Serial Marketer and former CMO of Publicis MRY David Berkwitz shares how he built up a thriving invite-only 1500+ member Slack community for his marketing consultancy serialmarketer.com
Episode 18 – David Berkowitz – Serially awesome community building
Find out more about Serial Marketers and join the Slack community here.
Welcome to The Quiz Makers, a podcast from Riddle.com. Join our weekly chat about all things quizzes, marketing – and everything in between. We’ll speak with entrepreneurs and marketers to get their quiz secrets, plus share our story… the highs (and the lows!) of scaling his successful startups since we launched way back in 2014.
Hello, and welcome to The Quiz Makers podcast. Our guest today is David Berkovitz. David was the former CMO of MRY, a huge marketing agency and has now moved to running his own company – Serial Marketers. Hello, David, thanks for joining us in the podcast!
Thanks for having me Boris. It’s great to be here.
David, the first question that I’ve actually always wanted to ask you and never gotten around to somehow.
Just how did you decide to move from being a big corporate CMO? You know, that’s a very well respected job at a huge company to being self employed. That’s a huge step.
Yeah, it’s a it’s a big step. And and some of it wasn’t entirely the plan.
Look life within Pubicis was a wonderful experience. So with the team and MRY, they’re kept shifting, like the organization, kept drifting considerably within Publicis. And so ultimately, they needed to step back from what they were marketing and kind of retrench. And then as I was taking some time off, there were just a lot of the companies I was initially talking to on the tech and product side.
Then I thought – let’s start doing some consulting… then in that four year span I’ve gone in and out of some of these in-house roles, but all of them have been a lot scrappier; it’s been fun being in the this building mode. And really, across the board, I’ve just been just been attracted to these entrepreneurial roles.
So that part has stayed fairly consistent. And a lot of it is even at MRY. We didn’t have a CMO before I joined, right so there was still room to just create things and build. It’s really appealing to track it, you know, going over to that startup front and having those as most of my clients day to day.
So but instead of going the usual route where you got to know a lot of people in your previous roles and you then set up consulting gigs.
You went a slightly different route as well. You started with a small Slack channel, I guess to keep in touch with people – which has now grown into a huge and thriving community of well over 1000 members.
Tell me about how that how that ideas started to build that community and how you manage to grow with that fast.
Well, the idea started pretty much the day I left MRY. It’s all very connected because I was I was going to be speaking at an event and after that transition, I wanted a company name associated with. (There’s a bigger sort of back story on the company name itself serial marketer.)
Once I decided on that, I thought, “Well wait, a lot of people identify as serial marketers. No one uses that term. Then I Googled it – and saw, right, barely any search results associated with it so there’s something thing to it.
And then I got to this point where I wrapped up this engagement with StoryHunter, this video production marketplace and in July of 2018, I started the community with a LinkedIn post. Yeah, I thought slack was the right place to try this then, like “Slack for business professionals”.
It was still very unusual for those outside of the startup community to have a Slack account. But it seemed like it was in that right place and something that you can customize a lot more than the Google, Facebook and then LinkedIn groups.
I just started posts connected to Google Forms and got some idea for this community, which is ways to share things like jobs, events and news updates. And who wants to give this up, right?
I didn’t know exactly what it would be. And right away, I got 100 people filling out that form. So like the initial early adopters, and I’d estimate about half of them actually went and created an account. Then it was just a matter of it’s fun.
Now it’s nearly 1500 members. And it feels like it happened both very slowly and very quickly.
Because it’s not one of those things where it’s like, “Put this thing on product and tell everyone you know.”
I’ve seen some communities that are like, very aggressive of having the community name on everyone’s LinkedIn profiles just to have that viral effect. And six months in, where the people join in, we’re much more likely to…from being my first or second degree of connections, some of its come from my third degree.
That to me was a really exciting pivot when I saw that people I didn’t know were giving this a shot.
Now, I say we tried to copy the Serial Marketers Slack community at Riddle in try to build a real quiz maker community. It completely failed.
And I think we failed for one one reason – we couldn’t figure out why people should join. So when you mentioned there’s a lot of communities that pop up on Product Hunt and they get lots of members, people register, but they never log in, they never contribute.
I think I’ve been a member of at least 10 or 20 of these. But Serial Marketer, I check every day. From your point of view, what do you think? What did you do differently than all these communities that makes your community really work. It actually really, really works.
You know, I mean, it’s gratifying to hear because because like you said, my initial goal once it was actually sustaining itself after the first few months, then my initial goal for the community was very simple. Don’t die, right?
And if it did die, by the way, that was okay. It was good experiment.
Then there were some nice little milestones along the way, like when I realized I could take a week off on vacation and the community would still be there when I got back. And actually, one of the reasons I hesitated to launch a community is because look, I’m in marketing. I know a lot of people were awareof communities and other related endeavors as their vanity project.
I did not want this to be the David Berkowitz community. And I want to be something where, like, say, I got involved with something else that was just going to take up all mine. I could basically hand this over to some other folks and say, “Can you just run with this?”
Now it’s at the point where I even know who those people are in the community who I could do that too if I needed to and it and have some confidence that a year from now, we’d actually thrive more, right?
A lot of it benefited from that organic build of you know, finding those right members is and i and i gotta say, some of it is what was the most unpredictable thing that I you know, where like, you’ve got like the luck and skill parts of any degree of success. And so for me, the luck part came overwhelmingly from the people who I call the ‘capitalists of the community’ – there are people who some I knew fairly well like Valaria Maltoni.
She is a wonderful writer who I’ve been on the speaking circuit with – I’ve known her for a very long time. She never was like my closest friend in the industry; she’s based out in Philly so not like the person I’d have a beer with day to day but she was someone I knew fairly well – so it wasn’t surprising that she’d be as active and just enthusiastic as she was.
There are people like Weston Woodward and Chris Gorges, Shira Abel, and like Peggy Anne Salz who I met in Germany.
I knew her before but sat down with her in the DEMEXCO press room, then I went back to my hotel room and I created an actual roadmap and a media kit. And I put together all this stuff because Peggy is so organized, so enthusiastic, and has so many ideas per minute – she’s just off the charts.
But a lot of it has just been gradually just benefiting from people like that – learning from them and trying to find that right balance of being involved day to day promoting it. I come across people who I’m connected to who I’ve known a long time, and who don’t know that this community exists. Whenever I hear that it means I have not been promoting it too much.
So it’s a lot of that balance. And it’s tough because I also never know to the extent that I should be like, you know, the main user of the community. Yeah. Figuring that balance between being the person running it and being a member – it’s tricky.
So in The end, it’s not so much to content. It’s the initial people that people you get in that make all the difference
Yeah, there are things I could have done better for instance, having a very concrete purpose. I’ve got more to flesh out. And I have some FAQ pages that are more hidden – I could have put them front and center in terms of like, “who should be a member and who shouldn’t”, what the community’s purpose and mission – stuff like that.
And a lot of it is like, “Gget good people together who’ve either been in marketing a while or just really excited about it.”
I have a few of these main use cases like I’m all for people. A lot of times, people refer a friend, especially when someone someone’s on the job market and not surprisingly, that is fueled a lot of the member growth over the past six months. But then a lot of those people get those jobs and pay it forward or just keep staying an active member and resource in the community.
So it builds from there right? There’s so much that I could have been more aggressive with like determined product market fit – all these great ideas from the startup world that I didn’t do very well, because I’m like, “Yeah, I still kind of want to see what happens, right?”
And I do have a form on the front door where people can request access, and I let in at any given time, like 90 to 95%. And when I don’t, it’s really because I have no idea why this person would want to join or there are a few of those red flags on their LinkedIn like this is probably some kind of spammer who’s just going to take and not give to the community.
Even then I’ve I haven’t had a single person who I didn’t let in later come back to me and say, “Come on, I should be here.”
And you kept the community entirely of spammers. I don’t think I saw one piece of spam. That’s good.
Now, one last question on the community that a lot of people probably wonder about. You just started this as a project. You wanted to see where it goes, but it’s a lot of work, right?
So you should get paid for it.
Do you have any regrets of not charging your members from the get go?
I know you’ve recently started with a paid add-on to the community.
Now thinking back, do you think it would have been better to get 500 paying members initially instead of 1500 free?
What’s your thought in retrospect on paying?
Well, some of it is, “What’s your purpose?”
Is it supposed to be a revenue stream? Is there value in the community as far as a a marketing channel for what you’re doing?
Look like when I started this, this was just a way to bring some people together. And for a long time, it was more top of mind but the day to day work on the community was really minimal. Like I haven’t had spammers and trolls in there. I haven’t had to deal with like a lot of the worst aspects of it.
I wouldn’t create a whole content calendar for myself. I wasn’t very aggressive, maybe to a fault in social media and promoting what’s going on in the community.
So there are 1500 people registered for this community who are perhaps a little more likely to pick up the phone, if I call them because this community exists – that’s an incredible value. And with charging for it, it got to the point with the roadmap that I was talking about, there’s so much I wanted to do – that I didn’t feel like I should be the only one investing in this.
It got to the point where I thought that there are things coming up that I want to pay for. And once I can figure out that disproportionate value, I went ahead and rolled with it.
Now, as far as what I’d recommend others do… It’s very different, right? It’s because everything I’ve read says going a freemium approach is the toughest way to go about it – either go all in and find sponsors or just like you know, foot the bill and make this a free community… or charge from day one, make it very clear just what the price is going to be and then you won’t have anyone join it who’s not planning on paying. (And many of them – even if they stop using it, they’re gonna pay for the rest of their lives and just kind of forget about it or something like that.)
So I think there are smarter ways to go about this.
But launching this as a project and seeing what happened like is very fitting for me, it’s fitting for my brand also to a fault to leave money on the table and to think about just value first. I generally try not to cash in on something; almost waiting as long as I possibly could to go and and charge.
So it’s a tougher way to go about it.
But I still think for this community that has a little bit of this iconic classic feel to it – we’re not running this like a heavy handed top-down approach like “Shout this thing from the mountaintops – this community is the next big thing ever!”
It’s really the most low key bunch of marketers I think you could find anywhere.
And to that end, the one advice I would give someone else is at some point, you’ve got to learn as much as you can – throw it all out, throw out everything you might have learned during this episode here, and then just do what works for you.
And yeah, and that might not mean it works, but like then you can at least give it your best shot.
Awesome advice. Thank you, Dave. And to everyone listening to wrap this up. I want to pick up two points about the freemium model.
I agree, we tried that at Riddle six or seven years ago when we started; we went to freemium.
It just doesn’t work.
That would be my advice to other startup founders out there. People who join something and are not paying – getting them to pay is the hardest thing in the world. So either go all free and find other ways to monetize or go all paid would be my advice.
As far as the community and being on the show, thank you so much, David, for your time.
I’ve become a paying member of Serial Marketers for one single reason – to thank you for the work you’ve done, because I’ve gotten a lot of value out of Serial Marketer.
Every question I put in there about marketing I get answers for and if I help other people, they are eternally grateful and thankful, I’ve met so many great people.
So for any of our listeners, if you’re marketer – check out Serial Marketers. I’ll put the link in the show notes. Join the community. If you give David a good enough reason why you should be there, he will let you in.
Well, thank you, David, for being on the show – it was wonderful to have you here.
And thanks so much. Yeah, I just really appreciate all the work you’re doing and thanks for being part of the community. Thank you.
Thanks again for listening to this episode of The Quiz Makers.
And don’t forget, check out Riddle.com – the quiz maker used by the BBC, Shopify, and thousands of other companies worldwide. Our quizzes are fully accessible and GDPR-compliant. Try our free full featured trial for 14 days with no pesky credit card required.
All right, until next time… Happy Riddling!