Confluence.VC 2021 Recap

2021 was crazy.

We were able to turn this community into a business, and we were only able to do that because of the support from each of you. Whether you pay us with money or your attention – thank you for helping us get this thing off the ground.

Our 2021 recap linked below shows our metrics, what we were able to accomplish this year, and our learnings from each experiment.

Highlights & Playbook:

Onboarded 606 new members. 95% of new members come through a referral, so this was the easy part. If you are building anything, do everything in your power to give your first 100 members an unbelievable experience. Go out of your way for them, and they will become ambassadors for your brand. For more reading on how to pull this off, read this article.

Put out 107 pieces of content (64 newsletters + 43 podcast episodes). Sticking to a content schedule is becoming table stakes at this point. The world moves too fast, and the internet will forget about you if you aren’t consistently sharing and driving value to your fans. Everybody is looking to tap into trusted networks; if you spend time building trust with an audience today, that trust will be worth something in the future.

Eclipsed 25k Slack messages exchanged. Growing and managing an online community is harder than it looks (I’ll have more to share on this soon). Many other Slack groups prioritize the volume of messages exchanged as the core KPI they chase. I think this is backwards thinking because it leads to a noisy environment with no signal (people are choosing private communities over open ones because of the promise of more signal). We’ve had to kick out bad actors and do a lot of work on the back end making sure that messages go into the right channels.

Launched a syndicate and put together two deals from start to finish. This is an example of an opportunity that popped up as a result of building and sharing in public. We’re still early in the process of building out an investor base, but we’ve found that two things matter in the syndicate world: number of LPs and quality of co-investors. If you’re able to build a large LP base, you can essentially play a conversion game in order to hit your minimums for allocation; if you are able to get allocation into Sequoia deals, you don’t necesarily need a large LP base because everybody will be fighting to throw you money. If you want to put together your own syndicate, we recommend checking out Assure if you’re looking to wrangle together smaller checks (think <$50) and AngelList if you think you can hit $100k minimums.

Launched a job board and talent collective. Finding and hiring will be affected as the world becomes more abundant. Hiring sucks, and you’re competing for attention when trying to get your openings in front of the right people. We think that quality hiring will move off of major platforms (LinkedIn and Indeed) and onto niche parts of the internet (ie. online communities). The job board has been our second-biggest product line in terms of revenue which says a lot about the demand for this type of offering. If you’re looking to set up your own board, chreck out Pallet (although they’re pretty backed up with demand. If you’re looking to build an alternative, Makerpad has put together a great walkthrough of how to do that here.

Converted Confluence.VC into a paid community. This was overdue, but we finally found a way to do this in September (check out this article if you’re looking for inspiration). We ultimately made this decision for two reasons: 1) there are negative network effects past a certain point for communties where it becomes harder to find signal, and 2) we wanted new members to have skin in the game. You’re less likely to free ride when you have a financial stake in membership. I’m a big advocate for other community builders to test out a paid model. Anybody with an audience can build this, it requires no technical chops, and it creates a better o

Sold digital products. We’re still figuring this one out, so if anybody has experience pushing digital product, I’d love to talk. Some things we’ll be experimenting with in the new year are linking to our checkout page as part of a popup for new website visitors, promoting / sponsoring our newsletter with a CTA to buy, and exploring paid ads.

Created merch. Never expected this to be a money maker but was interested in learning how to do it. We used Figma for mockups and Printful for orders and fulfilment. Once products were created, it was pretty easy to plug in directly to Squarespace to set up your online store. Anybody can set this up, but I gained a ton of respect for people that have been able to create a real business selling merch.

Launched a perk board. This was another cool project, and shoutout to BuiltFirst for partnering with us on making this available. Perks give you an offer too good for other businesses to pass up, and it can get you meeting with decision makers at big companies. Getting in the door is step one, establishing a relationship is step two, and figuring out other ways to work with these larger brands is step three.

Created non-fungible digital products on Mirror and OpenSea. Haven’t figured marketing this one out yet, but still obsessed with the concept. If you think about servicing demand, ads help capture revenue indirectly from semi-loyal fans, subscriptions help you capture from your loyal fans, and NFTs give you an option to capture value from your most-loyal super fans. Pairing this with a newsletter is something I copied from, and it’s something we’ll be investing in more in 2022.

Layered on a subscription component to our newsletter. We saw this as another way to add value through aggregation, and we copied it from Lenny (check out his newsletter if you haven’t already). We’ve used this premium newsletter to recap the best conversations from our Slack group every two weeks. It’s meant to provide more signal to paying subscribers, and we recently added a new section sharing the companies we’re looking at and why we like them. If you want to get added to the list, you can do so here.  

Started collecting paid media for the newsletter.  Finding and closing sponsors for paid media is the same as running an enterprise sales process. We had a pretty good idea of who would be interested in reaching our audience, but getting in front of them, understanding their needs, and putting together sponsorship packages has been something we’ve been building and tweaking on the fly. The goal when working for new brands is to make it a no brainer for them to work with you again in the future, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.

Made significant upgrades to our website. We hadn’t invested in our web design until the back half of this year, but we’ve made pretty big strides since this time last year. Aesthetics matter more than you think, and having a clean layout for your landing page builds brand authority, trust, and ultimately determines whether people take you seriously or not. Keeping a consistent color pallet and font are table stakes. So is making it easy for visitors to navigate and find what they’re looking for within the website. The next iteration is to increase visibility outside of direct traffic, and the best way to do that is to create compelling content within the site. Keep an eye out for some changes here.

2021 was the warmup – couldn’t be more excited to grow this thing even more in 2022.

Clay and Tyler

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