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Listening to your community

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Greetings all,

On the podcast this week, my guest Foxy Davison and I discuss her journey as a community advocate and venture-builder in Seattle’s Central District and beyond. Foxy has a remarkable ability to listen and serve, and we - as fellow entrepreneurs - have many things to learn from her about how to pay attention to our communities. In addition to hearing about her entrepreneurial pursuits, we also discuss how to focus and step back from opportunities that might otherwise seem important, and how to effectively develop an internal compass in order to say yes and no to the appropriate things.

Check it out: Listening to your community, empowering the marginalized, and knowing when to step back :: with Foxy Davison

Digital Customer Communities

Continuing the theme from the podcast this week, it’s worth pausing for a moment to genuinely reflect on our ability to listen. More and more these days, customers expect a level of community engagement that was hard to come by - or flat out impossible - a generation ago.

For example, The Economist recently called attention to the reality that China is leading the way in digital commerce. Apps there have a fascinating blend of social, eCommerce, search, chat, etc… that doesn’t exist in the West. We are more siloed with our apps (e.g. think of Facebook, Amazon, and Google).

I’m curious if digital consumers in the West will follow suit. Will they expect more integrated apps to make their lives easier, or will our siloed ecosystem within Apple and Google’s platforms be the dominant paradigm for generations to come? How will we know?

Taking a step back, I often see founders set a trajectory of their companies based on “listening” at the earliest stages of their company, but that active listening stops. Instead, what happens is the application of rigorous metric tracking and optimization for existing features/products instead of being flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of a community.

In the podcast this week, we can learn a lot from how Foxy examined her community from different generational angles, how it changed over time, and how she got involved to support ventures meeting the needs of the people around her. This is an important lesson for founders; we need to be able to ask new questions and glean insights from our communities on a regular basis in ways that aren't “routine”. We need to truly listen. This is much harder to do than we realize.

So, if you are a founder or an entrepreneur ready to embark on a new venture, your job is to architect a feedback mechanism to deeply understand your customer/user community. This will likely look different than the occasional survey or feedback form. Instead, it will involve baking in multi-channel communication with your community and thoughtful interviews to tease out important insights. Few founder teams do this well, so if you architect it smartly from the start you will be well ahead of the pack. We’ll talk more about how to do this in future podcasts/articles. Stay tuned.

Have a great rest of your week!