With a fee of $49 per month, eCommerceFuel is a 1,000 strong paid, private community for ecommerce store owners with six and seven figure incomes. They turn people away. They kick out inactive members. They don’t allow vendors. A tight, focused strategy has enabled them to create a community that continues to both grow and retain members. Founder Andrew Youderian joins me on this episode to discuss how he’s done it. Plus:
- How Andrew seeded the community initially
- Finding the right price point and deciding when it’s time to raise it
- Why Andrew turns away new members, for the sake of the community
“[With vendors that serve our community’s niche], we made the really hard decision to say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to let you in the forum anymore.’ In a lot of cases, members [from] those companies, we had to respectfully take out of the community because what we found was, it was hard for people to talk candidly about some of the major tools they used in their business, when representatives from those companies could jump in and make things, at a minimum, awkward or, in the worst case, contentious. There’s been a lot of opportunities, where we’ve given up money in the short-term from people who were willing to pay it, to try to really create something that has a lot of long-term value.” -@youderian
“Pricing is tough. We started at $25 a month, went up to $29 a month, and then jumped to $49 a month. The goal was to be a price where we could afford to invest back into the community [and make it into] a viable business. But also be something where people could be a part of the community for life and not have it be something where they had to continually go back and forth [deciding whether or not it is worth it]. I want to make it a no-brainer for people.” -@youderian
“I think it’s difficult to start a community as a paid one because it’s a chicken and an egg problem. How do you charge for something when there’s nothing there? The way that I approached it: I was blogging for about a year before I started the community. For that year, any time I came into contact with someone interesting that impressed me about ecommerce, I flagged them. And I just had a little folder in Gmail. When it came time to start the community, I had about 150-ish contacts who I started reaching out to. … I used that core group to seed the community, and we ran that for about three months. And then once I felt like we had a decent level of activity and discussion going on, then I’d start charging.” -@youderian
About Andrew Youderian
After college, Andrew Youderian spent 2 years working in investment banking. He quit to start my first ecommerce company, Right Channel Radios, in 2008. Since then, Andrew has started and sold a couple of ecommerce businesses and along the way launched eCommerceFuel – a private community for high six and seven figure ecommerce entrepreneurs.
- Brandon Eley, friend of Patrick and longtime eCommerceFuel member
- 2BigFeet.com, an online retailer of large-sized men’s shoes, owned by Brandon and Tracy Eley
- eCommerceFuel, the paid, private online community that Andrew founded
- Laura Serino, content and community manager for eCommerceFuel
- eCommerceFuel Podcast
- eCommerceFuel on Twitter
- Andrew on Twitter
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #communitysignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:20 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for joining me on this episode of Community Signal. Today, we’re talking with Andrew Youderian. After college, Andrew spent two years working in investment banking. He quit to start his first ecommerce company, Right Channel Radios in 2008. Since then, Andrew has started and sold a couple of ecommerce businesses and along the way, started eCommerceFuel, a private online community for high six and seven figure ecommerce entrepreneurs. Andrew, welcome to the program.
00:46 Andrew Youderian: Thanks, Patrick. Appreciate you having me on.
00:48 Patrick O’Keefe: So one of my closest friends is Brandon Eley. I’ve talked about him on the show before because I met him in an online community, and he’s an ecommerce store owner. He owns 2BigFeet.com with his wife and business partner, Tracy, and I was just at their house two weeks ago and your name came up, your community came up because Brandon is a long-time member of eCommerceFuel. And without him, I don’t know if we’d be speaking today. He has praised you and your community so many times to me and talked about the value that he receives from it.
01:20 Andrew Youderian: I’d have to send it right back at him. He’s been one of our, if not one of our charter members, one of our longest members, and he’s been one of our bedrock members, contributes an incredible amount, and I’ll have to thank him for the kind words. He’s been a fantastic part of our community.
01:33 Patrick O’Keefe: You are very specific about who you allow into your community. Generally speaking, you must either own an online store, doing $250,000 in revenue per year, or you must be an in-house, day-to-day ecommerce employee working at a business doing at least that number. And you say that the community is for established six figure or seven figure ecommerce owners, so in other words, you’re looking at that 250,000 to 10 million window. And you’re turning away really small store owners, many of whom might kill to pay that fee to be around this group. And you’re also kinda discouraging the very, very large. So why is that important? Why are you focused in on that niche?
02:10 Andrew Youderian: Yeah, I think any time you have a community, and it’ll be interesting to hear your thoughts on this too, you can build a short-term community with people from very different walks of life or from very different experience backgrounds. But I think what happens in a lot of communities is you get a bunch people that come in and you get a handful in any community, there’s the 80/20 rule. 20% of the people probably provide 80% of the value and the activity. And if you have just a group of people come in with very different… That aren’t peers, that have vastly different experience levels, what happens is that you have a lot of people that just continue to ask and ask and ask and ask questions. It’s not a bad thing, everyone is at that point at some point, but you might get those experienced people to begin with, just offering value and offering value. But if there isn’t some type of reciprocity that’s built in there, the community will fizzle out because those more experienced people, after a while, they’ll say, “I can’t do this. This isn’t sustainable. I can’t just answer questions continually without getting any benefit.” So the community is designed, the reason we have that is to try to make sure that everyone has something to contribute, that everyone that comes in has some real world experience and that hopefully that that helps with the longevity of the community.
03:22 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, and it’s easy to make the case, I think, on the small end of that, the small, small ecommerce business owners. I saw a video on your website. It had testimonials from an in-person event, and there was Brandon’s face. [laughter] And he said, actually in his testimonial, he said, “I went to some other community, and they had someone in there who was working in a business that did 100 million and more in revenue and I couldn’t relate to them. It wasn’t helpful to me.” So it’s important to talk about, you define that niche of 250 to basically 10 million, and as you talked about, so people feel like they have something to gain from one another and also I’m sure there’s kind of a trust equation to it. They’re trusting that they’re sharing their business knowledge. I don’t know if they consider them trade secrets, maybe in some cases, but they’re sharing that with people who will reciprocate and share their own business knowledge. And part of that is understanding that we’re all kind of in the same boat.
04:10 Andrew Youderian: Yeah, and we’ve experimented. When we first started, the requirements were not quite as strict. We allowed in consultants, we allowed in vendors, so people who ran SaaS applications or tools or shopping carts. And our requirements were a little bit lower. But what we found was that right around that 250K run rate was where a lot of our core members at least were coming in on the low end, in terms of experience level, and we also found too that there was some conflict with consultants. Any times you have consultants coming in or service providers, there are great ones, ones that behave really well and understand the best way to build rapport and reputation is by just adding value and people see that and they naturally seek you out, but you also have ones that don’t get that and they try to go for the shortcut and they just try to solicit people. So for that reason, we still very occasionally let in service providers, if we know them and we know that they have a great reputation, but for the most part, we don’t.
05:03 Andrew Youderian: And for platform providers, for companies like big shopping carts, Shopify, Bigcommerce, Magento, any representatives from those companies, we made the really hard decision to say, “Hey, we’re not gonna let you in the forum anymore.” And in a lot of cases, members who were a part of those companies, we had to respectfully take out of the community because what we found was, it was just hard for people to talk candidly about some of the major tools they used in their business, when representatives from those companies could jump in and make things, at a minimum, awkward or in the worst case, contentious. In the long run, there’s been a lot of opportunities, where we’ve given up money in the short-term, subscriptions, membership from people who were willing to pay it, to try to really create something that has a lot of long-term value.
05:47 Patrick O’Keefe: You brought up a point that I’d planned to bring up myself, which is the vendors, because another thing Brandon told me was, as you said, you once allowed vendors. And you pretty much stopped. I know you still allow them, “very occasionally”, according to your website, and it’s such an interesting point because you have such an excellent captive audience, of the people that those companies wanna read, so of course they’d love to pay you $49 a month, right? To get access to those people. Of course, that’s a drop in the bucket. [chuckle] That offers tremendous ROI. But it seems like in many cases with business groups, business networking groups of any kind really, online, offline that when you introduce that element of the vendors, the conversations change, the quality of the conversations change. You mention not being able to speak candidly. I’m guessing there probably were some really bad moments in there [chuckle] where a bunch of members turn on a particular vendor, but really understanding that niche and it’s not the vendors, it’s the people the vendors serve that you’re after.
06:40 Andrew Youderian: Yeah, exactly and it’s tough ’cause again there are some really great vendors that we still have today that contribute and are core members of our community. It was a decision we made that was in the best long-term interest of the community. How can we build a community that can sustain itself and be around, hopefully, in as good if not better of a shape than it is now in five years? And I think that’s part of the human condition. I think just building something based on principle and building something that has a lot of quality to it. And then as you grow, there’s that temptation to water it down a little bit to make a little bit more money. I think we all face that with whatever we’re doing. But trying to get ahead of that and trying to make sure it’s not something that brings down the community long term.
07:20 Patrick O’Keefe: And you do podcasts, and you have a website and you host in-person events. And I’m sure those podcasts, those events, that media, they might want sponsors or enjoy sponsors. Do you feel like you made some enemies when you kicked some people out of the community, especially vendors?
07:31 Andrew Youderian: Yeah, I mean not enemies per se, but yeah, it’s a really hard discussion to have especially with them. I mean there were some vendors that, they were part of the community and we’d done a lot of stuff with them in the past and yeah, it is not a fun conversation to have. It was a really difficult decision, but it was the right decision. It didn’t make enemies definitely, but yeah, it’s hard on a relationship sometimes.
07:48 Patrick O’Keefe: You also remove members who do nothing but ask for help. In other words, if a member isn’t sharing their own experiences, they’re just soaking in the experiences of others, you’ll cancel the membership. How often do you do that and how do you identify those people?
08:00 Andrew Youderian: It is really tricky. So we, at this point in time, if somebody is more or less lurking, we haven’t got to the point where we would remove their membership. It’s more of an issue where if somebody comes in and they ask for significantly more than they give. The amount of value they provide is not commensurate with how much they’re asking for. And so it’s tough, we have a couple internal metrics that we look at. They’re not perfect metrics. One of them is called a like to discussion ratio, and it’s flawed, it’s not perfect, but it’s just something that we roughly look at. So how many up votes in our community does the member have relative to the number of discussions that they start? And discussions, sometimes discussions can be very value adding where somebody posts a case study or something like that. But I’d say, on average, maybe 80% of the time, people are posting discussions to try to get help with something. And so we look at that ratio, we kinda have some levels internally where we say, “Hey. This is… Here’s our all-star members at this level. Here’s our average members at this level and here are members where… ” We’ve kind of reverse engineered it. As community managers, Laura Serino is our community manager and I help her out with stuff on the community side to say, “Hey. Who is really… Who do we feel just is not a good fit relative to the ask/give?”
09:08 Andrew Youderian: And then we’ll look at those ratios. And so we have some metrics that we use and look at those. They’re not the end all be all, but they’re useful tools because, Patrick, I mean, as you’d know from managing communities, sometimes there are members that are just not a good fit for a community. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, maybe it’s, (a.) they’re just asking too much of a thing and it can be very difficult to verbalize when you’re trying to help change and let them know what’s wrong. A lot of times it’s very subtle and it’s difficult to put into words. So if you do have some kind of metric or guideline that you can point to, a lot of times it makes having those conversations maybe not easier, but easier to quantify what’s wrong.
09:43 Patrick O’Keefe: That’s the “old numbers don’t lie” argument. It’s like, “There’s the number.” [chuckle] It’s not a feeling, it’s not just an emotion which is what you need one way or another with that sort of thing. Even if you didn’t have a defined metric that was in a database, you would still go and look at their post history and say like, “Did this person post as many times?” And that might even be what you did before you had the metric handy. To go back and look and see just how many times they replied or did they ever ask a question or did they ever respond to someone else’s question. You have to have the data.
10:10 Andrew Youderian: You do. And I actually say that we, instead of looking at the… We do do this, but I’d say more often than not, instead of looking at the data and trying to go on a witch hunt for people, which is not what were trying to do, we will… If somebody comes to mind from both myself and Laura, we say, “This person, man, has been really tapping the community and not giving a lot back.” Then we’ll go look at their profile and say, “Hey, where do those metrics line up?” And almost always the metrics kind of are like, “Okay. Well, this is not where we wanna be,” and then that is an easy way to have that conversation with them.
10:41 Patrick O’Keefe: And that conversation isn’t necessarily a bad conversation. I would guess that the responses you get are either, “Jump in a lake, I hate you,” or they are, “Okay, fair enough. I’m gonna leave of my own volition,” or, “I understand, I’m gonna start contributing more,” and then they do. Right?
10:57 Andrew Youderian: Yeah, exactly. You’re all over the board. And we’ve had people where we’ve had this conversation and they’re very… They understand a lot. They say, “I’m so terribly sorry. I didn’t realize I was doing this.” And they make a real effort to contribute more and that’s wonderful. And exactly on the flip side, I mean we’ve had people who we tell them that, they get upset and they don’t do anything, and so we go ahead and lock their account. We have kind of a progression of things. But yeah, they make it through that progression and we have to kick them out of the community which is never fun. But you’re faced with two alternatives at that point. You either have someone in your community who is not a good fit for your community and you look the other way and you slowly let it erode the quality and value that others receive, or you make the hard decision and deal with something in the moment. And it’s never fun, but I think it’s, long-term, the best thing to do.
11:40 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, you can never do that first one. [chuckle] It always will come back to bite you and I just can’t. I just can’t do that, I can’t ignore it. I just can’t look away. I have to take care of something when I see it. Small things become big problems. You mentioned your community manager, Laura Serino. So I wanted to mention real quick for listeners that the reason I’m… Why am I having you on. So the reason I wanted to have Andrew on is because you actually founded the community and managed it yourself for a little over two years according to LinkedIn profiles and the research [chuckle] that I did before you actually went and had, I assume, the resources to hire someone to join you.
12:12 Andrew Youderian: Yeah. So I was the person who kind of kicked it off and I still try to help Laura as much as I can with a lot of things, but she’s kinda the one who really keeps a lot of the trains running, reviews applications, puts together our weekly news summary, a lot of those things like that. But yeah, I was the guy who was doing it for the first couple of years.
12:29 Patrick O’Keefe: You charge $49 per month for membership and I won’t call that cheap, but I will say that it’s particularly value conscious for a community that is almost certainly earning its members far, far more than that. What went into choosing that price point?
12:42 Andrew Youderian: Pricing is tough. We started at $25 a month, went up to $29 a month, and then jumped to $49 a month. The goal with it was to be a price where we could afford to invest back into the community, hopefully make it something where myself and Laura could spend enough time on it to really make it be a viable business. But also be something where people could be a part of the community for life and not have it be something where they had to continually go back and forth. I didn’t want to try to gouge people and at the same time, I wanted to make a good business. And that just seemed like the right amount for our constituents, our members, that balanced both of those things. Value we were providing and also just kind of a no-brainer. So it’s tough. Pricing is… A lot of times I’ll still wonder like, “Are we pricing too low?” And in the future depending on how things go and depending how much value we can add, that may go up. But it’s hard. Pricing is a tricky one and that’s just kind of where we’re at at the moment.
13:36 Patrick O’Keefe: It sounds like you didn’t want to set a price so high that they actually had to think about it [chuckle] each month when they pay the bill.
13:42 Andrew Youderian: Yeah, that’s part of it too.
13:43 Patrick O’Keefe: So when it’s on the credit card statement like, “Well, $149, $99, I don’t know, do I really need that? You don’t want them to have to think about it each and every month.
13:53 Andrew Youderian: Right. ‘Cause we all have those things. Every three or four months, if we haven’t gotten there yet, we’re darn near close. Getting to a SaaS world where, “Ah, man,” I mean I just have SaaS creep on my accounting income statement every month where I look at stuff and just the number of subscriptions I have grows and grows and grows. And once every quarter or two, I’ll go through and really pare those back, and I don’t want that to be the one that people pare back. I want to make it a no-brainer for people to keep that on there. ‘Cause it’s relative to the price is giving more value.
14:21 Patrick O’Keefe: Have you raised prices?
14:23 Andrew Youderian: We have, yeah. We started at $25, went to $29, and now we’re at $49.
14:28 Patrick O’Keefe: And when you did that, did you grandfather people in or was it an across-the-board raise?
14:32 Andrew Youderian: We did. We grandfathered everyone in. So the way it worked was, when we started the community, all of the charter members that came in were grandfathered in for life. And then as people came in, they came in at whatever tier we were at. So if somebody leaves and comes back, they pay the new price. But as long as someone remains a member, we grandfather them in at whatever price they joined at.
14:50 Patrick O’Keefe: And it sounds like this was the case, but did it start as a paid private community?
14:54 Andrew Youderian: It did not. And I think it’s difficult to start a community as a paid one because it’s a chicken and an egg problem. How do you charge for something when there’s nothing there? And how do you get people to join if there’s nobody having a discussion?
15:05 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
15:06 Andrew Youderian: The way that I approached it was I was blogging for about a year before I started the community. And for that year, any time I came into contact with someone interesting, smart, that impressed me about ecommerce, I flagged them. And I just had a little folder in Gmail. So when it came time to start the community, I had about 150-ish contacts who I started reaching out to to talk to, “Hey.” There was a little bit of at least some small amount of rapport there. And so I used that core group to seed the community and we ran that for about three months. And then once I felt like we had a decent level of activity and discussion going on, then I’d start charging.
15:43 Patrick O’Keefe: Now, with those initial members, were they grandfathered in for free or did you actually hit them up for the payment? And then do you remember like how many converted or approximately how many came on board?
15:52 Andrew Youderian: Yeah. No, so everyone that was a core member, we call them charter members, was grandfathered in for free.
15:56 Patrick O’Keefe: Okay.
15:57 Andrew Youderian: I appreciated them being part of something like that early on and taking the leap. So yeah, that’s how we said thank you.
16:04 Patrick O’Keefe: That makes sense. Do you have a number of those members still around now?
16:07 Andrew Youderian: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean if you looked at our active members, I’d say probably at least half to a third are probably some of those core members.
16:14 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s funny you mention that it’s tough to start a paid community, as a paid community. Because it’s absolutely true and what happens with a lot of the communities you see start that way, is they rely on the authority of one person or a group of people. This person is an expert, this person is a respected person in this space. So they’re starting a paid community. And so people come in and they join based upon that person, their personality, their authority and presumably maybe, even if it’s not implied, access to that person. And a lot of those communities struggle to maintain longevity. Now with you, it sounds like that was not the case. There was no [chuckle] guru involved. You started with great community, great conversations. What do you think about that, that general theme? Because it’s a trend I’ve noticed in paid private communities, is most of the ones I hear about are tied to a specific authority recommending it or promoting it. Where in your case of course, you start with the idea of great content and then hopefully converting people after you have that foundation.
17:13 Andrew Youderian: Yeah. I architected the community with the goal of having it not be dependent on me for a couple reasons. One, I’m not that smart of a guy and I don’t know that much about ecommerce. I’ve done it, but when you look at the people in our community, there’s so many more people that are vastly more intelligent and accomplished in the ecommerce world than I am. So I didn’t want to try to be the guru. [chuckle] I have things to say about ecommerce and I like to blog about it and podcast about it, but I did not want to be the person that was responsible for trying to teach a lot of people. I wanted to help where I could, but I didn’t want the sole focus to be on me. And secondly, that’s a really hard thing to do long term. Like if you have hundreds of people or thousands of people wanting to have (a.) direct access to you, (b.) depending on you to just continually put out content non-stop, that’s tough to maintain.
18:00 Andrew Youderian: Again, I want this to be something that’s around in hopefully a stronger form, in five, 10 years from now and that’s just difficult to do. And so for both those reasons, I saw the value. My value add was not saying, “Here’s your weekly strategy tip that I’m doing that you’re only gonna hear from me because I’m brilliant.” I wanted it to be about bringing people together and letting them help each other and add value to each other and learn from each other versus having it revolve around myself.
18:23 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. The authority model isn’t, as you alluded to, it’s not really scalable and I’d argue that maybe in some cases, it’s not community. When if someone ask a question and the question is specifically for one person, and that one person is always answering the questions. I mean it’s a form of community, I think an argument can be made, but community is connecting people together, not necessarily connecting one person to a brand. So it’s just a really tough model. In your case with those initial members, it wasn’t paid, but was it private when you invited those people in?
18:52 Andrew Youderian: It was absolutely. Yep, it was private. So it was… Yeah. There weren’t any fees, but it was not open to the public.
18:58 Patrick O’Keefe: Right. You were going after a specific curated experience, which is something that we talk about in the community space and we recommend… A lot of people recommend to do early on is to curate the early experience with your members, before you either open it up or in your case, [chuckle] lock it down. Now, with those people you invited to help seed the community, this private community, was there any reservation on their part when you announced that it would become a paid community? Or did you communicate those expectations upfront three months before you went ahead and introduced the pricing tier or how was the response to that?
19:28 Andrew Youderian: I don’t remember if I announced it right out of the gates. If I had to guess, I’d probably say I did not. When I did put up the pay wall, I think I posted a thread in the forum letting people know about it. And I can’t… I’d have to go back and check for sure, I don’t remember any negative reactions. The one of the nice things about having a community of entrepreneurs is they all very much understand that, “Hey, I understand what it’s like trying to grow a business here. This is not… We’re not doing this for humanitarian causes.” Which it’s great to do that in other aspects, but for this, it was a business.
19:58 Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
19:58 Andrew Youderian: So yeah, I don’t think there wasn’t any kickback. It was received pretty well.
20:02 Patrick O’Keefe: And you can make the case that charging is a form of vetting really. Charging whatever your initial price was, I think it was… Was it about half of what you charge now? Did you say?
20:11 Andrew Youderian: Yeah. Almost exactly half, yeah.
20:12 Patrick O’Keefe: Right. So it was like $25. So charging that price is a way of vetting people for commitment to the community because you’re obviously looking for a commitment. So you have to put in the time to vet them, verify their claims, make sure they’re actually in the business, etcetera. And if they’re serious enough to lay down this amount of money, which is, again, a good deal, but also not so little that it’s $600 a year let’s say. And so it’s not so little that just anyone coming along will just throw that money down. Yeah, I mean I think you can make the case that beyond just being a profit motive, it’s also a commitment motive.
20:42 Andrew Youderian: Yeah. Definitely. I mean you see… Once you get to that size business, it’s funny how business owners think about expenditures differently in light of their business versus their personal life. I’ll go the supermarket and look at a six pack of beer and be like, “$9.99? No way I’m paying that. I’m gonna go for the $7.99 one.” And then I’ll come back to my office and have no problem, I won’t bat an eye. It’s just signing up for a $79 per month thing that solves the perfect problem that I have. Like you have these… Your business gives you these different goggles to view spending and it does work really well for vetting. Because if you’ve got a business that’s doing $250K a year, like you mentioned earlier, 50 bucks a month is a pretty reasonable amount to spend if it gives you value. And it’s a great filtering tool.
21:22 Andrew Youderian: And actually, Patrick, I had kind of a question based on something we’d chatted about a couple minutes ago. Talking about the guru model. One thing, like my past, my history is in ecommerce. Always owned a store and I think that’s… There’s no way I could’ve built this community without having that experience. And right now having, after sold the last store that I owned and being store-less more or less, I’m kind of faced with the decision, do I start another store to keep myself relevant to make sure I know… Continue to stay in the loop more or less? Or do I focus and double down on eCommerceFuel to try to make it… Maybe a little focus and just improve it because anytime you’re doing two things, your attention’s split. You’ve seen a lot of communities grow and fail and professionals behind them. Have you any advice on that, given what you’ve seen? Have you seen… When people start communities obviously, they have to be kind of a part of that tribe. But how often do they remain a part of that tribe and kind of have their hands in two different things, the community side and whatever the tribe’s about? And how often do they go full time into just being a community manager or nurturing that community?
22:22 Patrick O’Keefe: Turning the tables on me. I like this. [laughter] I don’t know if I ever had a guest do that. I think you’re in a good place right now, obviously, because you have a successful community. I only know one of your members, but I know he’s very happy, so that obviously speaks well. In your case, you already have the credibility I would say, based upon your past experience. So as a community builder myself and as someone who consults with people about community and writes and speaks and podcasts, I pride myself on maintaining one foot in that space and continuing to manage a community myself. But I would say that in your case, I don’t know, you’ve already got that experience, you’ve already ran an ecommerce store, multiple stores, and so you have this built-up credibility in that community. So I think you’re fine as is, and I don’t think there would be any kind of downside to doubling down and dedicating your time to this. Because it’s clearly becoming more time consuming. Obviously, you hired someone two years ago and I’m sure it’s only a scaled up from there. So I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. I think if you really wanna start another store, go for it, it’ll give you some more stories to tell in the community. But otherwise, if this is gonna be your thing, I mean I say go for it.
23:20 Andrew Youderian: Interesting. Well, thanks. I’ll turn the tables back to you. Didn’t mean to hijack your podcast. [laughter]
23:24 Patrick O’Keefe: No. Not at all. Not at all. How many members are you at right now?
23:29 Andrew Youderian: We’re about right around 1,000.
23:32 Patrick O’Keefe: For a community like yours, losing that intimate feel could be really harmful. Do you have a fear of getting too big?
23:40 Andrew Youderian: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I mean it’s something that we’ve talked about quite a bit, Laura and myself. It’s difficult because there is value in having a large community, it’s more knowledge to pull from, more contacts, more discussions, but yeah, 100%. Something like this is something that we’ve asked people about and we’re thinking a lot about it. We’re actually looking in the future, if or when do we cap this community? And it’s something that I think will probably happen at some point. So yeah, it’s definitely a big fear.
24:06 Patrick O’Keefe: Does it feel like right now, just no data necessarily for it, but a feeling, does 1,000 feel right? Does 1,000 feel good? How much more do you think you have in you?
24:15 Andrew Youderian: It’s good. I’d be surprised if we could double, I don’t think we could necessarily double, it does feel good right now. I’m not sure how much bigger we can get. I think we can probably get a little bit bigger, but I think we’re getting close to how big we want. It’s interesting, you think about the end game for something like that, and it’s not always a bad thing. One thing I would love to be able to do is focus on not just improving the quantity, but improving the quality of our members. I think we have great members right now, overall. But kinda like I mentioned, there’s a lot of people in our community, just I can’t do the 80/20 rule that probably they may log in a lot, and check and see what’s going on, which isn’t a bad thing, but there’s also a lot of people who would love to come in and join, and really actively show their experience.
24:57 Andrew Youderian: And one of the potential solutions I’ve thought about through this is, you cap a community, and you only allow 10 or 15 new net members per month. And so that allows you, you can either limit the amount of growth you have, or you can just cap it, and then as great applications come in, you can kinda let it be known, “Hey you do need to be contributing to this community, that’s kind of a new requirement for being a part of this community. And if you’re not, we’re gonna give somebody who wants to contribute a chance to sit at your seat at the table.” So that’s kinda one of the potential end games we’ve thought about in terms of trying to solve that, ’cause it’s tricky, it’s really tricky, knowing where to cap things, where to stop growing.
25:35 Patrick O’Keefe: You can cap things, you can waitlist them. I have to think also that part of that equation is raising prices. I think about South by Southwest, because they raise prices basically every year, and what it costs to go now in 2016, 2017 is way more than it was my first year I went back in ’08. And people complained about that. And I can understand it, because again, they raise them every year, and it’s not necessarily a small raise. But if you’ve ever been to Austin during South by, especially in the last five years…
26:02 Andrew Youderian: It’s crazy. [chuckle]
26:02 Patrick O’Keefe: Just imagine if they still charged what they charged in ’08, it would be so much worse. It’s already awful. A lot of locals I talk to don’t really care for it, stay away from downtown. But if they didn’t charge more, it sounds elitist in a way too, because it’s like, “Well yeah, then more people would be able to go there.” “Oh okay, it’s only for the rich people, I got it.” It’s gonna sound that way, but still, that’s a way of dealing with scale is to raise the bar of entry, whether that’s cost, whether that’s capping it, whether that’s saying you have to have a $500,000 business. There’s all different ways to kind of raise the bar, right?
26:37 Andrew Youderian: It is. And one other method I’ve thought about too is, or we’ve thought about rather, is breaking it out. And it’s something we’re kind of trying, beta is the wrong word. But we’ve got a test group out right now, is creating smaller sub-forms within the community, because you mentioned the biggest problem is intimacy. You lose the intimacy of knowing who those people are, (a.) and (b.) another thing we’ve run into is people saying as the forum grows, “Hey, I don’t necessarily know who’s a part of the community. The bigger it gets, the harder it is to keep track of all the members.”
27:05 Andrew Youderian: And a lot of the things we talk about aren’t necessarily trade secrets, but sometimes you wanna be able to get really candid advice about a sensitive issue in your business. And even in a private forum, if there’s 1,000 people there, you might be hesitant to post it, because maybe there’s a competitor in there who reads it, or maybe in the future a competitor joins and reads it. So one potential solution we thought of is creating much smaller tribes of 20 to 25 people that are guaranteed competitor-free. Everyone has to be engaged, and that’s the group you know really, really well. That’s the group where you post your most sensitive questions to, ’cause it’s a much smaller audience. And then you have that intimacy, you have the ability to ask those sensitive questions, but you also have the larger, much bigger brain trust in terms of the general board, that you can go to for questions that are a little bit broader in scope.
27:50 Patrick O’Keefe: I have to believe that one of the concerns you might have with that is cliques forming. Because for a community like this where you have these long-term members, and these established members, and you have an influx of new people, no matter how good the new people are if cliques have formed, and they form naturally, but you don’t want them to form with your encouragement, right? And if those cliques do form and it becomes hard for new people to kinda permeate those circles, and for the people in those cliques to let them in, that can be a big downside too.
28:17 Andrew Youderian: Definitely, and that’s tough, and you wanna try to think that people can just come in and be able to… Prove themself isn’t the right word, but that’s the phrase I’m gonna use. But yeah, you’re right, it’s tough. It’s another problem with the human condition, I think. [chuckle] So we tend to… You get to know people and cliques kinda form, that definitely is one of the downfalls of that approach.
28:38 Patrick O’Keefe: Communities like this, for different types of pursuits and professions, as I mentioned, have existed for quite a while, and I’ve been aware of many, and many that have come and gone. A lot of these communities start hot, but within a year or two, the excitement is gone, especially with the authority-type model that we talked about earlier. You’re at four and a half years now and from everything my inside source Brandon has told me, as strong as ever. How do you maintain longevity as a paid, private community where the primary pull and value in that community is connecting like-minded people?
29:08 Andrew Youderian: I think it’s about keeping quality high. I think it’s about not sacrificing on your core values and what originally made the community great. I think it’s about being able to bring in new members at some level. One of the things, you’ll know this too, Patrick, is even your most die-hard members over time become less involved because… Not all of them, but most of them because there’s kind of a lifecycle; people join, and your top contributors, the ones that are in that small 20%, they get excited, they go crazy, they post a bunch, they add a ton of value, and over time they come off of that high. And you do need, I think for most communities, you do need to at least have some level of new members coming in to account for old members, and also members that just aren’t able to stay involved at the same level. So I think that’s an important part of it. I think being able to stay relevant, and increasingly being able to add value to the members is important. So it’s tough, but I think those are some of the elements of trying to maintain my community that last that long.
30:04 Patrick O’Keefe: Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the program and for sharing your experience with us.
30:07 Andrew Youderian: Yeah, it’s fun to be able to geek out about community. As an ecommerce guy, it’s not something I get to talk about very much. So it’s been fun to do. Thanks for having me.
30:16 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Andrew Youderian, the founder of eCommerceFuel, a community for ecommerce entrepreneurs. Visit their website at ecommercefuel.com. Check out their podcast at ecommercefuel.com/podcast. And follow them on Twitter @ecommercefuel. Finally, follow Andrew @youderian. If you have any questions that you’d like me to answer on the air, please submit them at communitysignal.com/qa. For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. See you next week.
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