Most founder stories go something like this: you start with a great idea, you find a gap in the market, you turn the idea into a concept, then into a prototype, secure some investment (or ideally bootstrap it) and get it produced – and voila, you’ve got a product. Then comes the big task, which is attracting the people who will actually use your product.
When it came to launching my company Finimize, I knew I wanted to solve a problem for myself and people like myself. In fact, our company tag-line is ‘finance for our generation’. As such, engaging with our millennial users came naturally to me.
So my vision for Finimize was to make finance more accessible to a younger generation, deriving from the realisation that although a lot of really useful finance information is out there, it is typically packaged in a way that is convoluted, boring and difficult to understand. The younger generation has grown accustomed to consuming news in way that’s very quick and accessible thanks to social media and a multitude of apps that aggregate content for you in bite-sized chunks.
I wanted to explore further whether this case of ‘financial impenetrability’ among twenty-somethings was a widespread problem. Finding the answer to that question was what drove me to look for like-minded people and start my entrepreneurial journey by building a community, before launching a full-fledged product.
Why start with the community?
By building a community first and engaging with your early users even while you don’t have a launched product, you’re starting from a good place: you can test the whole idea behind your product, help to spread awareness through word of mouth, and of course capitalise on the ubiquity of social media and its ability to connect people around common interests.
Personally, I’m a strong believer in starting a business out of a personal need and then looking for people who share a similar need. Being able to obtain feedback from early users helped us to scale in a much more targeted way. In other words, building a community first will enable you to put much more rigor into your business strategy than going in very hopeful but, frankly, relatively blind.
Young people engage with their favourite brands in a way that was never possible before, and so the demand for brands that involve a community or network in some form is there. But growing a community from scratch that will stay engaged with your brand requires really strategic thinking and a fair bit of patience.
How do you go about it?
First, and most importantly, the way you think about scaling your business needs needs to fundamentally change. I’ve often heard the phrase ‘start with the end in mind’, with the end referring to either the launch itself or the idea of a large community of users post-launch. However, with a community-first, product-second approach it’s likely you’ll encounter several crossroads on your path towards success. Those crossroads, or stepping stones, can be useful as you’ll be able to break down your end goal into several, more manageable steps. Just don’t lose sight of your end goal along the way.
The main reason it’s important to keep sight of your ultimate goal is so that along the way you can afford to try out tactics to drive you forward. For example, test different marketing tactics, evaluate them and move on if you’re not seeing the results you were expecting. This will help you get a much clearer view on what precisely it is that your users want or need, what content resonates with them and how you can best respond to that.
Simply put, building engagement with the younger audiences of today is a lot more transparent in terms of the amount of data available - and of course the better you get to know your audience, the greater your chances are of reducing the risk of failure when you take your product to market.
But be aware that each and every tactic - in our case, it ranged from meeting with early users to testing out different content to designing a loyalty programme - has the potential to completely throw you off course. Partly because reaching and engaging with consumers these days requires really thorough analysis and an agility on your part. This can be a challenge for entrepreneurs who already have a firm product in mind.
As user experiences develop at rapid pace, and particularly while social media rules the lives of young people (a trend that looks to continue for generations to come), entrepreneurs are having to shift from the traditional strategy in order to engage with an audience that might be younger than themselves. The evidence is there to tell us that millennials want to feel part of something, rather than just be sold to.