Is there anything Kyle Hagge hasn't done? (Okay, there's at least one thing, as you'll learn in today's lightning round.)
Kyle is an action-oriented community leader. That sounds like a cliché, but in Kyle's case it's definitely not. He talks the talk, and he's walked the walk for organizations like Marquette University, the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, AmeriCorps, Ballot Ready, College Possible, and now Morning Brew.
He's a treasure trove of knowledge on topics as varied as the importance of local activism, relationship building as a precursor to learning, the power of cohort-based programming, and the utility of discomfort in facilitating human bonding.
Kyle's conversation with Jillian and Sara Jane today is positively chock-a-block with great insight for community leaders and managers.
It also leads us to ponder perhaps the most important question of 2022 so far: Is Jillian Banksy?
Kyle Hagge is currently the Lead Community Manager at Morning Brew, working on the education team and building products designed to accelerate the careers of ambitious professionals. He is passionate about justice, community, and innovation. Previously, he has worked at Marquette University, the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, Ballot Ready, and College Possible.
In This Episode
- What Kyle's AmeriCorps experience taught him about the importance of safety and relationship-building in teaching
- Kyle's “personal monopoly” framework that helps you identify your unique advantage
- How local action can create a positive feedback loop that makes scaling up easier
- Oddly Specific, an event series that relies on unintimidating weirdness to help people bond
- The key differences between audience- and community-based businesses
- Morning Brew's business and skill accelerator programs
- How making things harder can help cohort members bond
- Why community managers should think of themselves as party hosts
- The challenges of scheduling community events across time zones
- Oddly Specific
- Range by David Epstein [Amazon affiliate link]
The CX 040: Accelerating Friendship through Shared Experience with Kyle Hagge of Morning Brew
Kyle Hagge: That is why people join communities. They're in it for the transformation. You can only have transformation through uncomfort. And so creating situations that are hard, but creating an environment where they feel safe psychologically to attempt them is paramount.
Jillian Benbow: Welcome to this episode of the Community Experience. I am your host, Jillian Benbow, along with my co-host de jour, Sara Jane Hess. Welcome.
Sara Jane Hess: Hello, thank you for having me again.
Jillian Benbow: Again. Yeah, it's been fun.
Sara Jane Hess: I know.
Jillian Benbow: Today we're talking to Kyle Hagge of Morning Brew. This was a blast. He is a legit community manager, he knows there's so many people in community today that like to talk a lot about what to do and how to do it, but haven't actually managed community. So I'll just leave it at that to say, Kyle has. He walks the walk, he talks the talk. It was really fun talking to him. I could talk to him forever.
Sara Jane Hess: Yeah, he was super great. I think the other thing that I really loved is he had action behind all of the things that he has talked about, not just with community building, but I guess community building in a lot of different forms, whether it was with his AmeriCorps experience or a political experience. It's just very cool to hear him talk about putting things into action. I loved that.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. We like action. So we'll get into all of that. He had some really insightful experience with just shared experience and how you can use that to speed up the relationship process, which in digital community, especially, is really important. But he also had some in-person situations that we love and we'll get into. So you just wait, it's coming here on this episode of the Community Experience.
Jillian Benbow: All right. We are delighted to introduce our guest today, Kyle Hagge of Morning Brew. Kyle, hello. Welcome.
Kyle Hagge: Hello, everyone. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me. Excited for the conversation.
Jillian Benbow: Absolutely. We are equally excited. We've been having fun pre-recording. Had to hit record so we could capture it all. Kyle, you are a community manager, a community leader like myself. So I'm super excited because you get two community managers in the room and just get ready to be like, what the hell are they talking about?
Kyle Hagge: Will it be the best room or the most annoying room of all times?
Jillian Benbow: The best room, obviously.
Sara Jane Hess: I'll let you know.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Sara Jane can keep tabs and be like, "Two are dorks." Yeah. So you have a storied career. You've been all over the place. You're currently at Morning Brew and you're a community leader for just, there's so many programs I want to talk about it all because it sounds amazing. But before we do, let's go back in history, into poli sci in university and you were more in the political side of things and then you just kind of... Now fast-forward, you're in community for more entrepreneurial stuff. What's the story there? Tell us about your journey.
Kyle Hagge: For sure. Well, kudos on the research. It actually is quite impressive when people do any research. So I love it.
Jillian Benbow: The background check we paid for was interesting.
Kyle Hagge: Right. I hope it came back.
Jillian Benbow: Just kidding.
Kyle Hagge: Good.
Sara Jane Hess: Worth every penny.
Kyle Hagge: Exactly. So I went to university for political science and philosophy. I went to the University of Minnesota. One of my first experiences at the university was, I was actually a fellow for the Obama campaign in 2012 while I was a student. I got into or was interested in politics and policy for the impact, I just thought that was a good place to make a difference in the world. No matter what your politics are, if you want to make a large scale impact, it tends to have policy implications. And so that was really exciting to me. What I learned through that process was that the type of people, and I'm stereotyping here, that are attracted to the campaigning, well, it's just a different type of person than I am. And so I lost steam on that side of things.
Kyle Hagge: I never lost this desire to make an impact. Throughout my career, I've always thought of ways on how to do that and would get into this, but I saw that cohorts or community is often a great way to make impact that is outside yourself. It's a huge point of leverage. It allows you to scale impact in a way that you can't do as an individual. And so some of these first political experiences were at least a taste of collective action or community being a really powerful force in the world. After university I did AmeriCorps. So I was actually moved from Minnesota to Milwaukee. Did two years of AmeriCorps, I was teaching in a high school. Again, had a cohort of 40 students and I was focused on college access and college prep.
Kyle Hagge: I always told myself after those two years, if you can get 40 kids to come after school and even pretend to care about the ACT, you can pretty much do anything. And so that was a huge transformational experience in my life. One of the big takeaways I had from that experience was in order to do the thing you want to do. We wanted to help them get better ACT scores. We wanted to get them into the colleges they wanted to get into. Before all of that, you have to build community. And the most successful coaches in AmeriCorps that I saw were the ones that focused on building community, building relationships before making any sort of asks.
Kyle Hagge: And so that was huge for me. And really again, helped me understand the power of community, the power of relationships to help other people achieve what they want to achieve. Went to grad school. After that, was in a little cohort myself, got my masters in political science, honestly don't know why I did it, but the program was pretty cool and they paid for school and all that. So that helped. And then I worked for the Housing Authority for the City of Milwaukee, doing marketing and business development. I did some remote civic tech work for this company called BallotReady. Then I had my own platform media company, civic engagement company called Bridge the City that was focused on, hey, people care about making an impact on the national level. They often forget about the local level. If you've ever emailed your senator, it's quite easy to be like, "Wow, I'm never going to get involved in politics again." They don't give a shit.
Kyle Hagge: And so we wanted to take this innate human energy to make your community better and transform where that was applied. People tend to apply it at the national level. They get really discouraged. I still think national politics are very important, but how do we pivot that to a local engagement first to start that flywheel of community activism where your school board members will certainly get back to you because 10 people vote in those elections, and your local elected officials will and your business leaders will. So we had really a focus on local. Again, lots of community lessons came from that experience.
Kyle Hagge: And then finally, sorry to give you the whole thing, but I worked for Marquette after as a podcast producer, nonetheless, and kind of an innovation guy. I worked with the innovator-in-residence at Marquette. His name was Chuck Swoboda, former CEO of a company called Cree. It's a publicly traded company. He was CEO for 16 years, scaled it from 50 million to 1.6 billion. And so I learned a lot about innovation and entrepreneurship from him and we interviewed other innovators and entrepreneurs.
Kyle Hagge: So my last takeaway is my personal monopoly. This is probably a good framework for anyone to think about, like what are three things that you can combine in a unique way that give you this advantage that no one can really replicate. I like to think of it like, I had these community experiences that were really powerful. I had this innovation experience that was really powerful. And then I was running my own podcast, my own media platform. That was really powerful. And so when I took the job at Morning Brew, it was almost this perfect Venn diagram right of your personal monopoly. It was community, it was innovation and it was media. I sat right at the center of that and I think it has allowed me to hopefully do a good job in that setting.
Sara Jane Hess: That is the best recitation of a resume I've ever heard. So good.
Kyle Hagge: There we go. I'll send it to my parents after.
Jillian Benbow: I am sure. They're so proud. Well, and it's fun to see your journey. We can certainly follow along and see what played impact. I often think about digital community, because a lot of people think of community building and whatnot as local community. And it is, it's very overlapping. I think community managers in general and the type of people drawn to the work we do were helpers. So it only makes sense that some of us end up doing digital, like big scale stuff. Some people are boots on the ground within the community that they live in or whatnot. And so we're all pals.
Kyle Hagge: Yeah. I think it's important, impact can be made in several different ways. I'm not here to tell you how to make an impact, but I think it's nice to hear you can impact the world in a variety of different ways and finding what is comfortable and what's easiest where you can have the most leverage is a really a smart idea.
Jillian Benbow: It is. To your point, if we all focus on the thing that matters to us in our corner of the world, hypothetically, that should lift us all up together collectively, which is awesome.
Jillian Benbow: Tell us more about Bridge the City and just what that work was like, just all of it. Like running that.
Kyle Hagge: So Bridge the City was this podcast media community company that I alluded to earlier. I had started it my first year of grad school with a friend of mine, Ben. And then we had six people working on it by the time I left. Bridge the City, the whole point was to give people concrete, critical action steps on how they can get more involved in their community. Again, our thesis was people do care. I often hear like, "Oh, people don't care about politics." I do think people care about politics because they care about their neighborhoods. They care about their community. They care about people that might not have the same privilege as them. I generally think humankind is good that we want to see other people succeed and be happy. It's just the way that we're expressing this care often is through ways that we don't feel like we're heard. And so it's quite easy to feel disenfranchised for every group, and particularly certain groups in this country.
Kyle Hagge: Our goal was, how do we take this energy and allow people to channel it in a way that has positive feedback loops? We thought our hypothesis was, if you do things locally, you see change happen faster. People are more responsive. There's power in proximity. And so if we can really get people to care about local issues and local policy and local school board and local business, they're going to get addicted to civic engagement. Once you have some success and you see some movement, all right, then scale up. Now, you're working at the state level. And then maybe you go to the national level.
Kyle Hagge: But if you start at the national level, I often feel people think that's the only way to get involved. They're like, "No one is listening. and It's easy to feel like it doesn't matter. And so that was our whole goal. We basically reported a podcast every single week with civic leaders of all different types. We did community events. We would have panels and talk about criminal justice or housing or other issues affecting the Milwaukee community. Again, we tried to arm people with action steps. Every episode ended with an action step, something I try to carry throughout my career, is not just telling people about what the problem is, but arming them with an idea, an action step that they can do the next day to make a difference and get people moving, and get people acting. I think the rest takes care of itself then.
Sara Jane Hess: I love that. I think it's so important because I think one thing I want to just hold onto there is the action step. I think I watched your TEDx video and you talk about people being intimidated to get involved in a national level because you just said it feels like they don't matter, but I think also they don't know where to start because they are just one vote. So it's like, "How do I get started?" I think I love the idea of giving small steps and you just guide people there.
Kyle Hagge: Right. Well, thank you. I think it's a good idea, myself too.
Sara Jane Hess: So Kyle, tell me more about Oddly Specific.
Kyle Hagge: Oh, wow. Man, kudos to your researcher, whoever it is.
Jillian Benbow: David.
Kyle Hagge: If it's you two, well done. All right, shout out to David. Okay. Oddly Specific is a idea that I had with my friend, Rachel, who at the time worked at Morning Brew. She now works at Tydo. Shout out to Rachel. It was this idea, I had just moved to New York. She actually had just moved to New York, both from the Midwest as well. It was this idea that the relationships that you form that are the stickiest that actually last and that matter the most, you tend to meet those people in oddly specific scenarios. The weirder, how you meet someone is, it's more memorable almost by definition. I just felt that the number of like, hey, come drink on a rooftop parties was... I mean, don't get me wrong. I like a rooftop. I like a drink. A view is nice, but that's what everyone was doing and I just felt like you weren't actually forming actual relationships.
Kyle Hagge: And so we wanted to put together a series of events where people met in oddly specific ways that enabled actually lasting friendships. And so our first event that we did was something called Stoop and Sip. We found 15 stoops across New York and Manhattan and Brooklyn. We had 100 people about sign up. And then the day of we assigned them to a stoop, we said, "Go to this address, there's going to be a stoop there. There's going to be a set of drinks and beverages and get to know U Cards. And randomly four or five other people are going to be at that stoop too, and you're going to meet some new people on a stoop and have a sip."
Kyle Hagge: Yeah, we pulled it off. People showed up to 15 stoops across the city. I will say it's anecdotal, but I think the evidence does suggest at least from what we heard back that so many people actually did form friendships that are still lasting around. Now they're going rock climbing because it's just so freeing, like what are we doing? This is cool bonding experience. You're going to forget that person you might have got drinks with once on a rooftop because it fades into all the rooftops you ever been to. You're not going to forget the person who on Ludlow Avenue you drank a kombucha with on a stoop in New York City. And so it was really cool. We had a great time, and we're looking to do more experiential events that are oddly specific.
Jillian Benbow: A sip and stoop. I love it.
Kyle Hagge: Yes. It was a blast.
Jillian Benbow: It's thrilling. I'm sure going, you're just like... It's kind of blind date energy without all the pressure of that.
Kyle Hagge: Right. Blind dating friends.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. You don't have to worry about all the other stuff. You're just like, "We're just going to show up and hang out." And then whatever.
Kyle Hagge: Yeah. It was a fun experience.
Sara Jane Hess: Yeah. In an unintimidating environment too. It's just a stoop. Yeah, it's a stoop.
Kyle Hagge: Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: So that's so cool. I love that in-person get-togethers in that way. We talk on this show a lot about loneliness and making friends as an adult and it's just hard. Once you're in adulthood, especially moving to a new city, New York is one of those cities a lot of people move to and uproot to, and just being able to, how do you find your people and how do you find social connections, be it acquaintances or true friends? It's very hard. So I love that you're doing work for that. It's just fun and refreshing. Like you said, it's not a like, "Oh, let's meet for a happy hour at this bar like we always do." It's just different.
Kyle Hagge: You hit on, I think part of the thesis that I left out, and that is the fact that it is very hard to make friends as adults for a lot of people. I think the reason that is, is that there's always been this third space growing up that you go to. Like you're at school, you're just going to be around people for nine months. Odds are you like someone and you're going to get enough exposure to them. A huge part of friendship is just constant exposure. And you get that in school, you get that when you're playing sports, you get that if you're in theater, whatever it might be. When you become an adult, work can quickly take over your life. There's different boundaries at work than you have with in other places or around friendship.
Kyle Hagge: I think our theory is that when you do weirder things, it actually takes the time needed to become friends and shrinks it. When you have really unique oddly specific experiences, it's almost like you've had three months of normal experiences. And so the weirder... I don't know if you've ever met someone traveling, it's like, you'll have two days with them, but you're in Italy and it's weird and you're like, "I met someone else from Minnesota." You're friends instantly. So it is playing around with the context in which you're meeting people that affects how fast you're able to form friendships. And so we're trying to give adults a chance to form friendships fast in an oddly specific way, because people are busy, but they still want friends.
Sara Jane Hess: Gosh, that's so true.
Jillian Benbow: I think too, things like, I mean, not to take a dark turn, but traumatic events, if you go through a horrible experience and there's other people, you will create a bond with that person that is so deep, so fast because it was a life-changing event.
Kyle Hagge: 100%.
Jillian Benbow: I suppose it could be a good life-changing event, but it's usually something catastrophic. But anyways, we won't go there. The world has enough problems. Let's focus on fun stuff like the Morning Brew community.
Kyle Hagge: All right.
Jillian Benbow: I mean, I'm so excited. I was looking at the about page and just all the things. Tell us, how does it work? Just tell our audience, what's the community?
Kyle Hagge: So just to give people a background on Morning Brew if you're not familiar with it, it started as a daily newsletter covers business, a little bit of culture, a little bit of politics, but really just what happened yesterday, get smarter in five minutes or less. We now have four million subscribers to that daily newsletter. Morning Brew has branched out into other sub-vertical. So instead of the Morning Brew daily newsletter, we also have marketing brew or retail brew or emerging tech brew where we're taking one specific industry and we're covering that in the same premise, what's going on, let us help you make better decisions at your job if you're a marketer, get what you need to know in five minutes. And then any media company, now we're developing other platforms.
Kyle Hagge: So we have podcasts, we have sponsored Twitter Spaces, we have social. And so it is now a broadly speaking digital media company, I think really well-positioned for a millennial audience and people really love the brand. So I would say we have a really large audience. And how I define audience and community, audience is one to many, community is many-to-many. So Morning Brew, it's an audience-based business. Our newsletter, it comes from one, Morning Brew. It goes out to many, but the many it gets, they're not really interacting. Now you can make the argument on social, they are. I think we actually have developed decent community. That is a hybrid of an audience in a community, but that's how I would define our relationship for the most part.
Kyle Hagge: Now, when I was hired to be the community manager on the first paid product that Morning Brew was developing, and I was the second/third hire on that team, the education team and we were building essentially cohort-based courses. The idea was, hey, we should diversify different revenue streams. It would be nice to have a paid product, but what if we got this audience that we have out here and gave them a chance to not only level up, they're probably interested in that because they're reading the news every day, but interact with each other and really form a community-based product, a many-to-many product. And so came onto that team. We developed our first ever cohort-based course educational experience, whatever you want to call it is called the Morning Brew Accelerator or MB/A. It is an eight week course where professionals come to accelerate their career.
Kyle Hagge: So we have various different pillars. People do live events. We have asynchronous content. We have a personal board of directors. We have really cool case studies that we did the impossible, we made case studies fun, and all of this wrapped into an eight week experience where you gain the necessary skills a modern business leader needs, but you're also gaining a really dynamic community of other ambitious professionals that you get to stay in for your entire career. We have alumni programming, alumni Slack and all that stuff. So it's been an incredible experience. We now have different products, not just MB/A, but really focused on community many-to-many based products that both help you level up as a business leader, but also give you a community of other professionals.
Sara Jane Hess: Yeah. As we were doing our research, Jillian and I were like, "Ooh, maybe we should sign up for this."
Kyle Hagge: I certainly think you should. I'll hit you with a referral app.
Sara Jane Hess: Yeah. We would love that. I want to go back to your Venn diagram for a minute and to steal from, speaking of your Twitter. Now that we have collected all of these things and you seem to have connected them, can you tell us how you're able to use all of those strengths that you've gathered in this role at Morning Brew?
Kyle Hagge: What a wonderful question. So I think community roles in general, my advice to anyone in community roles or wanting to get into community roles is, what I've seen is the people with the most disparate experiences end up being the best community managers. The reason I think this is, is that part of being a community manager is forming relationships with lots of different people. If you want your community to be full of vibrant different perspectives, you're going to have to interact with people with vibrant, different perspectives. If you've lived a one-track life, again, it's people's preference, but it might be harder for you to relate to other people.
Kyle Hagge: I've done a lot of different things. I was farming in Europe for two months through this WWOOFing program. I feel like I've lived lives that probably could have dovetailed into several different careers. I think community is a perfect place to get into if you've lived that type of life, because I could be talking to a founder one day in our program and I've had some experience with startups, and then I could be talking to someone that's leading innovation at a company. I've done some stuff around that. And so you're able to talk to a lot of different people, have a lot of different conversations that move the community forward.
Kyle Hagge: The other thing I think too, that really helps having disparate experiences in a community role is that people don't like the same stuff you do, breaking news. I think community managers or communities, they often struggle when they only develop programming that they think they like. What I think is really cool about our program specifically is we have synchronous live events. If you're like, "I love the energy of being live. I love hearing from industry experts." You can see yourself in that space, we have that space for you. If you're more thoughtful, I like a one-on-one conversation, I'm more comfortable in that scenario, we do one-on-one coffee chats, where we connect community members to each other, to have those conversations. If you're someone who's like, "I don't really like the face-to-face, but give me a thing to read and let me type up a really thoughtful response." We have a forum that people are on that's kind of our virtual campus where people can express themselves that way. And example after example, after example.
Kyle Hagge: And so I think again, the disparate experiences understanding that, wow, I've seen a lot of different things. I understand that people are different than me are going to like different things. You build communities, I think, that are more inclusive now. Like any community, I think we have ways to go on inclusivity as does everyone, but I think the starting point is recognizing that you need to build a community, not just for you, but for other people as well.
Kyle Hagge: And then the second thing is, community managers, it's interesting... you have to have good moderator experience and moderators skills. And having done Bridge the City and interviewing a lot of people and setting up live events and moderating panels, I think that also really shines through. You're almost setting other people up for success, both your users and the experts and community managers. I like to say there's a difference between being the life of a party and being the host of a party. As a community manager, it's easy to be like, "I'm the life of the party, you're not at all. You're the host and you're setting up your community for success. You're setting up other people coming into your community for success." I think that's something I learned throughout my varied experience.
Kyle Hagge: And then the last thing is like, I really like business and innovation and entrepreneurship, but I also care about social justice. I'd done AmeriCorps. The fellowship I was in at Marquette was actually a fellowship you had to have done AmeriCorps peace corps to get in. They take 15 students a year. It's focused on economic and social justice. So I think we have probably one of the best definitions of what a modern business leader looks like. And it's not just about driving revenue or adding value, but it's about thinking about the impact that you have both as a business within yourself as a leader.
Kyle Hagge: You're working with these people, but you also are developing them. You also have relationships with them. I think we're just more thoughtful about how business ought to be and how leaders ought to be. And so my goal, you come through our program, you're well-equipped to succeed in the world, but you're also equipped to leave a positive impact on the people that your business touches and the people that are on your team. So I think it's an interesting background and hopefully it's playing out well.
Jillian Benbow: You know, talking about you're the host of the party, that's analogy I use all the time to describe what you need to do as a community builder, and especially when you're onboarding, when people join. If they're coming to the party, they don't know anybody. You show them where the bathroom is, you take their coat, you offer them a drink. You say, "Oh, Kyle, have you met Sara Jane? I want to introduce you two because you both are super into this cause. I think, and you both might be a member of this thing. You should talk." And then give a warm handoff to like, here's someone to talk to. So now you have someone besides me to cling, not cling to, that you feel familiar with. So I love that.
Jillian Benbow: Also, the one too many, it's also how I help describe is it an audience or a community? That's a fun little game to play with people because they're like, "The community." I'm like, "How do you interact with them?" They're like, "Well, I post on social." I'm like, "That's an audience."
Kyle Hagge: Right. My take is, audience is not bad. Audience is very powerful. Often audience is top of funnel for your community. So like-
Jillian Benbow: Precisely.
Kyle Hagge: ... it's important to know what you're are doing, why you're doing it and what type of business model you have. And so that's where I think the definitions are semi-important. But the point you brought up about the host of the party and introducing people is so spot on. I think onboarding is a huge thing in communities. And it's the same thing, like when someone comes to a party, you have one chance to make a first impression. It's the same in a community. I think what great hosts do is they get everyone settled. And then a great host, if they just left their party and went somewhere else, they could come back in an hour and everyone's still having a good time.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. In a way you're almost trying to get rid of yourself. And I joke about this, you should be able to step away, say, go on a long weekend or even take a week off, and it should keep going. They might notice you're not there, but they might not. That's a sign of a really healthy community. At some companies I'm sure people, and I know I've certainly worked companies like this. It's like, well, maybe I don't want to do that because they don't want to pay for community anyways. So I don't want to have myself out of a job. But you won't, you're still very much needed, but that is such a good sign of a healthy and thriving community. Like you said, you can step out to go buy more ice and the music keeps playing.
Kyle Hagge: You begin to add value in different ways. Once the community is established and you've onboarded, and typically if it's like an always on community, you're always onboarding people. There's always work to do. Our courses are time-bound. And so the first week it feels a lot different than week seven. You start adding value as a community manager in different ways. You're not just onboarding people, but you're kind of a member yourself. And so there's still always going to be a need for community managers. It's just the type of role depends on where they're at in the onboarding cycle.
Jillian Benbow: I'm curious to explore details about, so your community is based on cohort-based courses or CBCs, as we've started abbreviating, which are so hot right now. So obviously there's the curriculum you're helping people through, you're helping create relationships between students or the members, however you refer to the learners. You're doing that. We noticed in our supersleuth research people are getting together in-person. Like you mentioned, there's alumni areas. What happens when you're done with the eight weeks? Are you moved out of that space into that alumni Slack. How are people staying connected to the community postgrad.
Kyle Hagge: Before I answer that, you brought up something interesting, the content that we deliver. I think this is also missed a lot of times. Shout out to my people that work in content. People often are like, "Oh, a community is just a bunch of people in a Slack." Going back to the oddly specific thing, I think, sure, maybe that is, but the best communities, they go through a shared experience together. That's where content is so important and why I think content and community should work hand in hand. People need to go through a shared experience to form bonds, to form friendship, to form community. And so if you just put people in a Slack group, yeah. Sure. It's many-to-many, but are they going through something that is really bringing people together?
Kyle Hagge: And so what's cool about our courses is for eight weeks, you're going through case studies together. You're having these personal board meetings. You're engaging with our content and discussing and riffing on it. Without that, if you stripped away the content, the community would just be like a bunch of people hanging out for no good reason. And so the content is, I think, often overlooked in community spaces and sometimes community is overlooked, but I think it's the synergy between the two that make the best communities and it's important to invest in both.
Kyle Hagge: To answer your actual question, what do people do when they get out of the experience, so they become alumni of our product. We’ll have about 2,000 alumni after the quick hits, if you will, they get access to Morning Brews only exclusive newsletter, breaking news called Alumni Brew that we send out once a month to all of our alumni and it's formatted just like a Morning Brew newsletter, great way to stay connected. Again, that's more of an audience-based thing, but it's updates and shoutouts to people in the community. We have an alumni Slack that they have the option to join where we have a job board and we have crowdsource and we have general channels, all the stuff you'd expect from a Slack. They get discounts to all of our future products. We actually see many alumni come back, take another course.
Kyle Hagge: What I think is really cool about our alumni community, and in some ways your experience with Morning Brew education is actually on, just a time basis, you're going to spend more time as alumni as you're going to spend in our program. Because people go through this experience together before they join our alumni community. It's really hard, again, about that shared experience and those relationships that are formed through shared experience, it's really hard to start up a community from scratch on Slack, even around a shared interest like, oh, this is the basketball community. We talk about basketball. I love basketball, but who are these people? Have we done anything together? Do I have that trust? It's hard to build from scratch.
Kyle Hagge: So I view our programs as not only a value-add to our students, but as the great filter. Like you have gone through this experience, it means that, one, you're dedicated. Two, you're a lifelong learner. Three, you're curious. Four, you kind of fit our ethos of what a business leader should be. So if you've gone through that experience, now you're in our alumni community, it's like, we've found all the types of people that want to be here. Even if they're in different cohorts, they can relate. They've done similar case studies, they've heard similar speakers, they've seen the same vibe. So it's like an alumni community of 2,000 people that have also gone through a shared experience. I think that's where the real power is. And that's where the real potential is. I was like, "Hey, we're going to have so many of these incredibly dynamic professionals that are lifelong learners."
Kyle Hagge: That's a community that I want to be part of. I think that's a community that companies want to tap into when they're seeking talent. And so there's lots of different ways to go with that community, but that's what the alumni are up to. And we call them Brewdents. So students Morning Brew, brewdents.
Jillian Benbow: Brewdents. That's... I can't. It's too good. So I'm curious, your Brewdents, I'm assuming it's global, people who participate or is it mostly North America?
Kyle Hagge: It's across the US. Right now we are US only with, there's a few exceptions, but we're US only. That is not by any sort of nationalist choice, it is a function of our legal and tax compliance. So we are working to accept international students. There also is some synchronous components. So obviously if you're in similar time zones and you're in Guatemala or Mexico or Canada, it would work. But if you're in Germany, the time difference might cause some issues. So we're still working those out, but we would love to accept international students as soon as possible.
Jillian Benbow: Well, and that leads into where I was going, because you have synchronous and asynchronous just matching people into those smaller groups within the cohort, do you have challenges with that? I'm curious how you go about it. It sounds like having five-ish time zones makes it much easier. We have a global membership. And so the cohort-based courses we've done and also just our community is definitely challenging. Oceania is particularly 2:30 AM, our time is perfect for them.
Kyle Hagge: Right. That is definitely a challenge across communities. For our peer groups, again, our learning is very multimodal. So some things you're doing individually, some things you're doing with peer groups, some things you're doing with another peer group, some things you're doing with the whole community. We do have a community platform called Circle, that's like Slack meets Facebook groups that you're on. You have a profile you're posting that's always on. So it's multimodal. But for the peer group specific, our first filter is time zone. So you're going to be put in a group with other people based on time zone, so scheduling is easier for our board meetings where you get a personal board of directors.
Kyle Hagge: Our second filter is actually shared professional experience. We want these groups to be your, again, personal board of directors. You're coming together to talk about shared professional challenges. You do four of those throughout the program, and we have you schedule those from the jump. So, hey, “get together. There's five other people in your group. Figure out when you're free for four weeks during the eight week process, let's get those booked now. you're in similar time zones.” So that has worked out well. And so the challenge is mitigated by the time zone and the fact that we just have enough people and enough different time zones to make it work, but that is a challenge for all community builders.
Sara Jane Hess: Since you put people together based on time zone, do you find that a lot of people get together in-person because they are closer geographically?
Kyle Hagge: Yeah. So I would say they get together in-person based on metro area. And so an average cohort of MB/A will have 30 or 40 people in New York and 15 in Boston and seven in Atlanta, and five in Denver and three in Minneapolis, shout out Minneapolis, gray city in the world and 10 in Seattle and eight in the Bay Area. Kind of the major metro areas of the states. And so people often get together in groups of anywhere from three to 30 and grab a coffee, grab a drink, grab lunch. I think a sign of a thriving community is going from URL to IRL or from online to in real life. If you're able to cross the digital chasm and meet in-person, I think that is an incredible testament, not only to our people that go through our program, but at least the environment we've created, where people feel comfortable enough to meet in-person.
Sara Jane Hess: Would you say that this program is just an elongated oddly specific connector?
Kyle Hagge: In some ways, yes. I think doing a interactive, cool case study with people is pretty interesting. It's not something I'd stumble upon every day. So I think there's elements of that, but at the root of it is, again, going through shared experiences matter. Communities that leave that out I think just really struggle with why am I here? Do I really have bonds with these people? To Jillian's point early, the case studies are hard, learning should be fun, but it's this basic premise of life. If you're comfortable, you're not growing. Just a fact.
Kyle Hagge: And so if you're learning, it should be fun. We want it to be engaging, but you should be stretched. When people are stretched together, it is this, I don't want to use the word lightly, but it's like trauma bonding, where you've gone through a difficult thing with other people, you've come out on the other side as more advanced or resilient, or you're smarter people. It's that bond. I've gone like, white-water rafting with complete strangers. When you're like, "Oh, I'm about to flip upside down and possibly drown," and someone grabs you, it's like, okay, we went through an experience together. Now we're grabbing beers after this.
Jillian Benbow: See, trauma bonds.
Kyle Hagge: Yes. It's interesting. The founding cohort, we gave them too many case studies and they'll be the first to admit. We had them do a case study every week. It was wild. It was intense. If you look at our NPS scores, the founding cohort actually has the highest NPS score. I would say we gave them the most difficult work. There's many factors that go into NPS. The pricing was different. It was the founding cohort, different context, but I think there's something to learn from that. The principle is a community that's super easy where no one is pushed is probably not a community that's going to form close bonds.
Kyle Hagge: Sometimes people will tell you what they want, but that's not actually what they want. It is the classic Henry Ford quote, if I asked my customers what they wanted, they would've said a faster horse. So of course, people, they get into your community. They're going to say, "I don't want to be pushed, I'm chilling and I'm comfortable." People do. That is why people join communities. They're in it for the transformation. You can only have transformation through uncomfort. And so creating situations that are hard, but creating an environment where they feel safe psychologically to attempt them is paramount.
Jillian Benbow: Boom. Well, Kyle, this has been amazing. I want to be respectful of your time. So we are going to transition to the last bit of what we do, which is our rapid fire.
Kyle Hagge: Let's do it.
Jillian Benbow: Sara Jane's going to ask you a series of questions. The goal is to have a one-sentence or less answer, just whatever comes to you. We will try to not ask follow-up questions despite our urge too, we can save that for Twitter.
Kyle Hagge: I'm excited.
Jillian Benbow: Here we go. Are you ready?
Kyle Hagge: Lightning round activated.
Sara Jane Hess: All right. Here we go, Kyle. What did you want to be when you grow up?
Kyle Hagge: Lawyer.
Sara Jane Hess: How do you define community?
Kyle Hagge: Many-to-many.
Sara Jane Hess: What is something on your bucket list that you have done?
Kyle Hagge: Farmed in rural farms in Italy?
Sara Jane Hess: That's a good one. All right. What's something on your bucket list that you have yet to do?
Kyle Hagge: Skydive.
Sara Jane Hess: What's a book that you are currently loving?
Kyle Hagge: All right, I'm currently loving it because I think about it all the time. I'm not currently reading it. It's called Range by David Epstein. Literally I'm not getting paid, but I should be because I promote this book so much. Range by David Epstein, you have to read it.
Sara Jane Hess: Is it the generalist book?
Kyle Hagge: Yes. The tagline is why generalists will try and fit a specialized world.
Sara Jane Hess: On my list. Awesome. Okay. Following the rules and moving on. If you could live anywhere else where would it be?
Kyle Hagge: Chicago.
Sara Jane Hess: How do you want to be remembered?
Kyle Hagge: Damn. All right. Thinking about my funeral here, just casual Wednesday thoughts. I'm a fan of the quote and I'm going to butcher it and I don't know who said it, so I probably shouldn't even be saying it, but I'm going to anyway. It's like, you don't die when you die. You die the last time someone says your name. So Yeah. I guess the most basic answer ever is just, I hope that someone out there has been changed by something I've done and that has positively impacted them and it leads to a better world.
Jillian Benbow: Good answer. That one's tough to hit and very, like in one word.
Kyle Hagge: I almost cried, I'm not going to lie. My eyes [inaudible 00:53:47].
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. It was close. It was a great answer.
Kyle Hagge: Again, our guests begins to tear up at the end of the podcast and we're in complete disarray.
Jillian Benbow: We have done our jobs. Yes, we made him cry. We get a bonus every time. Also, it looks like that quote is from Banksy, which thrills me greatly because I'm
Kyle Hagge: Interesting.
Jillian Benbow: A huge fan, which I wouldn't have expected, but maybe it's not the original, but just...
Kyle Hagge: We don't know who Banksy is. So the quote could be actually from any of us.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I mean, maybe I'm Banksy.
Kyle Hagge: I got Banksy vibes when I started this. I was like, "Jillian might be Banksy."
Jillian Benbow: I might be. In fact, I have to head to France soon for something unrelated, but the end I quote is, I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on when somebody says your name for the last time. Boom.
Kyle Hagge: That's deep.
Jillian Benbow: Next to it, I'm looking at Goodreads is one of Banksy's street arts of a little girl hugging a missile. So, fantastic. But I like how he talks about the world or she, they. I should say they. Love you, Banksy. Call me. On that note, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been such a pleasure. We're now best friends. So look out for me bothering you because we've got tons in common as community builders. I love the way you look at community and I'm excited to learn more about all of these accelerator cohort-based courses you have. I think I might have to do one.
Kyle Hagge: You definitely should. It would be a lot of fun.
Jillian Benbow: Right?
Kyle Hagge: Yeah. I mean-
Jillian Benbow: Can you imagine having a community builder in there as a Brewdent?
Kyle Hagge: It'd be a blast.
Jillian Benbow: It's so annoying.
Kyle Hagge: Yeah. I mean, hey, thank you both for having me. This was a great conversation. Any conversation where I almost cry is a great one, but it was very thoughtful. If people are interested, they can go to learning.morningbrew.com to find out more about our accelerators. If anyone has any questions about anything I've said, [email protected] is my email. I do check it, so please reach out
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh. Well, because you are a podcaster, you just did the thing I was going to ask you.
Kyle Hagge: Gotcha.
Jillian Benbow: Also, where can people find you on social?
Kyle Hagge: My LinkedIn is Kyle Hagge. My Twitter is @kylehagge. My website is kylehagge.com. So if we wanted to end with some nice narcissism, find me at everywhere you find Kyle Hagge.
Jillian Benbow: Well, and there's also Bridge the City.
Kyle Hagge: Yeah, Bridge the City. I'm not active with that organization anymore. I'm now in New York, but it's great. You should check it out.
Jillian Benbow: Gotcha. And of course, oddlyspecific.norby.live.
Kyle Hagge: Yes. I think that is our website. If you follow me and Rachel on Twitter, you'll get updates. We're planning a new event right now actually.
Jillian Benbow: Excellent. Well, Kyle, thanks again. This has been a delight. Hope to see you on the inner webs. Until next time.
Kyle Hagge: Yes. Thank you so much.
Sara Jane Hess: All right. Well, that was our interview with Kyle. So many great nuggets in that interview. I love it. I know I said this with our last interview, I was like, "I'm just taking all the notes." I did it again, because there's just so many great key things to walk away from. So Jill, what really stuck out to you?
Jillian Benbow: All the things. Kyle definitely has a love for Minnesota. We definitely established that.
Sara Jane Hess: We did.
Jillian Benbow: I really appreciate what he said about shared experience and how by creating really unique or weird out of the box experiences you can really accelerate relationships, be it friendships or professional and the whole stoop and sit, not sit and stoop, stoop and sit. That is such a cool example of doing that. And he has the evidence to say I did it and it works.
Sara Jane Hess: Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I keep thinking about that. I'm like, "Could that work?" Where I live is very cold, but maybe we don't really have stoops park and sit.
Sara Jane Hess: You have slopes and sit.
Jillian Benbow: Slopes and sit. Hook off this cliff together, you'll become best friends very quickly, as you rely on each other for survival or you will die. One of the two, it's going to be great. What did you think about the whole concept of the shared experience and the “weirder the better” thought process?
Sara Jane Hess: It was one of those things where I guess I hadn't thought about it much. And then as he was saying it, going back through my memory of my own experiences through life and I'm like, "Oh, no, that checks out.” The people that I have maintained long-term friendships with or even working relationships. They have started out either in a strange way, or like we talked about in the interview, through some kind of trauma that has happened, like a shared trauma, because these shared experiences are not always happy ones, but either way it deepens a relationship much faster and you share something that you don't really share with anyone else.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, absolutely. It makes me think about how in digital community in particular, because in-person events I think-
Sara Jane Hess: That's one thing.
Jillian Benbow: ... there's a lot of options. Yeah, so how do you do it digitally? I know one of our pro members, Kylene, has hosted one and he's going to host another of these. And this is where the Internet is passing me by and I'm okay with it, but it's like a metaverse or there's a platform called Ramble, which is also in Circle I found out. They're in the Circle support community, and you can do the meta... Not virtual reality, I'm really going to butcher this. So to all the people listening who are keeping up with the Internet, I apologize. But he did a networking event on that for a pro. I was like, "That's really unique."
Jillian Benbow: I couldn't make it, so I'm very curious. I want to try to make the next one just to see, is it like Topia? We had Brooke from Topia on the show a few episodes ago. It sees like spaces that you go in and interact in and just kind of different than what we're used to. I'm just word salading right now because I still don't totally get the whole thing. I'm like, "Wait, so do I need a digital outfit?" I don't know, but it's cool. It's something just totally different.
Sara Jane Hess: Yeah. And still pretty new. I would imagine that most people have the same experience you do, which is like, I don't really know what it is, but it sounds really neat. I think that it is harder to get beyond a Zoom call digitally. And so what Kyle was describing, even with Morning Brews Accelerator, where they have different ways of interacting, all the ways that these things are successful with the white pages and some in-person stuff, or the in-person stuff comes out of the digital stuff they do. So kudos to them.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. With a cohort-based course, and we've seen it with ours, people get super close. I think it's just because they're spending a lot of... There's a lot of structured time together in many ways, but then there's also that free time and then you get the study buddy. It's like being back in school, but without all the bad parts.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. It'll be interesting to see just what even platforms are available to do out of the box things. But also to your point, there's obviously ways to do it a little more traditionally within the existing cohort model or just whatever community you use. I know for our community, we definitely encourage people to meet in-person if that's something that they're comfortable with. We're looking, probably later this year we want to launch a more formalized in-person events piece to our community now that the pandemic is... I mean, we'll see. It's still here, now that most people feel safer.
Sara Jane Hess: Receding maybe.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Who knows? It's an endemic now. Yeah, no, but we'll figure it out, but that's an exciting piece for us to formalize in-person meetups. But I'm curious, anybody listening, what you've tried. Is there any sort of quirky or just unique way to connect people that's helped? You can reach out to @teamSPI on Twitter to let us know if you have any hot gas on that subject. Anything else, Sara Jane, that you've found? I know you've been Venn diagramming since we talked to Kyle.
Sara Jane Hess: Yeah. Just thinking about Kyle, he's very self-aware and able to recognize the different strengths that he has and being able to Venn diagram them. I walked away from that interview like, huh? Okay, I should probably go Venn diagram myself now and all of my team members. It's just very cool. I think that we don't spend enough time recognizing that in ourselves and then the people around us. So even aside from the community top that I walked away with and have been thinking about ever since.
Jillian Benbow: That's fantastic.
Sara Jane Hess: Well, lots of Venn diagrams in my notebook here.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Do you color code?
Sara Jane Hess: Oh, I'm not there yet. I'm sure they will be.
Jillian Benbow: That would be the part that I enjoyed the most. Would be like, "Well, I'm going to color code it. I don't know what content I'll put here."
Sara Jane Hess: Colors first.
Jillian Benbow: Colors first, please. All right. Well, we hope you enjoyed this episode. We will see you next Tuesday, but thanks for listening and have fun out there.
Jillian Benbow: Learn more about Kyle at his website, KyleHagge.com, or on Twitter @kylehagge. You can also find him at MorningBrew.com. Your lead host for the Community Experience is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski, and our editor is Ray Sylvester. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.