Not sure if it’s safe to do so, but I’ll share my take. It’s hard to separate my experience as someone that has worked at multiple startups and someone that is immediately invested in the overall growth of this market.
Prior to joining Common Room, I did my diligence. I was at Splunk struggling to get a community off the ground that specialized in an emerging market. We were being treated as an add-on, and the only call 2 actions were word of mouth to get people to show up. We also shared a Slack workspace as a channel, so messages would cycle out way too quickly so it always felt empty. I had no means other than anecdotes and intuition to influence a hopeful funding for this community. I’d say how this company is interacting with us in community, or how this company is trying to learn about X here. Through that experience, I discovered that a market for these tools was emerging. And prior to Splunk, I had been the the customer/community evangelist at another startup as part of multiple hats I wore.
I first discovered Orbit ~Dec 2000. I fell in love with the idea of the model and Rosie’s content (shouldn’t come as a surprise). I couldn’t actually use it because I didn’t have the keys internally. However, this was the spark that got me to look at Commsor. Yes, I had even seen a product demo! Common Room was a black box and I couldn’t learn much about them. They seemed like the “enterprisey” crew coming in.
I realized I wanted to be a part of this movement ~September of last year. Luck would have it I was connected to Common Room, and everything just clicked for me.
So now you have my context.
Here’s what I see happening. Community led growth is a real thing. It’s just that I see it weaponized as a hack, rather than the recognition that community does play a role in how products are adopted and value is delivered. The only reason it exists is because there is a relationship between the value users get in community and what they end up recommending, buying, using, etc. The data is starting to prove it out as well.
However, most of this doesn’t matter a ton to the individual community (or devrel) practitioner other than helping to prove the value of the work they’re doing. At the end of the day, someone still has to intentionally build a community. So any tool in the space should either help the practitioner build/run OR prove the value of what the practitioner is doing (although those aren’t independent of each other, and shouldn’t be).
I’d expect that there should be multiple types of products that can be successful given the types of communities and tools for various stages and requirements (integrations, security, use-cases, etc). Regardless of what the product is, users have to adopt it.
Then there is the market readiness - No one historically paid for these types of tools. Yes, there is a forum budget, maybe some discretionary - swag, events, etc, but not for community-enabling tools. Hype doesn’t pay the bills and we’re still relatively early in market creation and awareness. The community-led growth narrative actually helps here as it at least resonates with the folks that create budgets.
Then there is building a startup. It’s frickin’ hard. Most of the companies in this space are from first-time founders. Our CEO, Linda, is a first time founder. She is extremely talented and is able to help us maintain the sense of urgency that keeps us pushing. However, two of our other founders founded a previous company together which helps “see around corners”. I’ve witnessed Viraj and Tom, our CTO and Architect respectively, lean on their experience to thoughtfully architect the product and in how we’ve built the team and organization.
I’d say Commsor is absolutely community-led. They built a community, and then built education. They’ve produced much of their content through the collaboration with community.
One thing that I think has impacted their ability on the product side is Commsor’s early decisions to acquire a bunch of companies. Integrating tech is especially difficult while you’re still building your own product. Plus, you are adding a bunch of new people every time, each with their own take on the market, and their own culture and goals. That’s a ton to take on.
Orbit has also done some great things, especially for elevating the conversation. They’ve had some brilliant content that has served as a way to break down silos. And they’ve built in public. It’s hard to pinpoint what is happening here because they had such a first-mover advantage, and they (with the help of Rosie) coined the terminology in the space. I have some opinions here, and I’m sure the timing of trying to raise money played a role, but the net of it is that something just didn’t line up.
It’s shitty for everyone involved, especially the employees. And tbh, I’d rather the market grow so fast that we all succeed, especially this early on. I’ve never seen anything like this though.