Sarah Hodges on building community

Patrick Campbell Mar 9 2021

Boston has a bad reputation, but it’s a reputation that isn’t completely accurate. It’s more of a misunderstanding. Here’s a little story to explain this: When I first moved to Boston over a decade ago, my first experience was quite a doozy. I’d just gotten off the plane and was on the T—which is the local subway for those of you who don’t know—and with all of my bags I was just cornered there trying to avoid hitting people. 

My Midwest sensibilities that I developed in the Wisconsin dairyland would just not prepare me for what came next. Because I accidentally bumped into someone and I responded just like my mother taught me,”Oh my gosh sir, excuse me, I’m so sorry.” Without missing a beat, this masshole turns to me, he takes out one of his headphones and goes, “Why the fuck are you talking to me,” and just moves on with his day.


While I could have generalized and written this off as just another Boston stereotype, what I learned over the years being in the Boston tech community is that it’s less that Boston is unfriendly and it’s more that they’re just not as outgoing. It’s a rough city with rough weather, and even the white collar community acts blue collar. You work hard and you get to where you need to go. 

Yet, fortunately this mindset cuts both ways. Boston’s community is one of the most loyal I’ve ever encountered. Once you’re in—and it’s not that hard to get in—if you can get through the rough exterior, you’re part of the family. It’s a community that’s refreshingly meaningful and loyal, not one that’s superficial where everyone just wants to get what they need and get out. 

Boston made me who I am and one of those people that brought me into the community and is one of the best people I’ve ever met in building community, is Sarah Hodges. She currently leads Pillar VC in Boston but she’s had stopovers leading marketing at Carbonite and Runkeeper, as well as building community and People Ops at Pluralsight and co-founding She’s an ecosystem builder and someone we can learn an immense amount from in the realm of community and people. All that and more, coming up next.

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Here we summarize the main takeaways for you to implement or hand off to your team for implementation.


Key term

What is community?

Communities allow people with similar interests to come together, and as a result create a feeling of fellowship, unification, and connection with others, and ultimately, with your brand.  

Why is it important?

Communities can significantly impact the growth of your business, as they’re key to creating awareness. Communities allow you to establish authority and trust, leading to strong and loyal relationships, which down the line can turn into loyal customers. And customers will spend more on brands they’re loyal to. Additionally, they’re a great way to gather feedback for your business. 


Action plan:

What to do today: 
  • Follow Sarah Hodges.
  • Schedule a time to meet with your exec team to discuss the type of community that would make sense for your company to build. 
What to do next quarter:

Begin the framework around the community you want to build. Remember that building a community is not about you. It’s about your members and how you can help them. Focus on that first.

To help you get started we’ve included some tips to help you start building your community:

      1. Pick a specific niche around your expertise.
        1. Who are you trying to serve?
        2. What void can you help fill?

      2. Pick a platform.
        1. Will this be an online community or in person?

      3. Begin by inviting people you know and then develop a plan for extending the invitations further.

      4. Engage with members as much as possible. 
        1. Provide quality and valuable content, and ensure you involve them.
        2. Leverage your social channels to help boost your community by starting conversations and creating engagement.

      5. Listen to your members. 
        1. What is their experience? 
        2. What do they want/need more of or less than? And then provide them with what they’re asking for.

      6. Make it easy for your members to share your content.

      7. Promote others when possible. 
        1. Allowing people the opportunity for a little self-promotion will likely guarantee their participation in your community.

      8. Communicate with your members consistently. 
          1. This could be through a weekly or monthly newsletter. 

What to do within the next year:

Begin rolling out your community. Remember, community takes time to build. But by providing consistent value along with a solid strategy for enticing members to join, you’ll cultivate a community that will continue to grow. Furthermore, you’ll begin to foster loyal customers that will help your business grow.

Who should own this? 

Founders, executives, or leaders looking for a way to give back, but to grow through valuable and honest feedback in order to truly serve their customers.


Watch the full episode


Coming up next week?

Next week, Sam Riley of Ansarada gets to the root of what the customer wants.

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By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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