🎙️ In Conversation with leap.club - Scaling a paid community from 30 to 2000 in less than a year! 📈

A candid conversation with Ragini Das (Co-Founder, leap.club), capturing her learnings of building leap.club and scaling it from 30 to 2000 in less than a year!
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Pramod Rao
July 2, 2021

As a part of CommunityHub Spotlight, we spoke to Ragini, Co-Founder at leap.club. Watch the video and get to know more about how it all started, what did it take to get the community off the ground and scaling to become a 2000+ members strong paid, private, social and professional community for women.

Here's the transcript of the interview! Read through!

Ragini: We started with 30 members in May 2020, and a year later, we're close to almost 2000 women across the country, who are a part of the movement already. And we have about 9,000 people on the wait list waiting to join.

Ensuring, every single member is winning for us is very important. And like I said, they're seeing that they're winning .

Pramod: Thanks Ragini for taking  the time. Great to connect with you again after a long time.  Just to give you a quick context this is as part of CommunityHub by Threado . So what we're doing is we're putting together resources, how to guides interviews with community builders, so that anyone who is into community building can take the best parts of it and apply it into their context. Yeah, would love to get started by, introduction. Over to you and why don't you start off?

Ragini: Cool. So I'm Ragini, I'm the co-founder at leap.club. We're a paid private social professional network for women with a very simple mission, which [00:01:00] is more women in leadership positions. And we do that by enabling strong one-on-one connections with the relevant people within the Leap network.

You can create, join micro-communities based on your professional and social interests. So there is a crypto club, as well as a women in product. And essentially provide leaders with L and D tools to help them live their best professional lives. And like you were a pandemic baby. And we started with 30 members in May 2020, and a year later, we're close to almost 2000 women across the country, who are a part of the movement already. And we have about 9,000 people on the wait list waiting to join. So hopefully just getting started and lots to do and learn.

Pramod: Great and always great to see that it's a 1% done. Why don't we, maybe let's talk a bit about how it all started. Maybe the first few months of it. Walk us through how it was starting up a community and the why of it, and also how did you go about it.

Ragini: So I think I'd like to talk a little bit about the why of it first and then shed some light on how we started. And I know we're speaking a lot about community and community building, but at the outset I'd like to call out that we didn't start Leap with thinking that we're creating a community. It happened.

And I think where we're coming from is that just meeting new people and building relationships Prao, I feel it's just so important to one's career success. And for example, this conversation wouldn't have happened had we not crossed paths at Zomato, right? However, I think most of the platforms that we have today, they tend to be super cluttered.

And there is, I think, little to zero moderation, right? If I'm being honest. So what we're building at Leap essentially is a strong social professional network for women to solve for that exactly. And our aim here is to enable meaningful interactions without the clutter of existing networks. I don't even want to get into the why women, we get that a lot, another conversation altogether.

But what we did was we married a mission we believe. With a very strong go-to market strategy. And that's what we did. And how companies pick a strata of society, or they pick an age group. We just decided to pick agenda. And we launched, like I said, with 30 members, but close to 2000 people.

And we're all about the curation and dodging the clutter of, I think, existing networks today. So there are people who find that tribe, they go beyond their comfort zone. They will challenge themselves every day to become better leaders. And that at the outset is the why of Leap and these are also, I think answers we've come to, or we've pivoted done all of that.

And we've realized that this is why people essentially joined Leap as well. But how it started was one, it started with a lot of research. Anand who's our co-founder and I used to just talk about professional networking, being super, super broken. And how there was like, literally nothing that helps you get from point A to point B and that's how it started.

But I think essentially what we did was we ended up talking to almost 400 people. We asked them what they do for their professional growth. What is it that they need? And a bunch of answers came out. But another thing that came out here was how passionately women spoke about the lack of everything.

I think for us once that was sorted and once there was enough conviction that, yes, we're going to build this for women. We just decided to take the plunge. And I quit in December, 2019. And it was also, I'll be honest, something I had never done before. So my co-founder had still done a startup in the past, but I have been this FNB baby through and through.

And I had never imagined I'd even leave Zomato. That's how glued in I was in that world. So I spent about a month just speaking to people researching, figuring what others are doing, what are they not doing? And I also remember back then, we were building in stealth, right? . And a lot of our friends and a lot of people at Zomato told us to just keep it low, just build in stealth, see what happens. And we just agreed to disagree. And we went out and started putting like social posts. So I think early Jan when Anand had also quit. And we got like a place holder website in place.

There was a waitlist because, Zomato Gold hangover. And people just put in their email IDs. Sometimes those social posts would literally have two likes my mom and my dad, but we just kept at it. And I think in a month we had a thousand women on that wait list. So what I started doing was I used to cold email everyone and only Delhi NCR first.

And I would go and meet them in person. So this was around Feb. And I was meeting these people, convincing them to pay me 30,000 rupees. To a brand they've not heard of. Two people they have not heard of. Like I'm not Kunal Shah. They're not just gonna be like, yeah, this is great. So yeah, that's what we did.

We had 30 members by I think first week of March. We were all set to launch early April. This is April, 2020, and we all know what happened mid-March. And we took about a month because Leap, at it's ideation state, was also an offline platform.  So everything I told these women was all offline. So we took a month to completely pivot, move to online, like the rest of the world. And yeah, I think we launched first week of May, so we've just finished about a year and that was our first online batch. And since then, there's been no looking back. Having said that, I think it's equally important to call out that we are extremely impatient and we're very mission driven, so you're constantly questioning the impact of what you're doing. So we have gone back to the drawing board several times. We have pivoted two times already in the last one. But I think for us, that's just one thing that we focused on, which is making members win. And I think more importantly, helping them understand that they're winning. What the journey looked like.

Pramod: Great! And congratulations, on recent returning one. And also thank you for taking the step to start right. And like you said, the why is pretty much, I don't think  like the why needs to be delved into. But it's great to just hear how it started and the two core elements to it, which is making your members win, and also helping them understand how they're winning.

I think when you started out that you had 30 members and it's great to know that you were meeting personally to get to know them and how you could add value. But once it started off with 30 how did you work on driving value, engagement and, it's always the zero to one that's difficult. And obviously scaling is even more difficult. So how did you get these 30 to add value to each other?

Ragini: So I think we went very benefits first, right? So if whenever you're building a community or when you're building a network, you're going to run into a chicken and egg problem. People are only going to come and there are other solid people. The reason I was meeting them was also to figure if they would be the right fit. Would they not just believe in me, but would they also add value to the network?  We were absolute Brian Chesky fans. So we had a very early Airbnb approach to this.

So we decided to speak to every single customer and this might sound absurd, but even till today, we speak to every single person before onboarding. And a lot of people tell me, like why? The good thing is it's not just me, I've a team. But I think just that clear expectation setting, and I feel that diverse mindset Prao.

I think that is the core of the Leap community, and we literally call out that you're building Leap with us. And it's not just that we are building this for you. But I think initially, because it was the first 30, and in fact until the first 200 we give them benefits in that 30,000 rupees.

Like they had access to group coaching and they had access to whatever they thought would add value to their professional growth. And of course, like over the last couple of months, we've pivoted, we've realized what's working. What's not. But today, if you ask me why people join it's because of the community, it's because of the network.

Pramod: No. It's I think it's always good to start with providing value and then I think the connections build over time. It's also important to figure out who are the first set of people on the first cohort that you would like to allow into the community as well.

So you have a waitlist mechanism, right? So you have, like 9,000 plus, like in waitlist, and then you slowly release. Maybe trying to just double-click on the mechanism. So it went from 30 in the first cohort and you're slowly like increasing that batch size every month. People joining in how does it work? And what's the rationale behind the waitlist and how you allow people in.

Ragini: So it doesn't take a lot to put it on your website and start selling right. But I think for us, the idea was just to build a tribe and build it with the amount of people we could handle in a month, because it's an entire process.

You're not just in, and you're a part of the network. There is a proper onboarding process. We obviously have called out what happens at T. And what happens at T+10? And what happens at T+30. Today, I think I have 15- 16 people team, so we can manage onboarding. Like for example, next month we're onboarding 500 people.

Now this is something I could not even have imagined last year right? I could barely handle 30 people because it was just me. The idea with the waitlist is, one, of course it helps us build that database of people who we can constantly, you know, get into the space. But also I think for us, that filter becomes oaky, right?

Like on an average my team will speak to, for example, 200 people. And then we go that, okay. 60%, we'll be fine with what we're building. There also people we reach out on our own, right? We think can be the right fit for the network. So there are cold reach outs happening on for example, LinkedIn and Twitter and all of that as well.

I have a very strong funnel, which is the referral. If you are a member can refer a friend and they skip the wait list and they become members. So for us, it's also important to, which is why, onboard the right people so that they're getting the right people on board. So that's the entire idea behind the waitlist.

Pramod: Yeah, I think that's great. That's probably a better way to scale intimacy and within a community. And I liked that you, you have a referral mechanism where you know, that, people in the community would want similar people to be coming and being part of the community. So they skip the waitlist and that sort of drives organic growth as well.

So now that it's been a year since you grown. What are some of the key learnings the two or three highlights, top level learnings from building Leap as a community and as a business as well.  

Ragini: When it comes to, I think just building communities, I think my very early on learning was just relationships over followers. I think the best communities are based on very strong relationships and not the likes on your Instagram page or not the followers on your Twitter handle. I think just investing in every single conversation has gone a long way for us, right? Even if a member does not want to continue, they tell us. There is no I'm going to deactivate, right? So having said that in the same breath, I'll also say it's super exhausting to have these conversations day in day out. So please, I would say space them out. Because I think requires a lot of mental bandwidth as well. I think what's core to us, at least at Leap is just building this community with authenticity, with heart and a lot of hustle.

So it can't just be hustle hustle, and it can't just be heart. So I think just making these three for us was very important. I think my biggest learning is giving our users ownership. And training them to build this community. Get them to the end of build with you. So today I have something called Clubhouses, which are these micro-communities that, lots of these women are running.

There's something new I learned from everyone every single day. There is someone who knows exactly how to run that weekly huddle. There is someone who knows exactly how to run smaller groups. There are people who do speed networking so well. So I think for us, we really lucked out with people who are building and experimenting and falling and learning with us.

That was very important. I think feedback for us is just the core of Leap. Like even the pivots that we've done, we've always done it keeping member feedback in mind. So forever, I think knowing what to take and also knowing what to skip I think for me has been my couple of larger learnings at least.

Pramod: And so these micro-communities, these are completely like run by the community members?

Ragini: Absolutely run by them.

Pramod:  Awesome. Yeah. So that's a great way to actually help you scale as well. So how have there been times where you decided to do something, but then the feedback from the community was maybe in the opposite direction? Have there been like conflicts within what Leap wanted to do and what the community really wanted.

Ragini: I think it's always been, we're thinking something and then there is strong feedback coming and we obsess over NPS and we obsess over feedback, right? So there'll always be a form that gets rolled out and which Anand and I literally sitting on all the time.

So lots, I think whether it's about uprising, whether it's about like just more engagement, whether it's even, like I said, we decided to build an app because the feedback from those 200, 300 members when we were starting was, we need an app. And for us, that was a game changer. Like my engagement metrics just went through the roof I think the minute that came up. Even these micro-communities right. I think we just realized, people kept saying that they want, like these smaller groups. How do I meet like-minded people? So that was very good. Even I think peer learning groups, so cohort based courses was something we weren't even considering.

But I think that staunch feedback from people was I want to learn in a group of five, six people. And for us, it's very small effort, but the impact is great because there are so many people who kind of benefit from it. So I think anything which is low effort, high impact, we just go ahead and do it.

Pramod: And coming to impact, I think two aspects there. One is like you mentioned, so there's a strong culture of feedback, so quick question there, like how often do you circulate feedback from the community? Is that like a ritual, like an, a weekly feedback that comes in or you do NPS checks or what's the frequency here?

Ragini: I think for NPS, we still do it once in two months, et cetera, but with new members it's every month. The first month, a hundred percent, the first 7 days, my team that onboards them literally sends them a WhatsApp sometimes if needed saying, are you liking it? Is everything good? We have a lot of in-app messaging.

I have a community manager who does this day in and day out. So all of that happens and I think the best part about Leap is after every masterclass that we do, after every super connection that happens, after every huddle that we do, after every coaching session, there is a feedback form that gets rolled out.

And I think because these folks are so invested and they're paying money for it. So they just end up filling it. Otherwise I think there are so many times you roll out feedback forms and literally, no one fills.

Pramod: And then beyond the feedback, how do you measure impact? Like maybe it's engagement metrics, maybe it's something else. What's like the top most KPI for you, when it comes to community?

Ragini: Obviously there are onboarding numbers, there are retention numbers we're obsessing over, there are engagement metrics for every single benefit also that Leap has. We keep measuring. But I think just the success stories, keep us floating. I'll be honest. And we've had so many people who've cracked job interviews because of other Leap members.

We've had people who've managed like 40% hike after one coaching session. We've had people who've pivoted in their careers. And I think a lot of these thousands of conversations that are happening, I think people are finding co-founders, they're raising rounds, they're doing all of that. But there are also so many, I think quiz clubs being formed, or so many travel and podcast buddies and a lot of these social interactions, which have just taken off in the last six months, which is not something we even thought about. I think those things keep us floating. I for example, have a founder's Clubhouse, which is my sounding board, because we all know why it's such a lonely journey.

So even for me to find that within Leap was great. Literally yesterday we had someone who leads HR at Bain. She messaged me saying that, someone at Leap connected with me. She's a CA zero HR experience. She wanted to pivot to HR and now Bain has hired her. That does not happen otherwise. So I think for us, yes, we obsess over, a certain metric for engagement, a certain metric for this thing, a certain metric for NPS, all of those things are great. But just ensuring, every single member is winning for us is very important. And like I said, they're seeing that they're winning .

Pramod: So what's next? For someone who is not yet a member, like what can they expect over the next six months or a year, walk us through yeah.

Ragini: We have no idea what's gonna happen two months later. But I feel a lot of people are moving towards of course, trusted platforms. And I think Leap stands out. But today where we're at is we're ready to press the pedal and amp up this member base where of course we're onboarding 500 people next month.

I'm hoping to get to that thousand and hit that 10 K mark ASAP. And I think continue to build product reels. Today I think for us a big part or two things, I'm very excited about, if I can say is one opening across geographies, 10% of my member base is actually outside India.

And this is like 0 CAC for us, right? Because they're all referrals and, friends of existing members and stuff like that. But essentially what we're doing today at Leap is we're collating the best talent of women on the platform. So for us, I think we're going to be super bullish on jobs. That is going to become really big for us at Leap in fact, so much hiring. We're just going to put a structure and make that happen. We're going to reach out to companies who are rated very well at Leap, because we have ratings of every single company that these 2000 women represent. So ensuring they have access to our pool of data is also something that I think, will be big for us later.

Yeah lots in store and so much to do.

Pramod: That's awesome I think that the collaborations that you mentioned and also focusing on jobs and outcomes wishing you the best for the next few months. Just before we wrap up for someone who's thinking of community, just purely as community building, or even as thinking of it from a business angle, what would be your one advice? If you had to go back a year and talk to Ragini back then, like what would be the initial, what to do and what not to do?

Ragini: So I think lots of not to DOs, but I think what we did right, was we actually went after a problem. And we didn't go after a solution and then start finding problems.

So ensure that there's a big problem or a common mission, your community is way off though, right? I think, it helps it tie everything together. And I think the second thing would also be to get enough people on the feet, right? Whether they're community managers, whether it's you, whether it's your friends whatever that may look like.

But ensure that these people have a ton of emotional self motivation. Because it can be very exhausting as well. So I think those two things are my two bigger learnings and I'm glad I did that at least.

Pramod: Great! Great points. And thanks. This was a great conversation to have and wishing you and Leap all the best and we'll be in touch and, looking forward to more growth in the coming months.

Ragini: Thank you Prao.

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