From the summers in India to experiencing the Gulf War in the Middle East, Lloyed's childhood experiences taught him the importance of community:
"I experienced the Gulf War as a young refugee, and I saw how people can come together to create a big impact.
There was largely no internet and cell phones at the time. Security was lapsed in the country and the community came together. Word of mouth spread, people communicated with governments, and people were evacuated to safety."
A few years later, Lloyed's family moved to Canada, where he finished a degree in engineering. His first job was doing cold calls for a startup and his parents were not thrilled:
"Immigrant parents typically want their kids to do engineering and get a job at big companies like Microsoft or Google. But when I took this route working for a startup, getting paid $25k to $30k to do cold calls, the first thing they said was, 'It's an embarrassment. All our friends' kids are at Microsoft or some big company. What are you doing?'"
But taking this route gave Lloyed two beautiful things. One was developing his entrepreneurial spirit:
"A lot of people associate entrepreneurship with making money. But for me, the entrepreneurial spirit is about taking an obscure idea to execution and impact while dealing with extreme risk and uncertainty.
And there was no bigger risk or uncertainty than going through the Gulf War. I was a little kid and I felt like I was an 8-year-old Rambo. I was contributing and doing something. I felt so connected to the vision and the power of community."
The second one was the development of his communication skills:
"When I was graduating, I asked somebody how I could go into business because I didn't want a nine-o-five job coding. They told me that the only way I could do it was go work for a small company and actually learn to sell.
'Because everything you do in your life as an entrepreneur is going to be communication. Your communication sucks and to be able to be a good communicator, you've got to put yourself in a situation that forces you to do that over and over again. Otherwise, you're never going to find the motivation to communicate.'"
Going into community building
Lloyed then took a sales job at a startup and moved to the US. Despite realizing that there was no scalable process or product in that job, he made the most out of it by trying to learn about sales and marketing on the side at HubSpot's inbound marketing community.
A few years later, he started Boast.ai with his university friend, Alex Popa. Their product gives entrepreneurs non-dilutive funding. In the early days, they cold-called different companies in the oil, gas, construction, and manufacturing industries:
"Two guys saying, 'Hey, give me your data and we'll give you government funding for your product development,' sounds scammy. But even if it doesn't, big accounting firms already offer the service. Then we started going to the events of these industries and we couldn't resonate."
Feeling dejected, Lloyed and Alex then started going to all the startup events and that's when they felt they'd found their tribe:
"We started having conversations, those people became our friends, and we built relationships. Over time, we started creating this community.
Despite being a sales person with a sales background, we actually ended up building this community that gave us social proof, visibility, and credibility. When we hired more salespeople, rather than being salespeople who said, 'Buy my stuff!' They became brokers of resources and glorified community managers."
Community as social proof drove them leads, product feedback, and brand recognition.
Turning audience to cult
For Lloyed, community means bringing people together around an idea or cause to eventually create an impact. When looking at global phenomena like Christianity or CrossFit, Lloyed says they all went through four stages.
Stage 1: Audience
"When people listen to you or buy your product or service, you have an audience."
Stage 2: Community
"When that audience comes together to interact with one another, it becomes a community because they're now connecting with one another."
But do content consumption and engagement on platforms count as community building? Lloyed says that while that's a community in many senses, it's not entirely a community:
"When people actually interact with one another deliberately, that is when it becomes a community."
Stage 3: Movement
"When that community comes together to create an impact that's beyond your product or service towards a greater purpose, it becomes a movement."
Stage 4: Cult/Religion
"When that movement has undying faith in its purpose through sustained rituals, over time, it becomes a cult or a religion."
Building the Traction Community
How exactly did Lloyed and Alex go from working in a spare bedroom to $10 million ARR? Lloyed says it was down to a framework of four steps:
Step 1. Ask yourself, "Do you have a passion for this audience?"
"Is it a small but growing audience or niche? Do they have a propensity to pay? Is there ease of access? You may love this audience, it may be large and growing, and they may pay you. But if you cannot access them, then you'll never build a business."
Lloyed emphasizes that building a community is a labor of love because you get a lot of people to volunteer:
"When we host multi-thousand person events, we get 60 to 100 volunteers. They're not going to volunteer if it's just lining up my pockets with profits. They're coming together to help towards a greater purpose, so that passion is very important."
Step 2. Understanding your audience
"Where do they eat, breathe, drink, and sleep? What are their problems and goals? But more importantly, what are their aspirations? We focus a lot on problems, but problems are a today thing. On the other hand, an aspiration is a long-term thing."
When you understand your customers' aspirations, you'll also know what problems they face, and what they need to do.
Step 3. Figuring out the ideal customer's circle of influence
Lloyed says it's down to three F's:
- Follow: "Who do they follow? Who are the other influencers they listen to? Because they can be speakers at your events or could be guests on your podcast."
- Fund: "What other tools or services do they pay for? You could get these companies to become partners to co-host or sponsor your events."
- Frequent: "What platforms do they hang out at? What blogs and magazines do they read?"
Step 4. Figure out the kind of community you want to build
There are three types of community you can build:
- Community of practice: "Jane, you've got two podcasts and you're building this audience around practice. You're not selling them a product and it's very educational. You're helping them become better salespeople, marketers, or UX professionals."
- Community of product: "This could be like a Microsoft, GitLab, Atlassian community where you're teaching people about the product, how to build on the product, and how to integrate with the product. Basically, you're turning customers into evangelists."
- Community of play: "This is where people come together to hang out and have fun like Harley Davidson, Nike, or Red Bull."
For B2B SaaS products, Lloyed says you shouldn't build a community of product if you have no customers:
"If you don't have product-market fit, if you're not a product that people use day in and day out like Notion or an Atlassian, don't build a community of product because people will feel like they're being sold to."
Because Boast.ai didn't have customers yet, they built Traction based on the two white spaces in the market. The first one was that startup events at the time were always inviting high-level speakers:
"The speakers that were talking like 50,000-foot high-level CEO platitudes, aspirations. If I decided to start a company as a zero-to-one founder, that talk is not going to help me because I wanted to know how do I get my first customers. How do I design the first UX? How do I launch my first product?"
The second white space was that nobody would support startup service providers or service them.
"In fact, our competitors would tell us we're going to go bankrupt because startups never pay. Fast forward 10 years later, all these service providers are creating startup programs because what we told them was, 'Your customers don't want to do business with us. You don't want to serve our kind, so only we're left to serve our kind. We can't play any other bet right now so this is the bet we need to play.'"
Because this was in 2012, Lloyed thinks events were structured in that way because they'd be run event organizers instead of founders:
"So they'd bring in people that would sell tickets like a CEO of a $500 million company. But for a startup CEO, listening to Steve Jobs is an aspirational thing. Steve Jobs won't help me figure out how to get my first customers."
From there, Lloyed and Alex started hosting their own meetups, which eventually grew into a bigger conference, and evolved into the Traction community today.
The aspiration behind Traction
When they thought about the aspiration for their community, Lloyed looked at why entrepreneurs wanted funding in general:
"Why does a founder want money to fund their business? To accelerate innovation. Why do they want to do this? To create impact. So our purpose became: enabling innovators to change the world."
Values needed in building a community-led business
Lloyed says you also have to think about values when building a community-led company:
"You've got to have the DNA of giving. Otherwise, you can't sustain it. You can't just take. You have to genuinely like helping others because for a long time, you don't see results. You need to have some other motion in parallel to the community."
Lloyed outlined these six values as CAMPER which stands for:
"If you don't like making connections, you can't build a community."
"You can't control a community so you have to give people autonomy. You need to give them that so they can make the right decisions and lead the community for you."
One great example of giving autonomy to community members is Atlassian:
"Last year, their community self-organized 5,000 events. How crazy is that? Without any input from Atlassian, they just enabled 5,000 super fans that would have taken Atlassian 20 years for them to do.
But through 5,000 people with no impact on Atlassian, other than giving them some budget, they were able to engage half a million people. That only happens with autonomy."
Lloyed says that if you try to control community members such as preventing people from using brand collaterals, this would definitely discourage your super fans:
"People are going to tell you to go screw yourself because they have better things to do than spread your word."
"This is helping people become better at what they do."
"As Simon Sinek says, great companies are built on a great purpose that's beyond your product/profits toward some greater impact."
"Without energy, you can't have a community that sustains because people are showing up and sometimes, they stay beyond the 8 hours and they're there for you."
"If you don't recognize people proactively, no matter how small it is, then they'll think, 'why should I show up?'"
Using both the evangelist-centric and community-led model
"Both models are one and the same in many ways in the sense that people buy from people. You can't have a community without having at least one person put their face out here."
From using one person's face in the early stages, you can attach more people over time. When you build a big enough community, it can follow the 1-9-90 framework where:
- 1% are your super fans
- 9% are casual contributors
- 90% are lurkers and don't contribute at all
"The 1% are super engaged and so involved. You'd want to elevate them to celebrity status where they get voices and they can also build their brand as a function of building this community for you."
Propelling your community members
If you're a community builder and leader, your job is to elevate your super fans to a status where they can become community leaders themselves. Lloyed gives his experience with LinkedIn as an example:
"A couple of months ago, LinkedIn reached out to me and said, 'We like the content you're creating and we have a mentorship program to help people like you create more valuable content.' So I went through this four-week program with LinkedIn's team.
This made me realize that LinkedIn watches the 1% super contributors on their platform."
Your goal for the 9% is to encourage them to create valuable content for the lurkers who keep coming back because without these 90%, your community won't grow.
"So your best interest is to help super fans elevate to leadership status and help those casual contributors become super fans."
But how exactly can you do this?
Lloyed says it's important to know what these community volunteers want to build for themselves:
"When people volunteer, they're giving their time. They're giving the time not for charity but to support your cause. And in return, it's your responsibility to help them build whatever they're looking to build for themselves such as career advancement, learning new skills, or building their profiles.
So with our conference last year, we reached out to all our super fans and asked them to volunteer to emcee on stage rather than me hogging the spotlight."
Don't think that you can monetize your community on day one.
"If you want to make money on day one, use direct response channels. Community is a labor of love and a marathon of the heart and mind — and it takes a long time."
Don't treat the platform as the primary problem in building your community.
"You can't look for a home if you don't know who your people are. So the first step is not building or finding the platform, it's understanding your audience."
Do things with consistency.
"All success in life is down to three things: communication, creation, and consistency. Even if you can communicate and create really well, if you're not consistent, you'll never get anywhere."
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