Community builder, a thankless job
Plus we say O Canada to one of my favorite startups hiring
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Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, or as Phoebe from Friends said it “Happy needless Turkey Murder Day”.
On this occasion of giving thanks, I wanted to write about something very close to my heart - community building, a term like “impact” or “disruption” that has perhaps become cliche. As always, feel free to skip this and scroll to the next section where we interview Lyn Chen from LayerCI (YC S20) who is hiring for new grad Business Development Representatives in North America 🇨🇦 🇺🇸
Before I begin, I want to extend my eternal gratitude to all the anonymous Facebook and Reddit mods, the Slack and Discord mods, and anyone who has ever had to herd the discourse on their platform. You are the real heroes 🙌
“Bow before me, I can @channel”
This week we saw a community of Gen Z VCs started by an investor at Lerer Hippeau blow up on Twitter, including an article on Business Insider and currently stands at 1,832 members. The aim of the group is to empower younger people from diverse backgrounds with the world of investing, which in itself is a laudable goal.
A community, in essence, is a congregation of people driven primarily by two things
“Affinity” - A shared interest or characteristic that people identify with, which in this case would be those who identify as Gen Z and who work in VC or aspire to.
“Returnability” - sufficient value derivation that people reengage with the wider group periodically, which here would be opportunities to network and perhaps get a job in VC.
It is entirely too easy to spin up a Slack or Discord server nowadays (maybe that will change if Salesforce acquires Slack) but it is hard to maintain Affinity and Returnability, in the long term.
Seeing the Gen Z VC community grow in front of my eyes from 50 to 1800 in the span of a week, I wanted to lay out some of the basics that I would recommend to anyone trying to build a community.
👮🏽♀️ Define your Affinity early and religiously moderate it
Identifying a narrow niche lets you serve a few people well, instead of trying to open it to everyone. Your most valuable members will get annoyed if they see too many people who don’t share the same Affinity and stop participating. Starting a community with a signup form or invite system is a good way to do this.
✅ Establish guidelines on what the community is for and what its not
Trying to do too many things leads to member fatigue and channel creep. For e.g. if you are building a professional community, there is no need for #music. Having a dedicated #promotions channel is particularly useful for any community with students. Have a zero-tolerance policy for those who don’t follow guidelines or harass other members.
🏗 Build the infrastructure
A growing community needs active mods, a directory, channel guide, event hosting, and basic hygiene (turning off @channel, email visibility, standard channel naming scheme, etc). A Notion workspace can be useful to plan community activities and keep track of responsibilities.
🏃🏻♀️ Empower your members to increase Returnability
While top-down management is needed, the best communities are those where members are encouraged to lead channels or initiatives to strengthen engagement from the ground up. There are always members who are more active than others, and harnessing their energy goes a long way
Most importantly, ask yourself, “What you are getting out of this?”. I believe the fundamental reason that our workspaces are littered with dead Slack groups (I once heard of someone who was in 300 Slack groups 🤯 ) is that the admins did not give enough thought to what value they themselves are accruing, so they stop putting in an effort. This in turn is acutely felt by the members who stop checking in.
Community building can be a very fulfilling activity, but there is no hiding the fact that it takes a lot of work to do it well. Having a clear idea of why you are doing it, makes it easier as does having a good team around you. Like with almost everything, it takes a lot more time than you’d think.
Phew, that was a lot, so let’s move to the good stuff!
Business Development Representative @ LayerCI
For our Club Highlight, we have Lyn from LayerCI, one of my favorite companies joining us today. LayerCI was part of the last Y-Combinator batch, one of 10 Canadian companies in the S20 batch.
LayerCI is hiring Business Development Representatives as they grow their team, and want to invite enterprising new grads based in North America to apply.
To apply: Email email@example.com with an updated PDF resume and a short blurb on why you would be a good fit.
I love training people from scratch because I believe that everyone deserves a chance.
Lyn, let's start by getting to know you first, and then we'll move to Layer itself.
I'm the co-founder and COO at Layer DevOps, we operate as LayerCI which is our first product. I'm in charge of everything to do with revenue and hiring. I studied economics and enterprise sales at Queens University.
Prior to Layer, I was a six-figure sales professional at my previous job and in particular, grew a company out of my dorm room called Candy Cutlery. I also worked at IBM with entrepreneurs in residence and worked within marketing at another startup.
On the more personal side, I really love helping women in tech. That's really important to me. And I'm a powerlifter, I've been doing it for 6 years now and am training for my first bodybuilding competition happening next year.
That is a great intro, I'll have to ask for some bodybuilding tips later. What spurred you on this journey to start a company?
That's a good question. There are two things that are really important to me. One is, obviously startups are risky and hard. It's a full-time commitment. So wherever you are in life, being a startup founder is not going to get any easier. If you have the mentality to commit to something and be so focused as you would as an athlete, then you know that you can be a founder even though the stats are not in your favor.
It might seem like such a luxurious life raising millions of dollars, but it is a big responsibility and we take it very seriously.
My first exposure to entrepreneurship came from seeing my parents, who were immigrants build their business. So that's the first thing that really helped me, knowing that startups are hard, startups must grow fast. You have to be ready for that wherever you are in life.
The second thing is realizing that everything that you do in this moment sets you up for the next two years. All of your choices add up. It makes sense to have a short-term understanding of where you want to be 6 months or a year out but at the same time, a long-term vision of where you want to be in 10 or 20 years.
Really wise words, Lyn. Now let's move to your company itself. What brought you to this idea and convinced you that this was a big problem that you were going to solve?
At LayerCI, our mission is really to help technology forward businesses disrupt their industries. What we really mean is that we want to be serving the Netflixes of the world, not the people who want to be Blockbusters. Essentially, we believe that any fast-growing company is a tech company.
In order to be a good tech company, you need to have good tech and good developers, and we power those developers. We are the world's first continuous staging platform. We help developers ship code faster and we help them test, preview and collaborate with their teammates
This is really inspired by the experiences of my co-founder Colin who experienced it firsthand as a CTO of a fast-growing startup. He was managing about 10-12 developers at a time. As a full-stack developer himself and as a technical leader, seeing that devs were feeling confused or frustrated by the fact that you either have to go really fast and break things as a startup or you go slowly but don't deliver on time. And the end result for both would always be that the customer would be disappointed and the developers would be disappointed.
Prioritizing the developer experience essentially makes for a better product, makes for a better team, makes for a better product, makes for a better customer experience and that's the framework that we see.
Colin had been researching how to solve this problem, and while he's very skilled technically, thinking about revenue growth is what I love to do. We were both applying to this accelerator in Toronto and when I first heard about Layer, I was so intrigued. I'm not a software developer but I know enough to understand what's going on from a sales background. We started working together part-time at first, then full time since January and have been inseparable since.
You mentioned that you were one of 10 Canadian companies in the YC batch. What was your experience interacting with your American peers and to be a part of that community?
You know, my first instinct was feeling intimidated. I felt scared and had this feeling that I don't belong here. A sort of imposter syndrome went through my mind. But moving into the program, we realized that we did a lot of good things. I got to give a shout out to Canadian companies for always being so nice and so humble. And that's the best kind of reputation to have.
We always love to bring value to every conversation and that's really important to us. It's important to us as a company and important to us as founders.
We had to prove ourselves a little bit more because in the US people are very fierce and very confident and we needed to emulate that confidence too.
Shifting gears a bit, let's talk more about this role. Can you tell us a bit more about what it entails?
The opportunity is to be a Business Development Representative at LayerCI. First of all, there are so many opportunities to learn, but also to move up. At a startup, especially in the early days, you get to be so hands-on and really get to work closely with the founders. I love training people from scratch because I believe that everyone deserves a chance. People with less than six months or even a year's experience are perfect for the opportunity because they're new grads, they're hungry. They have this new, fresh perspective on the world.
Some of the things I love to see are people who have education backgrounds or commerce backgrounds, because I know you're someone who wants to add value in business or in education. You could even have a sports background. In particular, I love seeing when someone has committed to something long term. Those things are pretty important to me
Are you looking for someone with a technical background since your product is for developers?
I would say it is nice to have but definitely not a requirement. I mean, hey, I'm not from a technical background and I was able to learn the nitty-gritty of it. Just knowing industry language is a coachable skill and knowledge about the technical product with a fresh perspective, is the best opportunity. So for those who are nontechnical and reading this, just have a very open mind, be willing to learn, and be very coachable.
What does the job look like once they do get hired?
We'll start with a paid training period where you get ramped up, which should be about one to three months of training. So really getting to know the company, the team, our values, our product, all of that is covered as well as in the future, any sort of sales tactics, body language, all of that will be covered in that training period. You get to basically hang out with me every single day in the mornings. We're collecting new insights to put into our sales playbook.
Moving forward, I'd love to see some of these Business Development Representatives become account executives, become part of our enterprise sales team, maybe even be in product management or customer success.
Thank you for being with us, Lyn. So there you have it, if you want to work with awesome people like Lyn and Colin, consider applying to LayerCI. They also put out a fantastic blog for the technically minded.
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Written by human, not GPT-3