As part of Community Built, Patrick and I had the opportunity to dive into a live discussion on how Sarah built Femstreet — a community for tech and venture capital minded women.
In 2017, inspired by a Mattermark Daily that shut down, Sarah saw an opportunity to do something for what she felt was an underserved market: tech and venture capital for women. She took note of what she saw as a growing trend – an increase in women entering the tech and VC profession alongside the general global trend with more content being produced.
Femstreet started as a newsletter, and over the years, it evolved into a community.
Sarah started all her efforts from scratch and initially focused on building a great newsletter. Bearing in mind that this was 'way back' in 2017 before the popularity of newsletters and Substack took off like it has today.
At the time her focus was not to create a community or a paid newsletter; her goal was simply to give huge value through a free newsletter. As Sarah kept to her consistency of creating her weekly newsletter she noticed that people kept coming to her for other things, like hosting events and looking to hire people from her network.
Over time, the highly valuable newsletter gave Femstreet the trust and ability to become the center of the female VC and tech world. Being at the center of any world naturally pulls people in to want to do other things with you — we call this gravity. In this case it was an evolution into a community.
Sarah has evolved and experimented with a variety of tools and activities over the years; this includes:
- Substack (+ Stripe) for her paid newsletter
- Slack as the community platform
- Greetbot for onboarding messages in Slack
- Pallet.xyz for a job board
- Twitter as a social channel
- Gatheround for bi-weekly community check-ins
- Orbit for leaning into her community
- Notion for the member’s onboarding page
- Luma for events
One of the main things that I picked up throughout our conversation was the search for the 'natural next steps'. This is a great mindset to have when building communities.
Rather than trying to plan and strategize too far ahead, community building is often about tuning into how your community is growing and the things your people are asking for. By listening well you can then decide on what the most important next steps are.
In Femstreet's case this meant doing things like:
- in-real-life meetups as people were requesting to meet
- creating community led resources to help founders operate more efficiently
- creating a job board as people kept asking Sarah directly for introductions
- hosting Gatheround events to help connect members virtually
Other tactics that worked:
- A focus on quality and growing incrementally: this meant introducing one or two new things at a time
- A philosophy of being accessible: a community that relies on a specific expert is not sustainable, however being accessible has been key to creating a welcoming environment. Sarah ensures she's accessible, but not necessarily the focus of community activities.
- Automated onboarding: using automated messages (via Greetbot) is not a perfect solution, but it has helped direct new members to the many things that are happening within the community.
- Opening events to all: there was some experimentation with creating events for anyone to attend or just for members, in the end the vibe was much better by opening it to all.
- Defining what you want out of events: different events work depending on what you want to achieve. A broad topic may suit a larger attendance. More niche and specific topics may attract a smaller audience and should be designed accordingly.
- Do things well: to create an active community focus on doing a few things well, your members will feed off.
- Tidy up regularly: a community is never stagnant, especially a growing and lively Slack community. Building in time to nurture and tidy things up is important to maintaining any active community.
Sarah has no intention of going in full-time on the community. It is something she very much enjoys doing and sees it as a great opportunity to build relationships and grow her own career opportunities.
It is now at 600 paid members (👏) and she has one person who has been helping her part-time for the past 18 months.
Her goal is to become the best curated knowledge network focused on women in tech and as with all things she does, she’ll keep moving forward with quarterly goals and focus on what the natural next steps are at each stage of her journey.