In 2003, when brothers Scott and Daniel Stedman launched The L Magazine, it was a scrappy operation that hardly foretold a media company comprised of Brooklyn Magazine, Taste Talks, SummerScreen, BAMBill and the Northside Festival--the latter of which draws 100,000 people who turn out to see 400 bands, 150 speakers and 50 films over the course of a week. Recently, the Northside Media Group has been acquired by Zealot Networks.
"Even when it didn't work, we knew it was gonna work in a strange way," says Scott Stedman. "In 2008, there was a lot of transition and a lot of cool stuff came out it, but we couldn't pretend we were crushing it."
That was when the Stedman brothers committed to building their festival, and their thinking evolved from media company to a business based on community.
The Stedman Brother's tips for building community around your business:
1. Network, network, network. "Tap your friends, colleagues, and social networks," says Scott Stedman. "The majority of the products that I see succeeding are built on community. That's not in the generic sense, it could be a community of business owners--they'll give you time and feedback, and until you have an understanding of how people will accept your product, you don't have anything to sell. That community will be your best resource, and your early evangelists--but not until you've answered your feedback! If you succeed in creating a product that is remarkable and helps them, they're then going to be your greatest evangelists, and they'll help you push it out."
2. Have an optimistic vision and work toward it. "When we started the magazine, Daniel and I were making 50 cold calls a day," says Scott. "And it was demoralizing, but we had an optimistic view. We felt it would be unfair to the consumer to not give them a chance to participate in what we're doing. That led to a client telling us they'd rather go with the competition and they didn't even like them. And then a few months later, we're at a Yankee game with the guy and he was spending $20K a quarter and that was significant at the time."
3. Eat your own dog food. "You have live and breathe your product," says Daniel Stedman. "Smoke and inhale whatever you are trying to sell. Throughout the process, you're going to be knocked off your feet. You need to listen to the market. We saw that a lot as our product changed and evolved."
4. Be realistic about goals, expectations and what you can afford. "You hear a lot in the startup community, spend big to go big, and that couldn't be further from our experience," says Daniel. "Every expense we made went through a process of deliberation, and we lost growth opportunities because we wouldn't spend money, but what you will end up selling is not what you think you'll be selling. Our start-up phase lasted close to a decade, but we survived because we ran so lean. It's not about ending an industry and rebuilding it in an app."
5. Don't be afraid to ask for help. "Asking for help is something you should do from everyone. There's nothing more powerful than showing a bit of vulnerability and you'll find that people are nice, thoughtful, and people will work their best to solve your problem because you've shared it," says Scott. "The process is always listening, and responding, and over a drink, and we had the same conversations over $10K as when we were trying to get $500K."