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Written by Alexander Hipp


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Why Beyond Is a Community-Driven Product

Starting with a product idea and then looking for the people who might benefit from the solution is super 2016. Today, you need to deeply engage with your audience, understand their most significant pain points, and then develop a solution to their needs. Arvid Kahl describes this method perfectly in his new book “The Embedded Entrepreneur: How to Build an Audience-Driven Business.”

A few years ago, enriching pure product development by user research had been the holy grail of building successful products. For a few years, everyone is talking about running continuous product discovery to learn about the problem and solution daily (I’m personally giving talks on the topic).

Now there is a new kid on the blog: Community-led product development. It changes the whole dynamic from the lonesome founder who comes up with an incredible product idea, does user testing to find the people who might have this problem, and then executes their feedback to build a billion-dollar company.

Today, the best approach to building a successful product is becoming part of a specific audience. Engaging with its members to identify potential pain points that might be big enough to be solved. Only if the problem is crystal clear, you go ahead and build possible solutions to solve it.

A great example of how this approach can lead to a billion-dollar company is the story of Wise, who just had the biggest IPO in the UK last week. The two founders experienced the same problem firsthand. They wanted to send money to another country and in another currency, which was pretty expensive back then. You could say they’ve been part of the same community of people sending money home to their relatives. There have been forums on Facebook to exchange the best rates and ideas on securely transferring the money. each engaged with the community and identified this problem big enough to have the potential of building a company. Wise has been one of the biggest community builder advocates in the space in the years that followed. They open-sourced their product roadmap to support their community in the best possible way. They don’t see their customers only as such, but instead, they see themselves being part of the community and serving that community.

At Beyond, we want to follow a similar approach. The company has been founded to fulfill our mission to serve the community of avid learners to build connections and grow together based on content consumption.

We’ve been part of a couple of communities ourselves along the way that formed our thinking about the problem space. Shane and I are part of the PM Library team that has built a community of more than 18.000 people around Product Management and book recommendations. The PM Library, on the other side, has been created by listening to the needs and being a part of the European Product Management community. I was deeply integrated with the community in both cases and had an almost daily exchange with different members to talk about their content consumption.

Being community-focused when founding a company can feel very weird in the beginning because people are used to asking what’s the idea behind Beyond, how do you want to make money, how does the product look and work. I could not answer any of those since the only thing we had in the first couple of weeks has been the communities and the inherent problems of its members when it comes to content discovery and consumption.

“There is too much content for professional and personal improvement out there, and I struggle every day to find the relevant stuff.”

“When someone in my network recommends me a piece of content that I should consumer, I trust it more than Amazon reviews or the google search.”

That was it! Those are the two statements almost everyone in both communities told us repeatedly. When it comes to lifelong learning and using their time in the best possible way to the consumer the best possible way, the people we spoke to became quite emotional. Most of them are intrinsically motivated to have this huge problem solved. This was reason enough for us to dig deeper and then start Beyond.

We followed the community-led approach and engaged even more within the community to understand more about the people who experience these problems. Until this point, we didn’t speak about how a product could look or how it should work. We did a workshop together with the PM Library to get our problem statements right that informed the direction of Beyond.

After Shane and I decided to dedicate 100% of our working life to solving this problem for the community, we interviewed almost a hundred people to deeply understand the root causes and inform our Jobs-to-be-done (read more here). These JTBD, next to our North Star metric, are now the guardrails of our product thinking and direction. We are constantly talking to people within our community to reassure we are still on track. The latest experiment in this direction has been the product chat we performed lately with our three most active users on the platform to discuss with them our thinking and product direction.

In the following weeks, we want to run more experiments on how we can integrate the community we‘re serving in the problem refinement and the solution discussion. We want to keep engaging and building communities on Twitter and LinkedIn to be closely connected to our users and have quick redefining feedback.

Beyond mainly exists to solve their problem, so they should be able to inform the product direction as well. We‘ve just started and have big plans, so stay tuned.

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