Learnings from Comradery

From 2019-2020, I worked on Comradery, a community platform. After spinning down the product in 2020, I wrote a twitter thread about why it failed and my experience. I’ve copied the thread here for posterity. Comradery now lives on as an open-source project.

Comradery was a white-label community platform. It was built primarily for companies so that they could host communities of their users on a platform they had control over instead of Slack, Facebook Groups, Reddit, etc. While we technically hosted the community, our customers would be able to fully customize their community’s look and feel, put it on their own domain, control all moderation, and have access to all of the community’s information via an API.

Why companies? When you understand the power of communities, it’s hard to find a company that wouldn’t benefit from one. A prime example of this is
Glossier. A huge part of their success comes the community of fans they’ve curated on Instagram& their blog, Into The Gloss.

Comradery hoped to take this to the next level. What if Glossier could show a user’s favorite product on their profile and add them to an exclusive feedback group for that product? What if they could give specific members a discount on products they’ve been discussing?

And this isn’t just for retail. New approaches in education benefit from student/alumni communities. Roam and Notion proved that communities are invaluable in consumer software and Lattice showed that even in b2b, fostering communities of professionals can be a huge asset.

So what went wrong? Firstly, Facebook, Slack, etc. have huge audiences on their platforms. Asking your audience to go to a website they weren’t already using was risky. Many companies wanted a community they fully controlled but weren’t willing to risk the lower engagement.

Second, a community is an investment. You can’t just throw up an online forum and expect it to thrive. Especially in the beginning, someone needs to foster the community and welcome new members. Eventually, communities become self-sustaining but that’s not possible without that initial push. It’s tough to determine the ROI of a community easily, especially since it takes time for one to start becoming beneficial. Because of this, many companies still don’t see how valuable a community could be and are reluctant to make this initial investment

All of this plus the start of the pandemic last year resulted in a grim outlook with many customers and talks falling through with almost everyone in the pipeline. I had been solo founding for 2.5 years, so I made the decision to spin the company down and return remaining funds to investors.

In retrospect, there are many what ifs. What if I had kept going? The economy is doing a lot better now than at the start of the pandemic and it seems that more companies are starting to wake up to the value of community especially in these socially distanced times.

What if I had pivoted & targeted creators? I underestimated the creator economy. I thought that businesses would spend more and that most creators would not want to/be able to run successful communities. I was wrong about this, Circle did this and is killing it.

It’s easy to think about what ifs - but in all honesty, I’m pretty glad things turned out the way they did. I learned a ton, made so many new friends, and I’m so proud of what I built over the past few years. I wouldn’t take it back for anything.

 
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