Martin Gontovnikas (HyperGrowth): Why You Should Embrace a Community Strategy (and How to Do It)

Media Thumbnail
  • 0.5
  • 1
  • 1.25
  • 1.5
  • 1.75
  • 2
This is a podcast episode titled, Martin Gontovnikas (HyperGrowth): Why You Should Embrace a Community Strategy (and How to Do It). The summary for this episode is: <p>“Community” is a major buzzword today, and for good reason. Community creates leverage, and lots of it. Gonto ran marketing and growth at Auth0 for 7 years before the $6.5 billion acquisition by Okta. He cuts through the buzzword noise to give us his perspective and playbook on why (and how) to win with a community strategy.</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Key Takeaways:</strong></p><ul><li>[00:27] Overview —&nbsp;Building a community</li><li>[02:24] Defining community, and why is it trending</li><li>[04:56] Creating communities through open source products, enterprise solutions, and other methods</li><li>[08:55] How to identify members to target if you're building from scratch</li><li>[13:31] Tapping into existing communities and identifying communities to target</li><li>[21:17] Doing research with a user, interviewing developers, and engaging on Twitter</li><li>[26:30] What does a community team look like, and who owns the effort in a PLG company?</li><li>[30:02] KPIs and measuring the business value of building community</li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Mentioned in this episode:</strong></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Sign up for OpenView's weekly newsletter</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Martin Gontovnika</a>, Co-Founder and General Partner at HyperGrowth Partners</p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">HyperGrowth Partners</a></p><p>Subscribe to&nbsp;<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Blake Bartlett on YouTube</a>.</p><p>Podcast produced by&nbsp;<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView</a>.</p><p>View our&nbsp;<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">blog&nbsp;</a>for more context/inspiration.</p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView on Linkedin</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView on Twitter</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView on Instagram</a></p><p><a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">OpenView on Facebook</a></p>
Overview — Building a community
01:51 MIN
Defining community, and why is it trending
02:00 MIN
Creating communities through open source products, enterprise solutions, and other methods
03:54 MIN
How to identify members to target if you're building from scratch
04:34 MIN
Tapping into existing communities and identifying communities to target
07:44 MIN
Doing research with a user, interviewing developers, and engaging on Twitter
05:08 MIN
What does a community team look like, and who owns the effort in a PLG company?
03:30 MIN
KPIs and measuring the business value of building community
03:36 MIN

Martin Gontovnikas: I think creating your own community is so hard that I would say most companies should not do it. When you think about creating a community, it's looking to have a lot of people who want to engage with your product. And of course, they need to get something out of it. That something can be they increase their brand, they become more known, or they have a new space as a thought leader in a community or in a platform that you're helping.

Blake Bartlett: Welcome to Build, the podcast from OpenView. I'm your host Blake Bartlett, and the show features conversations with software founders, leaders, and investors. Each episode unpacks a new key insight on how to build your company and navigate the fast changing world of software startups. It seems these days, everyone is talking about community. It's definitely a buzzword, but for good reason. There's tremendous power in building a community of people who are passionate about your product and are more than willing to turn that passion into action that helps your business. Community members can become advocates who promote your product and recruit new users. Community members will also do support for you by answering questions online as the resident power user who's lending a hand to the nubes that are just getting started with your product. And some of the most powerful community members are developers who, if you get them on your side, will go to work building apps, integrations, plugins, and extensions that will make your product way better. So in essence, community creates leverage and lots of it. But the problem with buzzwords like community is that everyone throws them around, but very few people cut through the fluff to tell you actually how to do it, until now. Today's guest on the Build podcast is Martin Gontovnikas, AKA Gonto, who's an absolute PLG and community wizard. He ran marketing and growth at Auth0 for seven years, and then Auth0 was acquired by Okta for$ 6. 5 billion. Gonto gives us his perspective and playbook for all things community, including a good deal of myth busting on much of the popular community talk you see on social media. So, if you've been wondering what all the community fuss is about, or if you're already doing it and looking for pro tips to improve, this is the episode for you. So, let's dive right in with Gonto. So, we're going to be talking about a term or a concept that relates to product led growth, and a lot of PLG people are talking about it, and that is community. Now, I think, before we get into the weeds of community, and how to do it, and how to get results from it, I think we need to start at the highest level, which is recognizing that community is definitely a major buzzword right now. And I think anytime there's a new buzzword that starts to trend, people tend to have two questions. What exactly does this mean? And why is everybody talking about it? So, let's start there, in terms of setting the stage on community. What do you think? How do you define it? Why do you think this is trending right now?

Martin Gontovnikas: First of all, something that to me is important is I've been reading a lot about community led growth as a new term and a new way to think about growth for bottoms up startups. And that, I think, is wrong. It's just a buzzword. I'm a big believer in product- led growth. And when you ask me about community, to me, it's a key component that should exist from a marketing perspective. What is community? It's basically about creating or engaging with a set of folks that really love your product, or that need help and are looking to help others. There's multiple ways, and we'll talk about the multiple ways where you can engage, but the idea is to get a lot of people that are engaged with you, that are using the platform, that are helping others, and are looking to connect with others that are similar to them. Why I think it's important right now is, in these times of bear markets that exist right now, everybody's looking for efforts that bring revenue or leads with a low customer acquisition cost. Community, if you think about it, is a very low cut effort, because the idea is you start building the community, you invest some money to build it, but then the people who are there in the community will start inviting others and bringing others in the community, so it's a key inaudible that will actually be pretty cheap, on that sense. It's hard to make it work well, but it's only resources mostly that you'll invest. And I think it's a good marketing tactic and technique, as well as a product tactic that we can do in these times.

Blake Bartlett: So, I'm hearing from that, that it's, first and foremost, recognizing that there's all these people out there that have the problem that you solve. They might already be connecting with one another and talking about that problem, or they might have already found your product and be passionate about it, and there's doing things with it, and they're starting to maybe add to the platform. So, how do we find those people and support them and also further feed them. So, with that stage set, I think the next question that occurs to me, and I certainly hear from other folks, is that if I want to prioritize a community strategy, should I go and create my own community from scratch or should I tap into an existing community? So, what are your thoughts on that?

Martin Gontovnikas: This is something that, to me, is interesting because everybody's talking about communities and everybody's talking about now," We need to always create our own community." And I think creating your own community is so hard that I would say most companies should not do it. When you think about creating a community, it's looking to have a lot of people who want to engage with your product. And of course, they need to get something out of it. That something can be, they increase their brand, they become more known, or they have a new space as a thought leader in a community or in a platform that you're helping. So, if you think about it that way, what that means is that typically it makes sense to create a community if your product is open source, if you're like a developer tool, or if you have a very big free offering. Why? Because if your product is open source, a lot of people want to be known for that product, or if it has a very big free offering, it's really good to create your own brand about," Yeah, I'm one of the most recognized people in this community. I'm very good at this." And creating that community will then be easier because a lot of folks will try to be part and be leaders in that community. If your product is mostly closed source, and you have like a small free plan or a free trial, and then you have other users who can use the platform through self- service or through enterprise sales, in those cases, the product itself might not be as known to the sense that people want to create a community out of that, or they can create a big brand where anybody will be able to use it. Maybe a company like Stripe can do it, because they're already huge. They're so well known. And it looks well on somebody like," No, I'm an expert on Stripe." But for most other startups that are starting, they are smaller. It's going to be very hard to get a lot of olives, to get a lot of people who want to be leaders in that community, because they won't be able to get a lot out of it.

Blake Bartlett: Yeah. To me... The parallel that's occurring to me is actually kind of around category creation, because everybody wants to create their own category and define the category. But a lot of times, you should just look at the market and say," All right, is there already a category here? And can we just latch onto that and be the new improved version of it?" Because if you're trying to create a category out of every product, it's just... There's not that many categories in the world. There's a handful, right? And then, there's a bunch of sub things underneath that. And so, I'm kind of hearing something similar here, is that you could have a default going, an assumption of like," Of course. We should create our own community. We're so special. And we have such a cool product that... and we're so innovative that we got to define this thing from scratch." But you're saying that there's only really a select number of situations in which that makes sense. And more often, it'll make sense to identify the existing community, and tap into that, and figure out how to differentiate within that, versus starting from scratch and kind of reinventing the wheel.

Martin Gontovnikas: Exactly. And I think it's very similar to... as you were saying, to category creation. Most startups shouldn't create a category. And when they think about it... For a product to be real and inaudible market fit, there has to be some competition, because if there's no competition, there's probably no market for it. So, 100% agree. And I think that, for those startups, it's definitely easier to tap into an existing community. Creating a community is also very hard, takes a lot of time to start growing a mass of thousands of users who care about their product, so that then you can distribute content or distribute things with them and they will share it with friends. However, when you share an existing community, maybe it's a community that already has hundreds of people or thousands of people. And we talk about some of the difference on that. But if you look at those, that means that you already have a big market that you can distribute some content in. So, it's also lower effort, in the beginning, to get a lot more upside on the eyeballs that are going to be seeing whatever you talk about or whatever you shared.

Blake Bartlett: Okay. So, let's unpack both of these scenarios a little bit further. So, even though it's, again, kind of more of the rarer example of when you should create your own community, but if you are an open source company or maybe you're a massive mass market free plan offering type of thing, and it does make sense for you, how do you identify the potential members to target if you're building from scratch?

Martin Gontovnikas: I think, if you have an open source product or something that is very free, the focus will be something around that product, of course. And then, about finding the people, there's two ways of how I would think about creating a community. You either create a community that is mostly physical, in person, or you create a community that is mostly online. So, that is number one decision that you have to make. Once you make the decision, and of course you can eventually have both, then you'll go different routes. If you go the physical route, what I would think about are, okay, what are the... I want to create a global community, but for that, I start one region or one local place at a time, because it's very hard to start from a global one. So, what I would do is... Let's say, for example... This is a great example, something that Docker has done. What Docker did was they looked into the US and Europe. And they started looking into small regions where the Slack communities or somewhere. And they looked for the people that were the most vocal, that talked about it the most, and they reached out and they offered them to create a local community for them, in that region, for Docker. What they would get is they would basically be promoted as one of the local regions... the local experts of Docker. They will get free food and free alcohol, basically, for the event. They will get free swag. And they will send speakers that are from Docker so that they have really good content. And the only thing that they ask is that this person, who is already sort of known somehow in that local community, that they bring people to the event and start bringing others. And then, eventually, you offer them to start connecting with other local region leaders. So, they all meet together and you get to learn from other ones as well. And you start going that once by once by once. So, the crazy part is that you create this global community. Maybe you started with these local ones that are doing small meetups of 50, 100 people that keep on changing. And as you start growing some of them, then it also becomes easier to now create an online community, because now you have a lot of folks who are already interested about Docker. You can promote it, in this example, in some of the local groups, and you start getting some of them. On the online route, I think it is a bit harder, but what I will do in the beginning is, if I'm working on an open source product, I will look for people ideally that are already well known in that community and offer them something in exchange of being part of your community in the beginning. And maybe you'll start with a Discord online or a Slack. And if you can find two, three, or four of these experts that know a lot about this technology, and you ask them like, look... Maybe you pay them money to stay there for a month and answer questions to people that come or something like that. That's a great part to start getting people to come and learn from the biggest experts on these area. And then, eventually, you'll start gathering others by kick starting it with something like that. But I do think that, in the beginning, when you're starting a community online, you have to have some experts or some people that have already talked to others in that community.

Blake Bartlett: Okay. So, if you're going to be building your own community from scratch, in both of those scenarios, it sounds like you're looking for signal. You're looking for signal. If it's the in person physical version of it, you're looking for signal from a region. Think globally, act locally, right? The famous old saying. And you kind of go region by region. But again, you're looking for signal like," Where is there already organic folks getting together that are passionate about this thing?" On the online side of things, you're still looking for signal, but instead of it being more localized to a particular geography, it's more about who is the expert who is spiking above, and who already has a following here. Who are people already listening to? And how do we sort of get them to be the initial champions of our community. But in both cases, you're looking for not a mass of thousands of people out of the gates, you're looking for signal of, where do you start and how do you get the ball rolling?

Martin Gontovnikas: Exactly correct. You won't be able to start with a big, big ball, let's say, of people in the beginning. I think it is always important to think global and act local, as you said.

Blake Bartlett: So, other scenario, which is, again, as you said, going to be the more common scenario for most companies, which is to tap into an existing community. So, if you are going down that path, and you're tapping into to something that's already out there, how do you identify which communities to target? And then, once you've identified that potential super set of communities, how do you prioritize that list? And then, do you ultimately go after one, the best one? Do you go after multiple? How do you figure out this kind of existing community thing?

Martin Gontovnikas: I talk about this existing... tapping into an existing community with two examples; one of Auth0, where I used to work, and one from Purcell, a company that I currently advise. But the idea here is, okay, if you're going to tap into an existing community, you should think about which community you're going to pick as bets. So, the idea is some of them will work, some of them will not work, if I try to tap into an existing community. So, how I try to think about this bets is I always try to go after two communities, ideally. One of the two has to be something that is already established. So, it's an established community that is big, that maybe it's hard for you, in the beginning, to get in, but once you're in, it's going to be very useful because it's like the most known community, one of the most known communities of this point. The other community that I would pick is what I would call an up and comer. So, it's a community that is maybe just starting, but you vet because it's based on a technology, on a framework, on a specific problem that is going to grow. And on that one, it's much easier to actually become part and a thought leader of that community in the beginning. And then, once you become one in the beginning, when there's very few people, once they grow, it's a good bet. So, I always try to think about, when I pick the niche of, one that is up and coming, that is small and I'm betting on, one that is established, it's going to be harder, but I go into that community. Now, once you... And I'll give you an example of Auth0. For Auth0... Remember, this was eight years ago. But the community that, in our case, we picked as established was Jquery, because everybody was writing Jquery at that point. And the up and coming community was Angular JS. Angular JS was like a front end framework. It was useful for authentication. It was on version 0. 4. So, we thought that it was going to be huge because it was from Google. So, we started to be part of that community in the beginning. Once you have these two ideas, then what you need is somebody to go, and be part, and tap into these communities. For that, what you typically need is an X relations role, as I would call it. What is that? If you're a developer tool, it will be developer relations, developer evangelist, or developer applicator. It's these people who are of the same user type that the user... So, if you're focusing on developers, they're a developer. And their job is to work with the community, give talks, create content, and just have impact empathy and engage. It started with developers, but I've seen this now in other companies as well, like Amplitude, a very known PLG product. They have John Cutler as their product evangelist, very similar, but focus another persona on products. And I'm starting to see this in HR and others. inaudible of this role. And this role will basically now tap into this existing communities. What do they need to do? They need to become a thought leader. And to become a thought leader, they need to build influence with others. So, for example, in the Auth0 case, when we decided that we were going to go after Angular JS, what we decided was that we were going to go to every Angular JS conference in the world. There were 10 conferences in the world. We decided to go to all of them with our developer evangelism team. Why did we decide to go to all of the conferences in the world? Not for the attendees, not because of the people who are going to listen as there, but because of the speakers. Because when you go to the conferences, and you go to 10 around the world, it's the same speakers. It's the creators of the frameworks. It's the creators of our libraries. And you go to a speaker dinner, you go drinking with them, you go eating with them. You build relationships. And then, when you build content on your blog, for example, you build relationship with these influencers. And then, these influencers start sharing your content. For example, in our case, in Angular JS, we have the creator of Angular JS, the manager of the project, the manager of Angular router, which was another known project, start sharing some of our content for the Auth0 blog. That was generic about authentication, not specific about Auth0, but it was in our page. And because all of the influencers in Angular JS community started to talk about us, then we became a thought leader. Everybody came to ask questions to us about authentication in general, when they started to come to our blog, automatically, from doing that. So, from that point, once Angular JS community grew, we were already known, so it helped us a lot. And then, we started to do that on other technologies inaudible. It was mostly front end, like react the next two years at the same time. And it doesn't have to be only a front end technology. Another great example, I think, is Purcell, one of the companies that I help with. And what they do is like deployment on the cloud, on Edge. And for them, of course, one of their ideas was like, okay, opensource frameworks for front end as well. That's why they hired Rich Harris, who is the owner and works on specs. But besides that, another community that was interesting to them is performance obsessed front enders. It's a small community. There are not as many of them yet, but we believe that it's going to be a big deal in the future, on the front end performance. And if we become a thought leader there, in the future, we're going to be big, similar to Auth0 case. But instead of making it through a framework like Angular JS, it's through a concept of this performance obsessed. And what that means is that, with this approach, you can start tapping into some of these communities one at a time, with focus, by building these relationships first with the influencers, by having them share your content, and by having people come to your content. And with that, you're tapping into the people that follow these influencers and the people that follow this community already.

Blake Bartlett: At the highest level... Again, anytime somebody approaches a new thing, there can be this misconception that there is a perfect strategy that you can find. And if you just research hard enough and long enough, you can find that silver bullet. And what you're saying is, back to where you started with it is, you need to place multiple bets because you can't actually predict what's going to work out. And then, those bets that you place, there needs to be some diversity in them. And so, I think that's really clarifying to me is that you're not trying to find the perfect thing and sort of apriori predict perfect success out of the gates. It's more so what are the highest probability places, both big as well as up and coming. Let's cover all of those. Let's experiment rapidly. And let's see what happens. I also really like the idea of reframing what success looks like. And really, it kind of comes down to think about it from first principles, which is, if you're just thinking about it from a pattern matching standpoint, you might say," Well, events are all about attendees and getting leads." But your point was really, really interesting. If you're building community, the goal is to get influence. The way you get influence is by being associated with the other influencers or thought leaders in that space. So, it's more about the speakers than it is about the attendees. And so, these concepts make a lot of sense. You got to make multiple bets. And then, when you make multiple bets, you have to look at success through the right lens to make sure that you're not just focused on a vanity metric, but really the thing that actually is going to move the needle in this whole community effort.

Martin Gontovnikas: 100%. And that's the... The concept of bets is something I think is important for whatever you do on PLG. I'm an engineer turned marketer, so big fan of experiments and thinking on everything as a bet.

Blake Bartlett: So, once you've gone through this exercise of either identifying the community you want to build from scratch or identifying the communities that exist that you want to tap into, I think the next question is," Okay, great. Well, how do you engage them?" And I'm sure anybody else that follows this stuff, they hear things like Slack and Discord and Twitter thrown around as popular channels. And then, certainly, any of us that spend time on product hunts have seen a bunch of startups that are trying to launch dedicated community platforms as well. So, what do you think about this? What are the channels that make sense? What is the strategy that makes the most sense to actually engage this community that you're tapping into?

Martin Gontovnikas: So, to start with, I'm personally a big believer on doing research with the user. So, to pick which is the right technology, something that I do is, if I'm targeting developers, I would interview developers to ask," Do you belong to any community? How do you engage with them? Do you go online? Is it online? Where is it? And how?" So, I think it's... A lot of the research would tell you, on the tools, how to think about it. Some of the things that I personally have used in the past is... I think, for developers, Twitter is a must. You have to be on the conversation on Twitter. And if you are there, and you can be part of the conversation, start answering, that means you're tapping into an existing community. But a lot of times, to be on Twitter, you need to first meet them on person somehow. That's why I was talking about before of you go to a conference, you meet with the speakers, you go drinking and eating with them. Then, they know of you. Now, you can engage on Twitter. And people see what you engage on Twitter, not the other one. But I think the Twitter engagement is one that is really important. Discord, I think, is fantastic for communities. I personally prefer it to Slack, but what I've seen is that a lot of crypto startups and gaming startups have been using Discord, some new are developer ones, but a lot of the others are still using Slack because it's more regular tool. I've seen that, if you target marketers, something like Slack might make more sense. And then, for doing some of the local meetups and getting some of these local champions, how to engage with them is all about how you add them value. If you think about these community champions that I mentioned on creating your own community, if you think... The two biggest ones that exist are Microsoft with the MVP and Google with Google developer experts or the GD. And those two are valuable because you have a checkbox of Microsoft says I'm awesome, or Google says I'm awesome. When we did that at Auth0, people don't care if Auth0 says you're awesome. So, we needed to find a different niche. So, it's around finding what is the exact one. And for us, what we ended up finding out was, we looked for people who have spoken at local meetups, but have never spoken at a big conference. And what we offered them was, if you talk about Auth0 and you engage with the community on Auth0, we'll give you a course on how to become a better speaker. We'll pay you the flight. And we'll pay you the hotel to go speak at the conference. So, our niche was people who are great speakers, that didn't have the resources or the means to go to conferences, where we taught them how to give better talks. We gave them the money to go to conferences. And in exchange, we asked them to engage with people in the community. So, that was a really good way for us to engage on understanding, what is the niche that your tackling? What are the needs from these people? And how can it be like a win- win relationship from the two of us?

Blake Bartlett: So, what I'm hearing from channels, maybe starting at the most tactical level, is that you need to be aware of your audiences, or, in this case, your community's preferred channels. Because if you're trying to engage with them someplace that they're not, it's going to be a lonely party. And so, if you're a developer product, you got to be on Twitter. And we can kind of follow the logic from there. So, be aware of your community preferences and where they actually hang out, and go hang out there. Don't try to create something new. And then, the second piece is you have to have a real relationship, whether that's you've met in person, IRL, offline, and then now you're connecting on Twitter, or whatever it may be. But you can't just sort of expect to show up in a community and all of a sudden get all the retweets, right? You have to build some credibility, some social proof, and a real relationship. And then, the last piece is, now that you have a relationship, you need to not be selfish. This isn't just about like," Okay, great. When are you going to send me my leads? When are you going to do X and Y and Z for me?" It's instead about" How can I help you? What's important to you?" And there's a million and one examples that you could point to. But I liked yours a lot, of giving... helping people by giving them a platform, and putting the spotlight on them, and elevating them, and also giving them the enablement so that they deliver and have a really great talk when they're on stage. And so, having that... again, empathy of thinking about what's important to this person. How can I add value to them? Now that I have a real relationship, now that I'm engaging where they are, all of that stuff makes it feel authentic and not just this kind of commercial transaction that you very quickly see through. Right?

Martin Gontovnikas: 100%

Blake Bartlett: Getting even more practical, let's talk about who, which ultimately comes down to team. And so, if you want to pursue this, what does the community team look like? And who owns this effort inside a PLG company?

Martin Gontovnikas: So, on who owns the effort, that's, I would say, a very big question, because it depends. I've seen it in some companies, it lives in marketing. In some other companies, it actually lives in a product team or something similar because they also want to engage with the product. I think it has trade offs. How I think about it is, if you're focus is more on our brand awareness, I think it has to be on marketing. But a lot of times, it's more about the focus on getting people to help each other, get ideas on how to improve their product and stuff like that. In those case, I think it might make sense for it to be in product. How the team looks like? I think the number one key role that I still don't see in a lot of startups, is this ex relations role, this developer relations or product relations or HR relations or whatever it is. It's this role of, it's a person of the same type of user of your PLG products. So, if you sent to developers, it's developer relations. And the idea is they are really good at what they do. So, they are really good developer. They're really good product manager or a really good HR business partner. But they also love this concept of helping others, teaching to others, engaging with others, creating content and engaging with a community, which is an additional on top. That, to me, is the core soul of this community, because if you want to be known in the community, you need to build respect and authority. And it's hard to build respect and authority with somebody who doesn't speak the same language as your user. I've seen a lot of companies that only have a community manager as part of the community team. I think that's very wrong, because a community manager might be an expert in creating communities, but they're not an expert at engaging with your user and with creating respect authority with them and teaching them things. So, I think it's very important that it's not only a community manager, but I do think that a community manager helps a lot on the team. Something that happens inaudible developer relations or product relations team are very good with empathy, connecting with others, and creating content, but they suck at project management, setting things as experiments, thinking about what things are going to drive more revenue, or more leads, or more whatever. So, I see the community manager as a great partner for this X relations person, where they will help with how to set this up as an experiment, how to pick together bets of communities, as we talked about, how to frame it, how to check if it worked, how to check if it didn't, and similar to that. And then, finally, I do think you need somebody. If you're tapping into existing communities, content becomes very important because you need people to start sharing your content, on Twitter, on Discord, or whatever. That content can be written by these developer relations or X relations person, or it could be written by a content writer. I've seen two things work depending on the industry. I think, like for example, if the content is very technical, if it goes to the developer, you should also have engineers that write. And that could be developer relations or technical writers. But maybe if you're talking to product managers, you can hire a journalist who would be good at interviewing your internal product managers, and then write about product management. But I think having a content person as part of the team, if you're tapping into existing communities, also becomes extremely important.

Blake Bartlett: So, now that we've talked about who and the team that's going to be owning community... And it's definitely a cross- functional thing. It's not one person that owns it and is the hero of it. What is this team looking for, in terms of how do you know what success looks like? So, what's the ultimate business value of community? And what are the KPIs you should track in order to know if you're getting that business value and if you're being successful with this effort?

Martin Gontovnikas: That's a great question. And as a caveat, before answering, the one thing I will say is that it's very hard to have a direct contribution from a community to revenue or something similar, just because a lot of interactions happen online, on places that you don't control, or offline on places that you even know about. But besides a disclaimer, the first thing that I would say is the number one thing that matters about the community is signups to your platform. You're building a community. So, more people know of your product and more people sign up either to a free trial or to a free account. So, starting to add more signups, I think, is number one, as a core metric that should increase... of course, not fully attributable to community, but something that I think is important to look about. The other one is around, how many engagements are you having on some of these platforms? A lot of people count how many people they have in the community, like I have 30, 000 members on Slack or 20,000 members in Discord. And in reality, the only thing that matters about the community is if the community is live. So, the one thing I would check is, how many engagements do you have in the community, meaning how many people are interacting and chatting on Slack on a daily basis or on a weekly basis? How many of them are interacting on Discord and on some of the other platforms? How many of them are interacting with you on Twitter? So, those type of engagements, I think, are a lot more important than the number that you have as a vanity metric. Another one that I use, and it's more... It's harder, but it's one that I use a lot is... When we pick a community that we want to tap into, I'm a big believer in finding who are the influencers of that community. And I think a great KPI is how many of them have shared contents about us on Twitter or Discord or on LinkedIn, on whatever their main platform is. And that, even though it won't bring you signups exactly or something created to the business, it will tell you about how your efforts to tap into an existing community are working. Because if I went to 10 events, and zero of the most known influencers have tweeted or talked about my content, then I'm doing something wrong. So, that, to me, is like a vibe check on," Okay, is this working, going to the conference, going to events? What's going on?" And then, the last one that I'll say is, for a lot of these, on the idea of tapping into existing community or creating a community, it all lives around content. The difference is that the content, maybe they don't find it through Google, but they actually find it through a tweet, a LinkedIn, or a message or something like that. So, the other way that I'm a big believer is looking at first touch attribution from content, meaning how many people who found your website for the first time through that blog eventually converted into a signup, because that will tell you... If people are sharing your article in the community or on Twitter or in Discord or whatever, that will be a first touch for a lot of users and drive signups. And that, I think, is the closest that you can get to something that really affects the bottom line. Those are the main ones that I usually use for thinking about the community.

Blake Bartlett: That's perfect. And I definitely think it helps to clarify some of those true business metrics and what success actually looks like, and to avoid the temptation of vanity metrics, because it's really easy to focus on those and to lull yourself to sleep while, meanwhile, the business value might be absent or the engagement might be absent, so super clarifying there. And look, I think that's a really good place to leave it. We've covered all the bases here on community. I think a lot of this stuff, at the beginning of the conversation, for me, certainly, I think for a lot of our listeners, serve to kind of demystify this idea of this buzzword that everybody hears about out there, and how to actually go start the experimentation process, and start this effort at your company. So Gonto, thank you so much for walking us through your thoughts here. This has been great.

Martin Gontovnikas: Thank you very much for inviting. This was fantastic.

Speaker 3: Thanks for checking out Build. If you enjoy the conversation today, make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and leave us a review so that others can find the show as well.


“Community” is a major buzzword today, and for good reason. Community creates leverage, and lots of it. Gonto ran marketing and growth at Auth0 for 7 years before the $6.5 billion acquisition by Okta. He cuts through the buzzword noise to give us his perspective and playbook on why (and how) to win with a community strategy.

Key Takeaways:

  • [00:27] Overview — Building a community
  • [02:24] Defining community, and why is it trending
  • [04:56] Creating communities through open source products, enterprise solutions, and other methods
  • [08:55] How to identify members to target if you're building from scratch
  • [13:31] Tapping into existing communities and identifying communities to target
  • [21:17] Doing research with a user, interviewing developers, and engaging on Twitter
  • [26:30] What does a community team look like, and who owns the effort in a PLG company?
  • [30:02] KPIs and measuring the business value of building community

Mentioned in this episode:

Sign up for OpenView's weekly newsletter

Martin Gontovnika, Co-Founder and General Partner at HyperGrowth Partners

HyperGrowth Partners

Subscribe to Blake Bartlett on YouTube.

Podcast produced by OpenView.

View our blog for more context/inspiration.

OpenView on Linkedin

OpenView on Twitter

OpenView on Instagram

OpenView on Facebook

Today's Host

Guest Thumbnail

Blake Bartlett

|Partner at OpenView

Today's Guests

Guest Thumbnail

Martin Gontovnikas

|Co-Founder and General Partner at HyperGrowth Partners