This isn't about you, founder. Build your social site around a community, not an individual.


I was recently having coffee with Amanda Peyton of MessageParty and we were dicussing ways to build up her not-yet-launched geo-blogging service. If reddit taught me anything, it's that community matters. I strongly suggested she and her team get actively involved with the community from day zero; be a part of the community and like any good party host, make sure everyone is having a good time (and keep out the spammers). But don't make it about you; great social sites aren't about their founders, they're about their communities.

People will continue to write stories about the tech entrepreneurs who are changing the world (pity they're still mostly more young white dudes, but that too is changing) -- they'll even make ludicrous claims to that end. Let them.

This isn't about you, founder. And I'm saying this as the co-founder of reddit who typically was the face of the company and does more than his fair share of shameless self-promotion. (See?)

Well, just a few days after that coffee, my Internet was clogged with stories about Kevin Rose's Twitter usage, the announcement of Kevin's departure, and finally "RIP Digg". And that was all just on TechCrunch.

Did that much really change at digg the instant after Kevin announced he was leaving? Enough to declare it dead? After Steve and I left reddit in 2009, the site's traffic exploded. I'll leave it to you to decide between correlation and causation.

No one used reddit because Steve or I started it. No one uses Foursquare because of Dennis or Naveen; Twitter because of Biz, Evan, or Jack; Airbnb because of (do you even know the names of those founders?) Nathan, Joe, or Brian. The list goes on. Cult of personality may sell clothing lines, but it shouldn't define your website -- especially if it's community-powered.

Sure, it helps to start a new project with a following (and I think we all know Kevin is going to strike gold with whatever his next project is) and even hipmunk has Ashton Kutcher as an investor, but your product had better come first.

I've already explained why I thought digg v4 would fail and earned the dubious honor of having Mike Arrington make up stuff about me, but there's a fabulous lesson here for the many startup founders who come asking me for advice on how to build a community like reddit.

Don't make it about you. Create a mascot if you must and push that into the spotlight; you've got to get back to work.

6 responses
Incredibly well said Alexis.

Ultimately a community will thrive if it has ambassadors, does it help if the founders are ambassadors? Definitely, but they shouldn't be the only ones extolling the virtues of the community!

I really, really hope certain people I know see this.
Thanks! Yes, people do want to know the founders are engaged and frankly give a damn, but despite the efforts to extol founders, the site is all that should matter.
Wise words.

In the accompanying submission on digg, various members of the staff were quick to point out that Kevin's formal departure had little to no impact on the day to day activities in the office; Kevin's role was largely symbolic. The thing is, a large part of Digg's initial growth stemmed from the exposure Kevin enjoyed on TechTV and the Screen Savers. I'm sure I'm just one of many that flocked to digg and diggnation initially because of the implosion of G4TechTV and the accompanying bitter feelings. It think it's because of all of this that the site came to be seen as Kevin's show. Naturally this meant that frustrations were vented in his direction when the site malfunctioned as well as when features weren't added at the pace the community wanted.

In the end, he did what he needed to to get the site up and running but his presence became more of a distraction over time. Now the digg staff can work to return the site to prominence, and from what I've seen on my occasional visits they've been doing a pretty good job.

Still love my reddit though. =)

Thanks for posting! Super helpful as always.
Thanks, Amanda (and for inspiring this post - heh). Do let me know when @MessageParty launches!