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How To Build Niche Online Communities (with Andrew Guttormsen from Circle)

Andrew Guttormsen, Co-Founder of the modern community platform Circle, shares his approach to creating and growing online niche communities through engagement and audience building.

Ben Aston

Welcome to the Indie Media Club podcast. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Indie Media Club. We’re on a mission to help independent, bootstrapped media entrepreneurs succeed, to help people who create, promote, and monetize through content, do it better. Check out indiemedia.club to find out more. 

Ben Aston

Today, I’m joined by Andrew Guttormsen and Andy has got an interesting story. He started as an equities trader, transitioned into marketing and then became employee number seven, at Teachable as head of growth marketing. He helped grow it from a 10k a month startup to 10 million.

Then got the exit, became co-founder at Circle, and that is a community platform for creators. So keep listening to today’s podcast to learn about growth, marketing startups, and community building. Hey, Andy, thanks for joining us. 

Andrew Guttormsen

Thanks for having me, Ben. 

Ben Aston

So, I mean, when I look through your LinkedIn, it’s pretty textbook and it makes me wonder what I have been doing with my life. And I’m curious as to, you know, is this was this all part of your master plan? Are you a super lucky, super smart? A bit of both. Yeah. You’ve achieved on paper a whole lot more than I have in a lot less time. So how did that happen? Tell us about your story. 

Andrew Guttormsen

You know, I think the best thing about LinkedIn is that you are able to make it seem however you want. So, I mean, the truth is that the last couple of years have been really interesting and have been able to do some cool things. The rest of the truth is that the part leading up to it was all over the place. Right. And so, like, I was an equities trader for two years.

What it doesn’t say on LinkedIn is that I hated my job and I didn’t really make any money doing it. I started the company. That company failed. I had, you know, a consulting business that I didn’t love. And so all of those things took place for about eight years. And then all of a sudden, to answer your question, I got really lucky and happened to choose the right company, to join early, and the right people to work with and then recognize the luck. And then things started to get good and I could really lean into it. But there was a long time of it floundering. 

Ben Aston

So, yeah, because I think it’s interesting, obviously, when you join a startup, there are opportunities to get an inflated or not necessarily inflated job title, but there are fewer people around. So job titles, you know, can be dished out however you want. But you became head of growth in marketing, having had not a whole bunch of marketing experience before. So tell us, like how did you how did that come about? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. So. So, yeah, sure. The outcome was that I ended up running a fifteen, sixteen person marketing and growth organization at a really fast-growing startup that was growing two, three, four X every year. And that was great. But the part before that and how I actually like got the role and the title, it was actually a harder story.

So, you know, I was probably 26, had just closed a company that didn’t work. And I had been spending months and months, just kind of like trying to figure out what was next. And yeah. I started to reach out to companies and I tried to figure out how am I going to get a job. I have all this irrelevant experience on paper. 

Ben Aston

Right. 

Andrew Guttormsen

And so what I did was the founder and CEO of Teachable at the time and still to this day is a guy named Ankur Nagpal. And so I reached out to him and I actually reached out to a few other companies like Book in a Box. Tucker Max, and some other startups in New York. And I reached out to the cold and all of them replied.

And what I did was I put together a basically a Web site just for them, for their individual company. And I came up with a whole bunch of ideas for how they could grow their businesses. And, you know, I spent three or four days on each individual company. And then I would write all these ideas.

I create a Web site. I create a video for them. And then I would put it up and I’d write an email saying, hey, go check this out. And I would press send it and I would wait. And I would just be so vulnerable because, you know, I was waiting at home. I had nothing else to do just to wait to hear it back in. And they got back to me. 

Andrew Guttormsen

And so, you know, one of them was with Tucker from Book in a Box. The other was Ankur. Tucker got back, great conversation. And Ankur got back with a one-line email and it just said, Are you in New York with a question mark? 

Andrew Guttormsen

I was like, dude I just spent a week putting together all these ideas for you? And he got back with that. So I went and I met with them, got a trial to, like, come in for a month and just, like, work things out. And again, it was just, you know, six people in our room in a WeWork. And so went in there, ended up putting in a ton of effort. And my responsibility was to help acquire customers.

We acquire customers. Some things that I had learned in the past during those floundering days started to work things like how to run really profitable webinars and things like that for that business. And so, you know, all a sudden I was in charge of revenue and the revenue number with that came responsibility. After months of hitting the numbers, I ended up getting the job title and the responsibility that came with it. And that’s how I ended up running the marketing team there. 

Ben Aston

Nice. So in terms of that, I mean, you mentioned, you know, building your audience and the growth. Tell us. I mean, I know that we were talking offline before this and we mentioned the role of webinars in doing that. As you grew from, yeah, ten thousand a month to 10 million. That’s that is a rapid and huge amount of growth. Can you tell us about the webinars that you ran? Because obviously there are lots of people running webinars around. Maybe I don’t know if you think it’s become saturated now, but what for you were the secrets, I guess, or what made an effective webinar? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah, well, I think running crappy webinars is always gonna be saturated. So there’s always too many. But, you know, Teachable, when I left there was actually we’re doing twenty-five million dollars a year in revenue. And we ran webinars the entire time. It was the most predictable thing. And so I think the difference is that we made these webinars really entertaining.

So sure, they were educational, but they were entertaining and we told stories. And a lot of people say, like, don’t run a webinar that’s over 30 minutes or 40 minutes because people will get bored. But then your job becomes well don’t make people bored. Make it so that they’re upset when the webinar is over. And so what we did was we told stories leading up to the webinar through email.

If you registered, we immediately took you to a video where we’d tell a story. We get you interested in and make it, you know, feel like, hey, it’s going to be for you. We show great customer testimonials leading up to him. And then we’d go in and have testimonials and great stories in the webinar. So it was a lot of storytelling and it was not rewarding. And it was not a demo. 

Ben Aston

And so in terms of that, the role of the webinar in that in that user journey was awareness, or was it what role did it play? 

Andrew Guttormsen

So for Teachable specifically, and it’ll be the same thing for my current company Circle is, you know, we told before trying to get people to create online courses and as you know, creating an online course, it takes a lot of work. Right. So you’d have to sell people not just on using teachable. But before that, we’d have to sell that on creating an online course.

And so the webinar plays the role of entertainment, but it plays the role of education in connecting with these folks. We need to get them, like, emotionally involved and like really understand the why behind why to do this. And webinars allow you to do that. And what we did that worked really well is we would reach out to all these folks that already had audiences and we’d go to them and say, like, hey,

I know your audience is a great fit for creating an online course. Like, let’s do this together. And then introduce us to your audience we’ll deliver this webinar to your audience and the person we partnered with. You know, when we had no audience of our own and they got a lot of value from that. 

Ben Aston

That’s cool. And so in terms of engaging the audience and actually attracting people to sign up for this in the first place. How was that through Facebook ads? How did you do that? 

Andrew Guttormsen

So we were horrible at running ads. Like we never figured it – Literally, I Left teachable three months ago and it was my responsibility like paid acquisition sat on my team and we never figured it out. All the customers we acquired were through word of mouth, but otherwise partnerships.

So again, we would go to influencers, people that had big audiences that we wanted to get in front of. And we’d say, like, hey, we’re gonna give you a revenue share for any customer that we acquire. And that worked really well. And we just did that over and over and over and over again. Every month we would have a target. Here’s how many partner webinars we want to do. 

Ben Aston

Okay. Yeah. And so beyond that initial webinar, though, how did you mean? What was working for you in terms of audience engagement scores, in terms of community building or in terms of keeping people like they do the webinar? They get excited about creating a course, you know, monetizing it. How did you then? How do you keep people engaged? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. So, I mean, we ran we had a lot of things happening kind of in the background. We had marketing automation where, you know, we would we knew, like here the specific actions people need to take in order to create a profitable online course. And we also knew what they were doing within the product.

Like had they set up their online school yet? Had they done things like adding a video lecture yet? Set a price yet? And we would have marketing automation that helped guide them and show them like, hey, here’s how you can do that. And you can talk. You can look at what’s happening in your product or on your website using so many different tools these days.

And then trigger email, follow up or like a text message, follow up or, you know, every channel that’s out there. And so we did a lot of that. We also had Teachable- so we had a Facebook group, which is a whole nother thing. There’s not going to I don’t think there’s gonna be a Facebook group anywhere. I don’t know. But we had a Facebook group where people at the time it was a few hundred people, a couple of thousand people, now it’s 40000 people. But that was really big because they get feedback on products and ideas and they would talk to each other. So. 

Ben Aston

Who and why? Why do you think fundamentally Teachable was or is so successful in terms of, I mean, the product growth is just incredible. Obviously, online dating is growing and there’s a massive opportunity there. But why do you think Teachable or your experience at Teachable as well as being so successful? What do you think? What was the would you say was the one thing that actually I mean, we’ve talked about webinars, but I’m sure there are other components within this. In terms of the product fit and the market fit. But why do you think Teachable was so successful? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah, I mean, as you said like the product-market fit is real. So, like, when there’s this like a poll in a market, all, what the saying, all boats rise with the rising tide or something like that. Like that’s true. Yes. Right. So not just Teachable. Every everyday course platform is working really well right now and things are going really well. But the problem with Teachable.

I think what we did specifically well was we were really focused on educating the market about why online courses so that we became like the default choice for many folks because they’d already been learning from us about how to do this. So then when they needed to choose an actual tool, they didn’t even have a process of evaluating other tools. They just went with us. 

Ben Aston

That’s cool. So you just became synonymous with online learning through that kind of repeated exposure? And so one thing I’m I’m also interested in in terms of your starting Circle, I’d love to dive into this community platform that you’re building. But what learning specifically from that experience are you talking into a circle? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. Then so that’s Circle was born out of Teachable. So. And by the way, we’re I’m so super close, the founder and CEO of Teachable were one of my best friends, and he’s also an investor in Circle. But so myself, my co-founders, we were there and we were looking at all the really successful online course creators.

Right. So, like, we had access to all the data and we knew that you know, if you looked at the top five or so, 10, 10 percent, of course, traders in terms of revenue, that sure, there were folks that like the content was incredibly important. It’s always important. But that community piece running a community of people that are not just engaging with you.

Right. Which is one too many, but also engaging with each other. It just makes your business so much more resilient. It’s really hard to to not make a great living when you have an engaged community. The problem was that we looked at all these big-name creators. We were friends with many of them. We talk with them all the time and they were using a bunch of workarounds. Right.

So they were kind of like hacking something together or they were like they’d use a Facebook group, except they’d be selling an expensive course or a site like the really well-known product and say, hey, go join my free Facebook group, which was a little bit like a lower quality experience. Right. Compared to their premium product. There’ll be, ads on the side. Disorganize information or they use Slack and Slack. You know, I love Slack.

We use it internally at Circle for our company and for work. But it’s a work tool. And, you know, it was really hard to get engagement when you’re using now another tool like Slack and taking people away to create a whole new habit. And heck, I was even at Teachable. I was setting up communities. I was trying to use Slack and I couldn’t get engagement to happen there. And there are other tools, too.

And so I’m just like that. We have to, like, try and build something. What would that be like? And myself, my co-founders, we built something and it was a product. We got people to use it. It wasn’t a company yet. And I got some positive feedback and started making the tool better every week. Right.

And then decided like, hey, you know, there are a lot of people using it and starting to like it. And so let’s turn this thing into a company. And we went out, he raised some money and that was a couple of months ago. And now we’re kind of where we are today to. 

Ben Aston

And I’m curious as to this comment you make about Slack and engagement, because, yeah, my experience is I have a Slack team for one of my sites, thedigitalprojectmanager.com. And we’ve got. Yeah, three and a half thousand people in the Slack team backers. And yeah. So we can never turn that on into the paid model because that would just cost us ten thousand dollars a month or something.

But on that super expensive. But the interesting thing is when I look at how many active users there, all of that three and half thousand people, it typically well, it’s very steady. Whilst, the number of people who actually signed up to the platform increases each month by a few hundred.

The only thing there’s only ever between three and five hundred people who Slack say are using the platform and who are actually engaged in the content. And so, yeah, I’m curious as to how Circle as a different tool encourages engagement or builds engagement or facilitates that in a way that Slack can’t. 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. So I mean, there are a few different ways. I guess the biggest just philosophical difference with Circle is that we believe that you should integrate the community experience into your Web site, into your product, into the place where people already hang out and around the content that you have, that a lot of the discussion is forming around like that should happen in the same place.

And so what we do, by the way, is like Slack is real-time chat. Right. And I love Real-Time chat at work, but a lot of our customers that are building these communities, the discussion is thoughtful and there is user-generated content from the people in the community. And the more people talk to each other and discuss, the more content there is.

And that is valuable to knowledge. It’s there. It’s saved. And so we make it really easy for you to search. And for you to come back and see stuff that happened in the past. It’s very different than the real-time like synchronous chat experience. If that makes sense. 

Ben Aston

Right. I mean, let’s talk about engagement because I think engagement is a term that is thrown around quite a lot. But adding in engagement sometimes that, you know, we’re looking for people to like stuff, people to comment, people to share. There’s a typical kind of engagement metrics. But what does engagement in a community look like to you? What are the metrics you use to define whether or not a community is engaged or not? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. So two big things for us. So we look at and this is kind of like a geeky tech-speak for managing a community product, but we look at daily average users divided by monthly average users. Right. To get a sense of like how are people coming every single day? They like coming back on their own to see what’s going on.

Is it a habit? And we want that number to be north of, let’s say, 20 percent for your community to be considered really just like an engaged community. Right. Like 50 percent is incredible. World-class, 10 percent, 20 percent is just it’s more normal below that problem. It sounds to me like you’re somewhere maybe closer to like the 20 percent range, which is relatively normal. But we also look at things like time on site. So, like in great communities, people hang out on them.

They’re they like to spend time on them. And so so that’s something else you can measure. But it’s funny because we had a lot of different communities and you can look at the different ones and see which ones you’re most engaged in, the ones that are most engaged Slack somebody. I’ll post a topic and there are strong opinions and then there’s a whole discussion just out of nowhere.

And people will come back to check it out. And, you know, there are notifications. And it just becomes part of somebody’s day today. And you can measure that using the day daily average users over the monthly average user metric for your own community. 

Ben Aston

And so what is it about those? I mean, we talk about, yeah, engagement ranging on the average range, you know, from 10 up to, you know, world-class being 50 percent. But and you talk about how, I guess, these micro-influencers within the community, if they start talking about something, everyone gets excited about it.

Do you think it’s the nature of the topic or the person or what stimulates that engagement? Have you kind of identifying what it is that creates an engaged community in terms of developing topics or people? How does that work? 

Andrew Guttormsen

I think one thing that is kind of like a cheat code is to look at the format of the actual communication. Right. So, like, when you think of a Facebook group or Slack or Circle or really any community to a lot of times you think of text. But if a cheat code is like if you use video, people are to stay there and they’re going to watch the video.

Like, if you can broadcast one to many if you could do a live Q&A. I think when you’re talking about how to get more engagement, you need to, like, be thoughtful and give people a reason to actually show up and participate in your community. So like like, Ben, if I were you and I had a community on a certain topic, like, I might think,

OK, what can I do? Like, are there some well-known people in the space that I can bring on? And do you like a video interview with or where I can bring them on. Let my audience do you like a live Q&A with them. Like, are there things like that that you can do that are unique and not available outside of the community? That’s a valuable community that that’s engaged. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah. I think one yeah. One thing we recently started was, yeah, live AMA with the community. And I think I’m interested to know if you’ve got any kind of stats or data on the amount of engagement that even gets versus because there are the people who participate in it and then the, you know, the people that then you met but will always hideaway and never, never poke up the head.

And I remember being, you know, five percent of the people who actually contribute, 95 percent of people will just be kind of passive consumers. But it does not change. Is that kind of a variable metric in communities, depending on the type of community? Or do you think that kind of just that’s just the kind of law of large numbers? That’s just what happens in the world. Some people hide. Some people say stuff. And you should kind of be accept that. 

Andrew Guttormsen

So Ben it broke up a little bit in the beginning. Was your question is the like five percent of people are really like participating in driving the discussion. Is that consistent across all communities? Or can it be changed and in flip. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. 

Andrew Guttormsen

So what’s interesting is I think if you look at some of our communities on Circle, for instance. Some of them are just completely closed. Like there’s this one woman meeting community. She shares her amazing business. Her name is Laura Larcombe. She just started a new community on Circle a few weeks ago. And she has 180 people in her community. Right. It’s small, intimate, closed.

And you have to pay for it to get access. And she has way more than five percent of her folks that drive the discussion in that community. And then if you were to look at like. A multi, multi thousand-person community. All of a sudden it gets harder and I think the numbers you’re talking about there are much more realistic. Where I don’t know if it’s five percent or 10 percent, but yeah, more people are lurking and consuming than creating. 

Ben Aston

And in your mind, is looking bad or can lurking be OK? Well, what are the attributes of a healthy community? 

Andrew Guttormsen

I don’t think lurking is bad at all. And I’m generally a lurker by nature on the kinds of things that I would pay for. So, by the way, we have people running communities where, of course, the majority are lurkers or post every now and then, but not daily. And those people pay to be access to get access to those communities. So it’s valuable to them enough to pay to be a part of it. What was the other part of your question? Hey, Ben. Did I lose you? 

Ben Aston

Yeah, sorry. What are the things that we can do to cultivate a healthy community? What are the things that, as the community facilitator, we can do to spark discussion, engagement? What are the things that we actually have power over? What do you think works? 

Andrew Guttormsen

So I think one thing to do is get really granular about what the experience is going to be like. Like, what do people actually get? So every step of the process. Right. So initially, what is that like invitation email going to do to really, like, blow people away when they first get invited and become a member of that community? We have tools inside Circle where you can set up a really compelling welcome message and you can share with people like what they can expect,

but you can also share with people like, hey, here’s exactly what you should do next. Go to this area. Introduce yourself. Tell people about yourself and what we’ll see as people have cool prompts and things like that. So, like, tell me what you were obsessed with when you were a little kid and then create discussion around that. Get people to open up, be a little bit more vulnerable.

Another thing you can do is like if you use a community tool, you can get certain analytics, things like that. You can see who’s really active and engaged and who’s engaging with you. Like, are there certain people in your community that is talking to each other all the time and kind of like responding to each other’s posts, doing video stuff, designing all that kind of stuff, like to figure that out. And then if there are people that aren’t a part of that, how can you go start making introductions and like kind of like pulling them in and getting them hooked on the community.

Those are things where they’re hands-on and they require work. And if you say, hey, I want to become a customer of Circle and tap a community, and then you do not really much else beyond just invite people and set up some, you know, spaces for people to hang out. It’s never gonna work. It’s pretty Hands-On to create a community. It does have to be cultivated.

Another thing is, I’d say, you know, every week you might want to have a schedule of like, hey, here’s what we’re doing this week. Like, I’m going to put out this post. I’m going to bring in an expert. I’m going to do a Q and A I’m going to maybe have like a weekly coaching call or accountability group or if it’s a book club. Right. So, like, maybe you’re like a book club. And this post is gonna go up on Tuesday with the book at the weekend. But like, there’s got to be proactive content creation within the community. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, the community isn’t the tool, the community is, are the people and the content that keeps people engaged in that community. I think that’s a super important point. 

Andrew Guttormsen

Exactly. 

Ben Aston

And moving on from talking about the building community and cultivating community, going back to this idea that we started with when we’re talking about Teachable, in terms of building your audience. We talked about how you leveraged webinars for that. I’m curious, you know, as you’re starting off again from zero, how are you? What’s working for you at the moment in terms of building your audience? And I mean, I know Circle’s, I guess, done better. What’s the kind of plan, the growth plan now? Is it the same as what you were doing before or are you going to try something a bit different? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. So how do you grow a software company? Changes depending on the stage that you’re at. And so there are kind of there really like three main stages that we’re thinking about right now. There’s the first kind of stage where you’re starting from like, let’s say zero up to like a hundred thousand dollars and monthly recurring revenue.

Then there’s the second stage, which is kind of like it takes up to about a million dollars a year, right? Zero to a million dollars a year. Then there’s the second stage. Is that like a million too, let’s say ten million dollars? And then there is the stage beyond that. So we’re really just thinking about the first and second stage right now. The first stage, what we are doing is we’re building a waitlist and we are really working closely with the customers we already have.

But you’ll look at the customers they already have. And most of them are pretty well-known in one way or another. And they have their own audiences and their thought leaders. And so we’re working with them because people will see like, hey, if Pat Flynn can run his community through a Circle, then it’s good enough for me.

Pat Flynn, just an example of an influencer who runs a popular blog and website and stuff. So we’re going to you know, we’re working with a bunch of folks like that. And then what’ll happen is, you know, we have this waitlist of thousands of people. And once you know the product, we feel really great about the product. And we get to that point, we’ll start to add more folks. But we’re doing it in a controlled way, where every month we invite new people from the waitlist to sign up.

We make sure that they have an amazing experience. And then in a few months, you know, we’re recording this in April, April 24th will roll out publicly and we will have everything be self-service. We’ll build the audience differently at that stage where once itself serves. And it’s not just us doing you know when I went demos with folks, we will start to do more like weekly webinars.

We’ll go out and we’ll do more of these, like partnership webinars. We’ll do things like we’ve built our own community already. But all of our customers are in the community and we get really great feedback there. So like community for us, we eat our own dog food and it’s like the only thing we’re doing right now. You know, for just like our current customers and connecting them with each other. 

Ben Aston

So that’s cool. And I know one of the things that you mentioned was virtual summits as well. Can you tell us how those worked for you at Teachable and how you kind of see that as an interesting tool? Because I think it is an interesting community-building tool in terms of an acquisition perspective, positioning yourself as a facilitator, probably of a topic area and asking interesting questions and then kind of crazy and exposure in that way. Can you talk about that? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah, for sure. So I mean, I love virtual summits and I think what’s so exciting about them is that anybody can do them right away, get really great results and get really great results even if you’re starting from scratch. You have no audience. Maybe you just have one product that you’ve just started creating. And so the way they worked at Teachable is so let’s use an example. So Teachable. We sold a software course creation software. But what we would do is a summit might be a day or three days. 

Andrew Guttormsen

We would reach out and we would just find great people who were selling online courses. And we would be like, hey, look, I want to do is put together like an hour-long presentation. We’ll even work with you on it or, you know, maybe just interview you about it and you’re going to tell us everything you do, kind of like behind the scenes.

Pull back the curtain on how you created your course. How do you film it all? Like what was going through your mind? How do you get your first customers, all of that kind of stuff? And we just get them to be super vulnerable and just share everything. But we would get like twelve of those in a row. Right. So we might have three full days and then four presentations a day. 

Andrew Guttormsen

And so what we would have is we’d have like a landing page then explaining what was going to happen at this kind of like an online conference. And people can go under their e-mail. And what we would do is we would promote the summit everywhere. We just drive everybody back to the registration to sign up. And, you know, a lot of times, most of the time, almost every speaker would also share it with their audience, too.

I mean, imagine if you’re doing this in, like, the gardening space, right? You might have a bunch of people that are teaching about how to do great gardening. And then maybe they’re bloggers and they have followings of people that are interested in gardening. And they would, say, hey, I’m speaking at this big conference, would love for you to come. And so, you know, everybody drives people to the conference.

And then at the end of the conference, you know, you’d say, hey, hope you loved learning how to garden. Oh, by the way, we have this extra tool or this extra course of this extra coaching or whatever it is where if you want to, they obviously love gardening. If you want to take this to the next level and get become an even better gardener or you want to get this garden done for you or whatever it is, then we have this product here and people would buy the product. 

Ben Aston

And so I’m always scared of doing things live. Did you were you with those prerecorded sessions that you ran with people and then interviewed them and then it’s kind of switched altogether live or was the whole thing? Because how do you do engagement? If that was what you’re doing? 

Andrew Guttormsen

We did them live. So, yes, there I think there have been a lot of virtual summits done, been in the kind of like in like the Internet marketing space. The summits have been around forever. We try to do things very differently than that. And so, you know, that meant recording live. Of course, we just recorded an interview and put them up on a page and by the way, people do that and they do it really successfully.

Like, it works. But we did events live. It was hard. It was really tiring for like those few days. But yeah. But I mean, it was worth it. It was totally worth it. And people really appreciated it. And it was almost energizing in some ways because you’re there in the chat and people spent a day with you or two days with you. And we talk about community building.

But, you know, a webinar, you can build a really fast relationship with somebody in an hour. But when somebody spends two or three days with you, there’s a relationship built that will then it will last it can last two years like that, can get them to become a fan for life. And yet we create a repeat purchaser, a first-time purchaser. It’s worth it. I think. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so, I mean, we’ve talked about webinars and virtual summits. And you touched upon your toolkit using Slack earlier. But I’m curious, what else is your does your team, your startup team used to create content to publish content to manage your own webinars or virtual summits? Can you share a bit of your what’s in your tool kit? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. So, you know, right now with Circle, it’s pretty different because, you know, it’s just a waitlist and we’re doing a lot of, like live demos. Obviously, that’s got to change in a couple of months. But what I love to use for virtual summits, for example, is what is create a very simple landing page. You can do that with any tool. You can do that with a convert kit if you want. If you run your email to them or any landing page tool for the actual live. 

Andrew Guttormsen

The live video you can use with a Google Hangout. Completely free. You can use something like Demio. I love Easy Webinar for webinars. Demio is great. And so you can use tools like that. We built our own kind of custom page where we just embedded a Google Hangout. And then you can have chat on the side. You can use a tool like a Chatroll is a good example, or you just use like Demio or Easy Webinar and you’ll do it all for you.

The other tool that I’m really excited about right now. But don’t tell them because we’re negotiating an enterprise contract right now. And they’re going to try and charge too much. Is Autopilot HQ for marketing automation seems really powerful? And I hadn’t ever even heard of it, but I’m like obsessed with it after the last couple of days of playing around. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, it is. We were using Autopilot for a while and it incredibly powerful. But for me, I found it was one of those tools that I knew that I could do lots of incredible things with it. But I never actually built them out to be like, you know, when you’re you know, you’ve got all these things and you’re like, oh, this is gonna be amazing. Think of all the things we could do. And then we don’t actually ever get around to doing them.

So then, actually, we recently switched to ActiveCampaign and which, which is going is going pretty well. I think it’s always interesting when you go to these tools and we start we subscribed to a lot of tools. I’m one of my things I’m trying to do at the moment is to subscribe to fewer tools.

But you in that in that initial phase where you know, you normally get like seven, 14 days to test something out. And that is never really enough time to migrate your entire workflow over to the new tool and say, you you get in there and then you finally realize, oh, this is better than I thought or this bit worse than I thought. So ActiveCampaign, they say they have a chat module and a CRM, but they don’t really. 

Ben Aston

So we canceled Pipedrive and we canceled Intercom and then kind of discovered that actually no, we still probably need those two things. So it’s always fun and games with tools. Right. 

Andrew Guttormsen

It’s what you just describe actually reminds me of the honeymoon period. It’s kind of like there’s a honeymoon period with every tool and you’re excited about the one you chose and then you start to like, get to know it. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s. And talking about another tool. So obviously Circle is a kind of community platform tool. Another one that I have tried and I’m now will not be using, but I think is worth checking out as well is Mighty Networks. And they have built a tool that for a community is similar to Circle and they have an app and it does lots of clever things. 

Ben Aston

But the interface is a bit clunky and difficult for people to navigate. And we just ran a two-week boot camp through Mighty Networks. And nobody could ever find it. Nobody could ever find the thing that we wanted them to find. So that was an example of a honeymoon gone wrong. But these things are normal. 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. I mean, and a lot of times, like a lot of times and look, please go use circle, I want you to use Circle. But a lot of times a simple landing page and like literally embedding a Google Hangout is the best way to do something. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah, sometimes we can think we need an entire tool kit for something when simple is always good. So, yeah. Sound advice there. Cool, I’m wondering if you can say, what’s on your, what’s on your roadmap for Circle and kind of where you see things progressing over the next six months or a year. What can we get excited about? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yes. I mean, ultimately, the vision for Circle is that you will have a thriving community where people are able to quickly and easily interact with each other. It’s kind of like your hub for your people. And at the same time, integrating directly with your current experience. Right. So nobody knows at Circle-like it’s got, you get all the credit for it, your brand, all that kind of stuff. But what we’re thinking about, kind of like I said earlier, engagement, it is incredibly important.

And so we build features after asking ourselves the most important question, which is, is this going to help our creators engagement and what we have coming up? A lot of native video stuff. Right. So a map like right now, you can do video. You have to like an embedded hangout link or a YouTube Livestream or something like that.

You use it as an extra tool with it. But all of that’s going to be native. And so we’re trying to build things that we know creators specifically want to use because we’re building a tool for creators. So things like Q and A, is the ability to do life group coaching calls, one on one videos. 

Andrew Guttormsen

We’re about to roll out DMing and messaging between members in like two or three weeks. We have native mobile apps over a couple of weeks away on April 24th today from rolling that out. So I’m sure like people will see that soon. Another thing is just making chat feel lighter and more frictionless.

So right now, there’s a lot of like it’s posted, it’s a little bit more longer-form discussion. You will have the ability to also have more like real-time chat experiences as well, where it doesn’t really matter if you miss something in the community and it goes away because it was chat. You’ll be able to have that type of experience as well. 

Ben Aston

Cool. Sounds good. And I’m curious as to where you get your inspiration from as you’re building a community building or cultivation to where. Where do you get your inspiration from? And who what books do you read what sites do you go to for someone interested in building community? What are the streams to drink from? 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah, I mean, if you asked me two months ago, I wouldn’t have said this, but right now the biggest inspiration is by far. We have our own kind of like an internal community for customers where they show all the different like use cases and things that they’re coming up with that we never would have thought before. So, like, we’re taking those ideas and building on them that we never would have thought of. So that’s one thing. And then I guess the other thing is we’re talking kind of going back to the center like guiding force where we started the business.

It was because of certain things we wanted to be able to do that we weren’t able to do or people were using a workaround for. So we’re looking we’re talking to customers and the people that we started building this with. And we’re saying like, hey, what can we do better?

Another thing is like I then I took a sneak peek at your questions and you asked me, like, what did I Google ask? Like, I spent a ton of time Googling, like, weird, weird things about like community metrics and engagement metrics and stuff like that and end up on, like weird blog posts and things all the time. But. We don’t use as much of it at the end of the day. It just most of the stuff which marks customers. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah, it’s always good going straight to the source, and I’m getting your insights and inspiration from that. And I think even just a simple survey asking people what their biggest challenges and they’re finding out how you can help them do that, I think is probably better than trying to apply to many high-level strategies when actually if you can just help a few people in a discreet, straightforward way, that can be super, super powerful. 

Andrew Guttormsen

Hundred percent. 

Ben Aston

And so I’m gonna close with this. I’m actually not going to dive into my other questions about what you Googled. But for someone at the start of their digital media journey, obviously, you’ve got stacks of experience creating content with growth marketing. For someone who’s kind of starting outbuilding, trying to build a community, trying to create, you know, their identity or profile as an expert in a particular area, what’s one piece of advice that you’d give based on the kind of what you’re learning from your community right now? 

Andrew Guttormsen

I would say choose a couple like choose like two or three. If you’re kind of early and getting started, choose two or three really specific skills that are very valuable and find the best places to apply them. Almost like if you’re a hammer and everything looks like a nail. So like maybe become an amazing copywriter or become amazing at webinars or become amazing, like putting together these partnerships, going and finding people with audiences like something like that and then become known for one of those things. Or maybe two or three. 

Andrew Guttormsen

And then if you can become really good at two or three of those things, then go figure out where who is best served by your skills and just reach out to them directly and show them how. Give them ideas and just reach out for opportunities. Kind of based off of that. 

Ben Aston

Cool. Yeah. And I think your story about your hustle to get your first job I think is really interesting because I think so often we can kind of default to this. Well, I’m just going to, you know, send off an application here or, you know, half-assed things where if we go kind of full-hearted into things and really put our best foot forward, we can, you know, interesting things can happen.

And I think that’s a lesson to draw from your experience in your journey is, you know, you don’t know until you try and you don’t really know until you try really hard. And even if you do fail, you can always pivot and take those learnings and then apply them somewhere else. 

Ben Aston

So, Andy, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been great having you with us. 

Andrew Guttormsen

Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. Is really fun. 

Ben Aston

And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on Indiemedia.club But until next time, thanks for listening.

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