Community Led, Buzzword or a True Approach?

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May 19, 2022

The predecessors: sales-led and product-led

Over the last few years, the term “product-led” has become a common phrase in the startup and technology ecosystem, usually in juxtaposition to “sales-led.”

“Sales-led” organizations are led by the sales team selling a product and the entry point into the market is through sales, whereas “product-led” organizations allow the product to make the first impression and the entry point is through a great product.

The debate between these two makes sense, because ultimately a company needs to do two things: “Build a great product” and “Acquire customers” so that they can monetize their product.

Below is a pyramid which is a model for how most startups are built.

At the bottom of the pyramid is the foundation, solid pillars that everything else relies upon. These are talent, capital and founders.

No organization exists without talent, as ultimately talent drives all business actions. In order to develop talent, a business needs capital, either from investors or self-funding  through paying customers. And lastly, startups need founders themselves. These founders need to have domain knowledge and mentorship capabilities. A good founder is able to seek out advice from those that have done it before and at the same time stay true to their vision for the startup.

That foundation ultimately is in service of two main startup success drivers:

  1. Building a great product that solves a problem
  2. Acquiring customers

Most people call this product and distribution. Both are important pieces to finding product market fit.

Once product market fit is found, founders move into scaling mode which is creating functions, procedures, policies to build an organization that can scale efficiently and effectively.

Introducing Community Led

Focusing on community is not new. Many brand communities have existed  for years; think of Harley Davidson, Lululemon, and Peloton.

“Community-led” sounds great, but can be difficult to fathom as a founder. Many founders I talk to say, “we are not ready for community yet.”

Why? Founders are looking to build a product and sell that product. Putting resources into something that doesn’t have a direct impact on these two priorities can be a “waste” of resources.

But what do startups actually do? In simple terms, they provide a product or service in exchange for payment.

Yes, those two activities are core to creating a sustainable business, but people buy products and services to help them realize a goal, create a change or fulfill a need. The products or services allow the customer to get to that goal quicker, more efficiently, and or more creatively.  The true result of a product or service in exchange for payment is helping the customer realize a goal.

Fundamentally, your customers are trying to create change, make a difference, and drive impact. And your startup is helping the customers move towards self actualization.

So why community?

Community:  "a group of people who connect with one another around to grow together and make their difference in the world."

And what are your customers trying to do? Grow and make an impact.

Your product helps with just that, and a community is a natural way to amplify your ability to support your customers, create a moat around your business, and shift your company’s relationship with its customers from a transactional one to one that promotes a feeling of connection and self-actualization.

What does it mean to be community-led?

1. Starting with Mission

Your mission is what you  are trying to accomplish and that goes beyond building a business that sells a product.

For example, let’s look at HubSpot’s mission. Yes, they build marketing and sales software but it goes beyond that.

HubSpot’s Mission:
“There's this notion that to grow a business, you have to be ruthless. But we know there's a better way to grow. One where what's good for the bottom line is also good for customers. We believe businesses can grow with a conscience, and succeed with a soul — and that they can do it with inbound. That's why we've created an ecosystem uniting software, education, and community to help businesses grow better every day.”

HubsSpot is enabling its users to grow with a conscience, putting out their own missions and attracting new customers through inbound.

2. Finding those who believe in your mission

Your business ecosystem is composed of all stakeholders, be it your target customer, an industry partner, an educational institution. These individuals are more than just business participants, but believers in your mission.

Let’s look at Patagonia for example. Yes, they sell high end outdoor wear, but they are focused on building a more sustainable planet. They partner with other organizations that are also working on sustainability, as well as their customers, creating a true following of believers.

3. Values

What do they care about most? What is important to them? Where will they not compromise? Base your community's values on these answers and allow them to help you align your values to those of your customers.

Let’s look at Atlassian next. Their community is ”global network of people who are passionate about finding new ways of working and eager to share their knowledge and experiences with you.”

One of their core values as an organization is: “finding new ways of working.” The community exists to share their knowledge and experiences.

4. Bring Them Together

Bring them together around thought leadership and connection to learn from and connect with one another. Your organization brings unique insight to spark the conversation and your community brings the diversity of views to drive conversation.

At, they bring their community together yearly for a summit, quarterly around events, and monthly through workshops. After these events, their community is sharing their findings on socials, doing new business with new connections, and galvanizing greater belief in the company.

5. Empower Contribution

Allowing those in your community to meaningfully contribute and participate brings the community forward and creates a sense of belonging. Providing places for community members  to contribute, be it through formalized roles, active participation in events and workshops, or informal leadership positions, amplifies the community's impact.

Let’s look at Notion, for example. Notion has special roles as ambassadors and champions. They recognize these believers through exclusive access to new products and features and special community areas. These champions then continue to promote Notion and engage in the community.

6. Build with your community

You will be doing this all along. But as you build your company, build it with your community.

  1. Share your vision - Find what truly resonates.
  2. Iterate quickly - Run experiments, get quick feedback
  3. Attract believers - Be it team members, investors or customers
  4. Amplify your brand - Share your thought leadership with your community, and they share it with the world.

To sum it up, what does it mean to be community led? It is when business growth is derived from the community, be it a product insight, amplified brand or attracting believers, the community is the core generator to propel the business forward.

In our next article we will be sharing our community operating model, addressing communities impact on your business.

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Community plays a crucial role in creating difference and value for brands. No matter where you are in the process, FML studios will be there every step of the way.

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