value experiences over things.

To gain our trust, your company needs to create something that your customers can participate in, and feel a sense of ownership in.

In other words, you need to master the buzzword of the year: community.

Community Creates Loyalty

Companies that can create a space for their audience to meaningfully gather, especially in person, will have more loyal customers than they could have ever imagined.

People are desperate for spaces where they can deeply connect. One of America’s biggest problems is loneliness. The average person in the U.S. has only one close friend. And to make things worse, 75% of people say that they’re unsatisfied with their friendships. Religious gatherings are on the decline, but new ways to gather in community are hard to find. If your company can provide that, your audience will share about their experience with your brand more authentically than you ever could. (No offense.)

I have first-hand experience with this. I’m the founder of The Joy List, a weekly newsletter that features events that you can attend solo and leave with a new friend. Our mission is to make NYC, and eventually the world, less lonely.

When I started The Joy List, I thought that it would be a fun passion project. At the time, I had no idea how much of an issue loneliness was in America. Ironically, I thought that I must be one of the only people feeling that way.

Then I started getting the emails. Strangers from across the country started reaching out, telling me about their experiences with disconnection. People came up to me at events and asked, “Are you the loneliness lady?” When I nodded yes, they would pour their hearts out to me.

People were hungry for the space that I created. As a result, I have never paid for marketing. I have an audience of over 19,000, and open rate of 36%, and a click-through rate of 10%. When I send an email about one of my events, the open rate soars to 80%. This space, called The Joy List Social, sells out every time. Last month, people even sold fake tickets. If you need an example of how much everyone is craving connection, that’s it.

The Joy List doesn’t have a loyal audience because I created a genius advertising campaign. They love what I created because the newsletter solves one of their deepest, most shameful secrets: loneliness.

When you’re tackling something that important, you don’t need to tell stories. Your audience will take care of that for you.

Four Rules for Creating a Great Space

Because of The Joy List, I’ve curated hundreds of events that facilitate connection. I’m constantly in conversations about what allows a space to transform its guests — and attempt to apply those learnings to my own gatherings.

After looking through the events that I’ve highlighted the most in my newsletter, I’ve found many key themes that take an event from a mundane gathering to a transformative experience. Below are four of my favorite. My book, Unlonely Planet, dives into the topic in much greater detail.

1) Behavior modeling: At all of my favorite events, the organizer models the type of behavior that they want to see in their participants. If they want their guests to share vulnerably in a circle, they stand in front of the room and offer a story of a time that they struggled. If they want their guests to be playful, they’re the first to start busting out the crazy dance moves.

2) Clear “hurdle” rules: Any event that’s worth going to has at least one rule that will make some people uncomfortable. This could be no drinking, no phones, or everyone has to wear a onesie. This serves a dual purpose — it gets people out of their comfort zone while also giving attendees the knowledge that they have at least one thing in common with everyone there.

3) Unity through the obvious: A great facilitator provides a sense of unity by calling out what should be completely apparent, but often isn’t considered. For example, “You all gave your Saturday — half of your weekend — to be at this conference. That’s how much everyone in this room cares about ethical technology.”

4) Greeting with intention: The most memorable events are thoughtfully designed from the start. Once attendees enter, they should be greeted with kindness and a reminder of the rules. Bonus points if the volunteer or host also provides an icebreaker to help every guest strike up a conversation.

Give the Gift of Connection

Creating soulful spaces requires lots of time and energy. Yet, in my opinion, gathering people for meaningful connection is the biggest gift that anyone can give. And if your audience is millennials, it’s one of the only presents that they’ll receive.

The great advertisers of the future will simply advertise. They will create heart-centered spaces for connection.

As author Liyana Silver says, “It is not wrong that you long. Your hunger is holy. You are the holder of a vision for a better, brighter world (or office, family, community, or piece of art) that’s not quite here yet, and needs to be.”


The Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars is looking for game-changing connectivity, media and entertainment startups for its 2019 class. Apply now for a chance to elevate your company with help from our renowned mentor networks. Class starts this July in Philadelphia!