Growing a community starts with your product

Listen, learn, co-create and design network effects.

I previously wrote about how genuine, sustained growth comes from everyone in the company having the right mindset.

A user-centred mindset is needed to grow a community — continuously understanding and delivering value to your users throughout your entire brand experience.

Growing a community is about making people fundamentally care, so they actively take part and invite others in for you.

‘Nobody Cares’ by Hugh MacLeod (http://www.gapingvoidart.com/gallery/nobody-cares-2016/)

Making people care is hard

They need to desire what you offer. It’s not just about needing what you have, it’s about wanting it.

Desire comes from intrinsic motivation. As my colleague Tim recently said “brands must now attract people who have a growing social conscience”.

A community is a movement behind your brand. It must be borne out of shared values and commitment to what you’re offering.

Those values are manifested through your product experience to improve every member’s individual life.

Startups often miss this part and end up asking “Why is no one talking about us, telling others to give our product a go?”

It’s hard to know where to start

  • Many companies hire separate teams to create the product and create the community. That’s fine, as long as they’re executing on the same strategy. Often they aren’t.
  • Others don’t cultivate their community through their product experience. Their product becomes a throwaway tool, rather than a vibrant network of likeminded people.
  • More established companies somehow forget the principles the community has grown on, resorting to “pushing” self-centred sales messages and developing uninformed features, in search of profits.

Growing a community starts before you even release your product

We started designing the first version of Kahoot! in the summer of 2012, working with a small selection of users to get product/market fit. The word spread, leading to us growing a community in ‘stealth mode’. When we released in August 2013, the ‘snowball effect’ had already started.

We had created the desire to be part of our movement to make learning more fun. The following are some lessons learnt.


1. Design network effects directly into your product

Products with great network effects get better the more people use them. To initiate this, you need to design desire into your products. You need to make people care.

Hooked author (and Kahoot! angel investor) Nir Eyal recently stated:

“The law that design should always decrease the amount of effort users expend doesn’t always hold true. In fact, putting users to work is critical in creating products people love.”

To grow a community through your product, you need to make people want to put value back into the system - that both rewards them, and others.

As Nir mentions, when a user invests into a product, they do it because of the anticipation of rewards, not immediate gratification — making them more likely to use the product in the future.

We designed Kahoot! on this principle. Creating a game on the platform isn’t fast — taking on average 15 minutes (the best games much longer). Yet there are millions and millions created by the community. This was designed on purpose, because the creation process is a learning experience in itself. It rewards them in several forms:

  1. The creator improves their understanding of the topic they’re creating the game on.
  2. The hard work is done and it’s theirs forever. They can play it as many times as they want with different audiences.
  3. They’re made to feel like a hero as the people they play the game with have a memorable learning experience. Those players then sign up and create their own games.
  4. Other members of the community also get value from it, by discovering and playing the game for their own needs.

As you can see, this investment in creating a game doesn’t just reward the creator and encourage them to come back, but the value they’ve added to the system also enables others to use it — these are network effects.

James Currier, Managing Partner at NfX sums this up simply:

“Architect your product to allow users to participate in value creation. Let their use of the product add value to the other users. Let customer 2 add value to customer 1.”

You must think about network effects at the very beginning of your product design.


2. Initial adoption comes directly from your product design process

If you have a genuine user-centred design methodology, it means you are co-creating with your users. You are working with them every day. Iterating and improving based on everything you learn.

The consequence is that those select users have a feeling of exclusivity and ownership of the product. They’re excited at being part of the journey because you’re designing a product that directly solves their needs.

They’ll believe in you and will do a lot for you. Remember them as you grow!

This also creates intrigue and anticipation in others. Those earliest adopters will tell others who want the same need solving. Collect their details, and make sure they’re next to get access — at the beginning this is the best way to grow your community.


3. Always listen, ask question, spot patterns and solve problems

During the first 2 years of Kahoot! I spoke to users every single day. Not always in person, sometimes over video, via support or Twitter. It enabled me to understand real problems, spot patterns and opportunities to improve.

Growing a community is about continuously feeding your user’s desire to be part of it. Every time you interact with them, it’s an opportunity to learn, improve and show you care.

As you grow, make it part of your culture. At Kahoot!, every designer and developer spends time on support. They personally feel the issues our users have, and set about improving things.

The employees who were dedicated to working with our community sat within product teams (and represented the user), rather than being a separate team. They helped deliver the insights needed to those building the product.


4. Don’t sell, instead empower your users to amplify your message

People are sceptical. They can spot selfish motivations and won’t invest their time if the benefit isn’t immediate to them.

Don’t set out to acquire new users. Focus on your existing community and give them the tools, insights and confidence to amplify your message on your behalf.

Lift up your audience, celebrate them, inspire them, connect them with each other. Educate them about how to get the very most from your product.

At Kahoot!, we hired Steph to lead user happiness. She embodied the brand, and became friends with the community by supporting their needs and championing their successes.

If you stay genuine, your community will be excited to be part of the movement and tell others — they’ll do the acquisition for you, at exponential rates.


There are some simple things you can do to get started

  • Set up Tweetdeck and make it your duty as a founder or employee to listen and join in with conversations about your product that help you learn one new thing every day.
  • Use Nir Eyal’s Hook model to map out what the core “investments” are that make people come back to your product — do they also help create network effects?
  • Make sure those who work with your community are speaking with your product managers, designers and developers every day to relay feedback.

Good luck, and please let me know how it goes in the comments below!


If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading… I would hugely appreciate some claps 👏 and shares 🙌 so that others can find it!


We Are Human creates purpose driven organisations striving for social and commercial impact. We are mostly known for co-founding and incubating Kahoot!, “the world’s fastest growing learning brand”, launched in August 2013. By May 2017, we had scaled Kahoot! to reach 50 million people around the world every month, along with our co-founders and a highly dedicated team.

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