Monthly Archives: November 2020

📻 — Deconstructing Hubspot’s Culture Code Deck — Notes from 128 Slides

Good morning yenizens!

🎉 — Yesterday we celebrated 2 months of publication! I shared some of our progress (and stats) in a tweetstorm with 3 lessons / reminders about launching email newsletters.

The most important one: Don't quit too early.

Finally, I saw this tweet via Carrie and… it made my heart warm. I don’t know any details and I imagine the history / context is full of pain / hurt, but, I’m glad that we’re healing now too.

Finally, thanks to community contributions, we’ve updated our resource & tool list with the following (1 book, 4 video apps, 2 chat apps):

📚 — The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging
📽 — VideoAsk — Get personal with video by Typeform
📽 — VideoForm — … not by Typeform
📽 — Descript — Edit audio like text
📽 — Vodited — 👆🏻
💬 — Dish — Make Slack a social network (profiles!)
💬 — Heartbeat — Cohort & curriculum

Thanks so much to every yenizen who contributed!! Got a great tool or resource that’s missing? Drop it to us here.

To infinity & community,

— john

HubSpot is a household name at this point and has been a big part of building community in the last 14+ years — crazy to think about how long HubSpot has been around (and it’s not that old either)!

Several years ago their founder / CTO, @dharmesh published a “beta” of what would eventually become their “Culture Code” and an assortment of slides that formalized into a cohesive presentation about who they are and what they stand for.

Since we’re in the beginning stages of establishing and codifying our community, the yeniverse, I’ve been looking for similar resources to compare and contrast, especially as I look for the “nuggets of wisdom” that proven business & community builders have used.

The 128 slides that I’ve manually downloaded by hand is their most-recent update to their “perpetual work in progress” — it’s hit the editing room floor more than 25 times, a strong lesson on how these types of things are more dynamic than static and how periodically reviewing them is not just good decorum but of existential importance.

5+ million views, nearly ~80k customers with ~4k staff members later, the Hubspot Team is an absolute force, an impossible-to-miss, category product that has helped millions of folks — we can all still learn a ton about how they build product and community.

At a high-level, they have established a shared passion around both mission and metrics, using the H.E.A.R.T. to represent this:

  • Humble
  • Empathetic
  • Adaptable
  • Remarkable
  • Transparent

And here are some of the highlights that they intentionally pull-out:

  • Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.  
  • Every community / biz has culture — why not make it one you love?
  • Solve For The Customer, not just their happiness, but also their success.
  • Power is now gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it.
  • Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” — Louis Brandeis
  • “No-door policy” — Everyone has access to anyone in the company.
  • You shouldn’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.
  • Results should matter more than when or where they are produced.
  • Influence should be independent of hierarchy.
  • Great people want direction on where they’re going, not directions on how to get there.
  • Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.
  • We’d rather be failing frequently than never trying.

Ready for the slides (and commentary)? Here you go…! I hope you find these useful to review for your own project and/or community!

Feel free to share the slides with others! #yenSTRONG

I do particularly like their branding — and branding the document itself is next-level… something to think about as your community expands!

A good reminder about the power of keeping things simple, especially in the beginning formation of a new community / project. This is why I keep the “Community Operating System” as just the why, the what, and the how.

A powerful reminder that your culture is, itself, a product that you can define and massage and cultivate and develop. The distinction between what is customer-facing and what is employee-facing is an interesting separation and one that I don’t entirely agree with.

I argue for having one singular definition of culture that extends over all of the community, both internal and external. Perhaps this is semantics to a real degree, but, I think it’s worth noting for comparison’s sake.

Culture is definitely a recruiting technique now, not just something that folks have in the background of their job. In fact, more and more folks choose culture, first, and then other things as a distant-second.

You have a culture whether you like it or not. You have a culture whether you intentionally design it or just “let it happen” organically.

Why not create a culture that you actually love (and want to work in)? Why not create a business and community culture that gets you excited?

The HubSpot Culture Code Tenets:

  1. We solve for the customer.
  2. We work to be remarkably transparent.
  3. We favor autonomy & accountability.
  4. We believe our best perk is amazing peers.
  5. We lean towards long-term impact.

“Solving for the customer” isn’t rocket science but we can easily and often forget the following:

  1. Building… stuff is easy, especially with #nocode.
  2. Building… for an actual customer’s need? Hard.

I meet community builders all the time who have done #1… 100 times over and yet they haven’t quite done #2 yet.

Having a clear mission is something important for a new project and community! For us here in the yeniverse, it’s all about democratizing community building and helping other folks learn how to do this better!

The YEN.FM newsletter, obviously, directly executes against this focus.

I appreciate HubSpot defining what “grow better” actually means because… it’s not exactly precise at first-glance.

I’m so glad that they are intentionally helping to support newer and young organizations and projects! Of course, this is good for their long-term bottom-line as well.

I think all communities should also seek to serve new communities, especially the older ones that have been around for a while. There’s a ton of experience, wisdom, and mentors available.

Part of what I love about the slide above is that they’ve made it clear that they are here for their customers. In fact, the focus on career development fits perfectly with what Tessa shared on how to build community trust.

Helping your community succeed in their personal and professional goals almost always aligns with business / product success, when done well.

At YEN, we do the same thing with the above and below slides:

YEN gives our customers community-building superpowers.

How do we do this? We equip them with the knowledge, insight, strategies, and tools on how to build community with little to zero resources.


Dedication to both their mission and metrics is hard as many times we find these things in direct competition with one another. This is a great graphic, by the way, and HubSpot has figured out how to blend this unnatural relationship in a way that works.

So much yin and yang, I can’t even. 🤣

Building in the Open” is a growing, competitive strategy and tactic that just simply works! Being transparent doesn’t mean that you have to give away all of the “goods” — it just means providing space for authentic, timely, and consistent information to pass from the business to the community and then back again.

Every organization and community does this differently, of course, but the fundamentals are always the same: They are approachable and available.

An easy “test” for authentic community is whether they are “hoarding” knowledge or are motivated to “give it away” (and prove this through their actions and behaviors).

I won’t mince words here: There’s a lot of “protectionism” happening in community formation right now which only hurts your own users and community in the end.

Don’t “tax” knowledge that’s already free and don’t stop other people from helping other people — that’s just bad juju anyway you look at it.

How does HubSpot do it?

We share (almost) everything with everyone.

💥 goes the dynamite.

Part of my interest in building out our own little Notion document on the internet is because I’m trying to build out a collaborative “wiki-like” experience for our community members as we equip them with community-building superpowers.

Keeping our shared, public, and free resource updated is a major part of our collective future — this is why I’m not even kidding when I say that I’m looking for help in this particular area!

One of the time-tested strategies for growing a new community in the beginning is “celebrating” or “highlighting” early members. HubSpot’s ritual of making every employee an “insider” has, I imagine, a similar type of effect.

Team members feel more valued, more listened to, and feel more deeply connected to the mission and business. Win-win, right?

When I was leading business & community building bootcamps (these are coming back, btw!!) the first day was dedicated to data which was, for most folks, very counter-intuitive.

But, what HubSpot and what sophisticated and experienced community builders know is that data drives the insights that allow you to understand your community and thus serve them better.

In a nutshell, without data, you drive blind.

Grace Hopper pwns.

At HubSpot they measure all-the-things:

  • Customer happiness
  • Employee happiness
  • Candidate happiness
  • General happiness

Dad jokes?

And important note on transparency:

Transparency ≠ Democracy — It’s about being open and accepting of all input, but, it’s not about decisions by consensus. At HubSpot, they designate one person to make a decision and sail the ship.

And interesting call-out, for sure!

We don’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.

I imagine this creates a culture that pushes boundaries and allows employees to grow.

Part of the reason why I borrowed simple language for our yeniverse “Code of Conduct” is to keep the language simple and to essentially say the same thing: Use good judgment in all things.

We want people to build and grow communities better. Although we maintain the site, this is our yeniverse that we get to build together, and we need your help to make it the best it can be. Respect each other. Remember to criticize ideas, not people. Don’t spam. Don’t be a jerk. If you see something, say something. Leave it better than when you arrived.

via The Yeniverse

I appreciate the simplicity:

Customer > Company > Individual

I do wonder how this plays out in-the-real though. They, of course, break it down a bit more:


Results matter more than where we produce them.

An obvious not-so-subtle hat-tip to remote work! A results-oriented and results-focused business (and community) is a worthwhile reminder, especially because your community is everywhere!

Doesn’t matter where you are.

Spending time defining “remote” for the team and culture is pretty neat:

I preach about alignment all the time, even and especially for super-small teams. Again, another powerful reminder about how important it really is to focus on just a few folks in the beginning as you build out your plan and community. You don’t need everyone aboard the ship on Day #1… you just need what Simon Sinek calls the “true believers“.

Start with Why is always a good frame.

How does HubSpot create this alignment?

  1. Align individual goals to team goals.
  2. Align team goals to company goals.
  3. Align company goals to our customer goals.

At YEN, we know our community is succeeding when they have more community members in their community this month (as compared to last month) and are earning more money than last month as well.

Success is binary and we know it when we see it. If a yenizen succeeds, everyone in our yeniverse wins.

I’ve had to “fire” both customers, community members, and employees over the last few years as we’ve put things together!

The yeniverse isn’t utopia — no community space is. Instead, every community is on the hunt for their “right” community members, the ones that match well with the core operating system.

A few slides above describing a HubSpotter and it’s a reminder that I could probably spend a bit more time defining the who / what of a yenizen too.

Might be a worthwhile exercise for later this week!

Making awards is a good idea… saving that for later! We already have a #hashtag that we’ve used in the past when we’ve seen something that positively supports our culture — I tag anything of that nature with #yenSTRONG and I probably could do more of this.

Maybe I need a badge… anyone wanna design one for us?

If you mess up your operating system…

Diversity of the company should reflect the diversity of the community. Strange how this doesn’t really work out the way that most companies and communities intend!

Which the founders of HubSpot easily share:

I think about the diversity of my own company and community and I think of ways to get more representation across the boards. But, as you all know, this is hard to do day-in and day-out.

This flywheel works, but, it only works if you intentionally invest in building out a diverse team. Again, in my personal experience, this is really, really, really hard to do, especially in smaller teams where you’re just trying to survive, first, instead of necessarily diversifying!

Healthy communities require healthy people in them and healthy people need to be their very best (and authentic) selves.

This is much easier said than done! But, putting this as-part of their explicit Culture Code and documentation enables these conversations to be had, which, is Step Number One in building an empathetic and healthy culture.

Bravo. Keep going!

Remember, your existing talent is the “bottom floor” of your talent pool, not the “top level” — “A” members attract other “A” members while “B” members attract “B” players (and below).

This goes for team dynamics and early community building!

One of the 3 operating virtues @ YEN is kaizen — a focus on continual improvement both personally and professionally!

Life-long learning is not just something “cool” — it’s essential!

Giving your customers a real voice to the product development lifecycle is a power-move that everyone agrees is fundamentally good but few people (and organizations) really execute well here.

Customer-centricity is easy in the beginning but can oftentimes get lost as you scale-up and try to go “up market” — keeping an ear to the ground and giving your community access is vitally important.

Yup. We have a BHAG (“Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal”) for 2021: Help launch 1,000 profitable communities!

I hope you can help me do just that!

Simple is good.

This is like a metaphor for most communities as they scale and grow… they become a literal nightmare.

Of course, this doesn’t have to be your path!

Refactoring a community is an interesting idea!

  • Stop generating unused reports.
  • Cancel unproductive meetings.
  • Remove unnecessary rules.
  • Automate manual processes.
  • Prune extraneous processes.

I like the use of the word S.C.R.A.P. and this is something that I may borrow heavily in the near-future.

We’re almost done here! Whew!

Culture is a product.

  • Keep learning from customers (i.e. each other).
  • Keep iterating. A product is never done.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t fight feature wars.

What is HubSpot’s winning formula?

Amazing people + autonomy & ownership + aligned vectors = achieving our aspirations

Whew. Done. Hopefully that was useful. Share it with others.

And, of course, thank you @dharmesh for writing it!

📻 — 3 Step Model for Building Community Trust @ Twitter

Hey yenizens!

Candidly… I gave the idea of a Chief Notion Officer a real turn in my head, especially since announcing the resource & tool list. If anyone wants to help me manage and curate Notion… hit me up!

To infinity & community,

— john

Sometimes I randomly select a piece of content that’s on the backlog and that becomes the next day’s #yenFM issue — no joke, I’m quite serious.

Today (or yesterday…?)’s breakdown is from the C2C Podcast via Bevy and Tessa Kriesel, the Head of Developer Community at Twitter.

It’s a short bit and what I hoped to come away with was what exactly the “3 Step Model” for building trust is… and I’ve got it below!

But, to be honest, I had to get a bit of help via Tessa directly (via a coordinated Slack DM convo! 😉) who helped me get precisely the best definition of her process.

But, before that, a few of my other notes from the show:

  • I love how passionate Tessa is about her role and her responsibility as a “voice and advocate” for Twitter developers! It clearly shows throughout the entire episode.
  • She’s also honest, admitting that the developer community @ Twitter has been pretty “haphazard” — even and especially in the past where there were some significant historical miscalculations on Twitter’s part.
  • But, she’s recently joined in March of this year and she’s got a ton of plans to rework and re-strategize the community experience, especially for API developers.
  • She’s a developer herself and knows her customer and the broader community — she knows that they trust “their own” and do not easily trust anything that smells inauthentic.

So, what is the 3 Step Process for Building Community Trust? Here it is:

  1. Do Your Homework — Make sure you know your customer and make it clear and obvious that you’ve taken the time to research them and get to know them from a distance. Addressing them directly (and by name) as well as saying something positive or compelling about their work shows that you care about what they’ve done and accomplished.
  2. Provide Value First — Find a way to create value for them, especially something that is visible, tangible, or real. For instance, a network introduction, a thought leadership opportunity, or anything that you think they would really appreciate from your intel via #1 can create an avenue of value for them and their career, something tangible that they can show off and tell others.
  3. Make the Ask — Eventually, you have to ask them for something in return but hold off on this for as long as you can and not until you’ve developed an authentic and genuine relationship. These folks are smart and they’ll see what you’re doing, but, they’ll appreciate the effort.

Solid stuff and easily doable and replicable for others. Gracias!

There is, of course, more to the episode, but, these are the nuggets. You can also get her notes as well here via The Developer Mindset!

📻 — Let’s Meet: Cole Zerr

Good morning yenizens!

Can I get some help really quick? If you’ve got a sec, I’ve “soft launched” our free and public “community building tools” resource and there are 4 areas that are a little bit sparse and need some love — looking for more of the following to update in our directory:

  1. Podcasts focused on community building…
  2. Newsletters specifically focused on… you guessed it...
  3. Best-in-class social media tools… that you actually us!
  4. Creator communities that specifically help people build communities!

Know of any? Feel free to make a submission here!

To infinity & community,

— john

I’ve gotten to know Cole via Community Club and although I knew one thing about him (his obsession with community!) I didn’t know that he was also (still) a student and an audio enthusiast!

Without further ado… let’s meet Cole Zerr!

Give us an overview of your career thus far — is this what you imagined it would be like?

When it comes to community, I started in the gaming space, specifically Minecraft in 2016. I had the privilege of moderating and managing a handful of networks, ranging from a few hundred players to thousands of players.

This experience showed me the joy of being around new people and chatting with folks across the globe. To build out a timeline, my Minecraft community work began when I was 13 years old and ended when I was ~15 years old.

After I left the Minecraft scene and took a break from the online world, I came back to community in February 2019 with the launch of a game called Apex Legends.

A friend had just created an Apex Legends community, alongside Respawn Entertainment’s surprise launch of the game. I hopped on board and built out that community over the next several months to ~70,000 members/players, achieving steady activity from our strongest community members.

This community presented several unique challenges that I had not experienced before, but it provided a great opportunity for me to learn and scale my knowledge as we grew!

For reference, we would be looking at anywhere from 300,000 to 1,300,000 minutes/day of voice activity within our first month of launch.

The sheer number of members participating in our community made moderation a key facet of my daily life, ensuring that our community was a safe place for people to play and have fun!

All things considered, the fast growth of the community is what enabled me to scale my ability to lead, develop a brand and communication strategy, oversee public/partner relations, and learn more about the idea of community.

It was through this community that I met someone working at Commsor who then introduced me to Mac in October 2019… and the rest is history!

I am extremely honored to have been one of the first team members at Commsor, and it has been so exciting to see our team build out tools that I wish I had when I was running my own communities.

The highlight of my career in community has been working with the team at the Community Club, especially when it comes to networking, sharing resources, and learning alongside my fellow community managers.

Did I imagine my community career would be like this? Well… no!

Community was always just a fun passion of mine, but to have the opportunity to live and breathe community with Commsor ( 😲 ) now that is something I never thought I would see.

What was it specifically about Commsor that attracted you to the opportunity? What are some of the biggest lesson-learned so far?

Let’s be real, what isn’t attractive about Commsor?

Jokes aside, what initially had me interested was the team and their excitement and passion for what they were building. This coincided with my own passion for community, so it was a no-brainer to join a team of like-minded individuals who shared in my love for community.

Like I said before, it’s been thrilling to watch the tools I desired to use come to fruition!

As a senior in high school, transitioning to a remote workplace proved to be an interesting endeavor, especially as I had been working in retail for over two years prior to Commsor. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to work at an office or any sort of in-person building for two reasons:

  1. Telecommuting has saved me invaluable time and money that I can now reinvest elsewhere, such as my family and friends, among other interests.
  2. Being on a global team of talented individuals has expanded my horizons far beyond that of my previous job in retail.

It’s also safe to attribute my love for the remote life to Commsor’s emphasis on building out such a fantastic remote culture.

What advice would you have for younger folks who may have given the thought of working while in college? What would you recommend they try first? What would you tell them to avoid?

My peers would tell you that I’ve always been a strong advocate for starting work early in high school. In fact, I started my first part-time job during my sophomore year of high school, shortly after my 15th birthday.

I found that having a part-time job allowed me to begin developing soft skills, such as work ethic, communication (between peers and strangers), teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, dependability… you get the point!

Starting early gave me a big advantage over my classmates who hadn’t even considered building out their résumé. You start to see this pay off when recruiters start a conversation with you, rather than the other way around!

I’ve heard it time and time again from HR professionals: “We would look to hire someone with a 3.5 GPA that had solid communication skills, rather than hire an individual with a 4.0 GPA and poor communication skills.

Don’t get me wrong, school is extremely important to long term success but do not neglect the soft skills that go hand-in-hand with your education to carry you to success.

Here are my recommendations for high school / college students who are looking for work while attending school:

  1. Find work that you enjoy. This just makes life so much easier for everyone involved!
  2. Ask about expectations and flexibility. Let the interviewer know that you’re also a student and inform them of your schedule and other pre-existing commitments.
  3. Be proactive. You’ll have less time on your hands! Time management skills improve over time, and you start to learn the negative impacts of procrastination to a more serious degree.
  4. Internships! Whether it’s during the summer or throughout the school year, these provide an excellent opportunity to dive into a specific career focus of yours. You learn to network and communicate with professionals, all the while learning hard skills that you can carry with you. If you’re outstanding, you might even see a job offered to you before graduation!
  5. Take care of yourself. This may be last, but it is certainly not least. Get to know your limits and self-care tactics. Stress is no joke, so discover what may be a stressor and do your best to solve or manage what might be causing it. For example, one thing that helped me out in high school was building out a calendar to help me visualize how I was spending my time.

I hope these help my fellow students and peers! Here are some tips for making sure you’re not getting into the wrong situation:

  1. Don’t be a workaholic. High school is a period of transition and growth. Focus on your education first and foremost and enjoy the social aspect. In other words, don’t let work overpower the other aspects of your life. As for college students, there’s a reason why you’re in college, so don’t forget about the degree that awaits you.
  2. Avoid being dissuaded. You may find the work tedious or pointless, but I promise there’s a soft skill to be learned somewhere. Focus on your growth and making the most out of things. Trust me, I wasn’t very convinced that there was a lesson to learn in cleaning out moldy drains at first…
  3. Don’t do it for the money. Money is a great motivator, but I believe that the soft skills you learn in your early jobs will yield a far greater return in the long run.

Take the long road as this is just the start to your career!

Gaming is a big part of your history and it’s where you got a taste of the power of community — what game-centric mechanics, strategies, and/or tactics can you share that community builders can use today?

I see game developers often toying around with different ideas to captivate their community, in order to bring members back for more every day. Here are a few areas in which gamification comes into play (pun intended)…

For starters, in my experience, gamification plays a huge role in nearly every community. Typically, gamification includes cosmetic perks or “bragging rights”. Off the top of my head, I can think of things like community levels, badges, name colors, special roles, VIP permissions, swag, etc.

For example, with our recent launch of the Community Club platform, we’re giving an exclusive “Founding Member Badge” to each individual who signs up during our 24 Days of Community event.

Who doesn’t love a cool badge on their profile to show off their early and active participation in a community?

We could go super deep into ideas behind gamification, but I’d like to just link you back to an episode of In Before The Lock with Erica Kuhl & Brian Oblinger — they’re amazing community leaders who discussed a ton of awesome ideas related to gamification.

Not to mention the number of great resources on their site that community builders can use for free!

Do you think you will ever venture out on your own and build your own startup and community? What would it focus on if you were to do it today? How would you start the process?


That’s a hard one! While I find the future to be very exciting, I’ve been trying my best to be present and focus on my present goals now.

If I was ever to build out my own community today, I would definitely be asking a TON of questions to my fellow community members at the Community Club. There’s always great discussions there that I love reading through to learn more about the community world from others’ perspectives.

As for the topic of the community, I think I’d move away from the gaming world and focus more on connecting people that share my passion for medicine and healthcare!

Perhaps… a global community for college folks studying in the medical field?

Peter Thiel Question: What important (community) truth do you believe that most folks disagree with you on?

I don’t believe that social media tools (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat for example) are helping society to build better and more connected communities. Audiences are not communities.

The social interaction was left behind at the registration button.

Any digital eProps you want to dish out?

Yes! I’d like to thank the entire team @ Commsor for being amazing mentors, leaders, and teammates! Mac, Jacob, Alex and, of course, all of our amazing @CommunityClubHQ members who are just as passionate about community as we are!

It’s been such an exciting time to see the community space grow and obtain the recognition it deserves.

Thanks for having me John!