The Community-Led Show

Micahel Martin joins Alex and Kirsti to discuss how he thinks about the difference between networks and communities and why founders need community.

Show Notes

Director, Network & Community at M13 Michael Martin joins Alex and Kirsti to discuss how he thinks about the difference between networks and communities, why founders need community, and how to get community buy-in from them. 

Find Michael on LinkedIn

For more Community-Led resources, head over to, where you'll find the Community-Led Growth Model, The 2022 Community-Led Report, and the Community-Led Assessment

  • Alex Angel is the Chief Community Officer at Commsor and The Community Club, with more than 12 years of community experience under her belt.
  • Kirsti Buick is a journalist turned Community Content Creator, and heads up the Content team at Commsor and The Community Club.

What is The Community-Led Show?

Join Alex Angel and Kirsti Buick as they talk to a variety of leaders about how community and Community-Led impacts their organizations.

Alex Angel 0:00
Hello, hello, and welcome to the community led show. I am Alex Angel, Chief community officer at comScore and the community club. And I'm

Kirsti Buick 0:08
Kirsti Buick, the content lead at console and club. And this podcast is about all things community led, where we talk to community leaders, as well as founders, investors, and other leaders across industries to understand how they're thinking about community, and how to build community led companies.

Alex Angel 0:24
For the uninitiated, hopefully, that it's not you because we have two other fabulous episodes before this. But community lead is more than just having a community it's about treating community. And that means both the team and the community itself as the core part as core to your organisation, and not just something that's siloed or transactional. And there's a whole host of reasons why folks should care about this movement and the benefits to structuring your organisation this way, which we unpack in every episode in this episode, even. And if you'd like to read ahead of class, you can find some great resources about all of this on community

Kirsti Buick 1:04
Today, we are joined by yet another incredible guest, Michael Martin, who is the current director of network and community at m 13. Michael, thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with us.

Michael Martin 1:16
My pleasure. This is great. Love, love Alan's always happy to do her a favour and Chrissy it's so good to meet you. Thanks.

Alex Angel 1:24
Thanks, Michael, I guess, to start, let's talk a little bit about your role as director of network and community at m 13. And based on conversations you and I have had and things that we've read, you know, we know that the company believes that community and network are core to helping grow successful companies, which naturally makes us very excited, because like, this is our whole thing. Yeah, but what does community or network building look like at that level for you?

Michael Martin 1:56
Yes, I think I try and think about community as for the firm, writ large, I think about in a few discrete ways. And they're all interrelated. But they're in this perhaps gets to another point as well, which is that network and community and they are separate terms that we that we use to delineate and I see it as a continuum, not necessarily as two separate things that exist in their own right, but rather than network can lead to community. So anyways, we can get back to that. But to answer your question more squarely community at our firm is certainly all encompassing, our mantra is brighter together. And, really, for us, and for my role, I'm a recent addition, it means to build community amongst our portfolio companies. So we have a number of portfolio companies that are women, frankly, people keep we keep, thankfully, time signing term sheets with new and great company, so we think are doing interesting and exciting things for the future of consumer tech. And what we do is we, we introduce them to each other, we not only have of course, you know the slack groups and things like that, which are more table stakes, of course, but something along the lines of bringing them together in small groups so that each other where they have shared affinities. So one of my colleagues, and a Barbara partner at the firm, she recently started a female founders cohort, and specifically around female founders who are raising a series B. So obviously, there are challenges there. But a number of those women are also mothers, a number of those women are perhaps caregivers for elderly, parents or family members. And, you know, to us community isn't just about transactionality. Like, okay, can you introduce me to another investor who can get me to the series B, or let's close that cap table, but rather like, oh, well, you know, how, what kind of how are you dealing with childcare support? How are you, you know, thinking through hiring, while at the same time knowing that, you know, you have to be a supportive caregiver for an elderly parent. Like these are all these things are interrelated. And similarly, I hosted a founders cohort yesterday with our crypto founders, right, like a number of them are thinking about, it turns out hiring for very specific role for crypto startup. I had no idea but this role is getting existed, let alone that they're all hiring for it. And they certainly didn't know that. So this is all to say that, you know, community for us as it relates to our portfolio companies. It's bring them together, facilitate those introductions. Let them learn from each other as it relates to their business. But especially as founders, they are often the loneliest job, right? They have a great idea. They're building a company and all of a sudden, it turns out that they're spending 80% of the time hiring people. And that might be a bit of a shock sometimes to some people and How do you balance all of those things. So that's an it's a very, I think I like to think of it as to a certain degree group therapy as well. So that's the community as it relates to our portfolio companies. Then there's the whole network component to which is more external facing. But I'll stop there for a moment. And look at actually one more thing, which is that not only do we want to build that community amongst our portfolio companies, but rather take that approach and turn it inside out and assure that the firm itself is supportive. In all of these efforts, in which we are, I think the firm has a really unique structure in that we have just as many operating partners, or what are traditionally known as operating partners as investing partners. So we have a partner who is in charge of our brand and comms, we have a partner who is in charge of our operations, we have a chart that is in charge of talent, CFO data. And these folks really act as subject matter experts to dive deep on problems with their portfolio companies. But in time, in partnership with myself, they then also really become engaged in being an expert at scale. So let's say a bunch of companies need help with design. So someone, our creative director, she wants to lead a design crit with our, with our designers and creative directors across the portfolio companies. So that bug builds back up to really bring in the community of the firm and applying it to the portfolio companies as well.

Kirsti Buick 6:34
That approach sounds incredible. And gosh, I have so many questions about what you've just said, that I love. And I think maybe this is like a preconceived belief that I didn't actually realise that I held but you kind of think of founders and and people at that level is kind of, you know, untouchable, and they're superhuman, and they don't need any help. Right. But they're actually when you put it like that they're a group that needs community, and support from their peers, more than a lot of others are sorry, that's a very simplistic takeaway from what you've just said that, that's just dawned on me. And I find that so fascinating. Yeah, I

Michael Martin 7:11
mean, I don't think it's an accurate. I mean, to be fair, I think we all like as humans desperately need community, right, especially in like an atomized world where we've ostensibly all sat quarantined at home for at least six months, if not some of us longer. And, you know, how do you do that? How do you build that? And, you know, this is why I think what what you all have done for community managers and thinking through community lead as a concept is, it's not only important, but actually pressing. And, yeah, so to answer that the founders certainly need it, because it's a lonely job, right? Like, yeah, you're, you're a superstar. But, you know, if you're not, if you don't have the support of your peers, then you're just kind of like, pushing a rock up a hill. And ideally, you get it to the top of the hill. And ideally, you're not Sisyphus, but I imagine that they sometimes feel like Sisyphus as well.

Kirsti Buick 8:08
Michael, I just want to come back to something else that you you kind of touched on this. I, I was desperate to ask this question. So I got really excited when you brought it up. Is that's just in the VC world, you seem to use the word? Well, I interpreted that you seem to use the word community and network interchangeably, which you've clarified now that you don't. And I wondered if you could unpack that nuance a little bit more? I'd like to understand the difference.

Michael Martin 8:34
Sure. Yeah. I mean, to me, the difference is, like I said, it's more of a continuum. Right. So to me, so my background is I come from a background in city planning and community organising. So for better for worse, have done the graduate thesis literature review on community development. And you know, by no means an expert, it's over 10 years old at this point, but a lot of my stuff is more grounded in like, kind of almost like theory and network theory, if you will. So thinking like the, you know, the 70s French philosophers and the rhizome and what makes it right, what's a rhizome and a network and a community? And what are all the differences? And, you know, yada, yada, yada? And like, you know, if you were to tell me answer simplistically like, yeah, not much of a difference, but the way that I think about them differently is that a network is a community rather, is when you have a network that is regularly engaged with the same group of people. Whereas a network is its function. Similarly, you can you in this case, let's say me or the firm is at the centre, and then you facilitate all of these different nodes. And you can activate them at different times. So let's say we have a New York network. We have an Austin network, we have a London network but I don't think that becomes a community until we regularly go back to New York and say, Hey, we're in New York again, everyone who came out last time, we'd love to see you for a dinner, a happy hour, a fireside discussion in a conference. So that in time, you can actually extricate yourself as a facilitator. To me, a community doesn't actually, in time doesn't require a facilitator for every interaction, whereas a network does. So. So long story short, that's probably the answer. And maybe I'm just being pedantic. But

Kirsti Buick 10:35
I love pedantic when it comes to word things. So that makes a lot more sense to me.

Michael Martin 10:42
Unfortunately, it also bubbles into the rest of my life, but you know, neither here nor there.

Alex Angel 10:47
So touching on something that you also mentioned a little bit earlier. Um, you know, you've spoken a little bit about why the people in your community, these founders, you know, why they're part of it, but they're getting out of it. But I'm curious if you could speak a little bit more to the value that, you know, m 13. Is seeing based on these connections and the programmes that you've built?

Michael Martin 11:16
Yeah, yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, you know, I can provide a case study, this is actually an M 13 case studies from my previous role, but I think it's actually very salient. And I say that just because I'm 13, I'm still fairly early headphone, they've been on the team for the past six months. And we hosted a, we hosted a fireside chat with one of our stealth founders. And the, at the time, an executive at GitHub, and he is a leader in the space around DevOps, and this company has installed was really trying to do automating DevOps, and pretty specific thing. But this is a topic that they wanted to discuss on. And we were kind of putting the network to use, able to get in touch with as executive from GitHub to chat about this. And they were suddenly in a conversation with each other, which we then publicised, we were able to get about 125 people who are DevOps engineers to attend, which ended up as customer flow for them. And then they were out of that connection. They actually ended up bringing that executive from GitHub on as an advisor, who then went in as an investor in their next round. Right. So that was, I think that that's like, kind of like the most pristine example of how community and network actually benefits a firm. And there's obviously the in the case of M 13. It helps us that, like, our founders feel good. Our founders feel happy they feel supported. And that, obviously, first and foremost, from a human level, but brass tacks is that the better that founders feel about their relationships with you, the more likely they are to give you the application in the next round. So do you want it? Right, like part of my part of my pitch in this role for when I was hiring for it is that, you know, not only if you want super pro rata, you should be able to get it through your community, in part through your community efforts. Super pro rata is basically for those who may not know it's pro rata means to be able to maintain your equity percentage. As you on the next round that a fund a startup raises super pro rata. So for instance, let's say you invested a million dollars and got 10% in round one. And then the round two, you have to invest X number of dollars but maintain that 10% super pro rata is that will they actually want 15%? Because you love this company so much. Do you think they're going to be great and ideal? And that's potentially a hard fought battle with that founder? The idea is that how can we make that conversation as natural as possible? Should it be need to be had, and that's really through delivering, like immense value to portfolio companies. And that might be you know, it's certainly communities not certainly not the only way to deliver that value, but it's a tool in the toolkit.

Kirsti Buick 14:29
Speaking of investing, this is a terrible segue because that's pretty much what we're talking generally. Yeah, I'm working on my podcast skills, guys. I'm getting better.

Michael Martin 14:39
Okay, you're, you're number three. It's great. We can get feedback. You'll see it in the reviews, which I will be leaving a five for. It's fun.

Kirsti Buick 14:48
To tease me about reviews. That makes me very anxious. And Alex is currently making modern guns for anyone who would like to know what she's doing now. Yes, back to investing. How does community impact your investment decisions? When you are looking at companies like a company that has a community? Is that more appealing to you? Yeah, I'd love to learn a little bit more about that side of things.

Michael Martin 15:12
Um, I don't think that there's a clear answer to that. Yes or no, it's very nuanced. Um, I would say that it really depends on their go to market strategy. Right? Like, is, is the go to market strategy based on your ability and interest in getting other people to basically be your ambassadors for you. Right. This is where the tradition community as a traditional sense in business, I think that oftentimes early stage two, it's probably hard to think about what community means from the other components of an org just because it's typically like five people. One thing I there the key nuance, however, and this is really where I think community as it relates to venture capital becomes very interesting is that with the, you know, ascendancy of, quote unquote, web three, as a new area, or not new but an area where you're seeing a crazy amount of dollars go into over the past, let's say 18 months. If we believe that web three is truly decentralised, and if we believe that that decentralisation equates to a community focus there for community is essential, as a function of your organisation, much earlier than, let's say, an enterprise SAS company, or even a DTC company. Because, like, based on how you allocate your tokens and what those tokens do and afford, those are, it's a financialized community. Right. And I say that with, you know, I love our one three companies. I have thoughts on financial advising community. But I also think that there is something to be said for it. And that like, market dynamics, kind of rule the world, regardless, so it may, in fact, be the best way to actually get people to move towards doing a thing that you want them to do. But I think it's still very, I think it's too early days for true proclamations on that, but that's a different subject in a different podcast. No, no, we are not.

Alex Angel 17:50
Okay, so, you know, web three companies and communities aside, you know, for any, say web two or web 2.5 companies that are trying to sell this concept of community to VCs, investors execs, like, what advice do you have for any of these folks on how they can frame that, as they're approaching it and having these conversations? Yeah, I

Michael Martin 18:17
mean, I think it depends on stage. First of all, right, like a series B Company is going to have a very different pitch as to what community mean to them. But let's say it's an early stage company, to me, the most important places that you the three most important places that you would do it is around your go to market. So thinking about like, Okay, I'm going to do paid advertising. Okay, cool. Well, that's going to mean, so you're going to, you're going to have a very high customer acquisition cost. And that's okay. You can have a high CAC at the beginning. But like, how are you going to get it down? And well, community is a way to get it down, right? You activate people, and then you get them in. And then you think about non monetary ways to have them become your ambassadors, rather than the Forever paid spend. So that's thinking about your go to market. Thinking about something that I love. And I love to see when portfolio companies do this is customer advisory boards, and really thinking about your customers, as your community and not your customers, as your community as your sales people, which that can be part of it, right? That's what I just mentioned, basically, but rather, your customers as your community of like, here's your features that we need, here's the features that we want, and really being very thoughtful facilitators of those various stakeholders and thinking about their needs and their wants. And it is basically human centred design, but you're doing it for your customers in a very structured way rather than like, you know, hey, here's an email about these features, like it should be meetings. It should be structured to be thoughtful. So thinking about that as part of your pitch, I think it's like just it just demonstrates to To me that you are serious about solving real pain points that are maybe boring, right? Maybe your customer just needs like, really good. KYC, right, that's the thing that they need. And you're a FinTech company, and they need a really good KYC. And it's like, Okay, how are you going to do it? How are you going to make sure that like, this whole process is clean, easy for them? And then lastly, I'd say and this is, I don't know if this is covered in your community level lead model, as I've read it, but thinking about talent as a community. I think that the job, I feel like most of what startups do is hiring. Right? It's the most commonly requested service that they request from our partners. And how can you facilitate relationships with potential hires? Obviously, there's going to be the need for rifle shot hiring, right? We need a director of product today. Okay, cool, like, get your recruiter and sourcer on it. But then you have, let's say, 50 candidates for the Director of Product 10 of them were amazing. And you only can hire one. What do you do with the other nine? Right? Like, how are you thinking about those other nine candidates that ideally, you had that ideally had an amazing experience interviewing with you, even if they didn't get the job? Right? Those people are going to be your best referrals? If you can do it, right. So what do you do with them? How do you keep them engaged? And it doesn't even need to be in like, oh, it shouldn't just be, hey, here's some more open roles for us know, if they're really good candidates, they're gonna have taken the job. So it's more about the secondary effect of who can they refer you to? How can they be engaged with your brand? How can you deliver that value in such a way that keeps them connected to you so that they will offer you referrals for talent. Because if you can think about how you can scale your talent, quickly, that's going to save you time, which is going to save you money, which is going to give you a better run rate. So that those are the three main ways that I would think about community, were I pitching in investor as an early stage company?

Alex Angel 22:14
I love that. That's really interesting. Yeah, I your last point is something that I've kind of thought about before, but never really in a structured way. And so this is definitely gonna, this is gonna keep me up at night thinking about what this actually means for the future.

Michael Martin 22:31
You can call me at any time as long as it's in my time zones. It is keeping you up all night means it's like noon my time. So we are Golden

Alex Angel 22:40
Abyss. Love this for us.

Kirsti Buick 22:43
I have a bit of a tangent question to ask. Michael, you mentioned that you are a city planner by trade. And one of my favourite things to ask community people because generally, there's like a long meandering, winding confusing road to community. And they started out somewhere very different. So I want to know about the kind of the transferable skills that you've taken from that role and brought into your current role that specifically relate to community.

Michael Martin 23:14
Yeah, I mean, there's the cynical answer, and there is the, the, you know, podcast full answer. So I will say that the podcast will answer, I'll give you a slice of the, I'll give you the slice of the cynical one. I mean, the main it's really it kind of covers both the main one is like how do you deal with a manage people and not manage people in like a job, like you're on your boss and your my direct report, but like, the key to all of this is actually the inverse of that, which is that I have no power over you. Like, how do you how do I, I have my goals? I want you to do X? How do I get you from, you know, where you are today to achieving my goal with you? Right? My goal is bringing you along, it's not to like force you down the line to do this thing for me. And when there's no money exchanged, that's a very different process. And, you know, at the end of the day, you ultimately have like, when you're doing community organising, you have the things that you use to effectively sell people on being engaged, right? In the case of neighbourhood organising, it's, the future is being made in this neighbourhood, whether or not you are engaged, have a voice here at it, like, if it's not you, it's going to be someone else it's going to happen. And we want you to have it that voice because you live here, you have lived here, you're a new resident here, but at the end of the day, a neighbourhood is nothing but people or you can have buildings but like, who cares if they're empty? Who cares if it's the wrong Building. And so there's this implicit there's the value proposition there is like being engaged or being not heard. Whereas, you know, the value proposition for when I'm hosting something, like a discussion where I want to meet new people in our broader network, who can then become, you know, more engaged community members to help our portfolio companies, for instance, you know, the challenge there and similar to people neighbourhood organising, it's, you have limited time, and you may or may not be interested, like, what's going to be the thing that makes you exchange your limited time? Because you're interested enough? So in the first case, it was, you know, the future is happening, get engaged. And to be honest, it's kind of the same pitch. Like, Oh, you are a really smart person at Amazon, and you know, how to do like software engineering really well, as it relates to whatever. That's cool. You know, we have a company here who may be the next Amazon, what are you gonna do about it? Right, and it's like, never said, so. Perhaps, bluntly. But this just kind of the implicit piece, right, the future is being made, you should be engaged. So again, like it's a little bit easier to convince people when venture capital dollars are involved, and not to the money is exchanged, but there's a glint in glam to what I think that people people appreciate. Which was something that was a little bit strange for me when I first moved over from working in the nonprofit and public sector to the private sector. Because to me, my, you know, the reason that people got engaged in those that sort of work was because they like, you know, they really cared. And they cared about mission stuff, right? Like the world needs to be a better place. Whatever that means. And people say the same thing. Now adventure, but then there's, you know, in business, but there's a little bit more of a green pathway, if you will, that I think helps lead them to be games a little bit more. And it is all fine. And it's all it's all really, I think what it comes down to is getting folks to really do the things that they are curious about, that they may not otherwise have had the either pathway in, or the agency to be involved. Otherwise.

Kirsti Buick 27:35
I think we need to turn that slogan into a t shirt. What did you say? Was? The future is the future is happening? Get engaged?

Michael Martin 27:43
Yeah. I thought it was more of like the future is happening. All is fine. as well. Oh, as I rolled my eyes,

Kirsti Buick 27:55
it will put that on the t shirt too.

Michael Martin 27:57
Perfect. Yeah.

Alex Angel 27:58
Mac, I hope you're listening. Let's make it happen.

Kirsti Buick 28:01
Mike loves loves the slogan t shirt. Slogan hoodie.

Alex Angel 28:07
On that note, um, I guess that about covers what we were hoping to chat with Michael about today. But Michael, is there anything that you would like to touch on in scope of community lead that you feel like we've missed in this conversation today?

Michael Martin 28:24
Um, I mean, the one thing I would say is like transactionality will kill your community. Like, if you're it needs to be value exchange, but it can't be couched in like quid pro quo value exchange, right? Like value exchange happens when I go get a coffee? Sure, but that's very transactional. So like, how does one soften the edges of these transactions, such that like, it actually just feels like people chit chatting. And people doing favours for each other. Like the more of a pay it forward model, as opposed to a like, I'm going to get X when when Y happens. Because like, I don't know, we live in, we live in a hyper financialized world. And it kind of sucks sometimes. And well, a lot of the time. And I think that like in so much as we are going to spend our 40 hours a week plus working on this sort of stuff. Like don't add that shit into it. Like, let that be the rest of the world. And it doesn't mean don't focus on business impact, it doesn't mean don't focus on the fact that you have a bottom line that you need to hit. But like, the way you get there is not by being a salesperson. And the way you get there is not by doing paid spend on social, the way you get there as a community person, just the relationship development and like, just being a cool person. So I don't know. Maybe that's very millennial of me, but Just chill out, bro. Yeah, yeah, also, yeah, don't be an asshole. I swear

Kirsti Buick 30:08
so many T shirts. I'm very excited about all the studies that we can the weekend make from this podcast. Michael, thank you. That was That was awesome. That was really refreshing. Yeah. Thank you for joining us today. It's been it's been amazing.

Michael Martin 30:22
Of course now can we get to the movie review section?

Kirsti Buick 30:26
Yeah, that's that's coming up right after we do all of our all of our little outro things. Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll be doing episodes with more awesome humans like Michael. So keep an eye out for those.

Alex Angel 30:40
And again, if you are looking for resources on all the things that we talked about today, you can find those over on community That's community link in the show notes.

Kirsti Buick 30:52
You'll find the full community led growth model some really excellent blogs if I do say so myself. The community led reports and the community led assessment which will help you understand how community led your organisation really is

Alex Angel 31:07
thank you all for listening yet again. Until next time,