What’s up with community?
If you haven’t already noticed, I love breaking down words and placing them among larger trends. Following their histories, at least within my own life - and then within the larger markets with which they operate.
Today, “Community” is a particularly hot word. Especially in the world of startups. It is a word that seems to have emerged triumphant out of a pandemic that separated us and highlighted the fragility of our existence. Over the past year, we saw the digital expansion of everything and the need/desire for social cohesion and connection both online and in real life.
I began thinking about “community” on a deeper level just last night after listening to a podcast featuring Sarah Nöckel, an investor at Northzone (a top notch VC fund :) ) and the founder of Femstreet, a newsletter focused on female founders, operators, investors and tech news - which has now become the largest global community for women in Tech and Venture Capital. The unbundling of the publishing industry and the emergence of newsletter communities is an idea that I love and completely subscribe to (no pun intended). On the podcast, Sarah discusses the practicalities of this shift and the value these communities deliver - among other topics. Check it out here.
Back to the word:
The trends surrounding “community” have many colorful seeds that I feel led to its resurgence. One of them being the humorous hit show starring a favorite artist of mine, Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino. The 2009-2015 show, which can be easily binged on Netflix, features an unlikely group of characters who come together while attending community college: getting into all sorts of trouble, experiencing love, heartbreak, friendship, success, and failure - all amidst new beginnings. To me, this show’s central theme was the possibility of reinvention, starting fresh - and the ability to do so alongside a diverse motley crew.
Doesn’t this embody what we crave in a community today?
Stepping away from pop culture, and towards a more academic plane, another seed is the term “imagined community” coined in 1983 by the Chinese born Irish political scientist, Benedict Anderson. The term made him famous and unpacked what he saw as the birth of the nation:
“The nation is imagined…because it entails a sense of communion or “horizontal comradeship” between people who often do not know each other or have not even met. Despite their differences, they imagine belonging to the same collectivity, and they attribute to the latter a common history, traits, beliefs, and attitudes…”
He goes on to argue how print media and the expansion of media in general creates the circumstances for society to engage in a “sharing of collective experience of the news, irrespective of their geographical distance from each other and of social hierarchies.”
While Benny boy might be quite the political figure, a lot of what he speaks about taps into how we use the internet: It is the space where we share our ideas, go through collective experiences, and connect with others that are living vastly different lives from ourselves.
The pandemic, riddled with shelter in place mandates, economic uncertainty, and the loss of life across the globe has most certainly fanned the flames of needing a deeper connection with ones own community, or the need to search for a new one. The imagined community as defined by Benedict Anderson, as alive as it may be, has new legs. The internet has enabled new communities to form, empowered individuals to pick and choose - and invent them. Now, communities are recreating methods of sharing knowledge, providing access to work, exchanging value - the list goes on. It is the unbundling of the traditional community.
To be quite honest, I’m not sure if I am saying anything new. But there have been some interesting ways that this “community” phenomenon has manifested and disrupted the status quo. The most fun being the historic GameStop episode, born from the depths of reddit - and the performance continues on with AMC, Blackberry and Dogecoin. These are new communities banding together, exchanging information, and exchanging real value - creating value.
There are also a host of companies that have built purposeful communities, some of my favorites include:
Interintellect: The online salon for philosophical conversations.
Matter: A social reading app for shared marginalia and the curation of timeless articles.
OnDeck: Reshaping and opening up the college experience, productizing the career transition, and providing a community to match.
These communities are in many ways creating their own economies - outside the one they exist within, and are transforming networks, giving birth to new customs and methods of earning a living.
As big tech continues to shift its footing amidst the bad press and regulation, COVID’s effects highlighted that consumers are open and ready to be a part of new communities and marketplaces that are driven by values, new individual brands, and independent creators.
Another company that I’m particularly excited about is Party Round - which is aiming to be the Venmo for the family and friends round for startups. Ideally, this lowers the barrier for aspiring entrepreneurs to gather capital, and is a healthy game changer for those who aren’t sure about how to make their idea into a business without seed money.
Again, even here - the fundamental is rooted in community lifting up the economy.
Alongside this, there will begin to emerge a whole other set of tools that enable community creation and translate into the changes we see coming for the future of work, the creator economy, and the delivery of education.
I’m certainly not the first investor to hype up the fact that this is the era of the community. Individuals like Robin Dechant, Alexis Ohanian, Li Jin, and Greg Isenberg (tweets below) have harped on this for some time now and have even structured investment theses around this whole idea.
All this to say…
Your community is your economy.
This is day 4 - let me know what you think :)
Some Related Tweets:
Li Jin @ljin18As consumers desire greater control over how they spend their attention, an emerging biz model will be paying for ongoing access to *people*--or what I’ll call “Community-as-a-Service.” Thread 👇
A few related reading:
The Rise of Communities, Building Communities in B2B via Robin Dechant
Thanks for reading, drop a like if you enjoyed this - and let me know what you think!