What’s your community model?

Don’t Ask Me About My Business Model

I didn’t think that I’d come to resent the question “What’s your business model?” as much as Andy does, but I have. While a relevant question with the appropriate disclosure of intent (i.e. “How will you sustain the work that you’re doing so that I can make an informed decision about whether I should do business with you?”), too often it’s used as a yardstick for measuring whether someone is worth talking to, if at all — an unfortunate vestige of the old capitalist elite.

So, from now on, that’s why when someone asks me what my business model is, I’ll probably say something like… “I don’t care.”

Because I don’t. Not really.

Having a business model implies planning, making money, capitalizing. The occasional sell out. Yeh, well, ask me what my “love model” is and then we can talk — y’know, the one that means, “How are you going to make sure that you’re able to keep doing what you love doing?” (y’know, stuff that Scoble’s been thinking about lately).

So it’s dawned on me that the other legitimate question for organizations embracing the present and the what-comes-next is the question of what “community model” to follow and how they envision growing the relationship with the folks who will benefit most from the work they love doing.

I mean, that’s certainly more interesting and deterministic than some made-up plan guessing at how they think they’re going to pay the bills. I mean, heck, that problem is so pedestrian anyway. Seems to me, if you’re doing good work, you’re making the right friends and it’s obvious that you love your work, the payola will come. Seriously.

But seriously folks, a community model is essential to any successful modern sustaining endeavor. Kieran made this point at WineCamp: if you’re going to be building social tools, you’ve got to be connected to people.

You can no longer hide yourself away in a stealth-mode cubicle-laden walled garden for 2 years and then pop out your love child and expect it to spread like wild-fire.

Nor can you just drop a dollop of cash into the ether and expect a “community” to gel out of nothing. You need to first build up a cadre of true believers or you’ll have no credibility and offer no reason for anyone to care. At best, you’ll inspire a mediocre response — which is, quite honestly, worse than no response at all.

So let me lay it out for you: where we’re going, there are no products. There will be communities, just like there’s always been — and no room for your AJAX-featuring, web2.0-compliant, tagrified monstrosity of an interface-being-passed-off-as-a-business-model.

Yes, there will be new communities that span across new amounts of geography and understanding that maintain immediate, uninterrupted connections, but those’re about the only differences from the communities of people that have ruled for ages. If you want to build a product for today and tomorrow’s markets and somehow make money doing it (so you can keep on doing what you love), you either need to find a pre-existing community or cultivate a new one. Just like buying vines from an existing vineyard or creating your own. But it starts — and ends — with community. Not some ego-stroking super-smaht business model.

And once you’ve found the community with which you most directly relate — and inspires you to do the work you most love — you can start building. But realize that you’ll be building and toiling away on things that are both personally satisfying and community-relevant. The tools that you design and deploy should have both additive and symbiotic effects for both you and the community to which you belong. Otherwise, what you’re doing isn’t legitimate, isn’t sustainable, isn’t interesting or isn’t worthwhile. And who has time to work on things which aren’t worthwhile? Right?

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

17 thoughts on “What’s your community model?”

  1. Welll … you know what they say: it’s great if you can do what you love, but real success will come when you love what you do. There is a big difference in fairness.

  2. hehe, Yeah I realized that talking to people about business model only makes me bored. I know how we can sustain and to most people what we do should matter more than the “business model”. I have been told by a lot of people that http://static.flickr.com/45/132873609_fd26c467d6_b.jpg was not the right way to go about things. I was wondering if it was a old way of thinking or was i wrong.

    Love the idea of a “Community Model”. I think i will go back to writing “We dont have a business model, we have a Community Model”. Thanks

    p.s: Hope you remember me from Barcamp Bangalore.

  3. Hey Shreyas, of course I do! I guess instead of saying “I *don’t* have a business model” (which sounds contrarian for the sake of being contrarian) it’s more important and self-sustaining to simply say “I’m not worried, I do what I love and because of that, I’ll figure out some way to make it work.”

    I was a little confused about Ed’s point — but finding some clarity helps me see that he’s right: simply being able to do what you love isn’t quite good enough; you really have to work to be able to *do* what you love, not just have it as some possibility that you never get around to doing!

    So if I spend the balance of my time both doing what I love and consciously making the circumstances that allow me to continue doing what I love to do, I think I’ll really be able to be a positive force on the world.

  4. I think most people forget that Google didn’t have a business model when they started out – but they had a great application and they had TRAFFIC. You do have to get lucky and have good timing but if you put value out there you’re ahead of the other guys whose only concern is to get financing and press. What is it lately about companies with write ups and you go to their site and they have NOTHING (complete vaporware)?!?

  5. You make a good point. Ecosystems don’t run on business models. They’re a value network, with a community model at the core. The “value net” is what’s important for success.

  6. Chris, you are so right about community models. I do think business models and community models can live in harmony together, but it takes clarity and fortitude in the face of quick bucks to keep the balance.

  7. While I agree that you need to love what you do – hence, me staying in PR despite the bust – there is a lot to the business model question.

    At the second SF Tech Session, too many companies were proud that they had no business models. That’s akin to the 90’s where everthing was great, and the people would come. Well, that might be true – but that is not enough to survive through the years.

    Some great stuff has come out, but has no business model behind it to help sustain. So, while love is great, love doesn’t pay the rent.

  8. Jeremy, you’re entirely right. And I like to rest on my naivete at times, but it’s true, love don’t pay the bills.

    However, I think that creating a business model to support that which you love is the correct order of operations — and will ultimately lead to more satisfying work and greater success.

    Take coworking for example — this is something that I’m very passionate about and am doing whatever I can to make it happen. Do I have any idea how I’m going to support it once we find a place? No! Hell, I’m going to go broke sooner or later — but maybe, just maybe, pursuing that which I love as a first order of business means that I’ll be more scrappy, more sincere, more crafty in figuring out how to sustain myself doing the work that is ultimately the most important to me.

  9. Pingback: Opposable Mind
  10. In post corresponding to the above trackback (Opposable Mind), my question was whether Community Model is the right question, or if is something more akin to Community Dynamics. Actually, the question that I find myself asking more frequently is akin to “what is your interaction model.”

    Community model seems to me to imply tinkering with the community ingredients in the terrarium. Interaction model is tinkering with the feedback loops. I don’t know that one or the other is better, but I would like to see more experimentation with the latter.

  11. This post hits at something that I’ve been pondering for awhile now. I’ve been watching (with, admittantly, some jealousy) what you and miss rouge have been able to establish and work on in the San Fran area. Not willing to uproot and venture west I’ve been struggling on how to build technology based communities for public good in an area not as predispositioned. While a mantra of ‘do what you love, karma will provide’ sounds great its a little too abstract for the realities of a car payment, morgage, and a 1.5 year old who probably should have health insurance.

    ‘What’s your business model’, as said by the bean counters, could very well be ‘How much can we get out of this for ourselves’. When I ask ‘What’s the business model’ its trying to figure out what safety net exists, if any.

  12. Well done Chris! I try to keep a close look on your work and it is very interesting. Most of the time i translate it for the french community even though some parts are virtually untranslatable.
    This article makes me think to a very american self help book: “do what you love and the money will follow” … 😉 But i totally agree on the main point, to get somewhere near a real community, you definitely need a hard core of true believers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: