Bonus episodes are a rare occurrence here on the Smart Passive Income Podcast. We're doing this one because we feel compelled to tell you about an incredible shift happening in our industry and an amazing tool we're using to ride that shift. It's called Circle, an online community platform created specifically for creators.
Today, we're going to explain why community is everything, not just in 2021, and not just as a result of the pandemic. You'll learn why this shift is happening now and why we describe our commitment to the community within SPI as the beating heart of the business.
We're so stoked that there are actually three segments within this bonus episode so that you can learn as much as possible. First, you'll hear an interview between me and one of Circle's co-founders, Sid. Next, sit in on a roundtable between my Partner in SPI, Matt, interviewing Sid and the other two Circle co-founders, Rudy and Andy. Finally, get an inside glimpse at a user's perspective of Circle with the entirety of SPI's Community Experience (CX) team: Mindy, Jay, and Jillian. There's tons of actionable advice through this whole episode, whether you have a community of your own or are just starting to think about it.
I can't emphasize enough what an amazing, critical opportunity online communities are for creators; Circle is an invaluable asset in making it happen. Check out Circle at SmartPassiveIncome.com/circle [Full Disclosure: I'm a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Circle]. And, if you're listening to this in early 2021, we have a super fun training and webinar coming up with the Circle Team on February 10th and 11th at SmartPassiveIncome.com/webinars.
Last, if you're curious about what SPI's own membership community (SPI Pro) looks like, check it out at SmartPassiveIncome.com/pro.
- How Circle originated — from a few friendly conversations to the initial “let's do this”
- Why investing heavily in community is crucial for creators
- Where to start if you're thinking about launching your own online community
- Why tools like Facebook or Slack are often suboptimal for meaningful membership groups
- How to make sure your community is a thriving destination for members
- Why paid memberships — as opposed to free ones — make a difference in community engagement
- How a vision and values document played an integral role in the early stages of Circle
- What the Circle co-founders took with them from their experiences at Teachable (and what they left behind)
- Why it's important to keep a foot “in the trenches” as a manager
- Why Circle is a breath of fresh air for SPI's Community Experience team
- How and why SPI designed its application system for the SPI Pro community
- Why it's critical to be able to connect directly with your community, rather than through a platform like Facebook or LinkedIn
Why Community Is Everything In 2021 (and Beyond) — Bonus Episode with Circle.so
Hey, if you're listening to this right now, it might be interesting because this episode does not have a number and this is a bonus episode. We hardly ever do these, but we do these when there's something really, really important to share, especially something new in an industry or something that we want to get in front of you as soon as possible. I'm really, really excited because today we're going to be talking about community and specifically, we're going to be talking about a particular tool that helps enhance communities. And we have very, very much experienced so much of this tool recently with the recent launch of SPI Pro, recently had Matt on to talk about the launch of that. Speaking of Matt, guess what? He's here with us today, too. What's up, Matt? How are you?
Hello, hello. It's great to be back, Pat.
I think one of the last times we chatted, we actually talked about the launch of our community, SPI Pro. Tell us a little bit about, now that we're several months ahead of that or forward of it, what has building this community done for the business and just the people in it?
I think it's validated a lot of our longer term vision and thinking for where we need to continue to play a really important role in the industry. Private membership communities have been around for a while, but I think with just what's even happening in the world right now, people are craving these forms of interactions more.
Our ability to bring that to bear through SPI Pro, that we launched last summer, was very well timed and has just been a tremendous source of inspiration, even for us to see just how well our members have really rallied behind that sort of an ecosystem and have leaned into that opportunity to meet other people and support themselves. It's been the biggest, I think, joy and certainly one of the most strategic things that we have done on the business side for SPI probably in the last couple years.
For anybody listening to this who's interested in building community, which hopefully you all are in some way, shape, or form. And perhaps you've tried a Facebook group or other systems to bring communities together, we feel that we found something that works really, really well. And this is why exactly this episode exists because we wanted to bring on the founders of the tool that we're using, it's called Circle. And although we will be talking about Circle, a lot of the principles and things that we're going to be discussing today are just about community in general. And in fact, Circle, which we do have an affiliate link for it, we'll mention all that stuff later, is now one of the most integral parts of our business and so, so important to us that we just had to share with others too.
And in this episode in particular, you're going to hear, specifically, an introduction to Sid who's the co-founder and just why community is something we should be focusing on right now. And there's so many of us that have been trying Facebook groups and stuff, and those things work. But when we really want a long term sort of community that we own and that we can control, that we have some ability to craft into whichever direction we want, it's important to have control over this. And this is why doing this out of Facebook is key. I'll be interviewing Sid at first. And then Matt, you go into a really cool round table discussion with the team. What do you guys talk about during that portion of the talk here?
Yes. In the second segment is the round table conversation with all the Circle co-founders actually. We have Sid back on the call along with Andy and Rudy. It's the four of us together having a really fantastic, more in depth conversation on why they sensed an opportunity to say, leave Teachable. A lot of them got their start from Teachable that we know and love.
We unpack that story more, their own origin story for them as individuals, for them as friends during their Teachable days and why they felt that this wasn't just a small thing for the future of creators in the creator economy, but why this is actually a big thing. One of the biggest things. It's not a flash in the pan. This is something that so many of us and certainly us at SPI, but even others, a lot of others are paying much more attention to, as an integral component to both their brand building, as well as their business building.
And it's an absolutely great story of just how to do a startup right. From the research, to the partnership, to all that stuff. All that stuff is in that segment. And then we end with a round table with you, Matt, and Jillian, Mindy, and Jay, who are on our customer experience team and community experience team. And can you talk a little bit about what people can look forward to within that?
Absolutely. So in segment three, with Jay and Jillian and Mindy, we really talk about the nuts and the bolts on the inside of SPI and what community means to us and why integrating a platform like Circle is so necessary for our vision and what we're trying to accomplish. Because we've only just started. I know I've mentioned that even, Pat, back on the episode when we talked about launching SPI Pro. This isn't the end, it's just the beginning. What can we do to keep pushing the envelope forward and continue to through SPI, teach what we know as we always do and as you always do so that other people that maybe share the same compassion for community can follow suit?
Yes. You're almost getting an inside look. You're going through the factory doors and you're seeing how it's all made and we're just going to be talking about it very openly and honestly and we're still figuring things out too. And I think that's the cool thing about this. You can kind of see us and imagine our brains working as we go and are trying to provide value to the audience. And so if you're at all interested about community and you're wondering how it all works, how we're building the team, how we're actually managing the community, as well as the tool.
And I'm just going to be up front with you. For those of you listening, you might be like, oh, Circle. You keep talking about Circle. Yeah. Because this is an absolutely amazing tool. I'm not going to lie. We are an affiliate for it. Matt and I are both advisors to the company as well. And as you know, I'm always fully up front with you, but we wouldn't be those things if we didn't believe that this tool was absolutely game changing for you and the community that you could potentially look into. Now again, you don't have to go to Circle. You can go to a different one and that's totally fine. We just want you to get value here and to understand community is important, how to manage it and whichever tools you choose to use, great. But we highly recommend checking out Circle and you'll hear why at the end. And so links and everything in the show notes. But why don't we just get to the episode?
Yeah. Let's do it, Pat.
All right. I think that's been enough talking, let's just dive right in. Here is me and one of the co-founders, Sid, talking about just community and why this is so important right now.
Sid, welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Thanks so much for being here today, man.
Hey Pat, thanks so much for having me on.
I'm so excited to talk about Circle — of all the things that happened in 2020, probably the number one request we've had is we need more information about Circle and how it develops community. And definitely we're going to dive into that today, but before we get to that, first of all, I'd love to hear just kind of your origin story as an entrepreneur to begin with, and we'll tie all this together in the end, but tell us a little bit about you and sort of how you got here.
Yeah, so I grew up in New Zealand, I've lost the accent now, moved over to the States when I was 22, I just happened to join a startup called Teachable. I was their first designer, front end hire and walked into WeWork downtown New York, met this group of dudes and it was like, "Okay, these guys are up to something interesting." There's something interesting going on in the online courses world. I really didn't realize what the ramifications of it were. I was just like, "There's something happening here and these guys seem cool." Little did I know that, I basically entered into this movement. So from a personal perspective, essentially the job that I had changed every three months. So I started as an IC designer, became Teachable's first product manager, eventually I was managing a product team of four PMs, a design team. When I left last year, the company was about a hundred people. So really watched that company grow internally and then from the business perspective, watched the creator movement evolve and that's where I got the passion for the creator space. And that's what led me to Circle.
Yeah. And many people who are listening to this know about Teachable, know I'm an advisor for Teachable and Ankur has been on the show before to talk about online courses and how important that is. And that's been absolutely instrumental in my career and here at team SPI, just the ability to create online courses that can help people learn and transform. That's really, really important, but there's another side of this learning process. It's not just the content, it's also the community aspect of it. And I'd love to know a little bit more about why you and your team decided to sort of ... I mean, you literally branched out or essentially stopped working at Teachable to start Circle. And I'm curious, why was that such an obvious thing for you to do? Why is community something that we should be focusing on?
Yeah, so it wasn't obvious at first. So when I left back in April last year, I knew that I wanted to start my own company. It's one of the reasons I actually immigrated from New Zealand was to become an entrepreneur. So after five years I was like, "Okay, I kind of feel ready, but I don't have a specific idea." All I know is there's something inspiring about building for creators in that it's not like you're building for hundreds of millions of consumers and you don't know what the persona is. It's like you know these guys, you meet them at events, you hang out with them and you really feel that connection that I don't think you do with a consumer startup or something that's super B2B enterprise. So I knew that that's where my focus was going to be, but it was really a four to five month incubation period that led us to community.
The way we started out, we meaning my two co-founders, both also now ex Teachable, we started to essentially have conversations with anyone who would talk to us and most of them happened to be Teachable course creators. We would ask them really open-ended questions. So things like, “What are you excited about in the next year? Where are you looking to for the growth of your business or your course business, your audience, and really where are your pain points? So show us your stack, give us a sense of your day-to-day and what that's like.” And after many, many of these conversations, we started to hear two things. So one, almost everyone we spoke to, spoke about the importance of community. So they would talk about the value of building an audience that's engaged, they used the word you like a lot, “superfans.” And at a high level, it was kind of like, "Yeah, it makes complete sense."
The community is very important to have a shelf life as a creator. And then when we started digging into their stack and the products that they used and the integrations that they had to make possible to make it all work together, it just didn't feel like this was the ideal experience, both for the member and for the creator, to actually set up an online community, set up an experience that brings together their audience, their content, their payments, all of that stuff. It just didn't feel like it was nailed at all and that's where we saw the opportunity.
You may have an online course on Teachable or a similar product. You may have, let's say a YouTube channel. And then you have this Facebook group that sort of sits there. And your students, on the one hand, they're happy to have an avenue where they can meet like minded folks, but it never felt like it was an integrated experience for a lot of folks. At the same time, they would tell us, community’s where I'm looking to for the next year.
And we even saw in late 2019 and mid 2020s, Facebook promoting groups even more, right? Getting really into putting even money behind the promotion of their groups and I remember commercials on TV about certain groups and it was just really interesting, but I think we also know, and it felt in the past what it might be like to build a community on a free platform and all of a sudden either have it taken away from us or have to pay to play or have people see stuff. And when you're building in somebody else's sandbox like that, it can be very dangerous and I think we've all experienced that before, which is why when I came across Circle...
First of all, thank you, Ankur, for just the initial sort of pointing toward your direction and my partner, Matt and I have fallen so much in love with Circle in fact, that we're now advisors for the company, just like with what we felt with Teachable. And it just solves a very specific problem that we've had and we know our creators here who are listening to SPI also have too. For those who maybe aren't as convinced that community is the place to be, or the thing to create, I'd love to hear from your perspective, as somebody building solutions in this space, why is that a mistake to sort of let community go by?
Yeah, really the goal for any creator or brand should be to have a shelf life, right? You may start off building an email list around a specific interest, a specific niche. You may have a product or two that you launch whether it's an online course or an ebook, but if you take the long-term view into really what you're looking to do, you're looking to build a sustainable business, something that actually can make you money, something that people are excited about over time, right? And really the thread that I see for most creators who go product to product, who go article to article is that community that you're building alongside it.
So on the one level, you're essentially building this group of people that are passionate about what you do, that have a shared interest. You're enabling them to meet each other, when they're meeting each other, they're talking about you. So they validate your importance to them. And in that way, they kind of welcome anyone new that starts to follow you. And over time, what happens is, let's say you've been building online courses for years. You may then realize that you have a interested enough group of people that will actually pay you for a community experience that's more catered to them. And this speaks to what you've done with SPI Pro.
But really what people are looking for with more established creators is to meet like-minded people in a more intimate fashion to get exclusive access to a creator like yourself. And that's really where the importance of having white label solution, a platform that can house all of your stuff and not just posts and comments, but your content, payments, a really integrated experience that you can actually position and brand. And that's where solutions like Facebook groups and Slack kind of overstay their welcome, right? And it's at that point where it's time for a creator to actually move on and look to a platform like us.
What are some examples of communities that are using Circle that kind of might be surprising to us?
Sid: It's interesting. It's like every single day we hear of a community that we would just never think would use us. So we have a community dedicated to, let's say, beer science. That was very interesting to me.
There's a group of folks that are super into that. There's scrapbooking communities. I find the more interesting examples to be in that realm where it's not just the fact that people are fans or from product, there're things to actually share and learn from each other. Where if I'm just a fan of a creator, and I'm consuming your content on Instagram, let's say, that's interesting. But if I'm learning from your audience, from people who are like me, I'm actually building connections that may lead me to a better career and better outcome.
Yeah. I mean, I agree with that. We see it in SPI Pro of course. And we see not just people there to connect with our team, but they're connecting with each other. They're supporting each other. Certain people have literally stepped up to lead conversations and to share certain things. And with the cool integrations, with things like Loom and YouTube, it's just very simple to kind of share that information. When you were building Circle with you and your team, what were the major things that you were like, “We have to get this right? Because Facebook and LinkedIn groups and all these other places just aren't doing it”?
Yeah. So I think a big thing for us was giving creators the ability to design their community areas. What we saw with products like Facebook groups, and even Slack and LinkedIn groups to some extent, is the intentionality tends to be different based on what the creator is looking to do. You may want a area dedicated in your community to just Q&A's, right? And you wouldn't want that mixed up with Introduction. So you wouldn't want that one linear newsfeed experience where someone's having a really interesting conversation about a certain topic and then the next post, you see someone introducing themselves. And that's kind of where we started were, how do we take this linear newsfeed format that's very popular in products like Facebook groups and start to distinguish that? So we look to Slack for some inspiration, with the channels paradigm, and we call them spaces.
And that really empowers creators to design their experience from end to end. So if I'm a creator, I can think about what are the public spaces that would make sense? So maybe something like a blog could be housed within Circle, something like a showcase space where people are showing off their creations. And I may be okay to make that stuff public. Whereas if I have a paid membership or if I have an online course, I may want to crack open a private space that's dedicated for that single purpose. And that's really where we started to differentiate with these products because what happened is I may have a Facebook group that's dedicated to all my fans, but what happens when I start my online course or what happens when I want to branch that out? It ends up being the case that most creators' sort of bifurcate that experience. And that's where a lot of the messiness comes in and we're able to unify that with our paradigm.
I always describe it as when people are like, "Okay, just tell me in one minute, how would you describe it?" I'm like, "it's all the things you love about Facebook group in it and all the things you hate are out. And then it's all the things you love about Slack that are in it. And all the things you don't like about Slack are out." It's like, you're just taking all the best and it's just this brilliant solution for building communities.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on… How do you keep a community thriving? I think a big worry that people have when building a community, whether it's a Facebook group or something on Circle, for example, is just like, "Okay, well, I just don't want it to be a ghost town. What if I set this up and nobody talks and it's just empty? That would make me feel even worse. So I might as well not even try." How would you respond to somebody who's worried about that?
Yeah. I think you spoke to this before, but in the initial stages of community building it's about you as a creator being in there, being a little hands-on, kind of kindling that fire and really seeding something that can grow by itself, right? But your goal, let's say after the first six months or 12 months, should be to not be as hands-on as you were in the initial days. So to the extent that you see people really step up wanting to be community leaders, moderators, super contributors, right? I think that's one of the things we see tends to be very common in communities that sort of last, which is they're able to inspire the next generation of community leaders within their community to kind of take that to the next level. And it's not a linear thing where it's like, I start a community and then the community has an end goal. It might be like that for, let's say an online course community. It's really, you're looking to build that feedback loop and that longterm loop that leads your members to step up and kind of peek over what the community ends up becoming.
I love that answer. Thank you for that. The final question I have for you is, Sid, people are listening to this. They're like, "Okay, Circle sounds great. It's a separate platform where I can take ownership of this community. And I can really create this experience, but Facebook is free dude, and so are these other platforms." What would get a person to actually pay to want to get access to this? For many, it just doesn't make sense when there are Facebook groups and everybody's on Facebook already. What's the incentive of a person actually paying to become a part of a membership?
Yeah. It really depends on where you are in your creative journey. So there are a lot of creators when they're just starting out, let's say you don't have an audience yet, or you're just starting to build content, se actually recommend Facebook groups to those types of people, because what we tell them is, we're actually not going to help you with the discovery element. So you may want to look for an aggregator or someplace to gain that visibility, right? And that's where those products really stand out. But once you've established an audience, once you've established content and your goal is then to take that to the next level, by integrating an experience...
So if you're starting a paid membership, if you're integrating community with an online course, if being white labeled is important to you — so the idea of calling something “SPI Pro,” how valuable is it that, that lives on the SPI website under the SPI brand versus is seen as just a Facebook group, right? And that's really where we come in and we give you that sort of end to end solution that integrates everything in one place with these. And at the same time we have an iOS app, we're working on an Android app. So we're also looking into some of the more discovery elements. But I think right now, we're probably better suited for folks who are further down that creator path and are looking for a platform to sort of bring everything together.
I love that. And you got to realize, remember listening everybody is that you don't need a million people in here to do some amazing things. In fact, that would probably be too big for a community, just a small group of people who can come together, who are in a safe space to communicate and be weird with each other, that's how I love to say it.
It’s like, you don't need a lot of people. If you had a hundred people paying $19 and 95 cents a month. I mean, you're making $2,000 a month there. Right? And then imagine getting to just a thousand true fans, that's a fan a day for less than three years. To have somebody come in and support the group and be a part of something and pay far less than they would for coffee every week, it makes complete sense when you nail the messaging, you nail the positioning and you create this amazing community.
If I may add one thing to that, people think that an engaging community is engaging 90 plus percent of my members, right? And what we see frequently is you have this breakdown of superfans who are super engaging, contributing content. They may be producing content. You have some group of folks who are more the likers and the commenters. They like to be in there, but they're not necessarily going to write long form posts or make videos. And then you have some people just observing and they may log in once a week. An analogy we love to use is, it's almost like church for them. They'll show up once a week, they'll get the value that they need out of it. And that's it. And it's really okay to have that. And you don't need to aspire to engage massive amounts of your audience as a percentage.
Yeah, love that. Thank you for that positioning. So I encourage everybody to continue listening because we're going to change gears here. We're going to go to Matt, who's going to host Sid and his partners for the leadership and discussion about the team and how this thing was put together and whatnot. So Sid thank you for this first portion. This was amazing. I think it's inspiring and I can't wait to hear the rest of it. So here we go.
Thanks for having me on.
Matt: Hey everyone. It's Matt, excited to be here for the in-depth conversation with the entire Circle team. I really hope you enjoyed Pat's interview with Sid, upfront in the first segment here. With me now is Sid again, plus his co-founders Andy and Rudy.
So Rudy, Sid, Andy, thank you so much for being here today.
Thanks for having us on.
Thanks Matt. Great to be here.
Yeah, absolutely. It's a thrill to just go deeper into a lot of these founding stories with entrepreneurs like you, companies like yours at really interesting moments in your growth and inflection. So maybe to really dig into more of those kinds of behind the scenes things that perhaps aren't discussed as much, Sid, I'm curious way back when, when you were at Teachable and you started to get this itch for maybe something else. I'm always really curious to understand the hard decision, I imagine it was hard, to consider leaving a really awesome job and a team at Teachable, and Andy and Rudy you guys obviously at Teachable as well. How did that decision go down to say, "Okay, the creator economy is really taking off. Communities may be an avenue of growth that we want to participate in, but man, I have something so good right now." So how did you guys wrestle with that decision?
Yeah. So I guess for me, I stayed at Teachable for five years. I started as first IC designer, front-end engineer. And when I started there were three dudes at WeWork in Downtown New York, and to go from there to where I was, so five years in, I was managing a product team of four PMs, I had a design team. And really the company was about a hundred folks by that time. So on the one hand it had felt like a sense of accomplishment. I'd scaled up a bunch. I'd learned how to manage. I'd learned how to be an executive. I'd learned how to learn in a situation where your job literally changes every couple of months.
At the same time, kind of five years in, I had to ask myself, is this what I want to do? And is this the thing that I want to be the world's best at? So when I looked ahead as a VP of product, what I saw was my next job would have been to hire director of products. It would have been to scale the company from, let's say 100 to 200 people. It was very operational. And not to say that that can't be exciting. I think for certain type of persona, they just excel at that. But for me, I'd always thought of myself as an entrepreneur. So kind of had to make that call and say, "Okay, you know what? I think I've done what I can. Given where I started, it's been a good run, but it's time to pass on the baton to someone that's say, more experienced, someone who's done the scaling part of startups."
And for me personally, just to go back to the ground floor and kind of discover other areas of opportunities in the creator landscape.
So in that same timeframe, it sounded like Rudy, maybe a similar headspace. How did that first conversation go? It sounds like Sid, perhaps you initiated it coming to Rudy and eventually Andy, you get pulled into this as well. How did that conversation go around? Like, "Hey guys, I have this big crazy idea. I think this is the right team. I want you guys as a part of this." How did you guys start to then form that partnership conversation?
Well, it was interesting. I come from a little bit of a different background to these two. These two both stayed at Teachable for five-ish years. I spent six months there and after my time at Teachable, I built a company that was specifically dealing with course creators. So working with a lot of Teachable's high-end course creators. And that gave me a, let's say an insight from the other side of the fence, working directly with them, seeing what the problems were day-to-day and what they were trying to achieve. And did that for a couple of years and then Sid and I found ourselves on holiday in Portugal and the conversation started on a rooftop after a wonderful dinner one night and it kind of just flowed from there.
So on this rooftop, we had a bit of a conversation and there was nothing sort of concrete about a specific idea, but we left that conversation basically saying, let's do something together and then it evolved from there. So it was a wonderful evening.
I think between Rudy and I, in that one night, we probably went through five different ideas and Circle itself was maybe our tenth one as a whole that we talked about, but it was also the more obvious one. And it's interesting that we came back to the more obvious one after branching out the ones that were very different from this creator ecosystem.
That's really interesting. So it's the sticky one. It's the one that made the most sense after you've scrutinized the market fit opportunity or just other options. And yeah, I'm a believer that sometimes the obvious simple choice is the best one. It's the one that most resonates probably with the other side of that conversation a potential customer, potential fan. Andy, when did you get pulled into those conversations and how did that feel to you, being pulled into that?
Well, the truth is, I wasn't really pulled into it. I kind of forced my way into it.
I knew I was going to be leaving Teachable relatively soon. It was close to five years. I told Ankur when I interviewed, I was like, "As soon as this company is above 60 people, I'm going to be out." But that happened two years before. But I think there's this thing that you look for when you're trying to figure out who to start a company with, where they have to have very complementary skill sets. And if I'm being truly honest, Sid specifically, he was the only person that checked all of those boxes for me. And so I knew it was either going to be like, I have to start a company with Sid right now, this is the moment. And I have to kind of wedge my way in there and really figure out how to make this happen or I just have to do something else, and that's totally viable too, but I decided it was the right time. And so then I just was available.
And I'd say on from our perspective, really the thing that validated this idea specifically, because as I said, Rudy and I talked through so many other ideas. I think Andy was the first person we actually went to with this idea. And it was rare when we went to people with ideas that they'd get excited and amped up. That wasn't the usual response. The usual response I faced, even with some of my best friends, was some level of skepticism, questioning, which they should. And honestly, for a bunch of my ideas, it was warranted. Questions like, is the market big enough? Or, is this really that company you want to build or is it an interesting or fun side project?
When I went to Andy with this idea, the level of excitement and conviction in our first couple conversations was just something else. It was like, “wow.”
That's fantastic. It's easy, I think, to kind of get excited about the idea phase and that's kind of the honeymoon phase, I think about that.
I imagine like any startup, especially that has co-founders, you got to work through some stuff, you got to be clear about roles and responsibilities, you have to formalize things. What were some of those maybe more awkward... or if there was tension? And I know those are sometimes the harder things to talk about, but I'm just really curious, especially when a partnership dynamic takes hold and clearly it's working so well, what were some of the bumps along the way?
One thing that really helped us, really the first thing we ever collaborated on was this document. I did the first draft and it was basically a vision and values doc. It was the most clichéd thing in the world, but I found that it really helped us. So just stating upfront, here's how we want to work together. We already knew that the skills were aligned and this was just one other check box. So at that point it was all about the standard back and forth around bringing on a co-founder, what the equity split’s going to look like. And something that helped is we hadn't raised a round, there's no one even looped into this idea. So we didn't have to factor in anything else other than what's it going to take to excite Andy? And really, I think on the whole it probably took less than seven days.
Seven days, that's very impressive.
The vision stuff, at least I for one don't consider that cliché. I think it's seminally important. I've led multiple teams in my past including the SPI team with Pat through those exercises of making sure that the vision isn't only clear, but everyone's really bought into it, aligned to it, and it has even had a certain level of investment in forming it. So at least in our past, Pat and me, we've included the team in the construction of even the core values, for example, so there's a sense of ownership even across the team.
So I'm thrilled to hear that you guys actually did that very early on. As entrepreneurs of all stripes, even if they're solopreneurs and they're having conversations maybe with their spouse. It's like, okay, what are we signing up for here? What's the duration of this? How did those conversations go among the three of you kind of at that early moment around the vision?
Well, one thing I think we were all pretty aligned on... certainly there were things that we wanted, but we also knew what we didn't want. So we had all just spent five years going really, really hard at Teachable, very fast growth. And I think we were all a little bit... at least me and Sid specifically, we were kind of like, "Man, I actually need a few months hanging out here." And one of the best parts about having other startup experience is that you get to learn and make improvements from role to role to role, you figure out, okay, this is what I'm going to take with me, this is what I'm going to leave behind.
Another thing that we talked about was team sizes and multiple levels of management. We wanted to be really efficient with the team growth. We said, "Hey you know what, instead of growing, let's say 3X would be the normal amount, what if we just grew, I don't know, 2X or one and a half X or whatever it was." A lot of this has all changed… but we started out super aligned on what we wanted.
A lot has changed in a year. Pat and I have seen some of that up close, which has been thrilling to see. So you had originally thought smaller, maybe slower at least in some of the multiple sense. When things started to go faster, was there any discord with like, maybe this is getting away from us or maybe this isn't aligned to the original vision and the size, or did you not necessarily feel that as tension and just kind of run with it?
So one thing that made it easy is, a couple months after we had these conversations, we raised our first pre-seed round. So that was a $1.5 million round led by Notation Capital. Ankur, CEO of Teachable, was one of our biggest investors. And one thing that round did is just set us up with a runway. And it meant that we had 24, 25 months of runway in the bank and we were prepared for that organic speed-up without having to worry a lot about capital efficiency, blah, blah, blah.
And then the next thing that happened was honestly bringing you guys on board as advisors, as our initial customers, bringing on Teachable as a customer. A bunch of these other organic customers just really showed up to our door. We didn't do much to attract them. So folks like Makerpad, Ann Lore, David Parral, Tiago Forte, with these guys, it was like, wow, okay, there's something happening here. And I don't think we for a moment resisted it. We were just extremely thankful that anyone back then even wanted to use our product.
I think there was something interesting that happened early in the year. For example, we raised some money in January. We started full-time in January, Andy came on in February and in March, everything went down around the world. And there was just a conversation that started taking place online all over Twitter: where's community? Who's building community? And we just happened to be there already for quite a few months and had a product that was ready to be used.
Absolutely. I think that there should always be, I guess, accommodation for luck as a factor in success. You've crossed so many really fantastic milestones. Now you have different challenges. You're hiring a lot right now full-time into the team. You guys have to think about culture. I don't know to what extent from a leadership standpoint and a co-founder team here, you guys have thought about just the day-to-day responsibilities changing, if those have changed at all. So how has that changed and what are you guys faced with now to just keep it going?
One thing I think that... I mean, I've personally been doing a lot more, especially in the last month, two months is every few days I'm kind of checking in and I'm like, how am I most likely to mess things up in the next 30 days? What are my blind spots here? Because I think the biggest risk for us right now is literally any one of us not really leveling up at the same pace as the business, essentially. And I think there's actually a much lower risk of that happening now that we have one kind of real experience under our belt, the five years at Teachable. I think the chances go way down. But that's something that I think all of us need to be thinking about all the time right now is like, okay, what are our blind spots? Where can we level up? What feels really hard right now? And we all have our own version of what feels hard right now, but that's just something that I'm personally doing.
Yeah. I mean, likewise. So one thing that's easy between us is the division of responsibilities. We're lucky in that our composition is such that you have Andy in growth and marketing, Rudy in design and product, and myself on... primarily on product and sort of running the company. That aspect is not something we have to figure out as much as... okay, well, let's say for example, maybe eight months ago, Rudy was doing a bunch of the design work himself. I was doing a bunch of engineering work, and so back then we had to be like, "Well, we have all this money and we have all these customers. As much as we love design and code, how do we start building a real team?"
So once that phase, at least for me personally was somewhat overcome, it's always onto the next phase. And really for me now, the challenge is shifting to not so much delegating my personal individual responsibilities as much as leveling up the leadership team as leaders.
That speaks to me in part through sometimes this tension point between being the maker of the thing, and then at some point, especially with a company, a tech startup in particular, the leadership side. So the maker versus the leader. Do you guys feel that tension yet? Have you guys reached maybe a certain growth point where, “Yeah, I built the thing and I'm still building the thing, but I have to build less. I have to be less the maker and have that on as my persona. And I have to kind of take that off because I have to hire, I have to invest in culture, I have to do more with management training. Has that presented itself yet at all, or is that maybe still on the horizon?
Absolutely. I think one thing that's helped me is to realize that I can still do those things.
When you become a manager, everyone tells you, you've got to scale, you can't be doing the actual work. I think that was a mistake. I think there needs to be a transition, first of all. Second, being in the trenches really helps you understand the root of the problems that you can then zoom out and solve from a holistic perspective. So when you're answering support tickets and you notice as you're doing it that four of the last 10 tickets you answered, let's say, mentioned something in an area of the product that's closely tied together you realize, okay, there's something there that needs to be addressed. Or when you're pushing code and you realize that your builds are taking too long or your code or other people's code is leading to bugs in certain areas, you realize that there's something there that needs to be done. And so these are all signals that I can then use when I put my management hat back on to address more holistically.
That's fascinating. How about Rudy for you, as you increasingly try to help run and lead the business deal with that tension versus just the maker side?
I don't think you just put your hands up and things flow nicely. I think it takes a lot of work to keep things simple and to keep things flowing. And part of that is something that you touched on earlier, which is culture. And so every hire that we make we're very, very let's say, detail-oriented around the person's impact on the rest of the team, both from a quality of skill, what they're doing, whether it's code or design, and also how they interact, how they communicate and all these things.
So we're very, very sort of keen on building a fantastic culture along with a fantastic business. And going back to the visions and the values document, a lot of that document was not so much about, let's say, what revenue goals do we want to hit or anything like that. It was really around what kind of life do we want to lead and this business being a great vehicle for all of us to achieve something, a success in however we want to measure that as a team. So that sort of filters to the top and the three of us get to talk about these other perspectives that are coming in. And how does that shape our thinking? And it's been really a beautiful process, very rewarding and exciting.
It's a lot of the fun from also where I sit and where Pat sits and how even we think about the future of SPI and very seriously as we've spoken about a number of times, putting community at the center of our strategic thinking and our direction. So certainly there's a wonderful symbiotic relationship just between our two companies. It's the beating heart now of our business model, on paper.
So next year, hopefully it will be a better year for all of us and the world will start to get its feet again. As you guys think about the maker side of Circle and what you're making, as you think about macro-economically the now, I think, power and increasing significance of community in the world, digital community, what's the one thing that you're most excited about for next year? Let's maybe go backwards, Andy, I'll start with you. What are you most excited about for next year?
Personally, well, I'm probably most excited about a lot of the product stuff. I'll leave that to Rudy and Sid to discuss. But I'm personally excited, and this is not a sexy answer, but I'm excited about doing some of the in-person marketing stuff again. I'm excited about seeing people out at a conference, connecting with customers face-to-face instead of over Zoom. That's not the massive stuff that's going to move our business in a huge way, but it's what I'm actually most excited about now, having to spend a year in this little room, which is my living room essentially.
No, I love that answer because that's community. It's so important to who we are as human beings and as leaders. And we've tried to infuse that as much as possible into SPI Pro. And was a seminal choice again, as to why we even chose Circle was because the technology that you guys are building very much born of that same ethos and gives us the latitude and flexibility from a feature set standpoint to be able to try to build that. So I actually love that, Andy. I'm glad you emphasized that. Rudy, how about you?
Yeah. There's a few things that I'm excited about. I'm excited about what I get to work on every day and that will continue, which is humanizing a user interface. That's a really beautiful problem to have to solve every day and to go forward and try and make it better and better. And early in the new year, we're about to launch a whole new user interface, which will be very exciting, and that's something that's coming down the pipes very soon.
The other thing that excites me in general is the business that we've chosen to build is very interesting in the fact that it's very fractal, where we're building multiple communities, we're building an internal community of our team which is one community that we have to build and a community culture there that we have to build.
We have a community of our customers, our direct customers which is another community that we're building, which is coming along really nicely. And then we're helping thousands of businesses build their own communities. So it's a big happy family, and it's just great to get to wake up every day and to really go with that and solve those problems. And like Andy said, particularly on my side of the fence, what I do with design is trying to bring that human factor in there, even though it's an increasingly digital world. So that's a problem that I love solving.
All right, Sid, bring us home. What are you excited for next year?
Yes. So I guess just to piggyback off what Rudy and Andy said, I'm excited about delivering on our roadmap. And that's the thing that builds trust with customers, that frankly just builds community. And what I love about that is it's all authentic. The feedback loop is complete the moment we deliver on a strategic promise that aligns with our customer needs. So that's one thing.
And the other thing that actually relates to that is, I'm excited about leveling up our own community and to dog food our own product, and to be the best Circle customer ourselves. I think the feedback loop that you gain from using your own product and really getting to experience all the pain points firsthand, it's kind of unparalleled to any other form of feedback.
That's wonderful. I'm so grateful again, that we know you guys and we have a close relationship with you guys and that you guys are helping us again realize our vision, a renewed vision, a sharper vision, again, for us on the creator side and what we're trying to do.
So if I may add my thing into the mix for next year is that, sincerely, as we've been discussing and trying to roll out SPI Pro, even though it's sort of been sort of "beta" a little bit this year, is that from where I sit, community, especially now, is I think the new big thing, and not in a gimmicky way. And community’s always been there, it's so transformed. It's not public social networks like maybe Facebook anymore. It's about really finding and nurturing private conversations, aligning those more strategically to kind of your business model, what you sell or your expertise. And as always, at SPI we try to genuinely embrace our responsibility of being role models. And we're just so excited to try to pay that forward next year and teach what we have learned and continue to learn by way of community and community-building through our channels, through our platform, through our podcasts, stuff like this. Pat on the creator side and me on the business side and hopefully just continue to not only inspire — but yes, inspiration, but beyond just the inspiration piece, actually teach and train the whole world of creators how important community is and how they can harness that opportunity for their own businesses.
So that's us. I am so grateful for you as always. For folks that are listening and still for some reason haven't checked out Circle please, please do so. You can go to SmartPassiveIncome.com/circle [Full Disclosure: I'm a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Circle]. Check them out. And if you have questions, as always you can let Pat or me know through our various social channels or just email in to us. Guys, thank you again so very much. We'll talk to you again soon.
Thank you very much, Matt.
Hey everyone, Matt again. We're back for the final leg of this super special episode focused on community and talking about Circle and exploring how we at SPI are deploying, far more strategically, community in it's many different facets, not just the technology point of view, into the SPI business, into the SPI ecosystem, and how we see this being really the start of a brand new, very important chapter for the SPI brand and business and where we want to go for years to come.
Joining me now, tremendously thrilled to introduce you to the entirety of our community experience team. Our shorthand is the CX team. So joining me now is Jay, Jillian, and Mindy, who's actually our solutions manager, but she supports all facets of the business and plays an integral role in just about every piece of software and technology that we use, and as such was instrumental to getting SPI Pro up and running on Circle.
And Jillian, I'll maybe throw it to you first because you came onto the team full time, actually, just after the launch of SPI Pro as our community manager, so we're thrilled to have you here. What were you thinking about coming in for the first time to our environment and how we were defining community based on your past experiences in the realm of community?
Ooh, that's juicy. Well, thank you. I'm excited to be here. Coming in, it was interesting because I've run large, open communities in my history and those communities were housed on custom built community platforms versus coming into a platform that was specifically designed just for community. So, it's been… I joke in the community that it's just a dream because, one, we use a platform that was specifically designed to house a community and was created by people who know community, which is refreshing because the last few roles I've been in, the community was built by a company that had a larger scope.
And then, because it's a niche community of professionals, of online entrepreneurs at various phases of business, it has just been so nice. I think the SPI team did such a good job of the concept of who the community is for, which is so important. We didn't cast the net super, super huge but not super, super small, it's just that right middle ground. So it's been amazing. I love our community. They're so fun to interact with.
Excellent. Jay, thank you again for joining this crazy endeavor with us. So I wanted Jillian to present that context, out of the gate here because when I pulled you into this thing, I had a working framework for what I thought would be a really attractive community and had done some research and talked to some folks and so Jay, I'd love just your insight from those early days, reflecting back on that, of trying to do this right, right? And be different and original and very invested in a really authentic community.
Yeah. Similar to Jillian, when I stepped in and I saw Circle for the first time, I just thought, finally. Because I had literally been thinking about this hole in the marketplace for creators for such a long time. Creators were bound to these pre-existing platforms that weren't really built for community but people were reusing for community. And this was a team coming from Teachable who knew the customer, they knew the pain point, they knew what the product needed to be. And I was just very, very excited to be early into being able to use the platform. And to Jillian's point, you, Matt, came with a very clear vision of who this is for and what part of the SPI audience this is really going to be a home for.
And one of the things that we did really early on that was important was to think, "Well, how do we actually get those people in and make sure that we're matching that through an application process? And how do we make that application process also objective?" So it's not just us saying, "Well, we pick you, we pick you, we pick you." We're filtering for the right fit and we're doing it in an objective way. So that was a big part of what we did and huge kudos to Mindy on helping make that not an extraordinarily manual process as we did it.
And then the other thing that I'll say that I think we did really well and I've seen future Circle communities take some inspiration from, is our onboarding, both from how we onboard people with email within the app itself. I'm really proud of that experience which I think is really important when you're bringing people into a space, even a physical space.
Yeah. It's the classic but very essential advice that first impressions matter a ton. And especially with a new platform, people have to think about adapting yet another new piece of software and normalizing to that and finding their way. We had those hurdles and I guess, I can say candidly, as I've said in the past, that that was something of a risk for us, right? We didn't go with more established platforms that were out there. At the time when we made the decision, Circle was well inside its first year of life.
And we had to work through a lot of stuff and oftentimes for an early stage tech startup, even though they're very stable and very solid, there's issues that we got to have to navigate through. And Mindy, you played a massive role in that obviously, from the application process that Jay was describing across so many other vectors of consideration. So if you can remember, what was your first memory or impression when it was probably me that came to you and was like, "Hey, we're going to use this brand new thing. We're going to add a whole new piece to our tech stack. And we're going to do this crazy awesome thing."
Mindy Holahan Peters:
Yeah. I knew community was coming, a dedicated community. And so, a lot of times you and Pat will come and bring me a platform… I think about it like, "Okay, let me figure out what is this and what are we going to do with it?" So it's just really exciting to get into a product and start kicking around.
And the joy for me is in the projects like Jay mentioned, is like thinking about, "Okay, we want to take applications. We want a system where we can immediately tell this person is a good fit or maybe this person isn't ready yet. But then there's always going to be that middle ground and so basically I built a scoring system for our questions and that scoring system then identifies that middle group of people we should look at manually.
And to me, as we look at applications, for example, I'm always thinking about it as is this person ready for our expectations of this group or is this person not quite ready for the expectations of this group? And if they're not, what are some resources that then we can offer in exchange to help that person get ready for this group? And so, I think about all my little components that way.
I'll bring us back to the topic of membership management and payments because that is a bit of a hornet's nest sometimes, to get right. I want to say for a little bit first though, just on the application piece because that was a big decision for us... It was a weighty decision for us. We are a broader community that tries very hard to be accepting and inclusive of entrepreneurs from all walks of life and try very hard to be there for them. But I think we knew and I believe it has panned out very well as a thoughtful and constructive decision to put that application and ultimately turn people away.
Jillian, I'll throw this to you. What risks are there and how have those risks maybe presenting themselves or not, by way of upsetting the community, having people write in and be upset like, "Hey, I didn't get in and why?" Have we seen any of that in terms of the aftereffects of having an enrollment cycle?
We have, we have. Not a lot but a few people will write in that we don't accept and I think there's a couple things that we could discuss here. One thing is looking at that and then adapting, pivoting. I think a big part of community is being ... Listening and then pivoting to make ... You're constantly tweaking. There's never like, "Okay guys, it's done. The community is set, we can walk away now." So you're always looking at how to improve.
So in SPI Pro, something that I always hear from members in it is that they feel safe. They feel safe that they can have the conversations, that they can be vulnerable about their business. And they're not worried about who can hear that.
So I do think applications are good because you can ... There's a lot of looky-loos type things, at least in our business because it's entrepreneurial. We rely a lot on sales pitches and things like that. And so we've set up a SPI Pro in a way that it's not salesy. The expectation is you're not here to get customers. And I think our application process helps with that a lot. And it's not perfect. I'm sure we've rejected people and vice versa, accepted people that maybe weren't totally appropriate. And you see that in the churn.
So in a way, if we “reject” someone from the community, it's more that we're saying, "Hey, you know what? This is not your best investment of time and money right now.” And we have a whole sequence that is a very gentle, like, "You're still part of our tribe and we appreciate you. But again, this isn't right for you right now."
And so it's all in the messaging. And I think, too, I mean, this isn't sorority rush. We're not trying to make people cry because our house is the best... which may or may not be an experience I am all too familiar with. But it's not that, it's not a cliquey ... like, we're the best thing. We come from a place of, we want you to love this. We want you to be so happy you joined. And based on some of the information you've given us, you have to trust us when we tell you that this won't fill that void for you.
And we want you to grow as an entrepreneur as a result of the community. If you just show up and you're at a party and having a good time but you're not taking what you learn from the community back to a business and building it, then we've failed there, too, you know? ROI, man. I want that money that you pay each month to create more in your business, more value whether that's more revenue or just that you do things more efficiently or whatever. I want you to grow as an entrepreneur as a result of hanging around this group of people.
It's matchmaking. We can analogize probably most things in life back to some dating metaphor. We want to be right for them at the right stage. And hopefully they're right for us at that stage. Safety is one of those major pillars to what we're trying to foster here. And I think we're doing pretty well.
We have turned away, you know, a good number of folks but I don't think, as a percentage or as a number that that has been very high. So I'm proud of what we've done and what all of you have done to try to genuinely redirect folks into other SPI resources that might be more appropriate, more valuable for them at that point in their journey. And Jay, to put it back in your court, this again, I think reflects on your comment a moment ago around, we did have a very specific user in mind: an entrepreneur at a particular point in his or her journey, that we want to be able to invest a lot of time and resources in from our side because it's a pretty significant business investment, candidly, from our side.
You're right, it is about matchmaking. And we said from day one, "When it comes to community, we are focused on connection." And we want to connect members to one another, that's where a lot of the growth and a lot of the ROI Mindy is talking about comes from, from entrepreneurs. You go to a place for a reason.
What we're doing with our digital community, SPI Pro, is making that a beacon for entrepreneurs who are serious about their online businesses and every decision we make is about sending that message. Even pricing is a message in its own way to say, “This is an investment.” And if you're not in a place in your business where you can make investments like this, then that's a signal that this might not be the right time for you to invest in a community like this. Everything that we do is about creating a space where people will connect with each other, get one another, and feel psychologically safe in this space.
Absolutely. I'm thrilled to be investing a ton into this. I'm probably a broken record at this point, for saying so but I'm so motivated and so bullish on this space and the value that it can provide. And we're only just begun, we have plans next year in 2021 to hopefully hire more amazing people onto our CX team to continue to do brilliant new things, things that don't exist right now even, within SPI Pro. So, we have to get that match right. We have to declare boundaries, reinforce boundaries in that very cathartic, helpful way.
I think it's important to note, as well, if I can chime in, if you have an online business and it's all online and it's digital and you tell somebody what you do and they just kind of look at you like, "What now?" It can be a lonely place. And a lot of the existing communities are free, they're on big social networks and it's just... you don't get the intimacy that's provided in a group like this. I mean, I just have to brag about our topic meetups. We have these calls and anybody in Pro can join. And the financial ones, Matt hosts and people come and we look at people's finances. It's really the support that you would never get in say, a Facebook group, you know?
There was a period of time, Jillian, when I was starting my business, that it was so difficult to connect with and explain it to people, that when they said, "What do you do?" I said, "I don't."
That’s excellent. You raise a great vector of thought in conversation, Jillian. I feel that even as we talk about the language we use to describe what this community is, the word community itself is going through, I think, a remarkable transformation right now in just the cognitive models that go off in people's heads when they hear the word community. What does that mean? What is it? What is it not, right? And I think us in particular, we're in that space and I'm glad to be in that space and hopefully contributing to the thought experiment that's happening online right now about what does that mean going forward? And then again, for the creators listening, they're probably wrestling with similar questions of like, "Oh, I have a Facebook group right now. Do I need something like Circle?"
And we have a Facebook group. I mean, SPI has a large, active Facebook group but for this specific purpose it just wasn't the right platform.
I think something important, too and especially for creators, because I mean, we all understand it. If you have your own business, every dollar you spend on platforms and software, it adds up. And so Facebook has always been quite convenient as far as, "Oh, I can create a group. People are already here, it's free."
And that is fine for a lot of communities, especially if you're really bootstrapping and your market is thriving on Facebook. Cool, you know, have a Facebook group. But be aware that tomorrow you could log in and Facebook could be like, "Yeah, we got rid of groups." Which is very unlikely, but the point is they could, versus having a platform that is your branded, dedicated thing. One, I think it looks more professional than a Facebook group. But also you have the control, you are paying for that service and you don't have to pay thousands of dollars, but investing some money in something and being a customer, in that sense...
I mean, there's that saying that like, "If a thing is free, you are the product” and that is very much Facebook. So it's just something to consider. And I don't want to push people to go and purchase something if they are not in the position but I think you should always have an exit plan if you do have a Facebook group.
And if you've been around Smart Passive Income for a while, you know Pat has been saying that since the podcast started, which is own your platform in terms of, that's why you need an email list, is because that's a way to communicate directly with your folks. And when you have something like social media, you don't have a way to reach out to those people directly. Whereas like with Circle, we have the information for all of these people and we can communicate directly. We can communicate in the Circle platform or we can communicate with those folks by email, and we do a lot of both. And so, it's just as new technologies and new, types of ways of organizing your business come around, the core advice always stays the same, which is make sure you own that direct contact with your community, with your people.
And to stack on top of that, I see the increasing importance of thinking about community in the platforms you use for community not just as a creative exercise but as a business strategy, right? Because for us, at least again, it's not a business strategy in the sense that it's all about the money, but this is a part of the business model. It's more intimate, it's more inward to the business model. People will discover SPI Pro after they have listened to Pat on a podcast, after they have read one of our featured blog articles or read one of our guides and books, right? And then at the right point in their journey, we invite them into this experience if they want to and they can apply. So being very, very intentional with where you place community within your business plan and within your business model.
I see, and I'm excited about it — that's actually, probably one of the things I'm most excited about for other creators, it's an avenue of business. Jay, you're a creator yourself, you have podcasts even on your own on the side. How do you think about maybe that business vector of community going forward?
I think it's really important but I think you need to think about it as part of your business that you are investing in because it's going to become really tempting and feel really easy to use the word community as an add on benefit to the thing that you're selling and think that that's going to work. And unfortunately we can't stop this from happening. It's going to happen. A lot of people are going to do that, whether intentionally being a bad actor or not. And I think it's going to start to change the way people think about community and how they think about investing their own time and attention into communities.
So if you are a creator and you're thinking about the importance of community, which is incredibly important because you are the lightning rod collecting like-minded people and you have the ability to connect those people so they think, "Ah, I found my people. These people get it." You can be that connective tissue for them by turning your audience into a community by creating these peer to peer connections. But you need to invest into that because if not, as people have bad experiences with community where the creator or the business is not actually making that space for them and making it a good experience for them, they're going to leave and they're going to go back to the places that are.
And so that's what has been so compelling to me about SPI's vision for community. We're investing in the experience for the people, this is not just an add on benefit to the core business model that we have. This is part of the business model to your point, Matt. And so, we're investing in the experience of the people so that we're one of those communities that people come back to and say, "If I'm going to put time anywhere, it's going to be here."
Yep. And increasingly for the vision of the business, the community’s at the center. I’ve described it as the beating heart of the business. It is the thing that, over time, will likely supersede all of the revenue streams for our business. And I'm proud to say that because this is something we see as not just a fad this year, even a fad next year because of coming out of the pandemic eventually, right? This is a strategic vision and I guess, therefore, is a strategic bet that this is the long haul, this is the next decade.
But I do think that a lot of the market shifts and business dynamics are all pointing in this direction. And again, it aligns up with our ethos and our value set. So, we're going to go there and we're going to invest a ton of good will, a ton of energy, a ton of resources into a community for us.
But for folks listening that again, still maybe haven't checked out Circle, learn more about the platform and how we use it, go to SmartPassiveIncome.com/circle [Full Disclosure: I'm a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Circle]. And if you haven't maybe studied up on just SPI Pro and what we're doing there and why it exists and the entrepreneur that again, matchmaking wise, we're really excited to serve in that way, you can go to SmartPassiveIncome.com/pro. But I will maybe throw it around the horn quickly for maybe a parting thought from everybody. Jillian, I'll start with you.
Sure. I would say anybody who is considering creating a community or expanding in a community, go spend time in a similar community. If you want to have a community, you need to spend some time in other communities to see how they run, to see what you like, to see what you don't like, and really look at whoever's running it, how much participation they have and let that help you determine, is this something I have the time and the spirit for?
And to add on to that, my parting thought would be a word of caution and also an opportunity for you, potential community creators out there. When you get into the business of creating community, understand that the experience, the product that you're creating, is largely out of your hands. If you're not just holding space and making people feel safe and feel like they want to be there, you can't by yourself, drive a thriving community. You need to have people there who are enjoying the experience, you need to cultivate that. So to Jillian's point, it is a large time investment to get that going and you have to come into it with the right intentions or it won't happen.
I think I would say, if you are taking applications for a community, really approach the process from a sense of kindness because someone is making themselves vulnerable by saying, "I would like to join your thing." And if they aren't a good fit, remember that that is what they are. They are not the right fit right now. And so, it's not that they're bad for your community, it's that they're not the right fit for your community right now. And when you communicate that, be sure to offer something in return. So, approach it with the person that way as, "I don't think you're the right fit right now and here's something that might help you get to the point where you could be the right fit for us."
Love that. Love all of that. For all of you creators out there that are listening to this very special episode on the Smart Passive Income Podcast, thanks for spending the time for this bonus and longer episode. We've had a lot of fun putting this together. If you have questions about community, you're listening to this in January of 2021, maybe this is a big part of your vision for the year and you have questions, find Pat on social. You can find me on LinkedIn: Matt Gartland, easy to find if you search for it. We'd love to help you. It's going to be a big part of our future. We're excited to hear from you and support you with your community endeavors. So good luck, have fun with this and we'll talk again soon.
All right. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. Actually, a very unique episode with three different parts, three different segments. A lot of people. Matt, that was super fun. I think we got to do this again for a whole bunch of other things because we definitely go deep for sure in this one.
I hope so. Yeah, I think being able to explore really strategic kind of cornerstone elements of online business from different vectors, from different directions, get other voices involved from our team, from the outside, from some of our partners is a special opportunity. It was exciting and thrilling to be able to put this one together and I do hope that we do more of these.
For sure. And if you want to learn more about Circle, I'd highly recommend, this is our affiliate link so we do get a kickback at no extra cost to you. And again, if you have any questions about Circle, you can let us know, SmartPassiveIncome.com/circle [Full Disclosure: I'm a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Circle]. Once again, that's SmartPassiveIncome.com/circle. We also have a really fun training and webinar with the Circle team happening on February 10th and 11th. SmartPassiveIncome.com/webinars is where you can go to sign up for that. And if you go there even in the future after that training is over, then you'll see other trainings that exist around that time whenever you go. Again, that's SmartPassiveIncome.com/webinars.
And finally, just again, it's all about connection and we're really excited to connect with you, whether you are an SPI Pro member or not. If you're interested in applying again, all the links on the show notes page. We'll have all that available to you there. Just to finish off, Matt, any final thoughts about community and just kind of something for people to think about as we finish up?
Yeah. A few concluding thoughts here that kind of connect together. One is that for me, as I study the internet and Pat, talk with you and think about where we want to be in two to even three years, SPI-wise, there seems to be a really important distinction forming between audience and community. To me, those terms are not synonymous. When we talk about audience building at large, that is the whole pie. Community is an overlapping circle on top of that, but it is again, at least in my definition and point of view, its own distinct thing.
Because as we invite people closer inside, as we try to support and protect a safe space, as we try to potentially foster different forms of tighter, more cohort-based experiences, that to me is community.
And that connection, I guess, with my second point, which is I fervently believe that the future for us for certain, is community first. Is that not only is this a nice thing to talk about, but truly the members and the subscription revenue when we talk about just the inner workings of a business, this is the new cornerstone or beating heart of our business model with great purpose and great intentionality.
What I find fascinating, from a business standpoint, from a leadership standpoint, from just the internet, is now what is possible and seeing where a lot of demand and energy is moving towards, seems to be in this space. For the creators that are listening, again, I so very much hope that this is at least sparking your curiosity. Please learn more, this could be a pretty big game changer for the future of your business.
Absolutely. And if you want to learn more and join us on that training with the Circle team, you can check that out. Again, that's happening on February 10th and 11th at SmartPassiveIncome.com/webinars. Again, SmartPassiveIncome.com/webinars. And in case you're curious about Pro, if you're like, “Oh, what does that even look like? What's the application process like?” You can check out SmartPassiveIncome.com/pro. Matt, thanks so much for the time. Appreciate you, appreciate you for listening and we wish you all the best. Take care.