13 Leftfield Tips for Building Your Tribe

Since 2013 The Happy Startup School has grown from a little idea to a global movement of purpose-driven people and businesses. Learn how we’ve done it (so you can too).

Having mentored hundreds of early-stage startup founders over the last few years one of the most common questions I get asked again and again is:

How do we attract, and retain, loyal customers?

The harsh fact is these days it’s not as simple as making a product and simply selling to your target market. Consumers are much more savvy about who they buy from, with more and more interested in your story, as well as your product.

But the good bit? They’re ready and waiting to become part of your story with the right invitation.

Now is the time to shift your thinking away from a purely transactional relationship between you and your customers, to one where you connect with them on an emotional level.

And if you don’t believe me think about the companies you love.

How do they make you feel? Why is that?

“The best companies make you feel something.” John Kearon

In this post I’ll share a little about how we’ve built our community at The Happy Startup School. You’ll learn how to get people to care about what you’re creating, and how to get them to join you on your journey — becoming customers and collaborators along the way.

So the question is how do you get people to love you?

1. By standing for something

Our first website had the tagline “There’s more to life than hockey sticks.” Referring to the holy grail that is hockey stick growth in tech startup circles. We couldn’t relate to this race to the top, so wanted to create an alternative narrative around business, and life. One where people, and impact, came before profit and growth. In contrast to the prevailing startup advice, we got people to think about what moved them, not what moved the market.

Tip: Craft your purpose statement with our free lesson

2. By thinking big (but starting small)

We had a big vision to bring more happiness to business, but we started with a small meetup above a pub in London. Barely 20 people showed up, but it gave us fuel to do the next one.We then followed up personally to everyone who came with the intention of finding one person who cared. From there we found another, and another, and built a following from this loyal base. We had our head in the clouds, but our feet firmly on the ground.

Tip: Discover 11 easy ways to test your ideas for little or no cost

3. By knowing your audience

Entrepreneurship can be very a lonely place, particularly if you’re working on something you care about. Myself and Carlos, who set up the School, had never felt at home at networking events or conferences. So we set out to create places where we felt at home, with the expectation that others would relate to this. Thankfully, we weren’t alone in feeling alone – there were other crazies.

Tip: Live in your customer’s shoes for a day, to better understand their world. Start by creating a persona using our free online tool.

4. By having a clear enemy

As well as getting sick and tired of the media’s portrayal of business as a pursuit solely for the ruthless, we’d both worked in poisonous work cultures that had sparked the fire for something better. Business 1.0 was our enemy, as were the grey-suited moodhoovers. The business of business isn’t business.

Tip: Be clear about what your fighting against – not necessarily a competitor, maybe it’s the status quo, bad service or inequality. Get that fire burning…

5. By being credible

Whilst we’ve never thought of ourselves as business experts, we’d run a digital agency for a number of years, launched dozens of products for our clients and earned our stripes running a popular design meetup in London. So we knew about startups, we knew we could put on great events and we had our passion. Also by regularly blogging about our journey from Studio to School, people felt much more connected to it. Closing down the agency when it was doing well tightened the bond, but this was just us being true to ourselves and modelling everything we talk about.

Tip: Think about your unfair advantage – what are your superpowers?

6. By shutting the fuck up

Almost every early-stage entrepreneur you meet will talk incessantly about their idea, without taking advantage of the incredible opportunity they have to listen. As a designer myself, I knew the value of keeping quiet – to help us better understand our customers and their world. But crucially, to build trust. We weren’t look to sell, we were looking to help. So stop worrying about your Twitter following and take one of your potential customers for a coffee.

Tip: Strike up a conversation with 5 potential customers (and actually listen)

7. By keeping it simple

One of our values is to make the complex simple. We try to avoid jargon, talk in plain English and use design to get our message across clearly. We never wanted to look clever, but rather turn something complex and heavy (business & life) into something accessible, even fun. We typically get a diverse group of people coming to our events and programs, and I’m sure this is due in part to the way we communicate.

Tip: If you’re not a natural writer or designer, hire the best you can afford (or agree a quid pro quo)

8. By not caring about the money

Although people would regularly ask us at our first events ‘what’s the catch?’, we honestly had no idea of whether The Happy Startup School could, or would, make money. We were driven by a need to bring this into the world. It wasn’t a matter of whether it would work, it just had to happen. We’re proof that when you put your heart into something, the money comes. It just might take longer than you think.

Tip: Stay true to the vision by always asking ‘what would we do if money was no object?’

9. By sharing your passion 24–7

We used our knowledge and network to spread our message far and wide. We wrote blog posts, wrote an e-book, created slide decks, gave talks, podcast interviews, you name it we did it – all to see if anyone else cared.

Tip: Write a Medium post to share your vision with the world

10. By finding like minds

It’s important to know you’re not alone, so when we launched we got in touch with everyone and anyone that was speaking our language – blogs, initiatives like Action for Happiness, purpose-driven entrepreneurs like Jack Hubbard (pictured above), communities like Do Lectures. We latched onto kindred spirits all around the world, and built incredible friendships and collaborations that are still going strong to this day.

Tip: Contact 5 key influencers that are already doing what you’re hoping to do

11. By never giving up

No-one said this purposeful entrepreneurship stuff is easy. We’ve had our ups and downs trying to balance supporting those in our community and building a sustainable business, but that’s all part of startup life. Others may have decided to move on to pastures new by now, but not us. We’ve got so much love for the work we do and the community we’re building – we’ve barely got started.

Tip: Think about what you’d love to work on for the next 10 years

12. By having a clear invite

The Happifesto was our way to share our values and beliefs with the world. We asked others to join our mission by adding themselves to a virtual wall. This helped to get people to become part of our story and also share this pledge with others.

Tip: Create your manifesto with Canva

13. By being the connector

More than anything our desire and ability to connect like minds is probably the number one factor in the growth of our community. We love hosting, we love creating meaningful experiences and we love getting out of the way when the time is right.

You see, it’s not about us, it’s about them.

People just need an excuse to get together, so give them an offer they can’t resist.

Tip: Start a Facebook group to and invite people to start building your tribe

What’s your legacy strategy?

Now re-wind a little and think back to the companies you love.

I invite you to consider how you might make the same impact on others, and leave a lasting legacy that fills the soul, as well as your pocket. If you’re struggling to think of anything try and answer this :

What will people miss about my company when it’s gone