We Raised $6M to Help Communities Get Stuff Done

It’s been two years since I bought Mobilize.

Back then, I said I thought community software was dead. I still think it’s dead. The number of people I’ve met who said, “We got burned by community software,” is staggering.

I’ve been working in or near the community and collaboration space for 26 years– it’s not keeping up with the times.

Why has community software not lived up to its promise

 
  1. Vendors are selling software indiscriminately. In order to “go big,” software companies sell their platform to different types of orgs with different use cases, whether it’s a developer community, support community, brand loyalty community, fan community or professional network. But the feature needs are wildly different across these use cases so customers get frustrated because the product is too complicated or fails to meet their requirements.

  2. Focused on engagement instead of outcomes. What impact to the business does it really have that posts are up 10% or that commenting is flat? We’re failing community managers by not giving them enough ROI to take to execs. The reason to launch an online community is to drive a business outcome. But community strategies and metrics are still focused on engagement, not outcomes. Engagement is a means, not an end.

  3. Approach is dated. Platforms are still “all-in-one” systems built around the ideas of social sharing, likes and gamification – the Facebook paradigm from the last decade. But audiences have moved on to communities on WhatsApp, Slack, Discord and other tools – experiences that are focused, simple to get up and running, and reflect current sensibilities. So communities see a 95% failure rate.

 

It’s time to get things done

I was guilty of the first two problems at Jive. Our platform was scattered across lots of use cases. We got away with it because the category hadn’t solidified, there was less competition, and the needs were simpler. Mobilize was a bit of a mission for me. Not only about how to transform a company from “stuck” to breakout, but how to take a community platform and turn it into a true solution – to go from vitamin to aspirin.

 

The approach this time:

 

  1. Solve real business problems and prove it. Focus on specific use cases and understand the industry deeply, partner with thought leaders and the backend systems that allow us to connect engagement to outcomes.

  2. Make community a process, not a product. It’s no longer okay to sell some software, have a launch meeting, and then leave customers to their own devices. We need to be alongside them throughout their journey to ensure goals are met and we are constantly improving. We need to be equal parts consulting partner and software company.

  3. Embrace the current era. People like to work in their preferred systems (email, Slack, portals, WhatsApp). That means community is now more of an idea than a platform. It’s time to be smarter at the orchestration and intelligence layers and not just the content creation layer. Community must be the connective tissue of belonging and connection that lives across the places where people already commune.

I’ve spent the last two years rearchitecting the business, building a great team, and focusing our efforts on areas where we can be the best in the world. It was finally time to put some cash in to help it achieve its destiny.

As a very bootstrappy entrepreneur, I don’t like raising a lot of money. But our plan was working. And I want to prove that we (and community) can transform organizations for good. It was time to take things up a notch.

So we raised a $6M A Round from Sorenson and Kickstart. I wanted to work with great investors who I trust to have the company’s best interests in mind. And I got that in both firms. They’ve been exceedingly supportive and I’m thrilled to be working with them.


What’s the plan with the funding?

 

Team: We now have a smart, experienced, hard-working and kind group of people, including several from the Jive days. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by these amazing humans.

Industry Focus: We work with distributed sales organizations, professional networks, associations and nonprofits. We are more of a “private LinkedIn” than a Facebook. This focus allows us to go deep on industry expertise, deliver outcomes, integrate with the right systems and be a valuable partner. No developer networks, brand loyalty or support communities. We stay true to our core.

Strategic Services: We emphasize doing the right thing for our customers. This has been a strong differentiator for us and we will continue to invest in services to live up to our promise and drive real results.

Layered community strategy plan from a mobilize community strategies

Product: We are setting a high bar to make our product more extensible and flexible, easier to scale, more solution-focused, more intelligent and more automated. But perhaps the most aspirational is to advance the ideas of what community represents in this era, given the problems noted above. This means embracing other content systems and not trying to duplicate them, and ultimately taking the concept of community up a level. This is a high bar and we will need strong collaboration with customers, partners and even competitors. The industry needs to shift and it will be a long hard process.

Can we crack the code and get a community solution to be beloved by community managers AND execs? To embed ourselves deeply into the organization and drive real outcomes? That’s the goal – to use belonging and purpose to transform organizations.

I’ve been honored to work with some amazing, world-changing organizations. And I sincerely look forward to helping more as we enter the next phase of Mobilize.