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Building a Community Around Your Tech Startup

By: Arjun Dev Arora (Founder & CEO of ReTargeter)

You've probably heard the adage "it takes a village," but you may not have thought about how that might apply to your tech startup. The importance of community is often overlooked, but it can do more for you, your business, and your employees than you probably think.

Why is Community Important?

Building or fostering community around your business can serve many crucial functions. Having a strong community can help you, as a founder or CEO, develop the skills necessary to run your company more effectively. Community can help you find beta testers or relevant users to help you hone early versions or updates to your product. Post-launch, your community can drive initial product traction by becoming early customers, using or testing the product, and by spreading the word. As you grow, your community can help you find partners and other opportunities.

When it comes to hiring (one of the bigger challenges many startups face), a strong community is one of the best sources of potential employees. For a lot of companies, employee referrals are one of the most trusted ways of finding the right hires and keeping them. If your startup is small, your network of employee referrals is going to be limited. Having a strong community means you'll have a larger referral network and a bigger talent pool.

Types of Communities

There's no one right answer when it comes to building a community around your startup. What you do and who you are determine the type of community that makes sense for you. Just like no two companies are exactly alike, no two communities are exactly alike.

To be as strong as you can be, think about building multiple communities, centered around different points of commonality. Here are a few examples of the different types of communities many startups belong to:

Communities in Your Industry:
One logical place to start is industry. My company, ReTargeter, is in the ad tech space, and we've focused on fostering relationships with many of the other companies in our industry (and in our industry, there's no shortage of other companies). Find companies who do things in your industry and find ways to grow together.

Regional Communities:
My company is based in San Francisco, so finding other tech founders nearby is hardly a challenge. But if you don't happen to be in the middle of the Valley, it may be even more valuable to build a regional community. Thriving startup communities in up-and-coming tech capitals like Austin can provide incredible resources to community members. Especially if you're in a region that's not quite so well known for its tech community, looking to your neighbors is a great place to start building.

Role-Based Communities:
It's also valuable to build communities around your role. There's so much to be learned from your peer group--the people who are doing what you're doing can be an invaluable source of insight and inspiration. Whether you're a founder, CEO, CMO, or lead developer, finding other people who share you challenges is invaluable.

Building a Community

Now that you know why and what, here's the how:

  • Contribute thought leadership online or at industry conferences to get noticed by people in your industry, region, or role.
  • Whenever you have an opportunity, serve as a mentor or advisor to up and comers. Those relationships can turn into the early seed for a strong community.
  • Focus on relationships. Don't miss opportunities to connect folks you know who have something in common. The ability to forge connections between different groups of people is the cornerstone of a community-building.
  • If you can, throw parties and host dinners or events as a way of bringing different people in your communities together.

Building a community is not impossible. You probably interact with many of the right people every day, they just aren't all in the same place. Bring people together, and above all, don’t forget to have fun.

Arjun Dev Arora is the founder and CEO of ReTargeter. He has bootstrapped ReTargeter from a one person company to a high-growth leader in the online marketing space with clients like Intel, Yamaha, and The Oakland Raiders. Prior to ReTargeter, Arjun was the Head of Business Development at Yahoo! Real Estate, and an investment banker specializing in the technology sector at Jefferies Broadview. Arjun also serves as a co-chair at the Young Entrepreneur Council, is an LP at 500 Startups, and is an angel investor and advisor to multiple Silicon Valley startups.