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Community-led growth: How Duolingo, Figma, Notion, and Hubspot leveraged the power of community to scale fast

Gabriel Troiano
Gabriel Troiano
August 5, 2022
Gabriel Troiano
August 5, 2022

Community-led growth. This term might be unknown for many people, but the truth is that the act of prioritizing communities is nothing new. As human beings, groups and organizations, we cannot live and thrive without the support from others, without the engagement from a tight-knit group.

However, over the past years, what has changed is the way in which companies prioritize and make use of community engagement strategies to improve their product, drive business results and improve their customer experience. At the heart of this change are technology companies who have seized the opportunity to test drive community-led growth strategies to scale fast. 

What is Community-led Growth?

So, what exactly is community-led growth and how does it differ from product-led growth? To put it simply, community-led growth is the process of creating a support network for users to feel part of a company, enabling them in the process to engage with the organization and contribute to its product by suggesting developments. 

“It’s a difference of valuing community as a core piece of your business versus just bolting a forum on your product.”

(BuiltIn)

The result is a catalyst to product-led growth, a market strategy in which companies use their product as the main driver of user acquisition and retention. Therefore, product-led growth is the traditional strategy to acquire new users while the community-led, in its turn, gives these users a reason to stay and belong. 

Companies like Hubspot, Figma, Duolingo, and Notion are the perfect examples of community-led growth strategies that have turned customers from passive observers to active contributors and all the way to product evangelists and brand ambassadors. 

Duolingo scales to 90 courses and 300M 

Duolingo, the world’s leading language learning app, has adopted a community-led strategy that has enabled the company to scale to 90 courses and 300 million users. How did they do it? By implementing a community-first strategy which allows people to shape their desired courses and clear up doubts through discussion forums.

In her speech about the power of community, Laura Nestler, Duolingo’s former Head of Community, tells the story of how the company was able to scale quickly, leveraging on the community-driven strategies. 

“Community for Duolingo is not just a fuzzy buzzword, it is the mega highway that powers what we do, why we do it, and who we do it for.”

-Laura Nestler

Duolingo teaches us that when you allow people in your platform to express themselves, either by suggesting product alterations or interesting community developments, you automatically give them the power to engage freely. This, in its turn, creates a community that thrives on self expression and meaningful engagement.

How $10B Figma nurtures a collaborative and transparent space

Figma, a web-based graphics editing and user interface design app, is another company joining the community-led club by nurturing a culture of collaboration and transparency. Just one look at their homepage and this direction becomes clear: “Nothing great is brainstormed - designed - built - made alone.”

Amanda Kleha, Figma’s Chief Customer Officer, highlights the importance of collaboration (written in the company’s DNA) and talks about Figma’s journey to create a borderless community for designers and users.  

“In our communities, the Designer Advocates are key for us, because they create best practice content and bring in key feedback from the community which influences the features we build.”

-Amanda Kleha

When working on your community-led growth strategy, Figma serves as an inspirational organization that, along with its community, leverages from the support of key people that act as the community’s main point of reference. These individuals can help to anchor the community and connect with members on a horizontal level, which also helps to cultivate a culture of continual growth and improvement.

How Notion drives product growth through communities

Notion, a product management and note-taking software designed to help employees and organizations coordinate their work, has taken the tech industry by storm by focusing on their version of a community-led strategy. 

By incorporating what Olivia Nottebohm, Notion's CRO, calls the third wave of growth, the company was able to get the power back to the people, who, at the end of the day, contributed to the success of Notion’s innovative product.

“We created a community of champions from different companies who were all working on the Notion platform. They could exchange ideas and best practices, and most importantly, we granted them access to ask thought leaders about the product and what they thought should come next.”

-Olivia Nottebohm

We can learn many things from Notion, but the main lesson is that when starting out your community-led growth strategy, it’s important to keep track of the glue that holds your company together: Your product. 

By leading with your product and its many offerings, you will be able to target the right audience, who will ultimately stay for the entertaining experience: Your community. Keeping in mind this prioritization is important to not lose sight of why you entered the app market in the first place.

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Better together: Hubspot generates insights with their communities

Hubspot’s commitment to their online support communities can be summarized in two words: Better together. In a conversation between the company’s community leaders Shana Sumers, Jon Dick, and Laurie Aquilante Faiola, community-led solutions emerge as critical for companies – growth and profit become a secondary objective when meaning is brought to a community that places people’s needs and interests first. 

Hubspot’s communities are a safe space for people to ask questions, find answers, and engage with professionals from around the world. In also allowing people to contribute with their ideas and insights to further develop Hubspot’s products, the company cultivates a people-first mentality, and one that is shared by all internal teams. 

“We want to make sure that people are feeling welcome in the community, that they know how to navigate it, and that they feel seen. These are the basics to make sure that our communities are running as positively as they can.“

-Shana Sumers

Hubspot’s story teaches that no community can run on its own, not even when members are given all the power to do so. That’s why it’s so important to dedicate some of your resources to create a community taskforce with the sole purpose of developing and maintaining your online community. Their help will prove paramount to the long term success of your community-led growth strategy.

Kickstarting your community-led growth strategy

Community is not simply a marketing trick. It can give brands a way to stand out in a competitive market, but only if you take the proper time to cultivate and nurture it. With the right strategy, positioning, and effort, your community will drive unending opportunities for growth and development. 

With technology advancing quickly and companies finally realizing the value of people beyond quick selling opportunities, this is the right time to move from a company-centric to a user-centric approach to growth.

Want to kickstart your community-led strategy?

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