What happens if you stop participating in your community for a few days? Do your members step up in your absence, or does engagement come to a grinding halt?
This is the ultimate way to test the environment you’re creating. If no one misses you, that’s the sign of a job well done! (Although, you might need a good, ugly cry to get over it.)
But what are the best strategies to set your membership up for success?
We cover a lot of ground in this episode and uncover essential tips for beginner and advanced community builders alike. Mathilde and Jillian dive straight into crafting unique strategies tailored to your ideal members. They discuss metrics, events, managing time zones, and setting appropriate boundaries.
This is also a great conversation for the community-curious out there. If you haven’t started yet, listen in to learn more about the easiest ways to add a profitable membership element to your business. Enjoy!
Mathilde is the Head of Community at Circle, where she empowers creators to build highly engaged, profitable communities.
Before Circle, she led Europe’s top in-person community for product managers: a side project she accidentally turned into a successful event business. For five years, this chapter saw her nurture the community she didn’t know she needed all while working remotely… before it was a thing!
Community builder by day, Thai boxer by night, Mathilde expresses herself through sports, travels and languages. Born in the French Alps, she lived and worked in London, Barcelona, and Bangkok, and is now based in Lisbon, Portugal.
In This Episode
- The early success that launched Mathilde’s career in community
- Jillian’s contrasting business flop that lead to her community work
- Steps for crafting a unique membership strategy
- Using recurring events to validate your offering
- The new metrics that capture connection and belonging
- Managing time zones in a global community
- How to prioritize when everything is a priority
- Why launching fast is the best strategy for beginners
- Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart [Amazon affiliate link]
- The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben [Amazon affiliate link]
- Connect with @TeamSPI on Twitter
The CX 059: The Smartest Way to Run Your Community with Mathilde Leo, Head of Community at Circle
Mathilde Leo: That's the ultimate test. If I spend a few days not motivating, not doing any responding in the community, what happens? If you see your members are stepping up, they're responding to each other's messages, or tagging others, you know you've set up something good or you've set up the conditions for them to engage, which is pretty awesome to see. That happens more often than we think, so for anyone listening, test this out. Just be a bit more quiet than usual and see what happens.
Jillian Benbow: Well, hello and welcome to another episode of The Community Experience Podcast. I am your hostess, Jillian Benbow, and today I am talking to the head of community at Circle, Mathilde Leo. She is the best. You will quickly realize we just can talk, and talk, and talk. We talk about a lot of very useful things. She's seen it all because she runs a community for community builders that use Circle. She sees people in every stage of community. She does amazing events to help everyone in there up-level their own community as far as layout, as far as tactics or rituals, everything.
This was a really fun conversation. We definitely got into our advice on the best ways to get events going, get engagement going, get a community going really. We talk a bit about just the needs of community builders and our own experiences. You also get to hear a story I planned not to tell, and then proceeded to tell about a business I tried to do full time and failed spectacularly with. Yeah. I'm super, super stoked I talked about that, so here is the episode with Mathilde from Circle. I hope you enjoy.
Jillian Benbow: Welcome back to The Community Experience Podcast. I am excited. It's taken a year to get this guest on the show. She's hard to get down on the show, but it was worth the persistence. Today I am talking to one of my community pals that I work with semi closely, and that is Mathilde Leo from Circle. Bonjour.
Mathilde Leo: Bonjour, Jillian. Thank you so much for having me and thank you for being so patient. I wanted to come before and life happened. I'm very excited to be here.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, and I'm just giving you a hard time. It wasn't that. Only a couple bribes, so we're good. I'm just kidding.
Mathilde Leo: I'm enjoying my fruit basket.
Jillian Benbow: Excellent, excellent. I'm glad it arrived. I have been excited to talk to Mathilde for a while, namely because she's the head of community at Circle. I think everybody knows this by now, that is our platform. That is what we use, that is what we recommend, and so I have done events with Circle. We've worked on projects together. We help each other out the way community builders do and it's great. I love also just seeing everything Mathilde does at Circle and in that community.
Mathilde Leo: Likewise. I was thinking about it the other day. I think you were ... I don't think. You were the very first guest at the very first Circle community event I hosted when I was in my first month on the job, so I have fond memories of that.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, really?
Mathilde Leo: Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: I didn't know that. That's right.
Mathilde Leo: The show and tell community tour.
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh, and that was one of my first events in your community or other communities, like showing off SPI.
Mathilde Leo: It was great.
Jillian Benbow: Look how much we've grown.
Mathilde Leo: It was a great event. Look at us.
Jillian Benbow: Look at us! Let the audience know a little bit about you.
Mathilde Leo: Sure.
Jillian Benbow: What's your story?
Mathilde Leo: What's my story? I grew up in the French Alps in a small town known for its cheese and mountains. I won't tell you the name because nobody had heard of it, but I actually lived most of my adult life outside of France. I lived in places like London, Philadelphia, Barcelona. I lived in Thailand as well. The reason why I moved so much is because I became an accidental community builder. Early in my career, I created a community that became quite successful. It was not planned, but I was able to live off it and quit my full-time job to focus on growing it remotely. I can tell you all about it, if you'd like, but that would be probably a long story.
It was a community for product managers and that really got me into the community world. Just understanding that community can be a business. It can also be a real passion, and so I ran that community for about five or six years as a solo community builder. It was mostly in person events, conferences. We had a product management festival in Barcelona. We had a retreat for heads of products that we hosted in the middle of the Welsh countryside out of all places, but with people coming from all over the world.
After five, six years of doing that, I was just really craving to join another startup. Because my background is in product management, I worked for a bunch of fast growing startups in London before starting this community, and so I joined Circle. That was 18 months ago, when the team was just 10 people. A very small company, and now we are about 100 and building the community platform that we all love.
Jillian Benbow: That's amazing. I have many follow up questions. One, what on earth brought you to Philadelphia?
Mathilde Leo: A lot of time when I talk to people in the US, they ask me that question actually. I studied abroad. That was my year abroad.
Jillian Benbow: No way. That is cool. I've never been to Philadelphia. I would like to visit. It looks like there's a lot of historic things. Obviously the Eastern seaboard is a beautiful place, which I'm bad at geography. I know Philadelphia is in that general area.
Mathilde Leo: It is.
Jillian Benbow: But when you're talking like Thailand and all these places, and then Philadelphia, I mean, it sticks out a little as like huh.
Mathilde Leo: Funnily enough, it was a defining experience for me because I actually lived and studied there. That's this experience that got me to decide to go to London, to do my masters and to work in tech, to be in the startup environment. I think, if I hadn't studied in the US, I would probably not have done that or not that early in my career.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, it's funny. It's funny, the paths we take and what comes of it. That's one of those fun ponder when you can't sleep.
Mathilde Leo: I know, the serendipity. I think about serendipity all the time, the serendipity of careers, the people you meet at an event in a community that somehow become business partners one day, or make you move cities or countries. I love that.
Jillian Benbow: Me too, me too. You also mentioned that you sold your community. Is that correct?
Mathilde Leo: I didn't sell it. I was able to live off it pretty well for a number of years, and then the pandemic happened. For a business primarily focused on in-person events and experiences, that was pretty tough, but it was fun. It was called Jam and it was really an experience.
It was a conference that I started as a site project when I was in my first ever job in London. I was a product manager. On the outside, it seemed like I had everything figured out. I had a good job, a good team. I was young and with a lot of responsibilities, but on the inside it was a completely different story. I had a lot of imposter syndrome. I was struggling a lot, and so I just really wanted to connect with other PMs, other peers from different startups and really understand how they were solving the challenges that I had, and so I created an event to share these stories. Out of this event came a community that I then hosted for a number of years, so again serendipity.
Jillian Benbow: I love the origin story because I think we all look at each other's social media, or just what they have going on, or the fact they live in cool places like Lisbon. It's amazing, but people are probably looking at us the same way and no one ever sees the anxiety, the loneliness, the imposter syndrome that we all deal with, but usually doesn't make it on the social feed. Okay, so got that.
Then I think it's funny to me, so many people we work with are doing the opposite. They're trying to leave their traditional careers like corporate careers and do full time, their own thing, and you went the other way. I actually am more similar, I think, to your story. I tried doing my own thing. It was not that successful, but I missed the accountability of a team, but also just the dynamic of working with people. It could be very lonely.
Mathilde Leo: Interesting. I didn't know that. We have to talk about this. What was your business?
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh, I do not talk about this.
Mathilde Leo: Okay, off the record, later on we can talk about it.
Jillian Benbow: I see it as such a struggle failure, so I hate talking about it. Maybe one day I will, but I'm not ready.
Mathilde Leo: All good.
Jillian Benbow: It was a fitness thing and I was a little bit before the technology, so it was very hard to do. Now, like if I was doing it now, granted the market would be much more saturated, but there weren't the platforms to do it.
Mathilde Leo: Sounded like you were quite early in the fitness space. I'm a massive fitness freak by the way. I just love working out.
Jillian Benbow: I know. You could beat me up if you wanted.
Mathilde Leo: I wouldn't try.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, I'd be screwed. You could catch me and beat me up. There's no escape. Anyways, because it was just not working. I actually got a part-time job in community. That was my first community job, to try to make money that I could put into that business to make it work, because I needed more money to invest into it. Then it was starting to gain traction. I was starting to figure it out, and then I had a hip injury and had to have hip surgery, and so running a fitness company was basically not going to happen anymore. I was kind of over it anyways.
Mathilde Leo: So interesting. Your side gig kind of put you on the path to what you do now.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Isn't the funny? We both have kind of interesting origin stories, but we're not here to talk about me.
Mathilde Leo: Okay, sorry.
Jillian Benbow: Although you'd be-
Mathilde Leo: I will stop asking questions.
Jillian Benbow: No, you can ask. You'd be an excellent podcaster, Mathilde. Something to add to the plate. Nope. Something we wanted to talk about today, especially because Mathilde has the unique perspective of running a community for community builders, for people on the Circle platform. I like to call it Circle's Circle, Circle's Circle, but there's a Circle membership community where people who are running their communities on Circle come to talk to each other, to learn, to network, et cetera. Is that an accurate description? Did I butcher it?
Mathilde Leo: That's a great description, 100%. We gather all Circle customers to learn from one another, share best practices, share how they're using Circle as well because there's so many ways that you can build a community. SPI Pro is a great example, but there are like thousands of others out there.
Jillian Benbow: Literally there are. I learn all sorts of stuff in that community. We've gone in there and done events and supported the membership in there, but we get just as much from talking to people, asking questions. That contest, the design contest, was amazing. Everyone did, what, like a couple minute video just showcasing some sort of design thing in their community. Just the ideas generated from that alone, it was like oh my gosh. It's so fun, so fun.
Mathilde Leo: I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, it was a space design contest, just like super fun to see people's favorite community spaces and how they were built. Really good fun.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, I think it was Tom, Tom Ross, who has been on the show and who's done an event in my community and I've done an event in his community because that's what we do, community. I think it was him. He had a fantastic way of keeping resource documentation, like tutorials and things, which I hadn't thought about, and was really struggling with, and was looking for a platform solution. Then I was like-
Mathilde Leo: I can do this in Circle.
Jillian Benbow: This is so neat. Yeah, so anyways-
Mathilde Leo: Anyways, I learn every day, just to wrap that thought up. I learn from Circle community builders every day. It's insane. The ways in which they use Circle, the ways in which they gather their members, the rituals they have, the engagement plays they are putting together, it's pretty incredible.
Jillian Benbow: It really is. I promise, everyone listening, the intention of this episode wasn't a commercial for Circle.
Mathilde Leo: It's not to sell Circle.
Jillian Benbow: No, I mean, I think we already know they're a sponsor of this show. We're an affiliate of theirs, like we are best used with Circle. Everyone knows that, but we are here to talk about the fact that Mathilde has access to all the things that people are doing, and so a great insight regardless of platform on just strategy, things that are working. Something we talked about as what should we talk about on this, which we have so many things. We'll see how much we do. I was joking we might have to do four episodes, but something you have worked on, seen, observed, and I think have a very amazing expertise on is designing community strategy. When a lot of people just don't know where to start or just see someone else do something, they're like, "Well, they do office hours, so I guess I should do office hours." when it actually doesn't make sense. Talk to me a little bit about just designing a community strategy, like the fact that each community is going to be unique, and maybe it isn't a strategy in the traditional sense.
Mathilde Leo: I love that question. I love that question because, when I started at Circle, the first thing I did was to try and come up with a strategy for our customer community. At the time, it was just 1,000 people in it. Now it's 10,000 community members. It has changed a lot, but I remember trying to fine tune the perfect strategy to create, like how will our members come together, where will they share information, where will they contribute to the community? Then I was struggling a little bit because I was going in all directions. I had a bit of analysis paralysis. I think that's something that all of us in the community space are struggling with, or at some point in our community journey. There's so many things you can do for your members.
Long story short, one thing I did in my first month at Circle, which in hindsight I think was the best thing to do when it comes to community strategy, I organized community events, weekly events, to gather our community members and to help them share best practices and stories around how they build their community. It sounds very easy, but I think the most underrated way to start a community is by running an event because you can have the best strategy, you can have five pages of notes around the programs you're going to run when you have more resources or exactly how your members are going to come together and engage. But if you don't have a way for your members to come together, get to know each other, and form connections, then you don't really have a community. I would say the first step in any community strategy is to find a way to gather your members and have them talk to each other live.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. I've certainly scheduled events where it's like two people come, and I'm like whomp whomp. I'm sure you've experienced that too. I like to tell people ... Yesterday, in fact, which by the time this airs it'll be a month, but we launched our newest community, which is our Learner community. It's a new paid community for people who aren't ready for Pro. Pro is for a person at a specific level of business, but we realized that there were a lot of people that weren't there, but still needed and wanted the type of community that we provided. We created a lower price point community. You can go check it out on smartpassiveincome.com/community, if you are so inclined.
Mathilde Leo: It's pretty great news.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, it's going good. I was going to say we have a community manager dedicated to that community, which is in our larger academy. That's a whole other thing just about organization, but point being we have a dedicated community manager, Ashley. She is a go-getting high achiever, like she's amazing. She's creating these rituals, and events, and stuff, and I keep telling her, "Hey, just stick with it."
Mathilde Leo: It takes a while. It took probably six to eight months for our show and tell series, which has been our top community events in the community, to really take off. I think in general you want to create an event, but also you want to stick to it for long enough to really see the results. That's one of the other reasons why creating an event, a recurring event, is such a great way to validate your community ID as well. It's because people vote with their feet when it comes to online communities. There's so much out there, so many resources, so many places you can be online, right? If you come to an event one hour a week, that tells you something. That tells you that there is something there. You want to spend time together with other people. If you spend one hour a week and you are paying for that event, even better. It's almost like your community strategy, your community purpose is validated. People are ready to spend time together.
It's almost like sometimes when it comes to community strategy or community validation, we are trying to operate in the same world as product. When we validate a product ID, we are doing user interviews and surveys, but community building is slightly different because with a product you want to validate if somebody's going to use your product, use what you've built to solve a problem they have. With a community, you're trying to validate if they're going to come together to solve that problem. That's why having a recurring event is such a great way to validate whether you are offering something of value, I think. That's my thoughts on the topic.
Jillian Benbow: I love them. I love what you said about the differences between validating a product and a community. You should put it on your wall.
Mathilde Leo: Rules to live by, bring people together.
Jillian Benbow: Well, they come together to solve the problem. That's huge. Yeah. I think community, community strategy, all of this, it's not so new, but it's kind of still new. I feel like we're still breaking ground with just the best ways to do things and a lot of communities have come out of tech startups. That's where a lot of the original or like the V-1 of communities seem to come through.
I hadn't thought about that, but you're right. It's very product adjacent, how a lot of things in community are looked at, even just like the metrics and whatnot. Community metrics are kind of a funny thing because there's no metric to really measure community health. There are metrics to help indicate and we've picked like engagement or original content, things like that, moderation percentages and things. There are a bunch of different cues to form a story, but it's not always ... I've worked in many a community where ... I've stopped calling them lurkers. People are observing, right? They're observers. Their style is not to participate in the way we gauge success, like they might be reading everything, maybe even like DMing, that kind of thing. Maybe there's not a metric you can capture for what they're doing. They're perfectly happy.
Mathilde Leo: I love that. I think you're right in saying that it's still early. We're still defining the language of community, the metrics of community, and I think it's okay. It's normal that we are borrowing from the well of product or social and audiences, but we are definitely at this interesting point now where we're starting to reshape a different language. Measuring connections, that's totally a valid way to measure community, like how many people have made connections? How did they feel about those connections? A sense of belonging index, like there's all kinds of great resources on the topic out there, but it will take still a little bit of time for everyone to align on one language. I guess it's almost like we're always looking for the one metric or the one word that's going to describe what we do. I don't know if that's good or not, but-
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh, yes, the what do you do question in community. It's great. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes people, what they think I do, when they tell me, it's hilarious because sometimes it's so much cooler than anything I've ever done. What they think I'm doing all day, and then other times I'm just like, "Do you know how the internet works? No, that's not what I do." It's so funny.
Mathilde Leo: I think I had to explain to my mom about 500 times. My mom, she's not super old, like she should get it. When I was a product manager, I had a good analogy. I was saying, "It's like I'm an architect for the internet to help build things, design things," but now I'm in community and it's a bit different. I'm still looking for the right analogy.
Jillian Benbow: Right. I was going to say it's like an architect for relationships, but then that sounds like a dating thing, like people are going to take that to like, "What? You're a matchmaker." It's like, yes, kind of.
Mathilde Leo: A little bit. Well, matchmaker is not a bad analogy actually. Yeah, it has some bad connotation to it, but ...
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, right. Oh my gosh. I've yet to figure out what my elevator explanation is of, one, what our company does, and then two, what I do. I'm just like internet stuff. I invented the internet, that's what I do. Just kidding. Going on, like thinking about these rituals, and trying things, and giving them a chance. To your point with show and tell, and I've noticed observationally just with the events in Circle in particular have shifted a little over time. I'm curious.
When you do a tweak, let's say, to an event like the time of day, for example ... You have a global workforce or a global staff as well as community, so I think it's easier for you than some of us who do not have a global staff. I really wish we did, so we could do more events in different time zones. How are you deciding what time of day or what day of week is best for these live get togethers, to get a time that works for most? How did you troubleshoot that? Asking for a friend.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah. Well, time and time zone is a complex issue, for sure. I think I didn't really have a specific recipe or equation. Well, I did actually. I tried to look at where most of our community members were in the world. Whilst we are serving a global community, there are people from all over the world using Circle. When I joined, it was mostly US and I was trying to find, I guess, the time zone, the time that worked for most people. I have the advantage of being a bit in the center, like GMT time zone, and so what I did as well is experimenting, trying out different ... We do our weekly office hours where I answer questions from the community twice a week. I try to experiment with that a little bit, but I think beyond picking ... You will never have a time that will work for everyone, so that's the first thing to note.
Jillian Benbow: Right, just accept it.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, accept it. Also, I think you want the events to be roughly at the same time. You want your members to come to expect that office hours is at 1:00 PM Eastern. Got it, it's every Tuesday at 1:00 PM, so not trying to change too much to serve other community members. You might want to create a different event for them or a different ritual. I know you at SPI Pro, you all are doing specific events for people in Australia and Asia. It does require to have a team. You need resources, you need supports. I've recently hired. I'm super happy. We are now a team of two in the community team at Circle.
Jillian Benbow: Yay, you doubled.
Mathilde Leo: Yay, but the whole of last year on my own, I did my best. Also, trying to listen to signals from the community. Every week I would have maybe five or 10 people asking me, "What about Europe friendly office hours time?" I'm based in Europe. That was something easy that I could do, and so I was like, "Okay, I hear you. We will have now every two weeks a European office hours time." It's about seeing where your members are, but also knowing that you won't find a perfect time for everyone and that's okay. You also have to prioritize your energy and making sure you show up at a time that's okay for you too.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, absolutely. I was just telling our community manager in Pro, David, who just moved and is on the east coast now, We were just talking about this yesterday, about our Oceania meetups. I'm kind of passing the torch and was talking to him about it's going to be late at night for you, so let's figure out. Maybe I keep doing them because I'm in Mountain Time zone, so it's earlier for me, but it's tough. It's tough.
Mathilde Leo: It is tough. It is math. One thing I realized as well with events is that a lot of people were watching the replays of our events. I didn't expect that at first.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, replays were the best.
Mathilde Leo: With show and tell, show and tell used to be a weekly series. Community tours, community builders coming to lift the curtain on their community set up, what they've learned launching their community, and all that good stuff. When I launched this event, it was really a way to learn. What do people care about? Do they care about seeing setups of communities? Because we were doing at the same time workshops and master classes, and so I was trying to see ... Again, people vote with their feet when it comes to events. Do they go more to the workshops, learning from experts, or do they want to learn from peers and other community builders? It turns out the latter. Looking at attendance was one thing, but I also looked at views on the videos. It turns out that a lot of people were watching the replay. Some people were DMing me saying, "I'm binge watching all the show and tells. I'm building my community now and I'm just like pausing, like seeing how people are setting up their spaces, how they're driving engagement." I think, again, when it comes to timing, also know that there is probably a sizable part of your community who will be asynchronous and that's fine. Tools like Circle and others allow you to make that happen.
Jillian Benbow: For sure. The replays are, I think, super valuable. Someone was telling me with the replays, what they do is they just listen to it at like one and a half speed. They listen to it like a podcast just to get the info, like if it's more of a conversational one. I was like, "I never thought about that. Good to know."
Mathilde Leo: With my pace, I think you would die if you tried to do one and a half. I think you'd want to slow it down more.
Jillian Benbow: No, I'm sure it would be. I'm sure it would work. Something else we wanted to touch on, and this might be a good transition, it's like we're trying all these things in our communities, seeing what sticks, all that. Let's talk about just boundaries, burnout, how to stay sane as a community builder, as you put it. I like what you said, Mathilde. In true ex product manager, current community leader sent me a list of some ideas for the episode, a little behind the scenes info, so quoting Mathilde. How to prioritize when everything is a priority and managing and taking care of yourself in order to take care of your members. That is so apropos.
Mathilde Leo: Did I write that? I don't remember. It must have been late at night.
Jillian Benbow: You did.
Mathilde Leo: Love it.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, like I deal with that still every day. Community never sleeps. There's always something. There's always what you think you're going to do today, this week, this month, this quarter, and then there's all the stuff that comes up on top of that. I really am starting to believe that, even at my company everywhere, no one has any idea the level of work that goes into just like keeping our head above water. It's a great career, everyone.
Mathilde Leo: It's the work, but it's also the emotional work. When you have a front row seat to your members' problems and challenges, you often feel like you have to solve them all. That's what I think is the biggest risk to community builders, specifically when you're a team of one or you're a solo community builder. It's, as you said, your community never sleeps, so there's always one more message you can respond. There's always one more person you can support, one more event you can organize, but you have to have boundaries. Boundaries, but also I think you have to be able to update those boundaries.
To give you an example, when I started my role at Circle, my little Circle bio used to say, "I'm just a DM away," because at the time 1,000 customers very manageable. I also wanted to have those one-on-one conversations. It was really helpful for me to speak to as many Circle community builders as possible to inform my programming and so on. 18 months later, I had to remove, "I'm just a DM away," because it's not possible to do the work, do the programming, manage a healthy community if you are constantly in your DM supporting every member, because that's what I was doing. At some point, I just could not leave my DMs unopened. I wanted to connect somebody with a community builder they could learn from, or share a resource with someone, and so now my bio says, "If you want my support or guidance, come to our office hours twice a week." We can chat about your problems. We can brainstorm solutions together. People still send me DMs and I still respond from time to time, but I've made it clear what my boundaries were.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, that's a good one. I never even thought about that, to just direct everyone to office hours. Did you get any pushback where people were like I can't come?
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, some people push back. I guess, maybe I should rephrase. I still respond to my DMs-
Jillian Benbow: Right, yeah.
Mathilde Leo: But I don't set the expectation that I'm here, that I can support everyone because with the committee with 10,000 community members, it's impossible. I also try to carve out the time to respond to DMs as well. If somebody or if a group of people are asking me questions that are product questions, or questions where I know there's a tutorial out there that answers those questions, or I know that they would be better off contacting our support team, then I let them know. I have my little keyboard shortcuts with all kinds of different things to share, but then I also have the DMs that are more like, "Hey, I feel like I don't know what I'm doing. I need support." In that case, I will carve out the time to respond, but it's not expected, so boundaries are important. Carving out the time to respond to your members, I think, is another.
Jillian Benbow: I do too. Not even DMs, just in the community engaging, like the balance of having a presence in there and being kind of an active member, but like with authority I guess. Also, giving people the space to talk to each other. It's hard. It can be hard. You can get pulled into a lot of things. I think a lot of community builders, especially at first, fall into this because they really want the community to succeed, and so they jump in. They're always online. They're always responding really fast. They're in every conversation, and then they get totally burned out and they kind of just walk away, but they've set that expectation in the community, so it's noticeable.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, also I feel like, if you take a step back often ... Your community needs to be a certain size, but if you take a step back and if you refrain from answering to everything, then your members will step up or you will actually empower new people to respond to the conversations. That's something that I didn't do as much as I do now over last year, just trying to jump on every conversation.
Jillian Benbow: Oh yeah, same. I mean, I participate less in Pro now for a few reasons. One, I'm not the community manager of Pro anymore, but also just for that exact reason, like I'm trying to give people the space to form relationships together without me constantly poking in. Then, if there's something I can actually provide feedback on that isn't ... If someone's asking how do I update a lead magnet, this, this, and that, If I would post on it, it wouldn't help unless I'm tagging other people in that I think could help, and I'll do that, for sure. I like modeling that behavior so that other community members will then do that, to then ultimately give myself a little more freedom. If the community's taking care of itself on many ways, then I can be more flexible with what I'm spending my time on.
Mathilde Leo: I love it. That's the ultimate test. If I spend a few days not motivating, not doing any responding in the community, what happens? If you see your members are stepping up, they're responding to each other's messages, or tagging others, you know you've set up something good or you've set up the conditions for them to engage, which is pretty awesome to see. That happens more often than we think, so for anyone listening, test this out. Just be a bit more quiet than usual and see what happens.
Jillian Benbow: Ghost for a day, yeah. It's funny. Sometimes I joke that the sign of success as a community manager is making yourself dispensable. If it's your company or whatever, think like, "Oh, we don't need a community manager. It runs itself." It's sort of a double edged sword. There are times I've like taken a day off impromptu and didn't tell the community. You come back and it's like they didn't miss me. I start responding to stuff and be like, "Oh, sorry. I was out," and they're like, "Oh, okay."I was like, "Cool." Yeah, "You weren't here?"
Mathilde Leo: Yeah. I think up to a point. Up to a point, the community can survive, but if you want it to thrive, you have to be there starting the conversations, creating the programs, the events that will help folks come together. Yeah, just live and breathe the community.
Jillian Benbow: The way I've found success, if in case anybody finds this helpful, maybe, maybe not, is I focus on ... If there are regular events or posts, obviously doing that. Both in Pro and Learner, every Monday they each have a different kind of post that goes up from the community manager about the week ahead and that's just part of the programming. All the interaction there, you know that the leader of that community is going to be very involved in those ritual posts, and then of course the events that we put on. We also let our members put on events, which was a fantastic idea because that's who they want to talk to. Yeah, so like focusing on those things.
Then with things like DMs, I chunk out some time every day, every other day to deal with those and I definitely have set the expectation, I believe. It's like I'm not going to get back to you immediately. Sometimes, if I happen to notice I have a DM because I have the setting set up so I get an email anytime someone DMs me.
Mathilde Leo: Oh, wow.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, I know, I know, and anytime someone introduces their self. Sometimes my inbox is insane, but I can see the message. I'll see it in my email I'll be able to tell, like is this urgent? Is this an actual thing that I need to prioritize, and then maybe I adjust, but otherwise it's like I will check. I check them maybe once a day. It depends. Then, if I have extra time, I go spend time in the community. I think for a lot of people, a good recommendation is set aside an hour either every day or every other day, like whatever works for you.
Mathilde Leo: Time box, yeah.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, and you'll be just staying abreast at like conversations, even if you don't post on everything. I probably spend more time just seeing what people are up to, just being a weirdo and lurking, I guess. I'm the ultimate at observing. I'd like to think that I'm actually lurking. I'm just kidding.
Mathilde Leo: I love those tips. Actually it is something that I tend to do one hour a day, just time blocking, time boxing this hour, and then doing as much as we can during this hour. Just keeping the pulse on the community, responding to certain higher priority messages or posts, connecting members with one another, and then that hour is done. You can move on to something else, but you have done the ongoing work of maintaining, moderating, keeping the community alive. I like that a lot as a strategy.
Jillian Benbow: Sometimes it all goes to hell.
Mathilde Leo: It does.
Jillian Benbow: Sometimes you start that hour, and then you look up and the day's over. The sun's down because something happened and you have to deal with it. It just is a whole thing, like sometimes it just goes to hell. That's okay. Mindy on our team actually made a special quote meme for me. It's like a quote of sometimes it just all goes to hell because it happens.
Mathilde Leo: It happens. Another strategy to manage yourself as a community builder, I think, is just to find your own community. It's to find your own support network. I know you're also part of Danielle Maveal support group for community builders.
Jillian Benbow: Which you referred me to, and I'm so thankful.
Mathilde Leo: Did I? Oh yes, I did.
Jillian Benbow: You did.
Mathilde Leo: Amazing, and so for those of you who don't know, Danielle Maveal is this amazing community builder and leader in this space, a super inspiring person. She put together this weekly event, this weekly gathering for community leaders that had a massive impact on just my mental health, I guess, in my first year or so at Circle because I knew I had the space every week to share how I was feeling, to connect with others who were in the same boat, to not pretend I had everything figured out. It's in this group that, when I was sharing at the time ... I think it was sometime last year. I was sharing at some point in one of those sessions that I felt like I was not doing enough for my community, that I was seeing, again, all my members' challenges. People were struggling with specific parts of the product, people struggling with their launch, and I was like, "If so many people are struggling at this particular point in time, I must be doing something wrong or I'm not doing enough." Someone in that group, it was Reina, a head of another great community builder and leader. She was the head of community at Modern Fertility at the time, a great community at that runs on Circle.
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh, she's booked on the podcast.
Mathilde Leo: Amazing. I'm going to listen to that.
Jillian Benbow: It's so funny. Everyone's talking about her lately to me. Willa, who was on the podcast recently, is the one that connected me to Reina. How funny, all these connections. Danielle's also been on the podcast.
Mathilde Leo: I mean, you have the best guests. Tatiana was on the podcast, Tom Ross, all my favorite community leaders.
Jillian Benbow: I sometimes joke about thinking I want to make like a friend of the pod community just for all of us to talk to each other.
Mathilde Leo: You should.
Jillian Benbow: Right.
Mathilde Leo: For sure.
Jillian Benbow: Well, I know some people at Circle, so I'll see.
Mathilde Leo: We should do a retreat as well. I keep promising to myself I should not go back to hosting conferences and retreats, but I'm kind of itching to do it though.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, retreat, I'm in.
Mathilde Leo: Anyway, so in this event, Reina, I was sharing my challenge. Again, I'm not doing enough. Those are all my members' challenges here. I should be doing. Tutorials. I should be doing X, Y, Z, and Reina at the time was leading the largest community running on Circle. She kind of was inside our customer community and she told me, "Mathilde, wait a minute." I'm going to paraphrase here, but she was like, "You are doing enough, way more than enough." I was like, if she's telling me this and she's a person running the largest community on Circle, having all kinds of things on her plate, I should probably trust her and trust her judgment.
Long story short, I think just hearing from other people in your community, what they need, but also oftentimes their needs are met. Just because you're such a perfectionist, or you're looking ahead at other things that you're not doing, or the needs you're not serving, so just being part of a support group, having your own community as a community builder and leader is super important.
Jillian Benbow: Can I just say, when you said that, that's how you were feeling, I had the exact same response. I'm like, are you kidding me? You are so present and active in the Circle community. You are definitely doing enough and I think that that brings up a really good point. To your point, that community managers and community builders, we need our own communities. Also, just the reminder that, as community builders, our role and purpose is not to be our members' life raft. We aren't there to save them. We are there to provide a safe place for them to do what the purpose of the community is and we're there to help them navigate all of that, but they have to save themselves. They have to figure it out. A community builder may be in there and really struggling with stuff and we can offer support, but we can't fix it for them. It's really hard for me to say that because I want to fix everything for everyone. I just want to come in and fix it, and it's not about like glory or anything. It's just like I genuinely want to be the person that fixed their problem for them.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, it's almost like in a plane, giving this image on the seat, but in the plane you put your mask on first, before other people. I think it's a good image. I think it's also a matter of knowing that your members can help one another if you are doing a good job at connecting them, at creating a space where they can help one another. In any case, you should not be the one solving all their problems. They can help themselves, but-
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I mean, that's the power of community, right?
Mathilde Leo: Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: I think that's where expectations, setting expectations at the jump, and community guidelines, because it happens. People join our communities and think we'll just create a business of their dreams, but I can't increase your revenue with a magic wand. You can certainly talk with other members and we can brainstorm together, but at the end of the day it's on you to make your business run.
Mathilde Leo: It's a great reminder. It's something we forget.
Jillian Benbow: Because we're natural helpers.
Mathilde Leo: Exactly. We forget that it's not our job to solve everyone's problem.
Jillian Benbow: No, even though we all wish we could. If someone gave me the power to do it, I'd be like, "Just kidding, ha ha," but I don't have that magic wand yet. I would love it. Okay, we are kind of at the time, so is there anything else community specific you wanted to talk about that we didn't hit on?
Mathilde Leo: I don't think so. I guess maybe one thing. I see so many community builders at Circle who want to launch the community, but they wait weeks and sometimes months before launching. But there's not a single person I talk to who hasn't told me, "Mathilde, I wish I had launched faster. I wish I had gathered my members faster," and so a big focus of my team right now is to help anyone who aspires to build a community to just get in the mindsets to launch fast. Again, unlike a product where you want a minimum viable product, but you also want the product to be polished enough that it will retain your early adopters, a community is going to be built with your members. That's something to keep in mind. Go for it, launch it, gather your folks, create rituals, create events, tweak things together would be my top tip to leave people with.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, I love that. I think overly planning programming is often a waste of time. It's a good thought exercise if you want to just think about options, but ultimately that founding group, if you can get ... You don't need 100 people to launch a community. You can launch with five, you can launch with 10. It depends what it's about and what your growth intentions and strategies are. Also, while we're on the topic, you don't need to have a goal of 1,000 members or 20,000 members. You can have a small community that is tight knit and the intention isn't growth. It's just focusing on the people who are there, and that's a successful community.
Mathilde Leo: 100%. There's so many communities in Circle that I see in our customer community that are 50 members, that are 60 members, 20, that are very successful because they focus on serving those members, helping them form deep connections, so I completely agree.
Jillian Benbow: All right, we'll put a pin in it for now, but I have a feeling maybe next year Mathilde will be back. I'll have to figure out what to send her this time.
Mathilde Leo: It won't take me another 18 months. If you'll invite me back, I'll come back this time much, much faster.
Jillian Benbow: We have it on tape, so ha ha.
Mathilde Leo: We do.
Jillian Benbow: Okay, so this is the part of the show that I ask you some rapid fire questions that I will want to ask follow up questions to, but I won't because then it's not rapid fire. I still think this should just be like a bonus episode where I get to ask questions and we just talk for another hour, but until I convince everyone that's a good idea. First question, Mathilde, when you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Mathilde Leo: I wanted to be a programmer. I wanted to work with computers for some reason.
Jillian Benbow: Really?
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, I was 10.
Jillian Benbow: And you did it.
Mathilde Leo: I mean, kind of. I did a bit of coding here and there, but I'm not actively building the products.
Jillian Benbow: I wanted to be a cat. Didn't make it. How do you define community?
Mathilde Leo: That's a great question. Community is a group of people who care about one another's success and wellbeing, and I think it's also a feeling. It's a feeling that you belong to a group, and so that group helps you with whatever goals you have. That's why you keep coming together.
Jillian Benbow: Pretend you have a bucket list if you don't have one. What is something on that bucket list that you have done, you've achieved, accomplished, done, witnessed?
Mathilde Leo: I'm really into martial arts and something I did have on my bucket list five or six years ago was to go to Thailand and do a professional Thai boxing fight. I actually did two in a week. I was a bit crazy. I won my first fight. It was my first pro fight, so it was a big, big achievement. I was a bit on a high after this and my trainer, this really awesome Thai guy, was asking me, "Do you want to fight again before you go back to your country?" I was like, "Yeah, why not?," and so in the same week I had another one. I had actually two black eyes, one from the first fight and one from the second one. I lost the second one, sadly, but ...
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh. Now everyone understands why I said you could beat me up and I would be helpless.
Mathilde Leo: Now it all make sense though. I train a bit less now, but I used to be obsessed.
Jillian Benbow: You're so kind and nice. Not to say that people who do professional fighting aren't, but it's def like, when I first learned that about you, I was like, "No way." Yeah, don't mess with Mathilde.
Mathilde Leo: Funnily enough, tomorrow I'm taking a few of the Circle team members who are coming ... We're doing our offsite, our company events in Lisbon starting next week and we're going to do a muay thai training session all together tomorrow.
Jillian Benbow: Oh my gosh.
Mathilde Leo: Five or six people. Not that many, but it's got to be fun.
Jillian Benbow: I would love to see Andy doing that.
Mathilde Leo: He's not coming to that one.
Jillian Benbow: Dang it. Next time. Now we have to do a retreat and make him come to do muay thai.
Mathilde Leo: For sure. I don't know if I would want to like train or fight muay thai with my boss. You know, Andy being my boss, probably not.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, probably not. You versus Andy, me versus Matt, the ultimate showdown.
Mathilde Leo: The UFC of community, I would watch that, but anyways.
Jillian Benbow: I would, yeah. I'd prefer to watch than be a part of it. See, this is why I can't do rapid fire. I'm too nosy.
Mathilde Leo: Okay, sorry. [inaudible] .
Jillian Benbow: It's me. I think us together is a bad combination, but like the best bad combination, like I love it. Sorry to the listeners though. Okay, so the bucket list. On the flip side of that, so that's something you have done and congratulations. That's amazing. What is something on your bucket list that you haven't done yet, but you hope to do?
Mathilde Leo: The first thing that comes to mind is doing ayahuasca. I don't know if you've heard of it. I don't know if it's safe to stay on the podcast, but yeah. For the backstory, I'm reading a lot about psychedelics and they're used for mental health. That is actually something I would love to do at some point, maybe in 10 years time, once I've figured out a lot of my ... It's supposed to help you figure out some of your issues as well, but I want to be in a good mental space when I do it.
Jillian Benbow: Oh yes, you do. Yes, you do, and probably somewhere with a bathroom close by.
Mathilde Leo: Probably, probably.
Jillian Benbow: That is such an amazing answer. I love it.
Mathilde Leo: It's the truth.
Jillian Benbow: Amazing. What is a book, and it can be fiction, non-fiction. It can be anything, but what is either the book that you love so much, you wish everyone would read, or just a book, like a community book that you think community builders should read?
Mathilde Leo: Right now, actually I'm reading a lot about ... I used to read a lot about productivity in business and neuroscience, and now I try to escape by just reading about the trees and plants. I read this great book called ... I'm looking behind me because it's here, Flower Confidential. How flowers, like the flower industry, how it works.
Jillian Benbow: Oh boy. It's depressing, isn't it?
Mathilde Leo: The hidden life of trees. It is a little bit depressing, but it helps you understand as well, like how the flowers that you buy in the bouquet, how they come to be there.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, it's amazing.
Mathilde Leo: I love the hidden ... Again, not about community, although they do talk about how trees are all connected and the wood wide web it's called. The Hidden Life of Trees is a book I recently read that I loved. I'll have to get back to you on a community book because I've read many, but it's so long ago.
Jillian Benbow: Right. There's only so many, but sometimes someone recommends one that's like adjacent, that you wouldn't think and is a great rec, but that's okay. I think the recs you gave are awesome, and yeah, trees are amazing.
Mathilde Leo: They are.
Jillian Benbow: We have stumps in our yard that originally was going to grind out, and then I was like, wait a minute. Technically they're still part of the network, so I left them. You've lived a lot of places and you are the type of person that will move where you want, so I can't wait to hear the answer to this. If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?
Mathilde Leo: Probably somewhere in Brazil. I've been to Brazil one time, right before the pandemic. I have quite a few Brazilian friends and I'm just in love with Brazil, the language, the culture, the food. I don't know exactly where, but it would be somewhere in Brazil, for sure.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, Brazil is gorgeous. Okay, and final question, Mathilde. How do you want to be remembered?
Mathilde Leo: That's a question I should have prepared for. I want to be remembered as someone who created more connection in the world, who helped people connect, be themselves. That would be the short answer.
Jillian Benbow: I love it. I love it. It's perfect too. All right, this has been so much fun. I would seriously love to, let's do it again. We'll figure out.
Mathilde Leo: We should.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, we can talk about the community of ayahuasca because that's a legit thing.
Mathilde Leo: And the UFC of community. We can also produce it. I mean, all kinds of side projects come to mind after this podcast [inaudible] .
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, we're going to be busy. It's like retreats that have a little bit of fighting, maybe a little bit of like terrible tea drinking, I don't know, bathrooms. We'll figure it out. We'll get back to everyone.
Mathilde Leo: For sure, all good.
Jillian Benbow: Mathilde, if people want to learn more about you or follow you, where can they find you?
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, I can be found on Twitter. I do spend some time, maybe too much time, on there. I'm @Mathilde_Leo on Twitter. If you are a Circle customer or a Circle curious community builder, I spend a lot of time in our customer community. If you are joining, you can find me on there, weekly office hours and so on. We talked a bit about that today.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, excellent. Well, thank you so much. Have a wonderful rest of your day and I'll probably be talking to you later.
Mathilde Leo: Bye, Jillian. Thank you so much. It was so much fun.
Jillian Benbow: That was our episode with Mathilde. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed having it. I didn't expect to talk about ayahuasca, but that was hilarious. Oh my gosh. That was a highlight experience for me as far as just not expecting that sort of answer, but I think there's a lot of people who agree it's become a thing.
Anyways, let's talk about what we just talked about. It's fun to hear people's story into community and there's always the common threads or just the little things. It was fun to kind of hear both sides, from both Mathilde and myself, how we got into it. I think a lot of us are natural community builders, natural helpers, so it makes sense that we get into this sort of thing.
Imposter syndrome, when we were talking about being in the community support groups and thinking she wasn't doing enough, and then someone else with an amazing community who, as I mentioned, is supposed to be on the show, is scheduled. I guess I shouldn't have said anything, but no, she's scheduled. She's going to be on the show. Sometimes it takes someone else saying, "No, you're doing everything. You're good." Yeah, going to say it again, we can't be our member's life raft and we shouldn't be. We can throw it to them, but we are not it. If they grab on, awesome. You might have throw it a couple times, but that's our role and that's okay.
Some big takeaways besides obviously wanting to make life raft analogies work, the boundaries. I love Mathilde had a real life example with the I'm just a DM away to how about office hours, and I'm joking. It's not that snarky on her profile. She did a really great job in transitioning that expectation and I like the idea. I hadn't thought of that, like put it on your profile. I love that.
I also really liked her advice on giving things a few months and sticking with it while also talking to your community. Maybe this programming that everybody said they wanted, but no one's showing up to, maybe the issue is the time or just the platform you're using. Maybe everyone's sick of Zoom, and so there's another way to do a live event that's not Zoom, that makes it a little more fresh, that gets people in the door. That's what I love about community. There's so many things you can try. I agree about not spending too much time planning out programming because what you think people want and what they actually want can be different or it can evolve. Involving your community in those decisions is always, always good. Just checking in like, "Hey, how's this going? Is it too much? What's missing?", all of the above.
I think I'll end on just what we were talking about. I think we were both kind of figuring out that this was a thing as we were talking, or at least ... I guess I shouldn't speak for Mathilde. For me, it was a bit of an aha moment with just community has very naturally followed product operations ways to operate, how to scale or measure success, how to scale all of that, but really that might not be the best way. It's just the way it kind of evolved and it's okay to challenge those ideas of what measures true success. There's always going to be a balance because we need to be able to keep the doors open. There has to be some sort of revenue piece even for free communities, unless you're just doing it as a volunteer very intentionally. That's definitely possible, but I think most of us are trying to do it in a way that at least pays for itself. We're not validating a product.
What Mathilde said that I loved was, when you're validating a product, you're looking to see if people will use it to solve their problem, but when you're validating a community, you're looking to see if they'll come together and solve the problem. That distinction is like c’est bon. It's chef's kiss. I love it, so let's end on that and maybe give it a thought with your community.
Reach out on Twitter, @JillianBenbow. You can also reach out to @teamSPI. I'd love to talk about it further. Maybe check Twitter to see all the riveting jokes that have been happening. I'm just trying to get people to talk to me on Twitter, honestly. If you don't want to do that, that's cool. You can also hit us up with a review. I'd love to get some more reviews on the show to help us grow. On that, I will see you next Tuesday.
You can find Mathilde on Twitter. Her handle is @mathilde_leo. That is spelled M-A-T-H-I-L-D-E underscore L-E-O. Learn more about the work she's doing over at Circle.so. If you join their member community, you can talk to her every day. Just don't DM her all the time.
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 Paul Grigoras. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.