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Hey Sifted Reader, 

We’re back from Slush — and have lots of goodies for you all. 

Anisah found out how you can use your biggest fans to supercharge the growth of your startup from Notion’s Olivia Nottebohm. Amy received some product lessons from an absolute pro: Spotify’s head of R&D and longstanding product guru, Gustav Söderström. And we both met some awesome folk whose brains we’ll be picking in future issues of Startup Life.

Buckle up, it’s a good one. 
 Amy and Anisah 🧡

\How To

How to use community to grow organically

Olivia Nottebohm is the chief revenue officer at Notion, everyone’s favourite workspace app. She has one hell of an impressive CV, having held leadership positions at Dropbox, Google and McKinsey. I chatted to her on the Founder’s Stage at Slush last week on all the things she's learnt about organic growth at scaleups — and the role of community in that growth. Here are some of the key takeaways and you can watch the whole conversation here: 

Organic growth should be community led. You want people talking about your product to others — simply, the more people that love you and your product, the more people there are to spread the word. So your goal is to make the community feel wanted and needed. 

Hire talent for community. We had two full-time people (out of a 50-person team) talking to ambassadors — which was unthinkable — but this is part of our success. We prioritise our community at a strategic level. It’s important to have excellent, experienced talent to build value for the community. 

Embrace your community. Don’t underestimate the impact of even just one person who is incredibly excited about your product. We found 10 very excited people on Twitter and brought them together on Slack — that was the start of our community. In the early days, community managers knew every member, their dogs' and partners’ names. We haven’t strayed too far from that personal touch to this day. Every time a new ambassador joins, they’re welcomed by the entire company on Slack, and people reach out for calls and for advice.

Resource your community. Give your community access to things standard customers don’t have. Resource and pay for things – we’re not talking lavish parties but paying for all the coffee at a coffee shop meetup, for example. Although not big ticket items, it makes a difference because someone doesn’t have to foot the bill themselves. It also shows appreciation for the work they put in. 

Encourage community members to learn from one another. You're not trying to educate each member of the community one-on-one. Yes, you must be there when they ask for support but if anything, you want them to be learning from each other. You lose learnings with a top-down approach — how are you going to find out how people could be using your product? 

Market the community. Use your marketing budget to retell the stories your ambassadors are already telling and to add fuel to the organic growth that already exists.

Give startups freebies. If your product is something that can make startups’ lives easier, gift it to them. We don’t see it as a cost at the moment but in the future it will be a line in our marketing expenses. Startups are going to grow so the free or cheap offerings you provide them in the early days will pay for themselves numerous times over — $1k to $1.5k of free credits to acquire a customer is excellent in the grand scheme of things.

— Anisah

\A message from our sponsor Pendo

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Product analytics app Pendo wants to give your startup the tools to deliver better digital experiences for your users — for free.

Learn more here.

\On The Subject Of...

Organic growth

🪴 The myths of organic growth. Is it actually free? Is it just what you do until you have enough budget to spend on ads? Do you even need a team if you’re growing organically? 

🎙️ Using SEO to grow. Head of organic growth at fintech Wise, Fabrizio Ballarini, has a podcast that is all about SEO and how to get it right from the very start to scale a startup. 

📱 Growing your social media accounts. Organic growth on social channels is in decline due to paid advertising showing up more in people’s feeds. Here are some tips that can help you compete with the paid world. 

🤗 Should you be building a community? Community is sold as the holy grail of startup success, but this piece argues some brand communities are confusing, time consuming and unnecessary.

💪 Your community is your competitive advantage. Arguing for the other side of the table, this article looks at the intangible value that brand communities bring to their customers. 

\Sifted Talks

Can startups clean up the supply chain?

From docks to warehouses, the supply chain is falling apart. Our next Sifted Talks on January 18 will explore how startups can navigate the current logistics crisis — and build a cleaner supply chain for the future.

Sign up here.

\People Moves

Kat Borlongan, formerly head of La French Tech, has a new job. She’s become Europe’s first (we think) chief impact officer, at French unicorn Contentsquare, where she’s now responsible for diversity and inclusion, sustainability, privacy and digital accessibility. Speaking to Sifted before announcing her new position, she said it’s far from a “decorative” title: she sits in the C-suite, reports directly to the CEO and has a proper budget. “I’m hoping to be a role model; to show it’s possible,” she told us. 

Carolina Küng has joined global VC firm Bessemer. She’s their new head of community and joins from Dublin and London-based VC firm Frontline, where she was head of platform for four years.

Got any people intel you'd like to share with us? We'd love to hear it... 😉 

\Smart Reads

1/ Startups are cancelling Christmas parties. Here’s why (and it’s not just Omicron!)

2/ What is the dollar value of ethics in your business? This calculator works out the positive financial impact building ethically can have on a startup. 

3/ How can you effectively use the rest of 2021? Elizabeth Yin from Hustle Fund shares her thoughts in this thread.

4/ Pay your entire team more. Dating app Feeld is paying everyone a minimum of $80k to improve diversity and the gender pay gap. Thoughts?

5/ Starships and snow. A bit of a fun one — we spent a couple of days in Tallinn after Slush, where heavy snowfall had turned the whole place into a winter wonderland. Not everyone was enjoying it though…

Read something you think everyone else should too? Send it on over to Anisah.

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\Panel of the Week

Spotify: How to keep on innovating

I took to the big stage at Slush with Gustav Söderström, who’s overseen product, tech and R&D at Spotify for over a decade, to talk about how to keep on innovating at such a huge — and hugely successful — company. Watch our chat here, or read my highlights: 

Listen to the hackers. How are people trying to hack your product? What are they trying to do? What features are your own employees trying to add? In Spotify’s case, people were trying to add podcasts to the app. 

Look at your competition to see what they do — but mostly so you can do something very different. Understand what competitors’ apps are good and not so good at. 

Debate new ideas with your team. This can be a slow process, but if you take the time to let everyone share their opinion, the idea gets vastly better. The first idea is probably not as good as you think, and if you don’t talk about it to anyone, it won’t ever get shot down. To convince people it’s a good idea, you have to sharpen your narrative. Plus, everyone who participated in that discussion will also feel like it’s their idea. 

Test on your employees (if you have enough of them) and biggest fans. Invite superfans to opt in and test out new features; you’ll learn something from how they use them and their feedback — and gain some advocates. Then roll out new features to a small percentage (like 1%) of users at a time, adapt, make changes. 

Amy Lewin
Deputy Editor

Get in touch with her at
She loves a bit of reader feedback.
Anisah Osman Britton
Founder at 23 Code Street

Get in touch with her at
She loves to hear about the latest in startupland.
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