Laura Buhler: Harnessing the Power of Community

portrait of Laura Buhler
Laura Buhler is a longtime community leader in the venture capital and startup ecosystem in San Francisco and former Board Director at VFC. In this episode, she explores the transformative power of community in entrepreneurship. Laura shares her journey and unique insights into how vibrant communities can serve as a competitive moat for businesses and individuals alike. Now leading the community function for a venture capital fund in Silicon Valley, Laura Buhler's career in community was informed by her background in growth marketing and by her involvement in communities such as the World Economic Forum where she was a Project Manager; On Deck, where she was a Fellow; and the C100, a nonprofit tech community where she was CEO. Laura provides practical strategies for fostering engagement, setting clear cultural norms, and creating rituals that reinforce a shared mission. Whether you're an entrepreneur seeking to build a strong brand affinity or a leader aiming to cultivate a supportive network, this episode is packed with actionable advice on harnessing the power of community to accelerate learning, foster innovation, and build lasting impact.

5 Key Community Takeaways: 

  1. Engagement is King: Vibrant communities are active and growing communities. Figure out engagement, and the rest follows.
  2. Set Clear Cultural Norms: Establishing explicit and implicit norms helps guide behaviour, while rituals and rewards reinforce positive actions.
  3. Content Curation & Moderation Matter: Quality content and active moderation keep conversations positive, relevant, and aligned with the community’s goals.
  4. Navigating Challenges: When members violate norms, use private feedback to provide constructive criticism, maintaining a respectful culture.
  5. Start Small & Scale Wisely: Begin with a focused mission and scale by connecting members with similar interests, curating valuable content, and rewarding positive contributions.

6 Tips for Community Leaders: 

  1. Make the Mission of Your Community Clear and Make It Stand Out: Your members should know what connects them and be able to speak it back to you and their friends.
  2. Create Rituals That Are Unique to Your Brand and Repeat Them Often: Maybe it’s a special way you kick off meet-ups, or a particular day you celebrate the top-contributing members. Rituals should be memorable, and can feel almost caricatured.
  3. Reward + Celebrate Community Members for the Behaviours You Want Others to Emulate: Give them speaking slots. Publish their content at the top of your community forum. Thank them publicly. Thank them privately. Give them limited-edition swag.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid to Put up a Gate in Service to the Member Experience: A community for everyone is a community for no one. Define who your member is and welcome them in. Don’t be afraid to stick to a criteria and prune members who no longer meet it.
  5. Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Quarterly Goals for What You Want to Achieve With Your Community: Measure, measure, measure. Reflect. Adapt. Experiment. Measure again. At a high level, you want metrics that are about: 1) engagement, and 2) impact. Engagement examples: touchpoints, events attendance, email opens, and intros made. Impact examples: prestige of logos/brands your members are affiliating with, quotes of praise, and stories of members getting great value.
  6. When All Else Fails, Engage Directly With Your Community: Communities die when the community leaders stop engaging. There’s no such thing as a community with no moderators, group leaders, or content to engage with. Everyone envisions one that will just “self-sustain”, but it’s only a matter of time before people stop engaging because the reward for doing so isn’t there.

Show Notes:

[00:01:00] Laura explains the core concept of community and how it differs from marketing:

[00:02:54] Laura describes the rising prominence of community roles in the tech industry and private sector:

[00:05:50] Laura distinguishes between engagement and impact, sharing key metrics to measure the success of a community, including attendance, activity touchpoints, and qualitative feedback.

[00:08:58] Laura discusses how entrepreneurs can use community to protect their businesses:

[00:13:30] Exploring the power of rituals and rewards in building cultural norms, Laura shares examples from her experience with C100.

[00:19:29] Laura emphasizes the importance of establishing a code of conduct,

[00:22:50] When community norms are violated, Laura advises leaders to praise publicly and criticize privately.

[00:24:15] Laura shares how to start building a community by identifying a niche, being a connector, and fostering mutual learning and support among members.

[00:28:00] Content curation and moderation play crucial roles in scaling a community. Laura suggests tools and strategies to create engaging content and foster positive interactions.

[00:33:00] Laura gives examples of non-tech communities that have thrived, including C100, Costco, and Y Combinator, demonstrating diverse ways of fostering engagement and loyalty.

[00:50:53] Scott and Laura discuss how traditions like Action Canada’s ritual of introducing speakers can reinforce a sense of belonging and engagement over time. 

[01:01:53] Laura explains why establishing clear rules and expectations is crucial for maintaining community culture. She advises community leaders to set boundaries and use gates.
“If a community is for everyone, then it’s actually for no one.”

[01:08:02] Laura emphasizes that building a community can be an entrepreneurial path itself, offering opportunities for networking, learning, and career advancement.

[01:22:15] Laura discusses the power of community as a force multiplier, allowing leaders to move from helping people one-to-one to enabling members to help each other.

[01:32:00] Scott and Laura emphasize the importance of community in both personal and professional success and encourage listeners to be proactive in building their own communities.