What I learned in two weeks running an online startup community

Two weeks ago I launched TwitchVC, an online Discord community for founders, developers, students, and investors. My goal was simple, create a shared ‘third space’ for startup founders and developers. I wanted to provide a space for founders to learn from each other as they build their companies, connect with smart developers and occasionally learn from investors.

Platform Selection — Why Discord?
Today, there are a lot of platforms for building online communities:
  • Discord
  • Slack
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Spectrum
  • GroupMe
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn

All these platforms were interesting because of their high usage and daily active users. However, I chose Discord for three main reasons:

Role Management
Discord allows you to create and highlight separate roles and categories. These roles are visible in the sidebar and through chat based name colors. This was important for my community since I was trying to create a shared space for similar yet different audiences. Thus, highlighting roles was important to so users can know whether they are talking to a founder, student, or investor.

Seamless Room-Based Audio/Video
Since my goal was to create a ‘third space’, instead of a simple group text messaging platform, it is important to leverage native voice and video to create shared experiences. This way, founders can chat in groups, or one-on-one by simply clicking on a voice room.

Twitch Integrations + Robust File Handling
I envisioned this community to become the underlying platform for a Twitch-based startup mentorship/incubation program (maybe). More importantly, I wanted to share video content (interviews, AMA’s, events) seamlessly to my community and Discord had the best Twitch integrations. Plus, Discord is atleast as competent as the others for handling files.

Early Acquisition
Once I set up the Discord Server, the next step was to find founders who would benefit from this community. To acquire my first 50 community members in Phase I, I focused on other startup-driven communities to share my Discord server — Next Gen Summit Group, Reddit’s Startup Communities, and Facebook groups. I also leveraged one-on-one conversations with founders in my network to encourage them to sign up for TwitchVC.

Current Progress and Challenges
Server Size — 75 members (as of 7/1)

The server has a healthy mix of founders, investors, students, and developers (and even a journalist!). However, the biggest challenge has been engagement.

Within this group of early adopters on my TwitchVC, people fall into one of three categories — discussion leaders, press briefing leaders, and lurkers. Discussion leaders, community managers love them, are always actively asking questions, answering others questions and sharing high quality content. Press briefing leaders usually just ask a few questions here and there without ever contributing in other forms of discussion. Lurkers just join the server, you can see they are online, but they never say anything. Sometimes you will see them typing something and you will hold your breath, but the message never comes.

My biggest challenge is converting press briefing leaders and lurkers into discussion leaders. While the discord server is active, most of the conversation remains confined to the discussion leaders. Often, conversations begin and end on a superficial level because there are not enough participants to dig deeper.

My second major challenge is diversity. While I don’t have official data, the majority (if not 100%) of the community members are men.

Phase II
Content is king. In phase II, my focus is on growing the community around regular venture funding and startup building content. This would include curated blog posts, relevant articles, and videos. Furthermore, I will supplement this with weekly AMAs with VCs and Founders along with targeted public office hours.

Key Takeaways

  1. Do things that don’t scale. Individually pick your starting community members and spend time getting to know them and their aspirations (and how you/your community can help.
  2. Content is king. Spend a lot of time curating high-quality content in the beginning and encouraging people to talk about shared content.
  3. Pick a platform which makes engaging easy. It should be easy to share a file or talk to someone on voice or video.
  4. Make connections. Sometimes connections are organic, but often, in the beginning, make connections manually. Connect the fintech founder with the hedge fund investor.