The B2B Community Thesis and our Investment in Threado
At Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India, we have increasingly been convinced that customers will discover businesses in fundamentally different ways than before. While we don’t contend that the traditional way of how software is bought is sold are behind us, we do think for several categories of SaaS, traditional models just don’t make sense. Some green shoots of this phenomenon are already visible: customers are discussing features, critiquing shortcomings, and even outlining product roadmaps for their beloved products in B2B communities. We have seen some of this play out in the world of open source before, we are now convinced that this phenomenon will be important across large swaths of the SaaS ecosystem in years to come.
In this world, the relationship between customer facing teams within an organization and their clients and potential clients changes significantly.
Marketing, Sales, and to a large extent, Customer Success look different. In many ways, this is the organic way of doing business — potential users should be able to interact with existing users freely. They should be able to discover use cases for themselves. They should know where the shortcomings of the platform are. They should be able to rely on peers to solve their queries. A community solves all of this, and a lot more.
Communities inherently make products more relatable to users.
While traditional sales processes have done a great job of educating users about product features, the modern buyer is a lot more sophisticated, and is willing to experience the product and discover its features herself.
It should be clear by now that I feel very strongly about communities. What I also know is that the tooling around community management is broken. Most communities start and end at a messaging platform. Serious ones become multi-platform where an army of community managers is struggling to keep the lights on. It’s very difficult to keep an ear out for the user, and almost impossible to tell signal from noise. What could potentially be a wonderful tool for companies to listen to users, solve areas of concern, identify net promoters, and help assuage detractors, becomes a messaging dump with no endgame.
When we met Pramod and Abhishek, we had only thought about some of the thesis I have outlined. The clarity with which they pitched Threado made this a no-brainer investment. Importantly, they are building out the product and the organization around it with the same amount of clarity. Threado is formally launching on Product Hunt next week, please do look them up and show them some love (aka upvotes).
I believe every team has superpowers, uniquely different from others. Threado’s is clarity of vision. This is a company on a mission to make community management better, and we are extremely privileged to partner them on this mission. As Threado has recently officially launched after spending some time building out the product, I sat down with founders, Pramod Rao and Abhishek Nalin in a non-recorded interview, here is a summary of our discussion.
Pramod, You were among the first few employees at Zomato and went through a journey like few ever have in the Indian market. Walk me through your mental model as you exited Zomato and moved to start Threado.
Pramod: I spent nearly a whole decade at Zomato, and saw a business transform like never before. However, if you go back to the beginning, Zomato did actually start as a community of foodies. It was this committed set of users that really told us what to build, and credit to what I consider one of the most special teams in India, we could truly build a product the customer loved. I got my first sense of the community thesis back in the day, in a very different environment, but the insights have stayed with me ever since.
I moved out of Zomato around 2019 and was really unsure of what to do. Then the pandemic hit, and I started spending time looking at the SaaS world for a change. The germination for Threado actually came from a very unusual source — I saw how users were actively talking about products I had started to use in different fora, and how organic the conversations were. I started out thinking that we should build a tool purpose built for B2B communities, somewhat like a specialized version of Discord + Slack. I had seen the community led growth playbook in the consumer world and was more and more convinced about the need for this in B2B sales (to start with).
The world of communities is brand new; some even think we are ahead of the market and the importance of communities would dawn on business builders maybe over the next five years. What are some of the trends that you see in the market today that convince you that Communities are the future of building organizations?
Pramod: In today’s world, products are somewhat commoditized, many of them offering marginal differentiation. The only way to differentiate and grow is by focusing on building network effects through value provided to customers. Organizations, over the last two decades, have moved from sales-led growth in 2000s, to product-led in the last decade to now community-led growth. Today, companies are either focusing on building a community from day zero organically or investing in them. Bevy acquiring CMX, Stripe acquiring Indie Hackers, Angellist acquiring Product Hunt, Zapier acquiring Makerpad, Pendo acquiring Mind the Product are just a few examples that highlight this shift. I think we will see a reduction in budgets for traditional marketing channels and the focus will shift towards engaging existing customers. Communities will play a crucial role in helping drive customer engagement and retention.
Abhishek: The explosion in the number of Slack and Discord groups over the last couple of years clearly shows that all of us enjoy being in a group of like-minded people. Organizations are taking the cue and want to create social experiences that help customers engage more meaningfully with each other. We are seeing that happen already with new-age decentralized technologies like crypto or web3 and this trend is percolating to other sectors like EdTech, SaaS, D2C and beyond.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the community thesis. In the simplest terms, can you explain the big picture around how organizations should think about community building and value discovery from communities? What should be deliberate vs organic? Should the scope of the community be tightly controlled? Would all communities generate some real perceptible value?
Pramod: Traditionally, organizations followed a one-to-many model of engagement with customers, where the exchange of value is between the brand and the customer. With community, the approach is more about how to create a space and design a system where customers can add value to each other. This can manifest in many ways such as sharing best practices (e.g. Notion templates), sharing wins (e.g. Strava), answering queries (e.g. ReFresh Community), or just connecting with your peers (e.g. OnDeck). You need to be intentional about providing the space (form of engagement, guidelines, tools) and helping them to add value to each other (enabling connections, recognizing contributors, moderation) but let the engagement and outcomes be organic — don’t expect sales from every interaction.
Abhishek: Organizations should think about how they can provide a social experience around their product. Social networks purpose built around specific use cases can unlock a lot of value, which is inherently what communities are. Can we create a digital equivalent of a town hall where people can get together to discuss a myriad of ideas around a domain/product. A lot of initial effort in bringing people together and initiating meaningful conversations will be deliberate but eventually, it will be organic and self-sustaining. However, there needs to be moderation, direction setting, mission definition, etc that community owners need to establish, otherwise the value is lost very quickly. There are several operational aspects to it as well, we have released a community OS (https://www.threado.com/communityos) — think of this as a collection of playbooks and operationalization measures to create, manage and grow your communities. Also, as a humble plug, this micro release reached #1 on product hunt when we released it.
Walk us through the core thesis behind the product today. What are the top three pain points you solve for?
Pramod: Community builders play a key role across organizations — both large and small — by nurturing champions, enabling connections, providing the best support, curating relevant content, creating experiences, and that’s just scratching the surface. Think of them as all customer facing roles (Marketing, Sales and Support) rolled into one. They deserve all the unfair advantages but today’s tools cater largely to the decision makers and not to the ones who are in the trenches. There are millions of communities across Discord, Slack, Telegram and over 300+ community tools. Yet, engagement data is in silos, there’s no easy way to understand member needs, managing a community involves manual workflows, and it is difficult to quantify the overall impact. Threado is the command center that empowers community builders. We’ve built an amazingly powerful product that goes far beyond measuring engagement analytics, solves these pain points and unlocks the 10x community builder.
Abhishek: Our core thesis is that businesses that take a community-first approach to growth will be a lot more resilient than those that don’t. Through Threado, we want to make it easy for any business to engage, grow and support their customers through community. We are currently focused on helping businesses engage and support their customers. We do this by helping community builders identify and nurture champions, personalize reach-outs, automate member lifecycle journeys, and easily resolve queries.
Let’s switch gears and talk about organizational building. What have been some of the key driving forces as you think about building out the team at Threado? Importantly, as you link back to your time at Zomato, what have been some of the key takeaways — positive or negative.
Pramod: I’m super proud of the team we have at Threado. We are a 25-member remote team with folks who’ve helped build and scale organizations like Zomato, Freshworks, Product Hunt, On Deck, Flipkart, Capgemini, Innovacer, Yellow.ai, and more. There’s a good balance of experience and youth in the team. We also did not go out to hire 10x engineers and marketers. Instead, we focused on authenticity, humility and curiosity as core values. We build a great team, give them the ownership and support they need to succeed and move out of the way — this has worked best for us. We have the same 1% done mindset here, as I had experienced at Zomato, that keeps us grounded and hungry for more. A lot of other core values overlap too — we value getting things done, rather than being perfect and focusing on outcomes over effort.
Abhishek: Problems at a startup are hard and it takes a specific type of person to thrive at a startup. Most of the people are not fit for a startup so it needs a lot of effort to find the suitable ones. I look for people who have great interpersonal skills and are constantly trying to push the boundaries of their abilities. The team is composed of a mix of junior and senior engineers. Junior engineers bring a lot of energy to the team whereas Senior engineers bring the depth of knowledge and ability to solve hard problems. We believe in quality more than quantity so the plan is to keep the team small but exceptional with a very high entry bar.
Lastly, What is your learning model? I know that you have a yearning to keep improving. What are some of the constituents and practices that help you achieve this?
Pramod: There is so much to learn every day! :) A few sources of learning for me personally have been:
- From our team. We have a team-leads catch-up every week where we reflect on what could have gone better
- Through customer discovery calls and by solving and addressing customer issues
- From other founders like Prashant from Zeda, Kevin from CreatorStack who are at similar stages or who have been through similar stages like Sri from Rocketlane or from many of our angel investors
- By being part of communities like OnDeck Scale. We have a mastermind group of founders and we catch up once a month.
Abhishek: Taking regular feedback from my colleagues and working on them.
Consistently putting aside some time in the morning and weekends to read and learn new things. I’m also a part of a couple of CTO communities which help me connect with others in the same boat and learn what’s working or not working for them as they scale their engineering teams.