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Building an Online Private Community – 10 Lessons Learned During The First 6 months

Six months ago I launched what is now called Founders Grid – A private member community for like minded entrepreneurs who want more freedom, greater privacy and better opportunities to put their skills and money to good use.

As with every new business, Founders Grid has had it’s fair amount of teething problems, challenges and has gone through a few different “phrases” in it’s short 6 month history.

This post will try to outline the lessons I have learned, and hopefully a few nuggets of helpful information for those who considering building their own online private community.

Background Story

In 2011 I wrote a blog post covering the process of incorporating a offshore company in Hong Kong. Since publishing, I receive multiple emails per week asking for advice on setting up companies offshore.

From the emails it was clear the “offshore company” industry is very fragmented – those who contacted me clearly wanted advice from someone who had been on the ground and had incorporated an offshore company themselves vs. advice from offshore service providers who who have a financial incentive.

While I try to help as many people as I can, I can’t give detailed answers to everyone, hence the idea of creating what was then called the Hong Kong Company Hub – a private community members could use to discuss incorporating in Hong Kong. Discussions included what service providers we’re trust worthy, what accountants were reliable and so on.

After a month or two I quickly realised The Hong Kong Company Hub had more potential than I first realised, especially if I broadened the focus. The choices that made sense to me at the time included broadening the community to cover a bigger geographical region (i.e Asia) or focus on covering other offshore jurisdictions.

Unfortunately I made the mistake of choosing the region specific direction and went onto change the branding to the Asia Business Hub. The plan was to build a community for business founders in Asia. The main problem here was that there wasn’t really a problem to solve and I did not have enough experience with the subject.

As soon as I realised I had made the mistake, I quickly changed the branding and direction again for the third and final time to cover internationalization, an area I’m very familiar with, an industry that is very fragmented with a big problem I know I can help solve. I chose the name Founders Grid – “Internationalization For Business Founders”.

As a side note, emailing your community to tell them your changing the direction, name and branding for the second time in a number of weeks is super embarrassing! But hey, it was the right thing to do and I’m now glad I did it.

Today Founders Grid focuses on the following six core areas:

  • Incorporating Offshore
  • Offshore Banking
  • International Business
  • International Investing
  • Second Passports & Citizenship Programs
  • Location Independence

So you see, it took me a while to get the offering right and to find the primary focus that made sense in terms of my own expertise, market need and size. The main lesson we can all draw from this is the importance of just starting, testing and changing direction when it makes sense.

While Founders Grid is growing steadily, I’ve still got a long way to go with building Founders Grid to it’s full potential. Hundreds of thousands of people search for “offshore company” on a monthly basis, hence there’s a lot more work to do in creating more in-depth content, continue growing the smartest community we can and getting the product into the hands of those who will benefit from it.

So that’s the back story and where I am today.

Now here’s a recap of the challenges and lessons I’ve learned building the community so far:

1. Find a fragmented market you know well

Think about markets where the link between knowledge and community is fragmented.

Medical tourism is a great example; the market is huge, is growing and I would bet people who are considering having surgery overseas would find it super useful and comforting to network with people who have already had the same surgery overseas, versus solely relying on information provided by the hospitals and doctors themselves.

2. Tap into your existing network

To get your community started, using your existing network is critical. 6 months in, I’m still calling friends to share their wisdom and knowledge with the community.

This is why I believe it’s important to start a private community on your expertise and what you know.

3. Use the right software

I spent far too long debating what private forum software I should use when I was preparing to launch. There are a lot of options available, and your unlikely to find a solution that is 100% perfect to your needs.

I chose Ning and I’m a happy customer. The software does the job well, is reasonably priced and super quick and easy to set up.

4. Understand your user needs

Caring and understanding what your community needs is fairly easy to achieve, but I see so many business founders mess this up.

Always answer member emails directly (don’t pass them onto your PA), launch regular community surveys for feedback and get in touch with new members directly.

It’s simple; if you care about your community and ask how you cam improve the experience for them, most will tell you.

5. Bring the best experts on board

I’ve spent most of my time making sure we have the best internationalization experts I can find join the community. This is an expensive and time consuming task, but worth it.

Now when someone asks a question, they get solid actionable advice they can use from respected experts. This is rewarding to see, especially after months of working on getting this right.

6. A team of 2 is optimal

Founders Grid would not be where it is today without my very small team. Based on my experiences so far, I think a team of at least 2 is required when starting a private community from scratch.

I suggest one person should focus on community, product and content while the other works on customer acquisition, branding and marketing. This should be set up to scale.

7. Think long ball

Building an online private community takes time, especially growing a smart and active member base sharing great content the whole community loves and can learn from.

This doesn’t happen over night, and at a guess I think it will take at least 2 years to get Founders Grid to it’s full potential. You need to think long.

8. Quality over quantity

I firmly believe quality questions, answers, resources, members and content will outrun heaps of crappy content in the long run. This has been my primary focus and is what I know will set us apart from the competition.

9. Be transparent

I would not have the support I’ve received from some of the biggest names in the internationalization world if I had not been honest and transparent from the get go. Even when your small, be sincere and focus on selling your vision, rather than your benefits. It pays.

10. Marketing is a challenge

The process of building a private community is filled with challenges, and another challenge to add to the list is marketing.

Unlike most services or products where you can update a blog and guest post on sites in your industry, you’ll be faced with the problem of wanting to keep your content private inside the community rather than publish the information publicly.

While I don’t know all the answers yet, I am about to roll out a marketing campaign for Founders Grid and will share what marketing strategies work and what ones don’t.

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One Response to Building an Online Private Community – 10 Lessons Learned During The First 6 months

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