We are all part of several communities that are inextricably linked to our daily existence—schools, colleges, neighbourhood workplaces and more.
Communities have existed for centuries and today they are more niche and widely spread online. They bind us through our interests and passions and during the second coronavirus wave, we saw how these closely-knit communities, with people like you and me, can make a difference—an impact that even those in positions of power yearn to create.
Technology has enabled us to be a part of global communities and whether as individuals or as brands, our communities define us.
In this three-part series, we explore what communities mean to individuals, creators and brands. We will look at various tech products built in India that will help scale and create unique layers to what we enjoy the most—being part of a community.
In the first part, we will examine the evolution of communities, the OGs, or original gangster in Gen Z speak for someone who has been in the business for long, and what does the future hold for individual creator communities.
“Ants and bees work together in huge numbers, but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives. Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals that they know intimately. Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.” —Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
About 70,000 or so years ago, our DNA showed a mutation— Harari claims we don’t know why—that allowed us to make a leap that no other species, human or otherwise, was able to make.
We began to cooperate flexibly, in large groups, with an extremely complex and versatile language. If there is a secret to our success—and remember, success in nature is survival—it is that our brains developed to communicate and be part of large groups.
This was the beginning of communities, so to say, and now morphed into multiple forms but the basic need has remained unchanged—to survive.
The purpose of communities
Ask anyone and you can categorise the need to be a part of a community within the following:
Shared beliefs; allow us to do things that other species cannot
Sense of loneliness
Need to belong
Need to create shared fiction
Need to create collective/ individual impact
Creators like Ranveer Allahbadia (@BeerBicepsGuy), Nikunj Lotia ‘Be YouNick’, Varun Mayya, founder, Avalon Labs, and Abhinav Chhikara, founder, 10K Designers, realised the need for communities and building fan circles at least six to seven years ago and they are the OGs of this space.
They had a similar start—posting videos on YouTube—and recently Spotify signed an exclusive with Allahbadia to air his The Ranveer Show on the platform—a first for an Indian creator. Lotia has seven businesses, including Feast India Company, a Maharashtrian Food Truck in San Francisco. Mayya has started Scenes, a voice and chat community with his partners and Chhikara and 10K Designers have their own cohort-based courses and a newly launched design MBA.
From the OGs
According to Allahbadia, “Most people who start communities understand it is more than the money they make. Even if there is a capitalistic intent for a founder who is building her/his community, they soon grow a strong sense of giving back.”
Why should colleges have a monopoly on making friends, with internet communities and discord groups communities can further expand to find people with common interests rather than just be restricted to a physical area, says Chhikara.
“If you have a community, you can grow together. Imagine this, if you have a vada-pav outlet, you encourage people to have a dosa stall nearby—that to me is community growth (as everyone will one day get bored of the vada-pav),” says Lotia who has donned many hats. He was a bartender, then some six years ago started creating content on YouTube. Recently, he raised money for Covid relief.
Where are the communities headed?
VR, community buying and a Shopify for creators
According to Mayya, “Creators have to be unshackled from platforms.” In the long run, there has to be a Shopify for creators and Avalon Labs is building that through Scenes.
The platform hosts voice (and chat) communities to meet and hang out with like-minded people. In the next few months, it plans to evolve into a full-fledged community- engagement suite.
Mayya is also betting big on virtual reality (VR) and how with the power of a mobile phone and VR set, one can go anywhere and meet people virtually. Take, for instance, VRChat, a platform for social VR experiences where creators can build their own world, chat and also shop.
Mayya believes the model will also enable live commerce—like in China where direct selling models are being replaced by community sales that are much more effective and has zero cost of acquisition (CAC). The model followed by China’s Pinduoduo Global is a huge success. Buyers receive group discounts if they invite their friends and buy in groups
The rise of community curators
According to Chhikara, “Communities need their leaders.” People who join early are early members and should be rewarded—many international crypto communities give them NFTs or certain roles/ tags that call out early members.
Communities need a hierarchy of members, administrators and experts to thrive. Unlike popular opinion, these should be paid roles and follow a clear ladder.
Divya Bhatia (22), runs the design cohort of 10K Designers. She is a graduate of Rajasthan University and is a product designer at Ola. She was part of the community and now holds the responsibility of running it.
She feels a sense of responsibility and ownership. For Bhatia, her rewards are peer-learning, feedback and the fact that people share more when they are part of a community than when they are not, for instance, potential job openings.
More community events
Allahbadia says, “Going forward we will see a surge in the events industry—there is immense value in social gatherings.” We are already seeing that internationally.
The ‘giving-back’ mode
The Product Folks, which is one of the largest volunteer-led product communities in Asia, started on a similar note. With just one event in Bengaluru two years back, they’ve scaled to over 200 online and offline gatherings and now have more than 35,000 folks as part of their community.
“The fact that so many senior folks are willing to spend time to help others break in and grow in their product careers is heart-warming. We just want to be the enablers and create a platform to help democratise this distribution of knowledge and help folks meet interesting folks on the internet,” says Suhas Motwani, one of the founders of this community.
“I believe this is just the beginning and this decade is going to see tons of such community-led models grow and flourish.”
'The real quotient'
Fashion Blogger, MasoonMinawala Mehta (Miss Style Fiesta) started blogging in 2010 after she was asked to research bloggers during her internship with a large fashion brand. Ever since she has grown a large community across platforms and believes that every community appreciates “keeping it real”.
Hence, when her e-commerce venture failed recently, she made a video about it. She thinks that while wins and celebrations are shared with the community, so must be failures and losses. Over time, a creator and their community share a bond that is real and keeping it transparent helps the community grow.
Diversification and change in metrics
Every creator should diversify their business, says Lotia. He says brand engagement has changed. They now track customer conversions and not the number of engagements. Metrics, he says, will continue to change.
A creator is an actor, writer, and director as well and is bigger than the platform. Their fans will follow them anywhere. Loita who continues to live in Dombivilli does not think he is a star. “I am instead someone my fans relate with… they say, ‘if he can, we can too’,” says Lotia. But then he is YouNick!(This is Part 1 of a three-part series that will explore what internet communities mean to individuals, creators and brands.)