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Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background. How did you get into crypto, and then involved with Blockstack?
The quick answer to "how I got into crypto?" is the community.
I was one of the early employees at Startup Weekend so developing community has always been important to me - I’ve seen the power of grassroots movements first-hand. If you're not familiar with Startup Weekend - it’s a global organization that started as a nonprofit, the mission of which is to help people all over the world practice entrepreneurship and connect in a safe, supportive environment.
I had a personal interest in crypto before but that was mostly just dabbling in tokens and reading a lot. I went with the Blockstack team to Berlin to support a hackathon and really fell in love with what they were doing, how they're doing it, and the team and community that’s doing it. Most importantly, decentralization is a mission I support.
What was it like early on when you joined Blockstack? What was the community like then, and what type of work did you do to grow the community to what it is today?
The community has stayed fairly similar in terms of the types of people that are the most engaged. As popularity has started to grow, the demographic of who's in our evangelists program has diversified. Earlier on it was a lot of just technical evangelists or folks who were already building on top of our platform. As we’ve grown we’ve started to see more and more different people who might say something like "I love this project. I'm not a developer, I still want to contribute. Do you have a way for me to be involved somehow?". We’ve been meeting these people and their communities where they need us to and it’s making our community bigger and more diverse.
In terms of our growth approach, every community has different needs at different times based on where they are in their maturity as an ecosystem and I feel we’ve just increased our understanding of exactly how we help them and our capacity to do it.
We also learned that these local leaders really appreciate some baseline content to plug into or a greater effort they can be a part of with others around the world. For example, our Decentralizing the World Tour really rallied everyone around important topics in decentralization. From there, they were free to make it their own but still be connected and the response to that has been incredible.
What needs to be in place in order to grow and develop an ambassador program?
The main thing in terms of infrastructure is that you need people who have dedicated time to making sure that the needs are met of these community leaders or evangelists. That seems really obvious but it’s also easy to get heads down on whatever your day to day is. Something that was smart that Blockstack did was they actually brought teammates like me earlier on to make sure that someone had dedicated bandwidth for listening to people and helping match resources to what they need. That's really all the evangelists or ambassador program is all about for us.
And I’ll say, it doesn't take a massive amount of infrastructure. At Blockstack we’ve cultivated a culture of everyone playing a role in the community and view ourselves as members of the community anyway. We try to keep the separation of employee and non-employee very small. Everyone here knows the success of the platform depends on people wanting to be a part of it and supporting and enabling those folks.
So, I think it’s less about what infrastructure needs to be in place and more about the mindset and commitment from everyone to being there. We have engineers going to meetups and hackathons, everyone from Muneeb on down is constantly going to events, replying in Slack, supporting on the forum, and playing a part in serving the community.
How many community managers and people are on your specific team?
We actually don't have any community managers. We have a growth team and then within the growth team, myself and Shannon primarily focus on making sure events are happening and the evangelists are supported in whatever it is they're trying to go do, but again, there’s no full-time community role at this point, we all do a little.
How many ambassadors are in the programme?
In terms of people who are actively working with us on a regular basis measured over a longer period of time, and have sizable regular contributions to the community, we have 70. That said, in recent months, the way that we've engaged with people has diversified. There's a lot of people that we're working with semi-regularly or just on occasion I wouldn't consider to be a Blockstack Evangelist officially, but are making important contributions. It’s funny, I always assumed the role would get more formal as we went, but it’s gone the other way and we’re just embracing that. We appreciate everyone contributing how they can, when they can.
What would you say was critical to the growth of the project in terms of community size, and the number of meetups that you throw?
We're still learning, but the two things that come to mind immediately is that the product we provide is useful and we support it.
I've seen every person on our team and especially the engineers be very responsive to issues or problems that our earliest adopters had and add new functionality or bug fixes based on their needs and suggestions. People see that and it goes a long way showing that if you're building on Blockstack - you're going to be taken care of. When you signal that to a community, more people will want to be a part of it even though it's young.
The second this was finding a way to create a cohesive shared conversation in the community - the most recent example being the tour I mentioned. We found a way through that to have something community leaders could plug into, but also have a lot of freedom with. And, probably most importantly, it gave them a tool to do something genuinely valuable for their community in bringing in these speakers and guests that brought a new perspective to their attendees.
We’ve also been intentional about not just trying to make everything about Blockstack. The conversations can sometimes go onto Blockstack, we'll do a workshop or whatever, but it's more important that community events offer genuine opportunities to learn and connect. We will do an event with anyone assuming it helps the community. We are also just generally very collaborative in nature so we’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great groups and build the community that was as well.
If you can go back in time, what would you do differently with the community in the ambassador program? What did you wish you knew early on?
Early on, at least in my time here, and I'm still relatively new for the record, we tried to really force it with hackathons. We looked at that and saw that had worked for other projects or in the past and people on our team had prior experience with hackathons, so we thought it was the obvious answer. What we figured out was that we were approaching it with this notion that we were going to get all these new quality apps on our platform. We didn't approach it from the right motivation, which was just to educate people, expose them to decentralized tech and so forth. Instead of trying to force it and get people to build all these apps, we started listening to them. That's morphed into us being better about implementing product feedback, which has been a great outcome from it.
The other thing was hackathons are a little bit more rigid and it doesn't necessarily give the Evangelist as much of canvas or it may just not be exciting to them or the way in which they want to contribute. Some of them may be coming to us and they're like "I really want to do a hackathon. That's what I love". That's great, we'll support it. But yeah, we tried to force that a little bit too much earlier on whereas now we're a little bit more like "what do you want to do, and how can we help you do it with that?".
What are your goals for your community?
The goal for our team is to continue to make sure that we're providing opportunities for people to join this broader decentralization movement, to host important conversations about the future, support our Blockstack developers, and just provide opportunities for them to connect with each other.
When you say "hosting conversations" are you talking about online or offline conversations?
I mean both, but the key here are the conversations, regardless of venue, continue to be about more than just Blockstack. It could be conversations about "why is decentralization even important" or sharing experiences from people who are in other countries with oppressive government. It's about enlightening people around the possibilities and helping everyone understand core issues of this movement and then helping them plug in. And yes, when it’s appropriate and helpful, getting in to the details of helping someone with Blockstack or providing a workshop or hackathon experience.
Is there anything else that you would want to say about community management for new projects starting and trying to build up their community?
It's not something you can fake. It's something that your whole team has to be not just willing to do, but excited to be a part of. The community will tell you what they need to thrive if you listen and it’s up to you to decide what makes sense for you to support. We don’t say yes to everything, but if they're trying to accomplish something that is in line with our goals and is good for the community, then we support it as best we can.
How can people learn more about Blockstack, and where can they get in touch with you?
For developers, I would say go to blockstack.org, it's all developer focused and will help you start smoothly. For getting connected to a Meetup or just generally joining the community, community.blockstack.org is a great place, the form also goes straight to me and you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org as well, I’d love to meet everyone at Meetup!