📈 How Growth Blazers community adapted during the pandemic

In the first episode of CommunityHub Spotlight, we speak to Vasil, Founder of Growth Blazers. Watch the video as he walks us through what inspired him to start Growth Blazers, how they had to adapt during the pandemic, and what it takes to build an engaging community!
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Pramod Rao
June 21, 2021

Pramod: Thanks, Vasil for taking the time. This is actually the first recording for community hub which Threado is putting together as a resources hub for community builders. Maybe we can start off with an introduction about yourselves and your community  

Vasil: Absolutely. Thanks, Pramod for having me.

I'm Vasil, founder at Growth Blazers. And ever since I remember myself, I was always passionate about events, marketing and bringing people together. My background has always been in organizing events and the current community is an extension of in-person event that my team and I used to produce for the last five years.

Unfortunately with COVID, we couldn't do in person events any longer. So we had to quickly transition into virtual events and eventually community. So Growth Blazers is a global community for modern marketers and growth leaders, sharing actionable advice and strategies for sustainable business growth and career growth.

Pramod: Being someone from the growth space myself, like, I spent close to a decade leading growth at a consumer startups, I totally can relate to why such a community is needed.

What made you realize that this community needed to exist? Maybe talk a bit about how it started back from day zero.

Vasil: Yeah. So what made me realize through the events that I used to be producing around the world and also here in San Francisco, where I'm based, that when the event is over, many conversations still need to continue and there needs to be a space for our community members to interact, to connect with each other. And for whatever reason, I always thought, okay, in person events would be our core. It's in our DNA. It's something that we know how to produce best. And I wasn't, to be completely honest, a fan of online communities. And I never thought that I would be actually excited about launching one. But again, just being put into that difficult situation when you have to come up with something new, persevere and build when we lost 90% of our revenue from just one conference that we organized. So we had to very quickly regroup and figure out  how to generate revenue with virtual events. But community, it seemed to be something that our members always wanted. So they were always asking me Vasil, is there a Slack channel? Is there a forum so we can stay in touch? So yeah, this was a natural extension and I'm happy that we tried it.

: It's great to see how you're transformed from an events only kind of organization to vibrant online community today.  It'd be great to understand  how the community exists today? In what form do they interact and what are some of the rituals?

Vasil: Yeah. So one of the things, and this is based on my experience just by talking to many marketers over the course of the last years, is that there everybody has a challenge that they face. And in many cases, the challenge is unique. But also, there are in many cases, the challenge is very familiar to some experienced marketers who already did it. So the idea is of the community within the community.

Speaking of the ritual, we practice what we called, Growth Blazers Community Approach (GBCA) or framework. G stands for goals. Then B stands for barriers. C stands for connection and A stands for action - Growth Blazers Community Approach. Which really means that in order to gain value from being a part of it, you need to set a goal for yourself and inevitably on the way to achieving the goal there would be some barriers or challenges as we call them. But in order to solve them, you are not alone. You are within the community. But you have to let everyone know about your goals and about the challenges, because otherwise nobody would be able to help you.

And this sounds simple but I realized in many cases, some of the webinars of virtual events that we've done in the past they get lower engagement rate afterwards because we were not having that interaction for community members and having them asking that just one question, what are the goals? What are the barriers that you have towards achieving these goals? So this is the ritual that we practice. Every single virtual event has opportunity for members to meet each other, share their challenges, also share their barriers and eventually which leads up to connection which you can make within the community or outside through your personal network. But ultimately through action, if you take action, you can achieve your goals eventually. Yeah, that's the big framework.

: I think that's a great way to have a system in place to drive accountability and also to help people achieve outcomes.

And how do the members connect with each other today? Is it on a weekly basis or do you have like a mastermind, walk us through how do the rituals actually take place?

Vasil: Yeah. So currently we have one virtual event that happens by weekly. We call it growth mixers.

And the idea of the growth mixer, we invite an expert who brings a topic that we go really deep into. So we prepare with questions. We encourage our community members to submit questions. In some cases I recruit moderators who are experts in that specific, let's say marketing channel or strategy, or if we interview them to see a more, most ideally we'll have another CMO who will be joining.

So we have a 30 minute interview and then we break everyone down in small groups of four round tables  where community members practice their Growth Blazers community approach first. And then they also discuss key takeaways from the fireside chat and from the presentation by the speaker.

So we decided just to focus on that and we've been doing it for the last couple of months. And now we see  that finally, we consistently start getting around 25 30 people. By the way, our communities is still brand new. We just started in March.  We have about 200 members.  For each of the mixers, we have anywhere from 25 to 40 members showing up, which I feel is a, it's a pretty good rate at this point.

Pramod: Yeah. I think 25 to 40 is great and starting a community  small  is actually a pretty good thing.  Great interactions  come from smaller cohorts and while your community is new, having 200 members is still very significant. And I'd love to talk about what are some of the outcomes that you've seen some of the members get out of the community.

Through these interactions, through the rituals, what are some stories that, maybe a couple of them, of how members have benefited?

Vasil: Yeah, absolutely. So one story is fresh on my mind right now when one of the community members is very new to her role as a head of marketing.

So she never managed  budgets. She was always a manager director level and now she was challenged with the task to lead the entire marketing of her organization. All of a sudden she's responsible for the number, for the budget and for an unrealistic goal according to the some of other community members who were able to provide her with feedback.

So it's really the company needed to 10 X the revenue and all CEO mentioned that she would need to fight for the budget and really present it.  She didn't have a professional template on how to request it. So we were able to connect her with other members who provided not just the templates that she could use  for the budget, but also  some one-on-one consultations on how to really get this budget approved. And she recently reached out. She said that I don't know about the results just yet, but she's very grateful for all of the support.

And another member was looking to learn about marketing automation software. When the customer support, wasn't very responsive, but one of the community members who was an expert in that software was able to jump on the call, screen share, and guide her through and help her with campaigns.

So those types of interactions. Interesting parts - those actually the ones that were also happening at the events that I hosted but now when you have everybody within the online platform, this becomes more visible and  as a community builder it's easier for me to identify who has experienced challenges. So I'm able to connect them to the right experts to help resolve these challenges.

Pramod: Great to hear such outcomes and  that's what communities are all about.  As a community builder, the core job is to help people help each other and make it as easy as possible.

So if I had to ask you about a day in Vasil's life, like what does it take to actually get Growth Blazers up and running?

Vasil: Yeah, so I actually, I'm not a community manager. This is a new role that I'm learning.

I'm I can give you a perspective more from a founder perspective, but also I have to participate in the community. So my day to day to be honest when it comes to engagement, I always have my Slack open. That's what we use for the community interactions and what I try to do, I really try to focus not on the quantity of interactions that I have with our members, but really quality. So if I suppose if that's somebody has a challenge, I would reach out to the person one-on-one I would find out more information so I can help better. And then I look at , within my network, I identify people that I could potentially introduce the person to because For me, I'm not necessarily a growth marketer like yourself Pramod. I'm more of an event marketer and person who knows many marketers. So what I'm doing, I'm just looking through my Rolodex. "Okay. That person probably needs to talk to another person." I think the skillset that that I have is very quickly identify or ask the right questions to identify the challenges quickly. And I'm also fortunate to have a memory for very small details. Sometimes I remember in our conversation that you mentioned that, and for some reason, just some things like flashes, they pop up in my head and I know, okay, this person needs to talk to that person. So that's what I do. And if I help a couple of people a week,  I consider my job is done.

Pramod: Got it.  Listening to the community, understanding the challenges and helping with connections so that you help people cross over those barriers.

I would love to understand how with everything going virtual, what are the tools that you use for getting the community engaged together and, what's your community tech stack, if you want to call it. And why did you choose those forms of interactions?

Vasil: Yeah, so that we could talk for an hour just about that. To be honest, I'm not very happy currently with my community stack. We do use Slack for community engagement.  I'll start with the ones that are more or less happy with. So we use Slack then also for our virtual mixers, Growth Mixers, we use platform called Run the World. So it's a fun version of zoom that allows members to connect one-on-one easily, host round tables, they have interactive yoga breaks.  It looks more modern and very user-friendly. So on the backend to manage membership, we use WordPress plugin called Wishlist, which I'm definitely not happy with. Down the road, we're thinking about switching to a different platform. For marketing automation, which is extremely important for us, we use Active Campaign and we also use air table. Trying to see if I'm missing anything else. Yeah, I think that's it.

Pramod: And do you use Zapier to tie all of it together?

Vasil: Absolutely.  I feel that many communities have Head of Content and have a Community Manager as the first hire which is a no brainer, but we come from the background when we are all about automation and email marketing.

So my first, one of the fundamental team members that I have in place is our marketing operations person. And she works with all of the Zapiers, she makes sure that our Active Campaign communicates with all of the plugins, with the shopping cart on the backend and all of the flows are running smoothly.

Yeah, we definitely have that. So I guess the point that I'm trying to make,  if you decide to use 10 different softwares, make sure that you have a person in place who really understands the technology on the backend, unless you're that person. But it definitely takes a lot of time.

Pramod: Go ahead. What does it take to get a community of 200 up and running? And you mentioned the marketing operations person, who else, and, how should one community manager think about who's the right person for the role .

Vasil: Yeah. I'll answer the first part of the question about how did we acquire 200 community members? So luckily I had my personal email list that I built over the years through organizing events and speaking at other conferences.  Also built significant presence on LinkedIn as well as network. So I would say maybe hundred members just came through that just by, by making an announcement.

Another hundred members came through the first virtual event that we organized and the idea of the event was, you joined the event for free, but if you would like to get access to all of their recordings, they would go behind the membership wall after the event. So if you'd like to review them on your own time, you have to join the community. Plus, there are some other benefits, of course. So we are able to attract another hundred and now we also introduced $1, 14 days free trial, so people can try it first before committing for the year or on a  monthly basis.

So we get in a couple of members here and there every week, but we're definitely looking for new channels. Going back to my team,  Marketing operations and Marketing manager, myself I'm pretty much in charge of the strategy vision and I'm also in charge of the content. Currently, I'm recruiting speakers who speak at our Growth Mixers.

We also have couple of growth experts in residence, the way we call them. And then some of them volunteer quite a bit of time to help us curate the content, to advise on the strategy. Without it, it would be very difficult. And besides that, because events are integral part of our community and overall strategy, we also have an Event experience manager in charge of all of the events that we produce. Plus, currently we generate revenue through sponsorships. So we also have a Partnership manager and Customer advocate.

Pramod: Great. I think that you have designed the community in a way, which it exists virtually and you're able to monetize it sustainability as well, and the team is structured in that fashion.

We're towards the end of the interview question.  If you had to go back in time and speak to Vasil  when he was starting the community, what would be your advice to a younger Vasil on what would you have done differently?

Vasil: I'll probably go back when I founded growth marketing conference in 2015.

So this is the roots of our community, which eventually became Growth Blazers. So advice would be just trust yourself and make bold moves, because I felt that I was very deliberate about some of the decisions. When I was younger, I wish I moved a little bit faster.  And I would learn from my mistakes faster.  

Pramod: Outside of Growth Blazers what's your favorite  community that's that sort of has stayed with you and why?

Vasil: Yeah, so the both of us just went through On Deck.  I was very impressed with the experience. But besides that, let me try.   I really enjoy in person events. What I used to do every single year, I would put five events that I would attend and I try to map them out so I can build some valuable connections with people, but I also try to travel at the same time. So it would be like three or five different countries. Attend the event and experience the culture in the different countries.

Pramod: Hoping that, we all get to go back to offline events soon as quickly as possible.

Thanks. This was a great conversation to know more about you and also Growth Blazers and how we've transformed it from an offline event based community to like online completely and wishing you all the best and hope to see Growth Blazers growing all the more.

Vasil: Thank you so much Pramod.

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