ryan paugh cmx chatOn February 18, we hosted an AMA with Young Entrepeneur Council Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder Ryan Paugh. Ryan shared insights from his time building the Brazen Careerist, YEC, and FounderSociety and touched on topics as far-ranging as mentorship and metrics to how to hire your first community manager.

We were so thrilled with the response from the community that we wanted to wrap up all the insights that Ryan shared for you to keep in your pocket and call on when you’re looking for inspiration.

This all-day AMA revived our energy for building strong communities and reminded us why we all work as hard as we do.

We present this post in interview format, highlighting the great community-focused questions from our members followed by Ryan’s detailed responses. Feel free to read the whole thing in its entirety and join our community right here.

What’s Your Background?

“I co-founded and spearheaded community for Brazen Careerist, which was named the top Gen Y community by Mashable. Today, I’m co-founder and COO of YEC, an invite-only community of top entrepreneurs. We recently launched FounderSociety as well, which is a community for early-stage entrepreneurs.

Our model is building multiple communities for ambitious young professionals and disrupting the existing business association market. We have had a successful run so far in monetizing community, which is one of the big things community builders struggle with.”

Ryan Paugh's photo.The first community-focused question came from James Ryan Moreau, who asked: What’s the most fun piece of content you’ve created for your community?

“That’s an easy one. The most fun piece of content we have created is our quarterly print magazine for our members. Integrating direct mail marketing into our community engagement strategy is one of the smartest decisions we made in 2014.”

Arnaud Ducommon asked: Is someone really a community leader if they’re just behind a Facebook fanpage or Twitter account?

“Much like being an entrepreneur, being a community leader cannot be defined by your hard skills. It’s more about the softer skills that you embody on a daily basis. If you’re just behind the scenes publishing content and not really interacting with the community in a genuine way you’re not a leader. If you are really taking the time to personally help people solve their problems that’s true leadership.”

David Spinks asked: How has charging members to join the community affected the way they participate? How do you prevent it from being all about taking out of the community instead of giving to it?

“I think it all starts with leading by example. We hardly ever make “asks” of our members and focus more on giving. When we see members going above and beyond to help each other, we reward them with something unexpected. For example, one of our members had a security breach on their website and one of our tech-savvy members helped them fix it for free. We found the top-rated restaurant in their city and sent them a $100 gift certificate.
We have a monthly spend in our budget for creating serendipitous moments like this. The last thing we do is go the extra mile to highlight the good karma happening within YEC. We turn moments of giving back into testimonials on our website, blog posts, and case studies for how people should leverage YEC.”

And David followed with: What do you look for when hiring a community pro on your team? And what are your biggest red flags?

“My last community manager hire sold oil to old rich guys in her last job (Hi, Cassandra!). I’m pretty unconventional when it comes to hiring community managers. I’m not impressed by vanity metrics. The more you talk about social media, the less likelihood that I’m going to hire you (unless you’re applying for this Social Media Manager job: http://yec.co/jobs/social-media-manager/). Instead, I listen for real stories about how they increased customer/member happiness in a previous role. How did they turn a customer that hated the business into a fan for life? Stuff like that. Also, using a lot of buzzwords is a red flag. It just shows a lack of confidence.”

Berrak Sarikaya asked: Do you think there’s a difference between a community manager and a community builder?

“I think community manager is a defined role in a company while community builder is a character trait. At YEC, I expect everyone from our CTO to our Member Concierge team to be community builders. I would not hire someone on our team if I didn’t think they were in some way a community builder at heart.”

And followed: Do you think private forums still have value in building an engaging community (in reference to building a community that’s not about monetization but philanthropy & awareness)?

“Yes, I believe private forums are super important. As the web gets noisier and noisier, curation is becoming more important to people. The real challenge is how to earn the mindshare of your members and sustain engagement. Ease of access is critical, which is why these invite-only Facebook groups are so successful.”
YEC Community Manager Morgan Brady also chimed in: “While YEC, FounderSociety, and other forthcoming communities are monetized and include private forums, we are also building a community that is not monetized and we are still including a private forum. It’s our Mentorship Network; where non-profits, universities, accelerators, incubators etc have access to the elite entrepreneurs and business professionals in our existing communities for mentorship/speaking opportunities. (FYI: There is no cost involved to access or secure a mentor once you are a member – this is strictly our way, and our members’ way, of giving back by donating their time and expertise). Think classroom visits, key note speakers, biz plan competition judges, accelerator mentors, etc. All Mentorship Network members (individual point people representing the org at the likes of local Junior Achievement Chapters, NFTE, collegiate entrepreneurship orgs, Clinton 20/30, etc.) will have access to a private forum to connect with one another.
While at first glance there might not seem to be opportunities to build relationships between them, we are confident that putting them together will create tremendous, serendipitous opportunities to further the education and inspiration of aspiring entrepreneurs everywhere It will also help us find ways to help them even further and develop more creative mentorship opportunities for their organizations.”

Mike Hostetler asked: What are the top three things you’d recommend for a new community manager just starting out, trying to break into this business?

“1) Focus on the fundamentals of customer service. There are too many community managers out there who simply know the web/social media side, but know nothing about building great systems to increase customer happiness. (Help Scout has one of the best blogs I have read for learning the real important stuff: http://www.helpscout.net/blog)
2) Learn at least one hard skill that makes you indispensable at your job. Community management is unfortunately a softer skill role and job security can be lower in companies who don’t truly understand community yet. That said, if you know how to code, use Photoshop, build InfusionSoft campaigns, etc, then you’re able of providing more value to the team and will be more difficult to let go.
3) Become a super-connector in a field that you’re passionate about. Once you’re known as the person who can unlock any door in your ecosystem then you’re a very, very valuable person.”

Tiffany Monhollon Wilson asked: How do you approach professional and personal transparency when it comes to interacting with your community? How do you define for yourself the role of personal and professional transparency in your job, and (how) do you draw lines where you want some element of privacy?

“This hits close to home right now. I had a YEC member call me a couple nights ago very late on my personal cell. I wasn’t mad, but it was a moment where I realized that I needed to set new boundaries. This is really hard for me because I love to help people and believe that people love our community because of the on-demand access they get.
A couple things we are doing to alleviate this issue for me and my employees:
1) We only have one email address called [email protected] where we encourage members to contact our team. It’s all managed through Help Scout (http://www.helpscout.net) and requests are routed to the appropriate member of my team.
2) We also have a support line via Grasshopper (http://grasshopper.com) that members can call anytime and leave a message. The messages then get put into Help Scout and routed to the most appropriate person.
3) For new communities, we are setting up better boundaries at a foundational level so people’s expectations are in line with what we’re comfortable with.”

Mike Ambassador Bruny asked a ton of great questions, including: If you had to start or serve a new community tomorrow, what would it be and what would your thought process be?

“I already know what community I’m going to build next. The only problem is I can’t publicly share yet. What I can tell you is that I’m going to be focusing in on a demographic where I already have a strong following and truly understand the set of problems that these people face in their profession.” 

Mike then asked: If you had to out together a learning curriculum for a new community, what would be in it? What books, blogs, conferences, people to follow, etc.

“This depends on the type of community. I will tell you what I would put together for FounderSociety since that one is fresh in my head. The book would be The Lean Startup. The blog would be everything written by my buddy Lewis Howes. The conference would be Hustle Con.”

And when you look at the community profession, what do you see coming around the corner that others may not see yet?

“Curation is going to become more and more important. I think that the community builders that can provide the most relevant people, resources, opportunities, etc., in the most in-demand way possible will win the future. This is what we hope to do with our business and disrupt the traditional membership organization model.”

Tell us a story about what made you so community centric. 

“I really owe my first business mentor Penelope Trunk who helped me see what my strengths were and turned me onto this new idea of community management. I became the guy in our company that knew how to get our Gen Y members what they needed when they needed it. It was so much fun while it lasted. I often wish we would have been braver and tried to monetize Brazen membership. The community might still be around today if we had.”

And Mike also asked a question that was likely burning on everyone’s minds: What do you use to manage / track engagement over at YEC? How do you increase engagement?

“We have a very comprehensive CRM that includes a lot of data about our members. We are able to keep track of articles and Q&As they have submitted, logins to our site, premium services purchased, NPS scores. We do not currently track Facebook engagements. It would be nice to have, but without a way to streamline the process of collecting that data, it’s just too tedious for us to handle. We do have an unwritten rule about forum posts that our community management team MUST find a valuable connection or resource for every question posed in the forum and we want the answers posted ASAP, no more than 24 hours later.”

Alex Bukhman asked: what do you suggest to new community managers trying to get a job as a community manager?

“Very easy. Join CloudPeeps and my friend Shala Burroughs will hook you up with awesome opportunities.”

Clem Auyeung asked: As a community-oriented person in UX, I was wondering how you might work with a product team to help grow community membership.

“I think that you’re in a great position. As a community builder you have an important sensitivity to the needs of a community AND as a UX guy, you’re capable of shaping products that solve those problems. This is extremely valuable to any company that invests strongly in community. For example, at YEC, I would put your skills to work as someone who could do rapid prototyping of products that could solve our community’s biggest challenges.”

Melissa Breau asked:  If you had to name the top three benefits of building a community for a business (vs. a community-first model) what would you include? 

“I can think of many reasons for businesses to invest in community. Here are three:
1) Building community for your customers and your prospective customers provides your brand with more control of the conversation happening about your products/services as well as the peripheral conversations orbiting around your product/services.
2) Businesses who invest in community are in general stickier and have customer retention rates that beat out competitors who don’t invest in community.
3) What makes a brand remarkable? I believe that it’s vulnerability. I’m drawn towards brands that are not afraid to be what they are even if that might lead to them being criticized. Community provides businesses with an environment to show what they stand for which can be difficult to do in the daily transactional fluxes of business.

And Melissa also followed that question with: From the other side of the table, what would you say are the biggest benefits of finding a community of peers?

“People will always be your most important asset in all aspects of life. I suspect that for most of us we can track all of the most meaningful decisions we make in our lives back to a series of exchanges with peers who have given us a piece of advice, an opportunity, an introduction, or a simple act of goodwill. Why wouldn’t we all want to invest a part of ourselves into a structured community of likeminded people?”
A huge thank you to Ryan for taking the time to share his insights with the CMX community! Who do you want to hear from next? Drop us a line and let us know.
And make sure to join the CMX Community where we do AMA’s like this and you can ask questions to thousands of other community builders from all over the world.
Share on LinkedIn25Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0
Carrie Melissa Jones

Carrie Melissa Jones | @caremjo

Carrie is the COO and Founding Partner of CMX. She has built community at Chegg and Scribd and has consulted with community companies around the world. She lives in Seattle, WA with her pup, Bruce Wayne.