The first iteration of the Women in Investing Clubhouse Series brought together leading female investors alongside Republic’s Lisa Carmen Wang to discuss core principles for women investors and entrepreneurs getting started on their private investment journeys.
The second event, hosted on March 10, 2020, featured investors Brianna McDonald, Allison Medina, Sonia Nagar, and Esosa Ighodaro. The discussion was a deep dive into the essential role of community in growing start-ups, platforms, and investment organizations.
Within many business infrastructures, community is situated alongside marketing, development, or logistics as a vertical or department. However, the process of growing a community and creating a bond between a brand and its customers isn't something that can just be quantified by metrics or turned into a rigidly standardized process. Building a relationship that allows customers to organically grow into advocates requires nurturing a deep and nuanced personal relationship. There may be a science to it, but there’s no equation to guarantee success.
That said, there are processes, methods, and perspectives that can help take your community from 0 to 60 to light speed. The most successful community builders are those who can balance human empathy with keen entrepreneurial acumen. All six of the women entrepreneurs and investors on the panel brought insight into that balance. Here are five takeaways from the discussion.
1) Find your tribe, build your tribe
The first step for building communities for women investors and entrepreneurs is interpersonal communication. Further normalizing the role of women in investing in the minds of women at-large and society itself is an important part of the process, explained Brianna Mcdonald of the Keiretsu Forum—but that can only happen one person at a time. Every woman’s personal journey into entrepreneurship and investment starts with a moment of empowerment, the decision to step into a world from which they have traditionally been excluded.
Thankfully, “there has never been a better time for a woman to be getting into investing." MacDonald explained that we're in a period of major transition, with an increasingly remote, cloud-based economy, and great opportunity for wealth that isn’t beholden to once-rigid business norms. However, passing on this message can only happen one woman at a time, through authentic community relationships.
2) Build community organically
If community can’t be built with just metrics and objectives, how can it be built? Sonia Nagar, Investment Partner at the Community Fund VC, stated that a community has to grow organically, so it’s the role of community organizers to nurture growth rather than engineer it. Growing a community organically means turning your community members into advocates, natural ambassadors of your shared mission, and establishing a flywheel effect that scales with shared empowerment.
“You know you’ve built a successful community when your community is empowered to go out and evangelize for you, even when you’re not there as an organizer,” Nagar said. She referenced the community built around sexual wellness startup Dame, which created the Dame Labs platform, a 10,000-strong community that co-creates products together. This environment of empowerment signals a transition from a broadcast to community engagement philosophy. While many organizations simply broadcast information in one direction through social channels—one to many—the key to building a community is opening up those communication channels, not just between organization and community members, but between the community members themselves—many to many.
3) More is not always better
“Sometimes people who want to start communities feel like they have to do so much: organize events, do content, have swag, courses for sale. The best communities I’ve seen are those where the community itself is providing that user-generated content, and the leader of the community becomes more a facilitator and not the primary voice that has to drive everything," says Nagar.
Similarly, today’s active communities can pop up just about anywhere, and your community may grow faster in arenas you did not originally conceive. The once-monolithic platforms of Facebook, Twitter and the focus on in-person conferences has fallen sharply to the wayside. YouTube, Twitch, Discord, Pinterest, Instagram, Clubhouse: the avenues for communication are multifold and discursive. Success has now become a virtue of tapping into your community and letting them take the lead, without imposing a vision on their expression.
4) When community becomes identity
The a-ha moment for many community organizers is when that community becomes part of identity for its members, and expressing the ideas of that community becomes as simple as expressing themselves, explained Cat Hernandez, General Partner at The Venture Collective. “For Chief and Kindred, people’s willingness to genuinely talk about their involvement was when it all started to feel special,” she said. Now that the market economy and social economy have merged, the product-to-consumer relationship has been replaced with a more open and discursive relationship.
“That can take time to build,” added Cheryl Campos, Head of Venture Growth & Partnerships at Republic. “But authenticity, trust, and curation are more important than scale.” That’s why it’s optimal to think of your community not just as an audience, but partners, a talent pool, and members of a movement that goes far beyond any one product or company.
5) Do it yourself, but do that together
“We found that 70% of all black women starting a business are starting that business solo, and 91% of black women founders were building businesses in addition to working full time,” says Esosa Ighodaro, CEO at MaskGrant. Because of that, “They’re finding product market fit and they're figuring out creative ways to earn capital quicker.” Today’s pioneering women and women of color entrepreneurs are responding to widespread exclusion from the VC rigmarole by doing it themselves, which is a powerful statement and commendable feat. But that doesn’t mean they have to go it alone.
When women build businesses that build communities that build businesses, the cycle becomes a feedback loop that grows into a community of scale, one large enough to rewrite the rules and expectations of cultural norms. The flywheel effect is in motion for women investors and entrepreneurs. Perhaps even more important to humanity than the products that today’s women-led start-ups are bringing to market are the communities of empowered women being built around them.