Interview with Max‌ ‌Rothery

Expert interviews and curated tips on community building

This post-interview was published on the 11th of August 2021, during my collaboration with Uncommunity Club, the curated gateway for tools and resources to build internet communities + expert interviews on community building.

As community professionals, we always try to find a way that makes our lives easier. One of them is user-generated content. What’s the best way to get your members to produce content?

It all starts with aligning the incentives of your members with your business. At Finimize our members join to become smarter investors. The more we help them succeed on that journey the more they will continue to be premium subscribers. Once your incentives are aligned it's all about finding win-win opportunities.

Identify unique content that will add value to the creator, community members, and the business. For inspiration, you can look for gaps in your current content that your members are requesting but you aren’t able to create.

For example, at Finimize we created a series where members can pitch their favourite stocks and get feedback from other members. For the creator, there’s a lot of value in practicing writing out your ‘thesis’ for investment and receiving feedback. The members get inspiration from seeing other investors’ thought processes. For Finimize we’re able to publish investment pitches, which isn’t something our analysts write. It’s a win-win with everyone moving towards their goal.

The same was true for our events. Our members wanted more events across more time zones. As a small team, we couldn’t meet that demand. Now more than 60,000 will attend member-organized events this year, which is larger than the 5 biggest finance conferences combined.

As you scale your community from 1000 to 10000 members how do you make sure you don’t dilute the quality and experience of a community?

I always refer to the snowflake model, championed by Marshall Ganz in his paper “People, Power & Change”. The idea is to keep decentralizing your role and promote leaders to take on key responsibilities. As it scales you empower these leaders to do the same and train new leaders and so on… To get this right you need very strong intrinsic alignment with your members and continue to focus on incentivising leaders to take on more responsibility.

Having said that, you can go a long way by keeping things as simple and authentic as possible. Complexity never scales but authenticity does. Keeping your purpose, guidelines, and materials as simple as possible makes it easy for existing members to share this with new members.

Consistent feedback is also important. I’m often conflicted as you can kill a community with metrics in its early days, but without metrics, you have no compass to make decisions. I use NPS weekly for new members and monthly for existing ones, I also survey every member that leaves the community. Things can go wrong quite quickly when you stop listening to feedback and stop iterating. Continuing to do things because that’s the way it’s always been done is the beginning of the end.

What are the best ways for content and community teams to work together?

Just because the content is generated by your members doesn’t mean it should be of any lower quality. We hold our community content to the same standard as the content written by our analysts. To achieve this you need to set super-clear guidelines, templates, and examples. We go one step further and have one of our analysts curate and edit the best submissions.

There’s a secondary benefit that often goes unmissed. By bringing members together in a ‘challenge’, with a deadline to create content, they build strong relationships with each other. Members that participate become more engaged in the group chats, at events, and in advocating for our brand. Anthony Castrio does this really well with his community of indie hackers.

Community-led is the future. How can a startup be community-led or community-driven while building a business? Do any examples come to your mind of who is doing this well today?

Start by being ‘community-informed’. As a community manager, make it your mission to know your members better than anyone else in the world and then use these insights to help the rest of your team make decisions. The profiles of your members can inform marketing, the products they use can inform sales, the challenges they have can inform products, their interests can inform content, and so on… In a short time, these insights can become your moat.

The shift to community-led is when your members start creating value for the community. This can come in content creation, event organizing, group discussions, collaborative research, and brand advocacy. Again this becomes a lot easier when your business and member incentives are aligned.

It feels like there’s been more innovation in the community in the last 12 months than in the last 12 years. So many brands are applying community in interesting ways. The work by Laura Nestler to scale events at Duolingo (now at Reddit) still blows my mind, as well as the courses their members collaborated to build together. I think the intelligent and practical content that Orbit (Rosie Sherry, Patrick Woods) and Commsor (Mac Reddin, Noele Flowers) are creating to empower community managers will prove to be game-changing. I’m also fascinated by businesses bold enough to become ‘community owned’. Whether that’s via empowering their members to become shareholders in the company or developing web 3.0 projects where ownership is built into the product.

For the team at Finimize, we are always pushing to build a Community 2.0 business, where the community is part of every element of the business and creates unique value for our members.

What are the most important things to keep in mind before launching a paid community? How do we make sure we add value for people who are paying to join a community?

A lesson I recently took from a chat with Charlie Ward is to think of your community like a product, work through the ‘jobs-to-be-done’ for your members and use this for your initial community design.

Getting the culture right from the start is so important and even more difficult with paid communities. So when launching, introduce friction to the process so you can vet your perfect first members. By adding a hurdle, like an application process, you’ll spot those members willing to go the extra mile for you.

Advice to someone getting started in community building.

Start building a community today.

The best community managers I meet are always ‘playing’. They might have a small community where they test new onboarding flows, try new platforms, experiment with member challenges, or try re-writing their rules and guidelines, etc…Remember you can create a community for anything. Community is at its best when you organize around a passion, find something you’re passionate about, and find some other people that are too.

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