Community building is crucial if you want to build a thriving business. I asked two very different entrepreneurs their thoughts on growing successful communities. Alex Schult, Founder & CEO of PhotographyTalk has grown his community to nearly 3 million members without raising any venture capital while Joel Flory, Co-Founder & CEO of VSCO last reported commanding a community of over 30 million active users, with $70M in financial backing.

Their growth shows there's no right way or wrong way to build, cultivate, and accelerate a loyal community--but the foundational philosophies set by both Founders are both powerful and humbling and there's a lot you can learn from these veterans. Below, they reveal 6 powerful secrets that may just be a framework to success. 

Starting with Joel Flory, VSCO CEO:

Empower Through World-Class Tools

Provide your community top-notch tools to facilitate their activities, and you'll be amazed at the rate at which your community grows.

"We have a community of creators who leverage our platform in a way that is second to none--they have a free space to share and be who they are, while releasing their creative potential. The quality is unlike anything else and in aggregate, that's what makes us so special.

 Flory added,

"VSCO X is all about becoming a better creator and our members show the power of education in how they truly connect with one another. Education really starts with peaking one's interest of what's already out there and then broadening those horizons."

We Threw Out The Social Metrics

While social proof is all the [perceived] rage these days, sometimes having no validation metrics can be refreshing and incredibly sticky. 

"Gen Z and digital natives live their lives online with our community, without public likes or comments--there aren't any social metrics to be judged on. The reality is, no matter where we're posting, even if it's photography, we're used to the same societal pressure and anxiety. 

Flory continued, 

"With our platform, there's no lasting pressure to be judged by--and that's something the users are incredibly comfortable with. It's a community they can identify with, one where you don't have to spend hours on captions."

Invest in Community and Technology to Support it

As the VSCO community continued to grow, Flory acknowledged the necessity to more deeply learn about their community through tech that supported that understanding. 

"Part of our journey is figuring out who we are. A trend you'll see is that you can more deeply activate a community that wants to take that journey with you. Supporting this, some of our core, proprietary technology allows us to truly understand our members and know what the right type of content, tools, and educational tools they need to grow as a creator. We want to know what our members are inspired by and what might they be inspired by.

Flory added,

"Where other discovery platforms display something else you might like, VSCO shows you someone who you would want to create with."

Next up, Alex Schult of PhotographyTalk: 

Establish Firmly Rooted Principles

Understanding why you are building your community is just as important as knowing how you plan to grow your community. As Schult shared,

"We established our core, and stuck with it: Inspire, Educate, and Connect. From the inception of PhotographyTalk leading up to this very minute, those 3 words acted as our compass. More importantly -- our 'why'. 

Schult added,

"From day one, our core translated simply into wanting to help photographers regardless of what equipment they had, or years of experience or where they were located on the map. We wanted to help them push that progress needle forward and maximize their photographic potential."

Truly Understand & Embrace Your 'Why'

With a deeper analysis and understanding of your 'why', you can and use this understanding to accelerate growth in ways your competitors will wish they had thought of.

"As cliché as it may sound, what you put into your 'why' is what you get out of it. This goes for both your personal and business 'why'.

Schult continued,

"Chances are, whatever industry you are jumping in, you will be face to face with competition. Whatever your 'why' is, you need to find an edge to it. Something that will allow you to fast-track to the front of the line -- and stay there."

Throw Out the Business Plan

Sure, a deck & roadmap is great, but resources are no longer best spent down such a resource intensive path when constant, agile iteration is an inevitable part of the journey. 

"Don't get tied up in drafting up 200-page business plan. Have a clear blueprint laid out; however, be ready to pivot. And where you can, take the lean startup approach to reduce market and unnecessary capital risks."

Founders' Final thoughts: 

Know what you want and why you want it, but don't waste precious time on needless activities when you could be busy building your dream. As Alex Schult so eloquently put it:

"Life is too short to build someone else's dreams. Get out there, figure out what and where your strengths are, make that mental blueprint, commit to yourself, and build. Along the way, you may fall which is fine. So, get up, brush it off, learn, and get back in the game, we'll empower you to take your best shot."

As for Joel Flory, they will continue pushing the creative trendline forward and pushing the creative journey: 

"There's a creative voice in all of us -- and part of that journey is realizing who we are and achieving our creative potential. We're looking for that intersection of online and offline growth, to find untapped creativity, continue education, and better oneself -- which is exactly where VSCO X's membership product is the best experience and tool for that journey. And we'll continue to invest in and evolve with our community."

Take the viewpoints of these successful entrepreneurs into account if you too wish to build a thriving community. The results of your efforts just might surprise you... and the community that follows. 

Published on: Dec 18, 2017