“Do users feel heard, connected, and supported by the companies that are building for them? What would it take for every company to really do that, at scale? Do you believe that community is a competitive advantage in business?”
Reconnecting with Linda Lian, the founder/CEO of Common Room, led to an unexpected late night conversation about what was changing about the relationship between companies and their customers. My answer was a clear yes — Community is a competitive advantage. A referral of another user is the best marketing you could ask for. The advocacy of a customer champion is the best sales you could ask for.
How We Buy Technology is Changing…for the Better
Over the last decade or so, we have entered the End User Era. Business purchasing decisions have been decentralized down from distant executives to the practitioners solving problems. Users discover and research and buy software at work, because they have learned to do so at home. Software has become a key professional skill, a membership, even a part of identity; a resume is as likely to list Figma, Netsuite, or Kafka, as it is UI design, financial analysis, or stream processing. Being an expert in the right software can make a career these days. Thus, knowledge workers, who now spend their workdays in software, have become just like developers; highly opinionated about their tools (emacs vs vim, anyone?) and eager to be active voices in not just in product choice, but in influencing product development.
How do users make their choices? In our now Very Online world, users can find one another more easily. Word-of-mouth becomes word-of…Twitter and Reddit and Slack and Discord and Facebook and YouTube (and forums, review sites, meetups and digital events). Community is being globalized and digitized and recorded, making it more powerful and essential than ever. For several years, I’d been paying increasing attention to what made communities work in business.
Smart companies are already hiring leaders in community, customer marketing, user education and advocacy, despite lacking hard ROI metrics. Companies are building more products that look like platforms, that literally invite the community to build alongside them. The best companies will invest more in peer learning, in enabling and celebrating their customers’ successes, and less in ads. Investment will only accelerate as the benefits become more clear and measurable.
Investing in Common Room
In February, just after my colleague Corinne began writing about Community-Led Growth, I heard whispers that several community-driven companies I loved and respected, including Figma, Coda and Confluent, were all using the same software to better understand their communities. While I’ve known Linda for years, this triggered me to reach out.
Linda is a force of nature, and she lived this problem at Amazon Web Services, partnering with the developer community on new products. She had experienced the creative power of the community unleashing new use cases, the joy and learning that users gained from belonging to a community, and suffered personally the operational toil required to build and foster community without tools.
Her vision, to give companies the tools to become community-driven, resonated with me. I’ve spent much of my time at Greylock helping product-led companies with growth and success. But rarely are these tactics as powerful as genuine word-of-mouth, of a community of happy customers speaking up, supporting one another, and pushing the product forward.
Linda’s cofounders Francis Luu, Viraj Mody and Tom Kleinpeter each brought their own understanding, skills and passion for the problem — from Francis’ decade of thought about the subtleties of online communication at Facebook, to Viraj and Tom’s obsession with end-user experience and time building product-led growth at Dropbox. The early customer enthusiasm, quality of Roomies recruited to the cause, and the product velocity of the team were all astounding. I immediately had the conviction to lead the Series B, and join Danny Rimer from Index on the board. I am privileged to be working with the whole Common Room team, as well as an amazing group of honorary Roomies (investors who believe in the cause including): Jeff Weiner, Dylan Field, Dick Costolo, John Lilly, Claire Hughes Johnson, Josh Silverman, Jason Citron, Kevin & Julia Hartz, Jason Warner, Akshay Kothari, Raylene Yung, Allen Jean-Baptiste, Meka Asonye, Neha Nerkhade, Matt Huang, Lynn Vojvodich, Elena Donio, Harry Stebbings, Emmett Nicholas, Dan Debow, Ott Kaukver, Jay Simons, Emily Weiss, Dannie Herzberg, Zhenya Loginov, Shahed Khan, Elenia Donio, Leyla Sekha, GC Lionetti, Sabrina Hahn, and others I am just getting to meet.
The Customer Journey Platform for Community
The Common Room beta product starts with the very foundation of the hierarchy of needs in community management: illuminating what was a complete blind spot. It consolidates cross channel conversations, resolves identities and autogenerates profiles, automatically identifying persona types (including company pioneers, evangelists, contributors) and provides initial analytics and workflows for supporting those users across channels and across the organization. This is a deceptively ambitious technical project and data problem. We are 1% of the way into the journey, but it speaks to the massive, untapped power of community that Common Room’s beta product has already proven so valuable to customers.
All businesses are already communities. But the businesses that actively build community have an extra gear in growth, and a durable moat. Community advocacy is an unfair advantage in sales, marketing and support, and community engagement is an unfair advantage in product development. The vanguard is technical products, open source, and SaaS; but over time, we believe this wave is horizontal. This is the revenge of the users.
Every great company has a community, but most have not yet figured out how to tap into it. Common Room hopes to change that. We hope you will be part of our community and our journey.