🚀 Scaling A Junior VC community to 7,000+ members on Slack

In this episode of CommunityHub Spotlight, we speak to Mitali who is building one of India's most engaging startup communities - A Junior VC: https://ajuniorvc.com/community. Watch the video where she walks us through how it all started, how they scaled to 7000 members in the last year, how to experiment with different engagement methods and be consistent in delivering value to the community members!
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Pramod Rao
June 21, 2021

Shalini: Hi, Mitali thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate that you took some time off your busy schedule.  Why don't you start with a quick introduction about what you've been doing and what A Junior VC is all about?

Mitali: Absolutely. First of all, thank you so much, Shalini, for conducting this interview.  It's great, what you are doing in terms of building the resources for community.

I remember the first time when I started, I was lost.  How to really get started with it, how to build momentum, but any resources such as these were what came handy to me at that point of time. And I'm sure it'll be very helpful for future community managers and community builders.  , to begin with A Junior VC, as some of you might be knowing , is a platform where we started with releasing stories about Indian startups. Mostly because of Aviral, who is the founder, believed that there's a white space  in interactions about the Indian startups.

And it was his venture where he could interact. He could start a conversation about startups. It started with releasing stories and then there were various other products such as podcasts and concepts. So  we've been building multiple products, which is where community also came in as one of the products that we were very excited about because,  stories were a space where we were putting out content about startups. Podcasts, was a space for us where the entrepreneurs were coming forward and telling their own story. But then community was actually that piece where our readers or the community could come together and interact and discuss and, bounce off ideas, which  is very important because once you get to read some material, it's also very important to put forward your perspective about it. You might agree or disagree with it, but it's always extremely important to have your opinion about it and to listen to other people's perspective. And this is where the idea of community really evolved. We started almost an year back and now we've grown to 7,000 member community on Slack.

It's a really active community now. And , whenever I feel that I want to have a discussion or I want to discuss a new topic  about anything new, which is going on, I just go onto the community and post a question. And there's so many people coming from all walks of life. We have professionals, we've senior professionals, fresh graduates, we've college students. So  the amount of different perspectives we are able to really look at in this community is really great.

Shalini: So even I'm a part of A Junior VC on Slack. I've seen how engaging it is all the time. And I agree that there are people from all around and it's a very healthy interaction that happens. So was there any  trigger point  behind why Aviral or you decided to start with this community?

Mitali: It was a series of events. What started with stories  was an experiment . Aviral had been writing on Quora for quite awhile. So he knew that there is value in putting out content, which can help people know about the startup ecosystem, especially the Indian startups.

And it really got a great response. I was an avid reader of all his answers in my college time. And Quora gave you that opportunity where you can comment on his answer, where you can ask him questions, where you can question him or you can put forward your thought process. When we started with the newsletter, we got an amazing response. There were a lot of people who used to come back to us telling how detailed they found the stories that it started with the origins of the company and what challenges it faced across  in its journey and what the future looks like.

What we realized was. Okay, this is working. This is really good. People are really finding value and reading about these stories. But how about we also create a platform where they can share their thoughts. The first and foremost thing for us was to create a space where it's not a monologue where we are speaking about the startups. It's a dialogue where everybody comes together. We, as team members speak to our readers and the leaders and the overall community interacts with each other. That is where knowledge creation, value creation is really coming into picture. That is the idea behind the community for us, the major driving force. We had that idea in our mind that we want to build a space, but it  took us some time. There were lots of internal discussions on how we want to go about it. How do we really run with it? We have the idea, but how do we really, bring it into life. So there were a lot of discussions to see how we really want to launch it.

Shalini: You said, that going from having  the thought of there being more space to now having a successful community of 7,000 people where they interact and engage over your content. What do you think is your end goal?

Mitali: That's an interesting question. There were a few things which we had in mind initially when we were starting the community, which was, we wanted to be a space where everybody puts forward their thoughts. It's not just limited to be a place where you can flex about what you have achieved in life or just, or about self promotion. It needed to be a space where everybody's coming together and really having a conversation. This is something which is the core of the community even today. We want to build a space where people can really interact and that can be on a one-on-one basis. So we organize coffee chats to build new connections amongst our community members. It can be a many to one. So we organize AMAs for that  purpose. What is really important for us is to maintain a space where everybody can interact.

And the end goal is just to make that space  where people interact about startups and this can be already established startups or this can be for young entrepreneurs.  How can they experiment or how they can get quick feedback about their idea and go with it.

Shalini: That's like a wonderful space to have. Do you do remember there being any story which has really been like outstanding how you helped out someone. Kind of validated the whole idea of there being a community right now.

Mitali: Yeah, absolutely.  That is the best part of building this community.

That there are so many times when I received messages that it really helped somebody to get to where they want it. Now that can be anything that can be professional, whether getting an interview with somebody or getting a sounding board where you can put forward your thoughts.  Overall any sort of these stories really makes my day and keeps me driving for the community building.

So I remember at one point  there was a person who was interviewing at a VC firm and he got an industry which you had to evaluate and he had to build a report for it and his interview process, and he felt a little lost initially. How to go forward with it, how to really evaluate an industry and just put forward that question on the community. And then so many people responded in terms of not only resources where he can read about industry, but also putting forward their own thought process. That was really inspiring to see how everybody came together to give them suggestions. And then he used all of those resources and those suggestions to build his own report for the firm. And he was able to clear that round of the interview, which is really great. And when I received this message,  it was really inspiring for me to see that how  I started building this community, but it was not me who drove that thing. It was the community members who were helping each other. So being able to build a space where everybody's willing to help, right? It's not actually me asking somebody to help each other, but people are really self-driven too, to be a part of that community.  That was really great for me.

Maybe the end result is not clear during a round of interview or getting funding, but even that inspiration where 50 strangers are coming and telling you that your product is really great and they believe in it, it keeps you going right. Having that sort of validation, if you want to call it.

One story, which is really enduring for me was we organize these coffee chats every week, which is a space where members get to interact with each other on a one-on-one basis to build deeper connections. And especially during COVID times how to meet new people.

And I remember that. One of my community members messaged me that he was traveling back from a hill station and he stayed in Delhi for an extra day because he was staying with a community member he had met through a coffee chat.  He was spending time with him getting to know him  face to face.  That was like really a great story for me. Because it was not only about professional connections. People were actually interacting with each other to build those personal network also.

And this is also  validated by the fact that if I look at the community stats also. Around 15% of the messages are on public channels while 85% of the channels are in direct messages, which really goes to speak that so many people are really interacting with in the community, but they're also interacting one-on-one with each other.

The fun in getting to know people, the different perspectives you get to know, and the soft skills that you build along the way that is just invaluable.

Shalini: Your professional and personal stories  validates the whole idea of how a community facilitates networking, not just for professional purposes but also there's a personal connection that happens.  I'm very curious to know, how did you acquire your first hundred members in the community?

Mitali: Yeah, absolutely. So thank you for that question. I. I still remember. It was like we started off the community an year ago and the first time when we were actually launching the community, we had multiple discussions just to see how we want to go about launching it. And the entire team was very helpful in putting forward their ideas of how we should go ahead in acquiring those hundred members. We already had A Junior VC as a newsletter, which was distributed amongst more than 10,000 subscribers. What we did initially was we started with announcing the community on the newsletter .  We sent out invites for a first hundred members to join. So we sent out those invites to 10,000 members, but we just, we make sure that we include only a hundred members in the initial round so that we can see how people are interacting.

Because as I mentioned, none of us had done it previously. Our internal team group was always jossling. There were all always great articles being shared, and there were great discussions happening. So we wanted to duplicate that ethos in the community, but the team was 10 members at that point. So 10 members versus let's say a hundred members or 7,000 members today. It was really important for us to maintain that quality. We started with a hundred members. We sent out the invite first for the community in our newsletter, kept it to 100 members kept it running for a week with those a hundred members that we will really like the whole team was seeing how people are interacting, what topics they really more, more comfortable with in sharing their thoughts about.

And that is how the first hundred members journey started for a week. And then gradually we opened up the community. Once we had some understanding of how the people are interacting.

Shalini: You started with a smaller based of hundred, and then eventually you scaled it up to 7,000.

What were the different rituals that you used throughout the journey for engaging.

Mitali: So the mantra for us was try new things, read new things, try it, see if it sticks, see the community members enjoy. If you see good response, then continue with it, otherwise change. So that was the starting point for us. And then we started experimenting, right? We read reports about how Reddit grew, its community base slowly. How there have been successful communities all over the world and how did they really build.

The first thing was to have community managers and then , we asked in the community who wants to build this, help us build this community who wants to drive it to where we, as a team are seeing it. And you can of course, bring in your own ideas. This is like a playground for all of us to experiment and build a community. So the first thing was to bring those community members who were equally passionate about it, who had their own ideas and who wanted to take that charge of, taking initiatives of really driving the community ahead.

And then we started off with posting articles about a new startup, some startup deck or about a new design, which a company or a product is experimenting with. We started with sharing articles and then we realized that there was a lot of discussion in articles or topics, which were more current. Let's say if there's a new policy by the government, there's a new fundraising by a startup Elon Musk tweeted something new. Whatever was more topical, whatever was more current, people were really excited to discuss that. And especially because we started off when COVID had already hit.

So  you have those discussions in office where you go for a coffee break and discuss these current topics, but then now people are looking more to have those discussions in more online formats. And having a place where you can discuss more current topics was really something which the community members were enjoying.

One of our community members, Tanish took up the charge to everyday post about a new current topic and two, and  that was really helpful because as I mentioned, the members were enjoying. And that was really interesting because once you start being consistent about it, then slowly members also build a habit that, okay, this is something which is going to happen at 5:00 PM. So they start knowing about it. They start expecting it and then slowly they start wanting it.

They also want to have a place where they can discuss a new topic every day at 5:00 PM.  That was important to be topical and to be consistent so that the community members know that 5:00 PM - oh this is a time where I can log in into A Junior VC community and there will be a fun topic and I can discuss.

Shalini: Are there any other challenges that you could share with us that one would face in a community managers life?

Mitali: Yeah, absolutely. One was definitely to make sure that the content, the discussions were something which everybody enjoys reading or being a part of.

The second one was, there were a lot of times when. People would post self promotion messages. Let's say, I am starting up a new fund, do you want to invest in it or something which we could not vouch for? There was no way to really validate who this person is, what this fund is about.

There were a lot of messages similar to this. And then we wanted to make sure that, our community members don't fall trap to such messages thinking that this is on a verified community.  That was one challenge. How do we stop it from happening?  It wouldn't be good on their part to really message those members to not do it. But then do you really go ahead in deleting it or do you message that person to not do it?  That was one challenge, which I really faced a lot in the initial days.

A lot of community managers would message me to confirm how do we react to it? So it's important to have those guidelines in place that what is the limitation in your community? This is a place where you share your ideas, but it does not mean that you can self promote. You have LinkedIn, you have various other sources of which you can do that on, but as a community, we took that standard. We don't want to promote that kind of messages.

Then the other was in terms of even messaging, in terms of even putting forward discussion topics there were times when members were not as active. You did not see discussions. The topic was great, but it discussions was not getting as enriching. And so slowly then we realized that it's very important to see what time of the day, what day of the week, you are posting. If you're posting at six o'clock or seven o'clock, seven o'clock that is a time when people generally get free from their office. And so it's a good time to have a discussion. It's a good time where people have free time on their hand.  So  these were things that we slowly learned.

Shalini: I seen you guys do a lot of coffee table talks and AMAs. These are the constant rituals that I've seen. How do you think these rituals are helping community members specifically?

Mitali: Yeah, absolutely.  It's like any product you build as a company you want to make sure that your users remember you, right? You have that recall value in their mind. So we would say that when we are posting something, the discussion would go up and then there was a period of dormancy, let's say by Thursday, Friday, people were not as active in the community.

And so how do you really build a community where it's not always being pushed by discussions are not always being pushed by you but it creates that recall value by community members  themselves and they start off the discussion. So that was the idea, which we wanted to really move forward with how to create that space.

When we started with the AMA, it was important for us because as I mentioned that there were periods of dormancy, but we wanted to make sure that every Sunday we have this event where everybody comes together for the event. So when you are coming for that AMA you also explore other channels.

You also explore other discussions going on. And that is when you realize, oh, this is an important discussion. I also want to comment on it. I also want to put forward my thought process. Oh, you're like, oh, this is something new. I did not know that you can look at this government regulation in this manner as well.

So to create that AMAs were important for us was because every Sunday it gave a chance to the community members to come on the platform and create that recall value. When we started, what we saw was a lot of people were participating. We started with the AMAs for 30 minutes and now we've extended it to one hour sessions because all the time it would go above 30 minutes. So the reason was that posting AMA questions was a low threshold of activity for users, right? They did not have to come on video or did it not have to do a lot of research before posting their thoughts. There was a chance to interact with the founder without having the pressure of impressing the founder or having their video on and posting a question in a right way in the right language and the right body language and all of those things. So it was a very low threshold activity, which is why we saw a lot of participation from community members.

So  those were the two aspects for us in AMAs. One was to be consistent and to create that recall value. Second was to give the community members a chance to interact with entrepreneurs and investors and successful professionals on a regular basis without having to think that, how do I ask a question?

And for coffee chats, as I earlier mentioned, because it was COVID  that was a time when people were really looking forward to building new connections. We made sure that we were matching people who had similar interests, but who also had some different interests so that, you get to explore new things.

Shalini: You use Slack for all of this and I've seen text-based AMAs  that, like you have a channel where all of that happens. How easy is it to use this platform for community managers who are just exploring the various platforms that are there available right now? Would you recommend Slack? What are your thoughts on the other platforms as well?

Mitali: That is a great question. And there are so many platforms right now where you can build a community that it can be challenging to really decide what to start with. Initially, when we were also starting off our two main contenders, where do we want to start with Discord or do we want to start off with Slack?

So we chose Slack, first of all, because the general belief or the general idea, which people have is that slack is more professional, whereas Discord - a lot of people gave us the feedback that they see more of it as a gaming community or more of it like an entertainment sort of space as compared to having more professional discussions.

So one of the reasons why we chose Slack was to have a space where we you can discuss important topics as well. And second was Slack has a number of different functionalities. There are so many apps which can be directly linked to slack, starting from all Google Suite to Zoom and Asana. There's so many different apps and of course people like you who are building amazing products like SamosaBot. Slack community that way is very rich because there are a lot of people who are trying to build new bots also, which can really help in customizing your community. That was really important also because the community around building products for Slack is very rich.

Shalini: Do you have a list of tools that you use for community management? Like Zoom for virtual events , or for coffee chat also, I'm sure there's some kind of sheet or documentation that you use to mix and match people. What are the tools that you use and why did you choose using those tools?

Mitali: So a lot of these tools, actually, I as I mentioned earlier, are a part of Slack itself.  It also arises from one of the things that I earlier mentioned to have low threshold tools, where it's not difficult to start off with that tool. So you have to like Polly, or there are various tools which, which can be used to conduct quizzes or to have a quick poll. Of course, as you mentioned for coffee chats and such initiatives, we'd use Google sheets and other tools. Those are not necessarily within Slack, but but a lot of Slack apps like GreetBot,  is amazing in those perspectives because you can really help a new community member, know the ethos of your community.

Shalini: Got it. Okay.  When we started off the conversation, you mentioned that 85% of your users take to DMs to interact with the other members of the community. So do you also, as a community manager, do you also track other metrics? What do you suggest we should be tracking ideally to understand if the community is successful or not

Mitali: As I mentioned earlier, consistency is key. So it's important to see is your community just active on a few days of the week when you are posting something or when you have an event or there is generally  activity on a day-to-day basis that people themselves also come on the community, even without you posting about any event.

So one thing which we regularly keep a track is on a day to day basis how many messages are there in the community? What is the kind of activity on a day-to-day basis?  On a time to time basis also like we generally see more activity in the mornings or in the evenings. So just to make sure that on a day-to-day basis, these stats are consistent.

Then, on a weekly basis, how many new users are you gaining and how many of them are going  active? So we did conduct multiple feedback events also where we rolled out Google form to understand why people are coming onto our community and if they can really see  new  changes in the community, which they would feel  will be helpful.

So feedback forms such as those were helpful in understanding why people are coming to the community . Another thing was so we post about the community in our newsletter on LinkedIn. So it's also important to see that the new members who are coming, are they coming from LinkedIn when you are posting on LinkedIn or they are coming through newsletter or any other channel that you're using for marketing or community?

So it's important to know which channel is working, where your community members are really based out of, and then doubling down on those channels to market your community.  

Shalini: Any other tips and tricks that I may have missed you think are essential for a new community manager who's out there to build his community, any insights that you want to share with them?

Mitali: As I mentioned it's a lot of people coming together, so there are no defined rules most of the times. So it's important to experiment and see how people are reacting. It's okay if some product does not work, you can either update it or you can start off with the new product, but just keep experimenting to see what sticks and once something sticks, it's important to be consistent.

Because then people start expecting you to have that event going every day at that point, and then they start coming to your community regularly. So be consistent, be topical, be up to date about what is being discussed in the community. And try to have events which are low threshold,  so that this doesn't feel like another task.

You just got done with your office and now you want to be a part of the discussion, but you don't want to really work a lot for it.

Shalini: Thanks so much this has like a bunch of learnings  from, your journey towards building A Junior VC. Thank you so much Mitali, again, for taking out the time today and helping us build this resource.  

Mitali: It was my pleasure to come here, Shalini. It was great interacting with you. And I'm sure once you put up these resources, I would also love to read about all the other resources. This is, as I said, it's an evolving skill to build a community and I'm looking forward to you releasing all the other resources as well.

Shalini: Thank you. Thank you so much, Mitali.

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