My journey of building a startup community from zero to one
Whenever we talk about startup communities, we picture them to be something like this:
When every other startup community you join is a marketplace where people spam about themselves, their products, campaigns, events, their million dollar ideas, and talk shit, what better can you visualise? (The engagement astonishes me the most.)
Can they even be referred to as communities? This is the first question that pops up in my mind when I browse through such communities. Gary Vaynerchuk says this:
The major problem with 99% of the online startup communities is that they don’t really ensure a safe and secure place for elites to share their knowledge and expertise with young entrepreneurs. Its pretty simple, You don’t feel like home.
Through this interview, I will try to change your perception towards online communities and share my journey of “How I built one of the most active startup communities of India, Pushstart”.
1. Who are you?
Hey there! I am Neeraj, the founder of Pushstart. I am originally from Uttaranchal but I grew up in Mumbai, got my bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from BITS Pilani and later joined Spinny, an early stage startup, as a Product Manager.
From the past 5 months, I have been working on building Pushstart.
2. What’s the deal with Pushstart?
Pushstart is not a community, its a family of entrepreneurs. Pushstarters (This is what we call ourselves.) share their startup ideas, launch their startup, share their learnings and support each other in solving their startup problems. We also geek out about latest startups and technology.
3. What motivated you to start Pushstart?
Back then, when I was doing my 9–5 job, I used to discuss a lot of startup ideas with my colleagues. Someone would bounce an idea and we would have a crazy discussion but that was it. We would never take it to the next step.
I personally found the discussions to be vague as we didn’t have the relevant knowledge. So often, I would try reaching out to experienced folks online, but it never really worked.
Most of the times my messages were ignored and even when someone bothered to read my message, they didn’t reply. I got a few replies but none of them were welcoming. (Sounds familiar?)
Here in India, reaching out to folks who know stuff is tough.
This is when I thought that there might be millions of folks like me, facing this problem every day and I need to do something about it.
After thinking for days, I came up with a solution, which was to create a platform where the experienced lot can share their feedback and learnings on startup ideas shared by young entrepreneurs.
I discussed this idea with my friends but no one really seemed to be interested. I also posted about it on various forums but nothing really kicked off. I did this for around a month and in the end dropped the idea of working on it.
I kind of moved on into my life with obvious roles but I realised that this time was no similar to the previous ones. Every single day the problem used to bug me and I would frame and reframe the product in my mind. (I used to daydream a lot you know)
It became so unusual for me, that I finally decided to go on with it. I started reading books and online content to actually figure out the next practical and logical step.
I would recommend every entrepreneur to read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. It really helped me figure out a logical way to proceed with things.
After gaining enough knowledge, I validated my study and research with the help of the following blog:
And one fine day, I took the riskiest decision of my life by quitting my routine 9–5 job to work on Pushstart.
“Pushstart was built to solve my problem.”
4. Coming from a non-technical background, how did you build your MVP?
I lacked the expertise to build the product straightaway since I wasn’t a techie. Pushstart was meant to be a community-based platform since the beginning, and therefore what could have been better other than launching the idea in the form of a simple, clean and easy to access Facebook group!
Unlike most founders, I didn’t work on a website. I rather spent all my efforts to answer the two most important questions:
1. Was Pushstart actually solving a real problem?
2. If yes, for whom?
“MVP can take any form. Just analyse which form is the fastest and easiest way to validate your assumptions. FB group worked well for me.”
5. How did you get initial users and how did it grow?
As I started off with my Facebook group, getting initial users was not a big deal. This is when, I put my friends to use by adding them to the group as the first set of users.
I also messaged few of my relevant friends about this new thing I was working on. They told me that they will contribute whenever required.(Yes, you guessed it correctly, they didn’t.)
Getting initial engagement is pretty tough as the reputation of a Facebook group is so bad that no one really cares to look at it.
I was getting close to zero engagement on Pushstart for the first 15 days. Then I adopted the following methodology to bring a dynamic change:
- I personally interacted with the users who seemed to be a little bit excited about the community; the ones who were engaging with us. I talked to them about my vision and asked for their feedback. (Through the conversations I tried to figure out why were they getting engaged and what could be done to retain them.)
- I curated a list of over 100 relevant potential users among Pushstart’s member list and sent each one of them a personal message.
- Then I talked with them and tried to figure out why they were not getting engaged.
“Keep the conversations healthy and friendly while interacting with people. You want them, they don’t. The major problem with any online community is that no one wants to be the first ones to contribute. They know they won’t get anything: neither traction nor engagement.”
Few screenshots of the initial conversations:
But don’t be disheartened; I have cracked it for you. There are few folks out there who act like Angels and become early contributors. They are the ones who:
- Believe in you/your mission.
- Are an active part of other similar communities.
- Are frustrated with the existing communities and looking for a change.
- Are influencers in their own circle.
Find them, convince them, listen to them and keep them happy.
Scene on Pushstart when we started out:
Finally, after days of convincing and interacting with people, some of them actually started sharing their startup ideas on Pushstart. I still remember our first “Idea launch”; there were around 35 members who participated. (I know! Even I was shocked.)
This is how we did our first idea launch:
I never stopped taking feedback from my community members. It’s an everlasting process.”
Since then, Pushstart has evolved into what it is right now. On this very day, five months back, Pushstart was started as an Idea Validation platform and now it has turned into a family of entrepreneurs who share their startup ideas, launch their startups and discuss their startup-problems to come up with sustainable solutions.
“You can’t really restrict a community while it grows. Let it evolve according to the market needs. Remember to keep your vision intact along the process.”
Go through the following screenshots to see how we roll:
This is how we do startup launches:
This is how we do Ask Us Anything sessions:
Too much of flaunting done; Now let us talk about the growth.
We have grown at a very slow pace in the past 5 months. (One of the many perks of being on Facebook. kidding!). But yes, growth wasn’t the prime focus.
Though, I am proud to say that the growth has all been organic.
The following data shows our obsession with engagement:
“At an early stage of building a community focus on engagement, build a strong base and then grow.“
Following pointers will help you in your quest to build a sustainable community:
- You should be clear about why you are building it and for whom?
- It should be unique and solve a problem. The community won’t boom in India if it is not solving a core problem. We are too busy and young to discuss latest technology/happenings/startups. (I have tried this in multiple forms but unfortunately it doesn’t work. We are not the evangelists kind.)
- It’s relatively easy if you have an audience, to begin with. Product Hunt, SO and Quora founders had a great fan following and network at the time they started out.
- Seed the community with your friends as its initial members. If your friends back out; go out, talk to relevant folks and make new friends.
- Be clear about the culture and communicate it well. Keep it invite-only at the start so that the culture penetrates well.
- Keep the experience at the top of your priority list. Many times you will have to go that extra mile, but it will be worth it. If you can match-up to his/her expectations, he/she will go around talking about you and there I can see you grow organically. (Even today I work my ass off to match the expectations.)
- A community is for, by and of the people. You cannot be a dictator and expect them to follow you. Remember that it is not a political affair, the crowd have got options here. (“We not I”)
- Make them feel that they are part of something unique and exclusive. (We have kept a stringent quality checks at the entry to Pushstart.)
- Listen to them, give them power and involve them in decision making. (I take feedback on everything related to the community.)
- Keep it interesting out there. (I launch a new initiative each week.)
- Lastly community is all about human connections, relationships and trust. (I have build trust with fellow Pushstarters by interacting with them regularly, calling and meeting them whenever possible. Meeting offline helps in accelerating the process of trust building.)
6. What are your future goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
Through Pushstart I want to reduce the knowledge gap that currently exists in the startup ecosystem by making both knowledge and the person possessing that knowledge accessible to millions of young entrepreneurs like me.
Building a sustainable startup community where genuine startup problems are solved by the most relevant folks and a culture where people help and respect each other’s view, irrespective of their profile and qualifications was the first step towards my mission.
This interview marks the beginning of my next step, which is to create a medium through which critical actionable insights, learnings, and knowledge of successful entrepreneurs can be transferred to folks starting up with their ventures.
It will also put Pushstart in front of a larger audience and indirectly propel our growth.
Over the course of next few months, I will be interviewing entrepreneurs who started solo with little to no technical expertise, followed their passion and built successful sustainable tech-businesses.
The main focus will be to provide actionable insights, rather than storytelling and product marketing. Also, the interviewee will be accessible to Pushstarters for future knowledge transfer.
A major focus will also be on making Pushstart sustainable in terms of revenue. I will be exploring and trying out various options to make that happen. Right collaborations and partnerships will play an important role in my quest for sustainability.
7. The Biggest challenges you have faced till now and how did you cope with them?
The Biggest challenge that I have faced till now is to establish and penetrate this new culture in India where people help each other, irrespective of their profile and qualifications.
“We in India don’t really invest our precious time in something till we seek direct monetary benefit out of it.”
Following things have helped me in establishing and maintaining the culture in Pushstart:
- I was pretty clear that Pushstart’s culture is above all; even I cannot disrupt it.
- I made sure that it is clear, precise and well communicated. There is an essence of it in every conversation.
- I made it pretty clear to the initial members by making them believe in its importance. (There were times when I used to ping people multiple times to comment and share their expertise.)
- Once I had enough believers, the culture penetrated on its own.
- Since then, I have maintained the culture as it gets a little bit distorted with every new addition.
Also, It has been tough to find the right co-founder who believes in me and my vision. In the past five months, I have worked with more than five different people, but things haven’t really worked out.
“It has been difficult to stay motivated when you are working solo. But when I see hundreds of Pushstarters around me following their passion and hustling, it reminds me that I am not alone in this journey, I have a 6k member, strong family.“
8. What is your advice to folks starting out?
“Don’t start just for the heck of doing a startup and raising funds; you will ultimately fail. Start if you are truly passionate about solving a problem.”
I worked on a few ideas before I started Pushstart and failed miserably. The motivation was just to launch a startup, as everyone was starting up.
I failed not because my ideas weren’t great, but because I wasn’t motivated enough to work on them persistently.
With Pushstart, I really wanted to solve a problem. I used to think about it daily. It bugged me so much that I finally decided to build a solution.
“Have a clear vision, trust yourself, and work hard; very hard.”
There is no substitute for hard work. I have worked very hard to build Pushstart and I am working hard every day to make it grow bigger.