What do you do if you want to provide your audience members with the value of community, but they're not all at the same level in their journey?
We needed to come up with a solution for this at SPI, and by gosh, we’ve done it!
Jillian, our hostess with the mostess, is joined by two very special guests today to talk about the launch of our brand new Learner Community. Matt Gartland is the CEO of SPI Media, and Mindy Holahan Peters is our Senior Solutions Manager. Together they’ll give you an inside look at how we’re now providing beginner entrepreneurs with the same level of support our SPI Pro members enjoy.
This episode is a deep dive into the SPI community strategy. You’ll learn how SPI Pro, the Learner Community, and the SPI Academy all fit together and we talk about why we decided to create separate communities instead of having multiple tiers inside a single membership. This tactic comes with pros and cons, and we discuss all of those.
We share what we've learned about migrating platforms, payment solutions, and enrollment options. Jillian, Matt, and Mindy also go through the tools and integrations we use to ensure our members have a fantastic experience.
And this is just the beginning! Keep an eye out for episode 610 of Smart Passive Income to find out exactly why we knew we had to launch the Learner Community for our audience.
Matt is a 5x startup founder/co-founder with 3 meaningful exits to date. Today, Matt serves as CEO of SPI Media, a venture he co-founded with good friend Pat Flynn to take the SPI business to the next level. His entrepreneurial career spans digital media, e-commerce, and the creator economy. Beyond his own ventures, Matt is an advisor to and/or angel investor in such tech companies as Circle, Karat, Maven, and Supercast.
- Connect with Matt on LinkedIn
Mindy Holahan Peters
Mindy is an ardent learner who loves to solve problems, analyze data, and is generally an enthusiastic nerd. She excels at making blanket forts for toddlers and cats, and talks about Minnesota a lot.
- Connect with Mindy on LinkedIn
In This Episode
- Why we decided to create a new membership program
- How SPI Pro, the Learner Community, and The SPI Academy fit together
- Migrating communities off of Facebook and onto paid platforms
- Why communities have become essential for online learners
- Recreating the magic of FlynnCon for our community members
- The pros and cons of separate and tiered memberships
- Why keeping enrollment open year-round for beginners is a good idea
- Mindy’s Law Number One
- Finding the right payment solution for your community
- The software tools we use to manage our membership communities
- Find out about our communities for entrepreneurs at any level
- Learn more about Circle, the easiest way to set up a premium community experience [affiliate link]
- Connect with @TeamSPI on Twitter
The CX 054: A Behind-The-Scenes Look at How SPI Launched Another Paid Community
Mindy Peters: Err on the side of making a decision as opposed to trying so hard to keep your options open that you never make a choice. It's okay if you start using a tool, you use it for a while, it's good for a while, and then you realize this tool is no longer serving the purpose that I need. Now, I have to switch.
Just with another coworker this week, we came up with Mindy's Law Number One: Eventually, everything will need to be migrated. So, just err on the side of making a decision, get going. You can figure it out if you need to do something different later.
Jillian Benbow: Hello. Welcome to the Community Experience Podcast. I'm your hostess, Jillian Benbow. And today, we are having a special episode. I have my colleagues, Matthew Gartland, the CEO of SPI Media, and Mindy Peters, the Senior Solutions Manager of SPI Media with me today. We are talking about building out new communities and tiers. So, this is something we are doing. We see a need for not having one big community and instead having some different price point options. And we thought this would be helpful to anybody in community who maybe is thinking the same thing. So, just some background info before we get started with the talking, I just want to make sure everything is clear.
So, I'm going to provide some context about our communities and the origin story and where we are and where we're going, so that it all makes more sense. This is a two-part series. Pat had myself, Ashley, and David, so the CX Team on his pod, and we talked about why. We talked a lot about why we're doing this. So, there's that episode. In this episode with Matt and Mindy and myself, we're talking about how we did it. So, we had to think about the considerations, how to add on to an existing community, how we did it, lessons learned. So, we thought this would be helpful for people listening to the podcast because it's an option now. I mean platforms and just the way communities work, it's a very real option. So, we're excited to dig into it.
So, the context, just a quick recap, I'll keep it TLDR for you. 2020, we launched SPI Pro, a private paid community. There's an application to get in. We do have a cap on membership. It is very specifically for digital entrepreneurs who are either mid-level or advanced that are making recurring revenue, and it's a safe place for them to get together, to collaborate, to talk, to have vulnerable conversations, to network, et cetera. It's been going great. I mean, it's a great community. I love it. I'm proud of it. But as we were doing that, we realized with the application, a lot of people wanted to join who just weren't ready. They weren't ready to pay the membership fee based on maybe they weren't making regular revenue. It was hard to afford it.
The conversations happening were just not in the stages that they were in. So, they felt just behind everybody else and didn't feel like they had a lot to contribute. And because it's a very serve first mentality in there, you feel bad. You feel like you're just taking, right? That's not the intention of the community and nobody likes feeling like that. So, we saw that and thought, "Huh, do we open Pro to more beginner businesspeople or people with an idea?" and decided no, because we want to protect what is in Pro. We don't want to dilute it, if you will. We want to keep the membership experience the same as it is, and that would possibly harm it because it would shift a lot of conversations. So, we started exploring the idea of launching a tier.
So, in the same community, in the Pro community, but a tier of Pro that was more geared towards beginners and then it would be easy to if they're ready to move them up to full Pro and change their membership upgrade if you will. But that felt very messy for a lot of reasons. So, for us, we didn't want to have a ton of people on that Pro platform, because it mixes the messages of the cap membership. Just from a platform standpoint, to keep those groups separate would be a challenge, just things like DMing.
Obviously, we could tier the space access, but essentially, we decided we didn't want people who weren't in actual SPI Pro to have access to SPI Pro, even just parts of it, which is why we opted to launch the Learner community, which is that down sell community. It is more affordable than Pro and there's no application. We decided to launch that in our Academy, which is where we've had our course communities. So, hopefully, this makes sense. We have the SPI Academy and we have SPI Pro. They are on two separate Circle platforms. We have two. Again, the point behind this was our core students have nothing to do with Pro. So, we never, never thought to use Pro for them, but for the Learner community, it actually made sense.
I mean, one, it's called the Academy. You go to an academy to learn or maybe it's still a sporting goods store in the southern areas. Is it? I think it is. I have fond memories of going to Academy, but that is not the point. The point is we decided the Learner community made the most sense in the Academy, because there's the most crossover with people taking courses and learning and wanting a membership, such as Learner. The course communities started out like a light Learner, but we decided to divest in the programming for our students and really just keep the course communities focused on the course topics. So, say you buy Power-Up Podcasting, our course.
You have the option to join the Power-up Podcasting space within the Academy and you also have access to office hour replays in the Academy. So, one of the benefits of being a student. You do not have access to the Learner community. A Learner joins, and it's separate. So, these are these separate tiers, right? And they have access to all the programming and spaces to do with the Learner community. They do not have access to any of the course communities, unless of course they have purchased one of those. So, that's where we are right now. As you're listening to this, we have launched. We have people joining Learner. It's all very exciting. So, with that context, let's get into how we actually built it, how we did it, the things we considered this week on the Community Experience Pod.
Welcome to this super special episode of the Community Experience Podcast. I'm here with two of my favorite people. Yay.
Matt Gartland: Yay.
Jillian Benbow: Yay. I am here with the Matt Gartland, CEO of SPI Media. He's been on the show before. Hello, Matt.
Matt Gartland: Always glad to be back. This is so fun.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. And my boss, so everyone, let him know what a great job I do. And then of course, one of my favorite coworkers who has a solution, everything is figure-outable, our Senior Solution Manager, Miss Mindy Peters. Hello.
Mindy Peters: Hello.
Jillian Benbow: Mindy, this is your first time on the show.
Mindy Peters: It is.
Jillian Benbow: That's exciting, and it's overdue, frankly. Mindy and I have a ton of fun in Slack channels and meetings and just general shenanigans, sharing TikToks. And Mindy's joining us from her closet, the recording booth.
Mindy Peters: Yes, I sure am.
Jillian Benbow: I guess I didn't need to out you.
Mindy Peters: That's okay. You can see my lovely shoe containers from the container store.
Jillian Benbow: I love it. I love it. The audience will just have to visualize it, but picture the home edit, the fancy boxes. I also see some Target stuff because I have the same ones, Target bins.
Mindy Peters: Well, yes, Target is my happy place. Yes.
Jillian Benbow: Yes, samesies. Target and the brewpub, anyways. Today, we're not talking about that. We are talking about community obviously, but we're talking about our communities. This is a two-part series, one episode here on everyone's favorite show, the Community Experience Podcast, and the other episode's going to be on Pat's show, the Smart Passive Income Podcast, SPI. What we're doing is there's just been a lot. We've been working hard on a lot of things in community and we've expanded our community.
On this show, we're going to talk about how that all happened, just let the thought processes, logistics, just high level, but I'm sure we'll get into some stuff, some specifics. And then on Pat's show, they're going to talk about why, why we did all this. So, if you want that context, head over to Pat's show. There'll be links in this show, but I'm talking a lot. So, let's kick it off. I think it would be smart to just start before my time, which is deciding to launch a community in the first place, which we've talked about a little on this show, but I'd love to have a little Matt and Mindy, little M and M stroll through the past, how community even became a part of the SPI repertoire.
Mindy Peters: Yeah. The first iteration of community with SPI, I mean the very first was probably the comment section on the blog, but the first real interactive community was over on Facebook. It existed there on Facebook for a number of years, maybe six, eight years. There was an active Facebook community, but as all Facebook communities seemed to go, it didn't work as well as we wanted it to. It was hard to keep track of conversations. When it was originally set up, it was just Pat.
Pat was running it himself and then he brought in a moderation team. There were conversations going on there, but they weren't very deep. As the company was growing and becoming more mature, they weren't as focused as they needed to be. And so, there was a certain point there where Matt, I think you should jump in, really, really came to us all with, "We need something better than this."
Matt Gartland: Yeah. And it began to, I guess, layer in other observations, in terms of our audience and business, in terms of even the market, thinking about the creator economy, which is a newer term. How do we start to think about interesting, exciting new pursuits that try to solve for a variety of problems? So, sticking with Mindy's first point, on the audience side, which is different than community, at least in terms of how we think about it and talk about it now, by participating in that group setting, in Facebook, less than stellar, even from an audience engagement standpoint. A lot of that was rooted in our course curriculum, so our student groups built around our programming.
So, Email Marketing Magic or Power-Up Podcasting, a lot of these things that the brand is known for and we help entrepreneurs with these subjects. We wanted to go deeper with that level of support with those students that had purchased into that programming and was looking to find other people like them and to maybe spend a little bit more time with us and get a little more post-education help. And it was increasingly just a challenge to your point, Mindy, to do that in a Facebook setting. So, yeah, that's point number one. Two, on the business side, community, I guess, again, the terminology that we think about it now, it was never a conscious thought from a business standpoint.
It was always like, "Okay, cool. How can we bring people together, connect them, do some good stuff and add value, but almost as a companion product or offering or like the sidekick to the main thing?" Where now in terms of new capability, new technology platforms, new ways of thinking about business models, we begin to think about the inversion of that. That's a very exciting thing for, I think, a lot of people listening and now we think about like what's happening in the economy and what's really meeting interest, meeting demand, which is that people are craving connection and belonging first. It's like the primary now driver of interest to engage with the brand, to engage with personalities.
Can that be monetized? Can we build a business, like a thoughtful model around that such that we can show up, we can have a healthy business so that I can hire people like Jillian and Ashley and David to continue with that programming? So, this gets into then more of on the business driver, number two, around, "Cool, we can build a community that's complimentary to our audience but is different from that. We can charge for it and we can put membership pricing in place through subscriptions and we can turn this into a primary business driver for us." So that was the synthesis.
And there was maybe a third little point that's worth noting and I'm sure Pat will bring this up on his show, which was all the way back in... Mindy, you could help me here, 2019, which was when I was starting to conceptualize the first version of SPI creator community from the business standpoint. We did have an in-person event. It was like Pat's personal event that we were helping to support called FlynnCon. There was a part of the ethos of that, in person gathering, and a lot of spontaneous conversations and awesomeness that happens in those settings.
Cool, could we sprinkle some of the magic of that thing into what I was conceiving around this business capability, this business offering around community? So those were the three things that came together. Long answer, sorry.
Mindy Peters: FlynnCon was so exciting, because for some of us in the company, it was the first time we were seeing the faces behind the email addresses that I see all the time, popping up in sales records or if somebody writes in and I'm adjusting which emails they receive, it was so exciting to then get to see the face behind the email address. For me, that was really fun.
Jillian Benbow: I love putting a face to a name like that. Obviously, in digital communities, you often see people's faces and whatnot, but there's something about being like, "Oh, it's so and so at Gmail. That's you. Got it." So yeah, that's origin story. I know we've talked on this show a lot about moving off Facebook and the benefits and whatnot. So, I won't get into my usual soapbox about getting off Facebook. Yeah, I mean, I know when I came on, Pro had launched, they'd been going for, I think, a few months, because we're at the two year anniversary. When you listen to this, we'll be a little past July 15th. I think Mindy confirmed the actual birthday. So, yeah, we've had two glorious years and some change now.
So, I came in a few months later and we figured out Pro. We were really working on fine tuning the programming, how the enrollments would work, what made sense, what was the best use of our time, but also the best for our members. We got to this place where we noticed, because Pro has an application process, we were choosy, right? We protect our community by we let in people that are in a certain place. So, we feel like the financial investment makes sense for them. So, they have recurring revenue or whatnot, that their business lines up with the type of businesses that we support and that are in the community to an extent.
I mean, I'd say we're industry agnostic, which I just learned that term. Elizabeth Tuttass, who I interviewed earlier this week, said that. And I was like, "I love that." But to a point, there are some people that whatever their business is, I just know will be disruptive in some way. So, maybe not. But point being there was a lot of people applying that just weren't ready and we don't feel right taking their money at that level, that amount of money for Pro, because we know it'll be a bit over their head and overwhelming. We found ourselves looking at, "Well, how can we serve these people?" Because they still want that community piece. They just need different conversations, right?
So, that is how we came up with the Learner community, which we specifically chose to put in a different community, if that makes sense. Pro is a Circle community. The Academy, which is also where our course communities are, that's a different conversation, but our course communities are there. We opted to put Learner in the Academy to keep it separate from Pro. That thinking, there was a lot behind that, but I'd love to stop talking and put it over to you two just to talk about why or the how, like how we went about that. How did we conceptualize, build it out, that thing? I think I'll start, Matt, if you just want to talk about from a sense of tracking like financials and all of our metrics, your favorite. Matt, talk about your favorite thing.
Matt Gartland: Well, one of my favorite things are just honestly, our working sessions. My memory was a lot of this gel between you and me pretty quickly as we were thinking about future extensibility for Pro and how could we meet more entrepreneurs with where they're at in their journey in a different way, shape and form, and therefore also price. The magic that clicked in networking session was to find a lot of our students on the back end of again, those educational experiences through our courses. A lot of them are ending up in the Academy now on Circle, distinct community, separate from Pro, as you said. So, it would be a more natural offering and gateway to have a Learner membership program sit right there next to them, if you will, right?
So, students that come in and learn about podcasting through our Power-Up Podcasting program and have an opportunity to get their feet wet, sample community in this way to continue that journey that we hope to be their guide on to learn more skills, to interact and discover new friends and potential partners in some way, right? That's the magic or is the magic of community when you do it right with programming and more network effect things. So, that was the how. The how was we want to situate it with where those folks already are. And a lot of them are already congregating in the Academy experience that we had built, again the platform from Facebook. That's where our student groups are. That made sense.
Mindy Peters: It could go either way from a structural standpoint, whether or not we should have two communities or one. We absolutely could have set this up with one single community and just made the segments within the community of like here's the Pro area and here is the Academy area. We could have done that. Part of this is we are absolutely learning as we go along. I think maybe if we were going to start the whole process over from scratch, I would maybe advocate for just having a single community and putting everything in one. But there is a lot of sense between having us having separated them in part because the Academy member base is in the 10,000s as opposed to the Pro member base, where right now, we're approaching 1,000.
And so, when you do things like search inside the platform, if you were trying to search for Pro things and you're an admin and you have access to everything, you might always be totally overwhelmed by Academy things. And so, from a structural standpoint, it makes sense for us to have them as two separate communities. But if you had a business and were thinking about this, I think you could have them all in one and just have their own area within the community.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I think scale played a huge part in that decision. Also, just for engagement metrics. Right now, it's just hard to differentiate if you're in the same community. So, say everybody in Pro, keeping that separate from the engagement metrics in the Academy was really important to us. And so, it was worth the investment of two. But I agree. If you're listening and you're like, "Hell to the no. That sounds complicated," you could absolutely do it in one, especially if your membership isn't in the 10,000s like our course communities.
Mindy Peters: A big part of why that is so big is one of the courses that lets you be eligible for the Academy membership and to parts of the Academy is a free course. And so, there's a very low barrier to entry there, which is why that membership number gets so high in the Academy.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I think it's important to note too with that, we have it set up and Mindy is, as I said, the Senior Solutions Manager for a reason. She made sure this all worked very well, but when people come in on that free course, they have very limited access versus someone who comes in a paid course and then of course the Learner community, which we'll get into our community there. The access is all different. So, it is doable.
Matt Gartland: Financial metrics, right? You teed me up and I actually forgot to hit that softball.
Jillian Benbow: That's okay.
Matt Gartland: In addition to engagement metrics, then we can study and have better precision to analyzing our subscriptions, right? Monthly, quarterly, annually billing inside these different communities versus it's all wrapped together. You can still do it. It gets trickier with whatever technology you might be using to analyze that data. So, there is a benefit to doing that. And then maybe one bridge further more into the how that we're always synthesizing and listening around feedback and trying to iterate on are just the experiences. It's why we call the team internally, the CX Team, Community Experience Team, all the way from the front end. So, SPI Pro has been acknowledged, I think, so many times over on the show. It's application based.
So, the whole front end onboarding is a very different thing than what the Learner tier is, where there is no application. It's more or less on demand. You can join it at any time. We have enrollment, which is a very different thing on the Pro side, et cetera. And then all the way into the community, the architecture of the community, the spaces, space groups, all of that, they're so very different and they need to be different because again the demands and interests and engagement points are at a very different stage, right? For the folks that are in these different community, they're serving different purposes at different points in time based on that journey. So, yeah, that's a lot of the how around the setup and the onboarding and all those experiences.
Mindy Peters: So, when you're selling products, there's always a lot of debate about, "Do you keep that product available all the time or do you have sales where you make the product available for a short amount of time that it then encourages people to make a decision about whether or not they want to purchase it and then you take it off sale for a while and you open and close?" And one thing that I personally within the company have always been a big advocate of is, especially the stuff that's geared toward beginners, I feel like that stuff should be available all the time.
Just because when somebody's ready to get going, you want to be able to help them at the moment that they're ready, right? So, I like that Learner is always available. Whereas once you're more established, you have more discipline, your business is going through its own cycles. So, it's okay to wait a little while to get the ideal onboarding experience as opposed to just joining something immediately and then not really having a guided experience through. So, anyway, that's why I like that Learner is always available and why I like that Pro has these dedicated cycles.
Jillian Benbow: Random question, just curious, Mindy, because you're probably the most familiar with just the back end. And I realize this is a Circle specific question. So, apologies to anyone listening that's not using Circle, but I think it's interesting. Is it possible to have the several checkouts? If we had put Learner community in Pro under that big umbrella, could we still do both? Could we still have Learner open all the time and then Pro open just for specific people?
Mindy Peters: Yeah, absolutely. So, the way specifically that Circle works is you set up what they call their paywalls and that's essentially each product. Each product can have multiple pricing plans underneath it, but it's each individual product. And from there, you basically just get a checkout link. So, Circle as a platform right now doesn't have a dedicated sales page builder.
So, for us, we build our sales pages on our own website and then you just put that checkout link there. And so, you can control when you make that checkout link visible and when you don't make it visible. As well as within the community, there are places where if somebody tries to go into an area that they don't have access to, that's a place where you could sometimes have that link visible, but then you could manually remove it if there are periods of say the year where you don't want people joining the community at that time.
Jillian Benbow: Love it. I'm guessing most platforms have-
Mindy Peters: Something similar.
Jillian Benbow: ... that setup, which is yeah, I think it's definitely doable.
Matt Gartland: There's probably a teachable point in here where to some extent, think about the future. That gets into why and some of these bigger themes around vision and maybe we don't want to go too far into that. But if you don't have preexisting scale maybe in the way that we did again, when we deplatformed from Facebook and we had certain growth targets from the very get go with SPI Pro, still think about how you want to build into this community over time. Are you making at least the best decisions that you think you can make?
Because it's never perfect from the beginning so that you have openings that you can grow into in the future, first as the opposite, which is you constrain yourself or maybe accidentally put yourself into a bit of a corner in terms of how you are architected community or set up paywalls or things like that. That might be a bit of a headache later to change or migrate or replatform or something like that. So, yeah, part of that how was thinking through extensibility.
Mindy Peters: I'd say err on the side of making a decision as opposed to trying so hard to keep your options open that you never make a choice. It's okay if you start using a tool and you use it for a while and it's good for a while and then you realize this tool is no longer serving the purpose that I need. Now, I have to switch. Migrations are a pain, but just with another coworker this week, we came up with Mindy's Law Number One.
Eventually, everything will need to be migrated. So, you'll have to move from one platform to another. It can be done. So, just err on the side of making a decision, get going, and you can figure it out if you need to do something different later. It's one of those things where it was like if I had started writing 1,000 words a night five years ago, I'd probably have a book by now, but I didn't and I don't. So, just start, just start.
Jillian Benbow: That's actually a fantastic lead into a migration we're in the middle of. We literally do this. And I think it's important to talk about when we launched Pro, Circle did not yet have a native, like a paywall system and we needed one. Mindy, I feel like you can talk about this the most. Tell the story of Member Stack.
Mindy Peters: So, we're actually migrating to our third payment system for this community.
Jillian Benbow: That's true.
Mindy Peters: The first iteration, when we just wanted to get this community up and running and prove that it would work, we just got a WordPress plugin called... I think it was called Simple Payments Pro and we hooked that up to Stripe. That allowed us to put basically like a shopping cart on our website and accept payments into Stripe. That was pretty good for a while, but we needed more control over our memberships and we just needed some help with also having a place where we could put some materials that at the time Circle didn't really have a good solution for. And so, then we set up something called Member Stack, which Member Stack is a more robust payment solution that also plugs into Stripe.
And Member Stack allows you to essentially create user logins for your website so that you can have people be able to log into a website, but then if they don't renew their payment or their payment fails, then it invalidates their login, that thing. And so, we've been using Member Stack now for maybe a year and a half or so. Maybe about six months ago, Circle created their own native payment system. As a general rule, I think it's always best to have as many things native in place as you can, to use the native solutions when you can use them in a platform. So, we started to talk about migrating from Member Stack, which was working pretty well, but every time we would do enrollments, there would be people who would get confused.
The number of people who would get confused, it seemed to be getting larger rather than smaller unfortunately. And so, we decided then to migrate. So, we just started the full migration about 50 minutes ago. If this is getting too technical, stop me, but basically, if you have two Stripe setups, which is what we had in this case, because we had the Stripe setup that is plugged into Member Stack and then Stripe makes you set up a new Stripe setup when you hook in a Circle, Stripe will help you migrate customer data from one Stripe setup that you own into another Stripe setup that you own. But then you have to manually go in and start up people's subscriptions.
And so, we are going through that process right now with the help of some very good computer programmers so that it isn't manual. And so, we're learning things as we go there. Simple Payments Pro was the right solution in the moment when we set it up. We just wanted to get going. At that time, we maybe could have slowed down, done a little more research, and settled on Member Stack, but that wasn't our business priority at the time. And so, then Member Stack was the right solution when we made that decision and it was the right solution for a good 18 months. And now, we believe that Circle payments is the right solution and we do have the ability to do that migration. You just always have to weigh the pros and cons of making decisions like that.
And if it's just you and that feels terribly overwhelming, then the way that I would think about whether or not would I do a migration would be, "Okay, is the current situation that I have workable? How much time am I spending dealing with the problems of this system? And if I add up the amount of time and money that I'm spending on the problems with this system, does that get me close to what it would cost to maybe get some help moving to a better system?" And then that can help you make the decision about whether or not it's worth jumping to a new system. There's always people out there that you can hire for a short term project for help. You don't have to feel alone and you can also ask the platform if they can recommend anybody that they know knows how to do that.
Matt Gartland: Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: Mic drop.
Matt Gartland: Yeah. I think we're done here.
Mindy Peters: Yeah. I was just going to say and I say this as a person who always feels like I have to figure it out myself, I have been slowly learning and Matt has been slowly teaching me that I don't have to do it all myself. Identify the problem and then state the problem and see if there's anyone out there who can help you solve that problem. You don't have to do it all yourself.
Matt Gartland: A barometer for us through a lot of that has been attempting to provide more empowerment to our members in the self-service way. So, by getting onto, for example, anyway, Circle payments natively, even from Member Stack, which solved it in a certain capacity beforehand, was giving the members the ability to log in themselves, update a credit card, and do more of that administrative like, "Cool. I can do that on my own," like online billing or anything else that you might do in normal life versus "Oh, my gosh. I have to email the SPI support team and wait for a response." That's a clunkier experience. You feel less empowered to do that.
Mindy Peters: That's what the problem was with Simple Payments Pro. I couldn't remember what the problem was. That's what the problem was.
Matt Gartland: There's no ability for members to update an expired credit card or really, again, anything that involved important administration on their subscription was not possible.
Mindy Peters: We had to talk to them on the telephone.
Jillian Benbow: On the telephone. If anybody knows what that is, it's like that box you use to text people. You can actually talk to them on it. Yeah. I mean, on the bright side, I get to have a lot of lovely conversations with people, but should you be paying me what you pay me to update credit cards in a database? No, that's not my best use of time. Oh, yeah. I think it's important to think about with all of this and we're just talking about some of the things we experienced with growth, growing pains, that stuff. It is what's the member experience and that has driven a lot of what we do. It goes back into the why, but also the how. What solutions can we provide to make a member have a better experience?
If you're going to update your credit card and it turns into this whole thing, you might just cancel, because you're like, "This isn't worth it." So how can we make this as seamless as possible for people so that they're not having to reach out to us for them to give us money, right? We want them to be able to just have control of everything and set it, forget it. And if they need to talk about it, they can. But otherwise, they're spending their time in the membership. They're all busy people.
Matt Gartland: The primary driver there is to make it the best experience possible. We want to reduce friction, but there is an important business byproduct there or version of that, which is churn. We want to lower a churn, right? So, if you're in the business chair in your organization and you're building community, that's a pretty critical stat that you need to consistently look at. And then you can leverage for future forecasting and all these other, again, fun and nerdy financial things, right? So, it's very much like a SaaS offering, right?
If anyone operates in that space or has experience in that space, the mechanics are pretty similar in terms of how you think about go-to market, how you think about trying to get people to test the waters of the offering, maybe come in at a lower price point, get a more limited experience but still valuable, meets them where they are, and then incentivize them and earn the trust. Earn the right to try to grow them into maybe a higher tier and all the while be thinking about churn, retention, lifetime value, and all of these things.
Mindy Peters: I just wanted to define our term there. If you aren't familiar with SaaS, that's SaaS, software as a service, subscription software.
Matt Gartland: Correct, and not like sassy for anything, even though Jill brings that in spade sometimes, but we're good.
Jillian Benbow: I mean, clearly we got the sassy down, but yeah, SaaS.
Mindy Peters: Yeah. We have no shortage of that at SPI.
Jillian Benbow: No. Yeah, at least of all from me, but I think anybody listening probably is using SaaS platforms and programs, whether they realize it or not, right?
Matt Gartland: Circle, if you're building your community on Circle, guess what? Hey, Circle's SaaS platform.
Jillian Benbow: Sassy. If you're sassy too, join us. So, I think what would be interesting to talk about is just the mechanics of tiers and having tiered membership, which again, to recap, we launched with Pro. We always had the course communities. Those are not a revenue generator. Those are just something you get when you purchase a course. So, they're over on the side for now. We're not going to involve them. But then we launched Learner, which is in the Academy. It's in a separate place that's meant for beginners. And then which won't be publicly available until 2023, but we're piloting right now, we launched a higher end community option within Pro called MBA. That's a higher price point. It's much more touch points.
Actually, Matt and myself run it mostly. Matt's the brains behind it. I do the mechanics. It's almost like group coaching, frankly. Don't kill me. That's what I would say it is now to me, but we're figuring out what it is. One, it's a sales funnel from the business side, right? We have a place where someone, if they are willing to pay for community, they don't need to apply, they can come right into Learner. And then as they grow, Pro is there for them.
And then as they grow in Pro and are getting really to that expert level and have significant or making revenue, hitting all the marks and want to take it to the next level, we have MBA. So, it's like three tiers of the same, but also different if that makes sense. So, with that context, let's talk about just the mechanics of, at least for us, with two separate platforms, how we envision it all working. I'm going to throw that right to Mindy, because this is Mindy's world.
Mindy Peters: Yeah. So, the thing to think about is what happens for a customer when they want to move through that progression, right? Forget about Learner for a minute, because that is a separate community. Inside of Pro, we have two of the three products. We have Pro, Pro Creator, and then we have the MBA program. So, what we need to think about there is if somebody is a creator and they want to move up to MBA, what happens to the creator membership? So, there's some mechanics there of trying to think about, "Do we cancel then the creator membership when we start up an MBA membership? If we cancel it and it's mid-cycle, do they get a refund or do they get credit?" There's things to think about there.
The Circle platform has built-in basically upgrades, the ability to say that these two tiers are essentially mutually exclusive. And so, if you go from one to the other, you should leave the other. The piece that I'm still figuring out right now, just mechanically how to make this happen, is we have to do the same thing for the Learner tier. And so, if somebody's going from that Learner community, which is a separate payment platform and they move over to Pro, then I need to cancel them on Learner. So, it's starting to just think through the paths there and figure out ways to manage those.
So, what I'm thinking about is when somebody purchases say a Pro Creator product, I'm going to go and check and see if is that person in Learner and I'm going to use their email address. But then you have to think about, "Well, what if somebody is deliberately purchasing with the same email address a product for their admin like Learner, but then they put themselves in Pro?" There will always be edge cases. You're never going to completely automate everything, but you try to get as close as you can.
So, it's thinking through, "What happens when somebody goes from this product to another product? What happens if they want to go from that product back to the previous product, because they decide that it's not for them?" and just think through, "What are the logical paths through this?" First, start with, "What are the logical paths through?" Then think through, "What are the edge cases? What are the things that I probably haven't thought of, that I wouldn't think of, but somebody might do anyway."
What happens if a husband and wife work for the same company and they want to join this product together? Am I going to offer them a discount because they're from the same company? Am I not going to offer them a discount? You'll always get approached by maybe someone from a nonprofit who would like to join, but they would like a discount please. And so, what is your policy around that? You don't have to answer all of those questions right away, but you need to acknowledge that the questions exist so that you're not going to be super surprised by them when they show up and you've maybe given them a little bit of thought.
Jillian Benbow: So many nuggets.
Mindy Peters: If the platform you're using doesn't have that stuff built in, then look into a tool called Zapier. It's Z-A-P-I-E-R. And there are also a lot of Zapier alternatives out there that are newer and cheaper, but not as far along in their development. So, the Zapier alternatives often don't work with as many platforms or they're a little bit buggier, but these are tools that are designed to help you connect different platforms together that don't natively integrate and move data around.
So, you can use a tool like Zapier to take information out of your community and move it over to your email service provider or to take information from your course platform, if that's a separate platform, and move that data into your community to say, "Okay, this person made a purchase in Teachable. They bought a course in Teachable and now I want to give them access into my Circle community." And there's actually a native integration for that. So, you don't need Zapier, but say you are using two platforms that don't have an integration. You can turn to tools like Zapier to help you connect those things together.
And in that case, then the best search engine to find out how to use stuff is YouTube. Hands down the best search engine for tech questions is YouTube. Just skip Google. I mean, Google integrates YouTube search results.
Jillian Benbow: Aren't they the same company now?
Mindy Peters: They are. Yeah, but it's a better thing. But anyway, go there and type your questions into YouTube and you'll find video walkthroughs of how to solve your problem.
Jillian Benbow: I love YouTube for that exact reason.
Mindy Peters: Solves all my problems.
Jillian Benbow: Fun facts, I made a Zap all on my own yesterday.
Matt Gartland: No, you didn't.
Jillian Benbow: I did and it works.
Mindy Peters: Tell me about it.
Jillian Benbow: So, we use Slack to communicate as a team. We are fully remote team. Zapier is like our additional employee. Yeah, I have several accounts where my login is just the Google login. So, I was like, "I'm just going to do this one. I'm not going to bother Mindy." And so now, when someone books to be on this podcast and uses the scheduling link in SavvyCal, in the CX Podcast channel on Slack, a little Zap notification goes out telling David who booked and when, so fancy. It took five minutes. Also, Zapier has a free tier. So, if you just want to try it, we are not sponsored. We should be.
Matt Gartland: We really should be. We flex on that then with thanks to Mindy.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Mindy, how many Zaps do you think a day happen in SPI world?
Mindy Peters: Oh, like tasks?
Jillian Benbow: Yeah.
Mindy Peters: Oh, like in the world. I don't know.
Jillian Benbow: No, no, no, no. Just us.
Matt Gartland: Just for us.
Mindy Peters: Just for us. So, with our pricing plan, we get 125 Zaps. The last time I checked, we were at just over 100 set up and we get up to 50,000 tasks a month. We almost never hit that, except that when I invited everyone in for the three-month free trial for Learner, I blew through the 50,000 and had to very quickly upgrade us.
Jillian Benbow: Panic upgrade.
Mindy Peters: Yeah, we maybe use 900 to 1,200 tasks a day, I'd say maybe.
Jillian Benbow: Man, that pays for itself when you think about it, when you think about what it's doing.
Mindy Peters: Yeah, that's stuff we didn't have to do ourselves, especially I didn't have to. That's data I didn't have to move manually.
Jillian Benbow: And just very administrative, like the worst boring stuff. Okay. Well, we are pretty much at time. I think to wrap this, I'm going to put you both in the hot seat. As any community builder listening out there, if they're thinking about expanding their offerings, what's your number one piece of advice or what do you think they should hear?
Matt Gartland: Start with something incomplete. Honestly, we're doing with MBA. Have an idea, have a model, have something that's testable. Yes, but probably incomplete. There's a lot that we don't know yet for MBA that we're getting feedback on and then be authentic with that. And I think we've done a good job on that point also with our founding group and they want to be a part of that creation process.
So, if you have an existing audience, which again, in my definition's very different than community, you can invite some percentage of them that might hopefully will opt in and be like, "Hey, do you want to be a part of helping me create this amazing new thing? Here are some parameters to what I'm thinking about. These are just some things that we'll do. Join me on this experience." So that's mine.
Mindy Peters: I would say before you decide on using a tech platform, ask yourself, "What is the problem I'm trying to solve here?" and then write down, "These are all of the things that this platform must do. These are all of the things that this platform, it would be nice if it did, but it doesn't have to do." And then use that criteria as you evaluate your alternatives so that you don't get seduced by cool, shiny stuff you didn't think about.
Make sure first that whatever solution you're choosing handles all of the must do and hits at least a few of the nice to-dos, because it's just really easy to get seduced by pricing pages for tech products. And then suddenly, realize, "Oh, this doesn't even solve the problem that I was going to use it for. So, now I'm going to go and buy another tool, but I'm going to still keep that tool." It'll just keep you from overspending.
Jillian Benbow: Those shiny things, I think they get us all and it's okay. You can cancel them. Hopefully, they have a great page where your account settings are.
Mindy Peters: Never use a software product that doesn't have a great knowledge base. Always look at the knowledge base. Look at the knowledge base first, skip the pricing page, go straight to the knowledge base, because if the knowledge base is good, then you can solve your own problems.
Jillian Benbow: It's what we all need. Well, both of you, thank you so much for joining on the day before the weekend after a week of migrations and all sorts of fun stuff in our world. Appreciate both of you and hope to have you both on again soon.
Matt Gartland: Rock on. Thanks, everybody.
Jillian Benbow: And there you have it. There is the panel with Matt and Mindy and myself talking about the how, the mechanics of how we went from one paid community, SPI Pro, to two plus and with more ideas on the way. So, we will keep you posted on other things we are hard at work at that will hopefully launch... I shouldn't say hopefully. That will launch this year.
I don't want to spend too much time on a wrap up today, because I think you get it. I really like the thinking through what problems may happen to then try to prevent them. That has been very real part of my life the last few months. And then of course, there's the problems you did not anticipate that then you have to deal with in real time. So, yeah, things have happened. Automations have failed or fired when we thought they were off. We've definitely had challenges along the way, but one great thing about our team is we are pretty good about saying, "All right, that happened. Let's fix it and move on." So that's what we've been doing.
So, yeah. Love to hear from you. Have you done anything like this, any tips you have that you'd like to share with the audience? I want to just call it the listener community, because I feel like we are a community. So, I'd love to hear from you. You can at me on Twitter, @JillianBenbow. You can at the team, @TeamSPI, all the ats. Tweet at me. Tell me your thoughts, your ideas, or challenges you've had, or concerns you've had with doing something like this. And then definitely, check out Pat's podcast. We will have the link to that show in the show notes. So, you can hear the why, more into the why with Ashley, David, myself, and Pat. And on that note, we will see you next Tuesday.
You can find all of us at SmartPassiveIncome.com. Go check out the community page. We are constantly updating it, but if you want to see a little glimpse of what we've been working on, maybe get the cheat sheet on what we've been talking about as far as these tiers and community options, go to SmartPassiveIncome.com/community. And of course, as you know, we're on Twitter @TeamSPI.
Your lead host for the community experiences is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski, and our editor is Paul Grigoras. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.