063: The most effective strategies for growing a community – with Andrew Guttormsen

Andrew Guttormsen, the CEO & Co-founder at Circle.so, joins us for a compelling discussion about the most effective strategies for growing a strong community.

✍️ Show Notes

📄 Show Transcript

This transcript is computer generated, please excuse any errors 🙂

Ward Sandler: Welcome everybody. Today I’m talking with Andrew Guttormsen. The co-founder of Circle.so, the modern platform for creators! Before that, he spent almost five years at Teachable, where he joined as employee number 7 and led a 15 person Growth & Marketing team as their VP of growth. He has in-depth knowledge of startup growth, Saas and creators needs! Andy, welcome to the Membership Maker podcast.

Andrew Guttormsen: Thanks for having me. I’m excited.

Ward Sandler: Sure thing. Well, starting your community is one thing, but growing it into an active and engaged one is challenging. You have data from thousands of communities, so you must have seen many different initiatives and strategies out there. Can you tell us about an effective strategy you’ve seen work repeatedly when trying to grow a community?

Andrew Guttormsen: Yeah. So, if I look at the communities that I’m actually most impressed by, and actually look at our data, most of the really successful communities are not like 50,000 person communities. Most of our really successful communities, where the members are the happiest, where the person running the community is most satisfied and fulfilled, it’s 150 people, or it’s a paid membership of 500 people or 200 people. And so one of my favorite examples actually is Cory Haines, who you may know, Corey Corey has, a community called swipe files. It’s for marketers, like Corey went out there and, um, he’s like, he started out it’s like one by one. He sent emails to people. He hopped on calls with people, He vetted a lot of folks and And now I think hehas community, something like 300 people, it’s all paid. But there’s, you know, good word of mouth and he has happy members cause he really focused on those first 50 members, and then they tell other people, and Corey’s is great at marketing and all of that, of course! But, he added like a small email list. I think when he told me, cause I actually interviewed him cause I was like, ‘Corey, how did you do this?’ And I think he had maybe like 1500 people on his email list at the time, but he vetted them all. And so it’s not like as far as growth goes, another example would be Anne-Laure Le Cunff, from Ness Labs, she has like, essentially like a funnel. She described it to me as well, where she puts out a lot of content and that’s kind of like the top of the funnel. She introduces people to who she is, and she attracts the type of people that,that like her kind of content, which is things like neuroscience and productivity and that kind of stuff, and then as they get a bunch of touchpoints with Ann Laure, she says, ‘Oh, by the way, if you really like this, you’ll probably like my pay membership’ It’s a hundred dollars a year or whatever it is, and people are just like chomping at the bit to get into her membership and to grow and she’s done amazing. But she uses like content marketing and stuff like that, which is just a whole different ball game.

Ward Sandler: Right. So for her particularly it’s the goal of the funnel is to eventually get people to convert, to pay for the membership, that’s like her main business offering that she’s going for?

Andrew Guttormsen: I don’t know if it’s like her priority, if you look at her entire ecosystem, but what Anne Laureis really great at is writing. She’s very prolific at putting out content, and she’s really good at connecting with the people in her audience about the stuff that she wrote, about the stuff that she brought them in. So I think for her, it’s actually just natural to run a community. Uh, she loves this stuff. And then what she told me is that she focuses on in her community when she thinks about the types of ways that she can give value, right. So she could do like, hangouts and have like thoughtful discussions and kind of like a more asynchronous form. She created an online course that was very community-focused. She chooses when she thinks of all the ways you can give value; she chooses the one. The ones [00:17:00] that are most aligned with the types of activities she actually likes doing. She likes hopping on a call with 20 people and like getting deep into a topic, and then she has like, they might have like 20 of those happening over the course of the month. It’s crazy. But a lot of times it’s a led by the members that they have. So it becomes more scalable. So as you grow, if you start to like empower your, your members, it becomes a little bit more sustainable than you doing all the heavy lifting!

Ward Sandler: Right. But the key takeaway for folks, because you know, most people are going to be just in the starting phase if they’re if they’re going to launch community, and let’s assume they don’t have some enormous email list, so you know the average person, and it sounds like the key when you start is to nurture those folks who are the first members of the community, the first people you invite, interview them, talk with them, really try to understand what they’re trying to get out of the community you make. Deliver that right, and once you get a little flame started, what’s kind of the next major thing or milestone or strategy would you say to think? After I’ve already spoken to all my members, I have a decently active community, you know, people are posting a few times a week, but I still want it to grow further, I want to get more engagement, want to get more people in there? What are some kind of strategies might recommend?

Andrew Guttormsen: So the way I think about marketing in general, whether it’s a community, whether it’s a software product, whatever it is online course, if I wanted to sell that, basically you drive traffic, convert the traffic into some type of lead, take the lead, convert the lead into a paying customer, I would still think about it the same way So I in the early days I go from like one-on-one calls probably to convert like a lead into a customer. I probably do that for a while. I might literally do that for the first 100 or 200 customers. And by the way, I’ve done a thousand one-on-one demos this year at Circle. So I’m not putting my money where our mouth is. Like, I really believe in this stuff. But as far as the driving traffic and driving leads, I would look to go wherever the folks that belong in my community. I would try and find them. So if I was looking for zoologists or people that run zoos, I would literally go to like all the associations where all the zoologists hanging out and I would try and figure out who’s in them, I would literally get like lists of all the people that are in them, I’d reach out to them One-on-one, and I might do some stuff where I go into that association and I might say, ‘Hey, I’m going to teach this like, workshop all about zoology and all this kind of stuff’ and then at the end, I said, ‘Hey, if anybody wants to join my community, I’d love to have you’. And we’ve done a lot of that kind of stuff, where we tap into other people who have the attention of the people you want to bring in to your product. So that’s one way, if you’re starting from scratch, find somebody who has to put like a hundred people on a webinar and then get 20 of them to join your community, like that kind of thing. Teach them, share, like, make it valuable.

Ward Sandler: Right! That makes sense. Andy, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We really appreciate it. Would you like to share any resources or recommendations for folks that are trying to learn more about Circle?

Andrew Guttormsen: Yeah, well, I mean, you know, if you ever want to run a community and, and kick the tires and see just what the experience can be like, uh, recommend you grab a, a trial circle and play around, um, or to say hi on Twitter it’s @aguttormsen on Twitter! You don’t have to search pretty hard to find that, but if you can be great to connect there!

Ward Sandler: Awesome. All right, Andy. Thanks again!