UTILITY VS COMMUNITY - HOW TO KICKSTART A NEW STARTUP.

HYPOTHESIS

A startup must provide a utility first and then build a community to be sustainable.

utility /juːˈtɪlɪti/

noun

1. the state of being useful, profitable, or beneficial.

adjective

  1. useful, especially through being able to perform several functions.

    "a utility truck"

  1. functional rather than attractive.

community /kəˈmjuːnɪti/

noun

1. the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.

a similarity or identity.

Another way of looking at a community is a venue for an audience to meet people of a particular identity.

SUMMARY

A startup should not jump straight to building community without a utility.

Successful businesses tend to follow these steps during their early days

  1. Create a useful utility/tool
  1. Acquires an audience that visits regularly for the utility
  1. Identifies and unites a subset of the audience with common purpose/belief/practice/wants. In many cases, this tends to come about organically where the utility is the common purpose.
  1. Creates a setup for the audience to openly communicate with each other
  1. If the communication is moderated, a strong community is established

If a company tries to skip the 1st few steps, It's foundations are going to be weak and hence it won't sustain.

⚠️
This is an unproven hypothesis. Please refer the Case studies.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

A community will come about organically when,

  1. You have an audience
  1. A subset of the given audience has a common purpose
    1. Example: Earn money, Find a Job, Sell a product, etc
  1. The given subset of audience shares a common identity
    1. Example: A Marketeer trying to sell a product, A Software developer trying to sell a product they’ve built or An Entrepreneur searching for right people to build his company
  1. A subset of the given subset, want to engage and help each other to achieve the common purpose with the given identity
    1. Example: Help other to find a way to make money, Make others employment ready, help others to market product better, etc
  1. The audience can also have common belief or practices that reinforces the community
    1. Example: community encourages that every share what they are working on, on a regular basis

UTILITY BUILDING

A utility may be a tool that a given set of audience needs/requires on a regular basis to solve personal or business problems. It makes life people's life easier.

CASE FOR BUILDING COMMUNITY FIRST.

"But isn't this contradictory to the hypothesis?"

No.

A utility can be invisible.

WHEN CAN I BUILD A COMMUNITY FIRST?

When you already have a set of audience that you engage with regularly,

that you know has a common purpose + Identity/belief/practice.

Initially, You, yourself will have to be the utility provider.

More often than not, this will be a micro community of a larger platform.

  1. If you have a family WhatsApp group, it is a micro community. it serves the utility of instantly reaching your family members. If it was not well established that you can instantly communicate with your family via text, your family WhatsApp group would not exist.

2. The audience existed on WhatsApp before you created the group/community. In case of your startup/early-stage-business, a sizeable audience won't be on your website/web app/mobile app. sometimes, not even on day 365.

As an experiment, I created a WhatsApp group of people who love to share good music. I added my immediate friends and my immediate friends added their friends. The audience has stagnated now and only 20% of the users engage strongly (Hello, Mr. Vilfredo?) The group has an invisible utility i.e sharing/discovering music.

Initially, I personally kept sharing good music, until the audience learnt to share and engage among each other.

I can't acquire new audience for this micro group unless it breaks out of WhatsApp. It needs a new channel for acquiring new audience.

UTILITY DISGUISED AS COMMUNITY

DIRECTORY UTILITY:

If a website is seeded with profiles of people/entities that can be viewed, searched or interacted with,

It is not a community.

It is a directory tool.

Facebook started off as a directory disguised as a community.

Facebook was seeded with profiles of Harvard students(Harvard's facebook).

ASSUMPTION: The audience will only come back when there’s a utility.

People in a community need to have a sense of purpose. Better if they have a common identity, belief or practice.

When you are starting out a business, initially it may seem like nothing works and when you look at other businesses it may look like “They have a community and that’s why they are able to sell and sustain”

This is an illusion and as founders we need to be careful of it.

BUILD UTILITY AND COMMUNITY IN PARALLEL

You can of course do both in parallel but during the initial stages the focus must be on utility.

CASE STUDIES

Here are some case studies for the hypothesis utility vs community