Last week someone asked me:
How do you build a community?
I paused. I hadn’t thought about it before. For the past three months, much of my time and focus has been on growing the Product Hunt community. I never considered myself a “community builder” but in retrospect, perhaps I am. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I answered:
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly calculated when building community. I simply treated others the way I would want to be treated.
Before Product Hunt, I’ve been fortunate to form relationships with several people in the startup community by actively blogging, engaging on Twitter, offering my help, participating in communities like Quibb, organizing Startup Edition, and hosting brunches and happy hours with entrepreneurs. I do so for fun and with a desire to learn from others.
Along with Nathan Bashaw’s help, this experience and network helped get Product Hunt off the ground, now reaching thousands of product-loving folks. It would have been far more difficult to attract a large and connected community nine months ago and frankly, I’m not sure it would still be around if attempted before building prior relationships because ultimately, the community IS Product Hunt.
This is where I get sappy…
I’m proud of the Product Hunt community and its positive, constructive dialog. We’re all product enthusiasts, empathetic of the challenges in building and growing a company. This shared understanding is evident in the discussion as contributors provide thoughtful feedback, critique, and compliments to product builders.
But it’s more than that.
Several designers, coders, and marketers have reached out to offer help:
…and many others extended their hand to support (sorry, too many to name but you know who you are!).
What I learned: When you build something people love, they want to be a part of it.
Ultimately, you can’t build community without authenticity. The best community builders exemplify a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy. While I don’t claim to be the most emotionally intelligent or empathetic person, I consider myself higher than average and recognize this as paramount to Product Hunt’s success so far.
Here are some of the things I’ve done to cultivate a strong community:
People want to be heard. I try to reply to every email and tweet, helping where I can, although more recently I’ve been overwhelmed (sorry!). Buffer does an amazing job of this – just look at their Twitter account and the support team’s absurdly fast response time.
Product Hunt is primarily made of entrepreneurs. The great thing about this is that we all have different talents and complimentary skills. When possible, I make light introductions to people that may be able to help one another. For example, Jonathan Howard, CEO of Emissary, came to mind in the discussion thread with Tyler Hayes, CEO of Prime. They are both awesome guys, in the early stages of their healthcare-related startups.
I also pull people with expertise on a particular topic, into the comments or highlight products relevant to others in the community.
Many of the people on Product Hunt are doing awesome things. Occasionally I call out these contributions and achievements, whether it’s an insightful blog post on a relevant topic:
…or a new product launch:
They deserve the attention and doing so helps create a culture of reciprocation.
I also extend opportunities for the community to become a part of the story through a series of blog posts called “Product Hunt Favorite Finds,” highlighting their top product discoveries. Those featured appreciate the attention and the creators of products mentioned – many of whom are also product hunters – love the support.
Although we’re more connected and communicate more personally online than ever before, it’s not a replacement for face-to-face interaction. We’ve hosted two Product Hunt happy hours in San Francisco, attracting over 60 attendees each time. It’s a great way to get to know people behind the screen and help others form real relationships with one another.
I’m proud of the product we’ve built with the help of the community. It’s come a long way since it began as a simple email list. I want to sincerely thank everyone for the support and if you have suggestions of how we can improve Product Hunt, don’t hesitate to reach out via email (ryan[at]ryanhoover.me) or on Twitter (@rrhoover).
P.S. Speaking of props, I have to give credit to Quibb’s Sandi MacPherson for some of the inspiration and indirect guidance she’s provided in community building. Thanks, Sandi!
P.P.S. I’m cognizant that some people may be frustrated that they do not yet have the ability to post and comment on Product Hunt. We will open it to a broader audience but not until the product is ready to scale. If you’re interested, add your name here and I will keep you in the loop.