Community First, Everything Else Second

When people ask me what I’m building the answer comes to me as easy as it is swift: I’m building a community, full-stop.

Now, I know that that’s not what they were thinking when they asked me that question—they were thinking more “concretely”—a discrete technology or software platform.

But, I press the point and I have typically added this to the mix:

I believe that every project (and every founder/creator) should build their community first, product second.

Hell, I have it squarely in our Twitter bio:

I simply can’t help myself!

But it’s a bit disingenuous because what I really want to say is this:

Build community before everything else.

I believed it when I first started building software more than 20 years ago and I believe it even stronger now, especially as a serial creator and builder of stuff.

Someone asked me the other day why I’m so committed to this problem space and why I’m obsessed with solving the problem of early-stage community building.

Again, another easy answer:

Every single time I launch a new project or start a new company I have to also build a new community to support it!

You see, building technology platforms and performant software isn’t something that I typically struggle with—building a community from scratch is a much more complex thing and multivariate challenge!

In other words, when you first start out, you’re not only pre-product and pre-revenue, you’re also pre-community!

And if you follow the “golden rule” of listening to the customer (i.e. solving their problems explicitly) to drive product development, you already know that if you don’t have a vibrant and active community (early-users, early-customers, passionate fans and/or followers), you won’t have the data you need to build a product that people really want!

Go figure, right?

Zero community means zero sales which means zero revenue which means zero business which equals one very dead startup.

As I’ve written in a previous post:

In other words, I’ve learned that community development (also known in most circles as “customer development” but it’s much bigger than that exclusively) is something the business should invest just as much as software development.

In fact, I’d argue strongly that the activities of building a community should start way before any software is written (and those activities should never stop). Although this may make the most sense for early-stage startups or entirely new product lines, it’s really a universal business truth because any company’s (future) customers originally begin as just community members who haven’t purchased a product or service yet.

via Important Community Questions

Consequently, I need to solve this problem. I want to be able to build community, quickly, but not too quickly to mess up the natural flow of real, authentic relationship-building.

There’s no question that this is a very delicate dance, to say the least! Gratefully, after messing this up more than I’d like to admit, I’ve successfully put together a handful of communities in the past and have codified and refined my workflows to a very fine point.

So much so that I’ve been able to programmatically apply these skills, behaviors, and habits with repeatable results (and I’m teaching these skills, habits, and behaviors in YEN.CAMP).

I want to give those workflows to the world, in an automated way, so that any creator who knows how to build a great product or service can also build an amazing community that’ll support them for the rest of their lives (or the project’s life).

And that’s our mission. That’s my personal mission. That’s why we do what we do: YEN exists to help businesses engage and grow their community.

We’re doing this by first training up passionate and committed community builders using proven tactics, workflows, and strategies. Secondly, we’re building a software platform that automates some of this for them.

It may not sound extremely sexy at first glance but, to be honest, community is everything to me. Without community I literally wouldn’t be able to do what I get to do!

And I fucking love what I get to do, even if it does breaks me from time to time.

My friends, my relationships, my community sustains me, drives me, gives me strength when I don’t think I can make it. It gives me safety when I need it most and comforts me when I think I’m going to quit. My community also challenges me to be the very best version of myself.

You see, for us in the #yeniverse, we believe in community more than anything else. It’s just what we do. It’s who we are.