Community-led Growth

I recently was interviewed by Zapnito, a platform for growing communities. This was the questionnaire, central to the direction of the interview.

Can you give a brief intro to who you are and what you do?

I'm Cody Django Redmond, a software engineering professional specializing in product discovery and delivery. I'm currently a software engineering manager at a social strategy mobile game studio based out of Vancouver, Canada.

What does Community-Led Growth mean to you?

It means caring for the relationship with your users, and the relationship between users. It means understanding problems and building the right thing, at the right time, and leveraging your users influence as a driver for growth.

Why is now the time to focus on Community-Led Growth?

In the mobile game industry in particular, there has been a seismic shift in how marketing works. Paid marketing, or "User Acquisition", was very effective up until relatively recently. So effective that other forms of marketing were often overlooked.

But recent changes from Apple and Google, primarily changes in privacy policies, has severed the "direct attribution" which enabled paid marketing to be so effective. The impact can't be understated, and many companies are now forced to adopt other ways to get players into their games and spending money.

Community-led product growth is an excellent strategy to pursue, from a monetization perspective. Players who are part of a community stick around much longer. Social games with engaged players are vibrant and continuously exciting.

What are the main elements of a successful Community-Led Growth strategy?

You have to actually care for the community. Too many product leaders believe they are smarter than their players. And some of them might be – but that won't ensure a successful growth strategy. You must be speaking directly with players, and very, very frequently. In social strategy games, the stakes can be very high – especially at the higher levels of players. You must deeply understand how the high-level mature players play the game, and how the whole community provides for the high-level of play to emerge.

Another element that can't be understated: If you truly want a community-led growth strategy, it must be understand that this is not your product – it's their product. Look for what they are using, and how they are using it. If they are using it as intended, or in a way that was not intended. Look for the emergent properties. That's what no competitor will be able to replicate.

Where have you seen customer communities make the biggest impact on business success?

Well with regards to A Thinking Ape, our first game – Kingdoms at War, is still going strong, 13 years later. Profitable every year. Party in my Dorm as well, over ten years. Both with vibrant, unique communities.

What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made or seen others make when building a customer community?

Being hesitant to show work in progress. Big-design-up-front. Not involving the community early enough. Not taking feedback seriously, and not iterating on the feedback. It's hubris for a product manager to think that a player community will embrace a new feature the first time they engage with it. You need to understand the community and the early adopters.

These users are obsessed with your product. They will dig in. They will work to understand it. I mean, not all of them. Some are trolls. But even the trolls provide value, if you know how to look for it.

What 3 communities do you recommend people look at for inspiration?

Kingdoms of Heckfire, has been the reason for a couple meeting and then getting married, and another clan going on a group vacation together! These are significant events that people end up having having with each other, just wild that it all started with a social strategy game featuring derpy block-headed dragons.

It's on quite a different scale, but I've found the trajectory of Mr. Beast to be very inspiring, including his whole philanthropy wing. And his whole operation is dialled in to growing his community.

Lastly I have to shoutout pals who have done incredible work with their development of a VR product over the last few years. Davigo is an innovated "cross-reality" VR vs PC battle game, and it's very, very fun. Think David vs Goliath, or Attack on Titan. Almost the entire development has happened in the context of their vibrant and growing Discord and Patreon communities. They've been super responsive to the community, involving them in the development and playtests, and it really shows.

DAVIGO on Steam
DAVIGO is a VR vs. PC "cross-reality" battle game. The VR player embodies a giant and faces off against 1-4 PC players in fast-paced, explosive combat!

Who are three experts that you look to for guidance when it comes to Community-Led Growth?

First of all I'm obliged to shoutout Tayber Voyer, the CEO of A Thinking Ape, and Kenshi Arasaki, the Chairman – both experts in this field. Outside of my current company, I'm a huge fan of Marty Cagan, and the work he does with Silicon Valley Product Group. In particular his book "Inspired". And lastly the work of Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden, most notably the book "Sense & Respond: How Successful Organizations Listen to Customers and Create New Products Continuously".