How to build an EPIC community with Ryan Paugh

Johnathan Gryzbowski

January 22, 2019

Ryan Paugh has been at the forefront of building highly curated, technology-enabled communities for ambitious professionals. In 2010, he co-founded Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invitation-only organization for leading entrepreneurs. Today, Ryan and his team are building the future of professional organizations at The Community Company, which creates community programs for global brands and media companies. He’s also the co-author of the book Superconnector: Stop Networking & Start Building Business Relationships That Matter.


I’ve quietly followed his journey alongside a man that I now have the ability to call a friend and that’s Scott Gerber. I interviewed Scott a few months ago. Make sure you go check that episode out. It will be in the show notes.

But Scott and Ryan wrote a book together called SuperConnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships that Matter

The book is phenominal.

Early in my career I was everything that this book says not to do. I was a card collector. I was transactional in the way I speak. I didn’t care about meaningful relationships, I just begged for money.

Throughout my career, that slowed down, and became more strategic, but it was nice to see context and examples throughout the book.

Ryan is a world class expert in community building and what better way than to get Ryan’s perspective. He’s an introvert at heart and having the ability to talk from one side of the coin, Scott being the extrovert. And the other side of the coin being Ryan. It’s cool to hear both sides.

I wish I could pin point one part of the podcast for you, but it’s all gold.

Can you explain the 4 mistakes of building an online community?

“The first thing that I went into in that article was just the failure to monetize your community and turn it into a real business that you can live your life off of. You know, that was one of the main mistakes that we made with brazen careerist that a community for young professionals I mentioned earlier, we were scared to, to monetize. We were, we were scared to put a price tag on the value we were creating, curating people in a more close knit environment. Um, and inevitably that’s why braise and failed and we pivoted towards a software as a service company which has become incredibly successful, but I always regret not taking that risk and, and having that community, uh, pay the price. So I’m thinking about money is something that most community builders don’t think about inherently because they’re thinking about the good of the people.

But at the end of the day, that can be one of the most important things that you think about when starting a community that you want to stand the test of time. You know, the second thing that I think is really important is operational excellence and operational excellence is not something that is just needed in a community businesses, but all businesses, most of them sort of a suffer at building strong operation systems and processes that allow you to really scale your efforts and provide the same level of service and the same experience that you did when you were in the trenches. Doing everything from getting people to comment on posts and getting people to connect and dealing with customer support issues. Sending that foundation early on is paramount to ensuring that as this becomes bigger than yourself, you have documentation and education that you can use to build a tribe around you that’s going to make that community continue to thrive.

Um, you know, the law, the next thing is scaling too early. You know, I think it’s in startup world in general, I hear a lot of people talking about scale and it’s kind of bugging me a little bit because I think early on in a business it’s important to really be able to stay nimble and to be able to get in the trenches, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty in a sense like you need to knock on a lot of doors. And to a lot of people that doesn’t sound, you know, quote unquote scalable. But frankly that’s how you learn about your customers and that’s how you learn about the people that you’re going to build a business around. So especially in a community business that’s so human centric, thinking about scale too early and losing that ability to connect one on one with your audience is a mistake.

Um, and the third thing is just, you know, as you start to take off the wall and your community becomes more sticky and, and people are just thriving within this circle. Even without your, um, you know, oversight, which is the goal really. It’s important to stay connected to you with your members and to ensure that you’re growing along with them. Um, case in point I think, you know, a lot of communities end up creating strong friendships that’s, you know, a great outcome of any great community. But through that, um, you know, sometimes subgroups get created and conversations and meetups beyond your community start to grow and um, you run the risk of losing a connectivity with those who were, you know, your, your tribes people. And I think that it’s really important to listen to what is going on within your community. Those sub groups that are forming the different types of, you know, sort of connections that people want to make within the group and build platforms and ways for them to have those discussions that keep them in your group versus having them go elsewhere to continue those conversations.

So to sum it up, really being sticky is all about making sure that your products offer something to the members that stand the test of time, you know, people are gonna come to you to solve one specific challenge, but they’re going to stay because you’re continuing to help them solve business challenges as they grow. So you again want to develop you or your tool sets, your processes, your ways of connecting your members alongside the challenges and new business endeavors. If it’s a business community that your, um, that your constituents or are going through in life, you know, you can’t just consider it a one and done and you have to constantly evolve if you want to stay sticky and you want to stay relevant in their lives.”

What does the word super connector mean to you specifically? 

“The great thing about me and Scott is we’re, we’re really different people and I think that’s what makes us great business partners and interesting also what made us really good coauthors for the book. But uh, my answer will probably be different than his. So I’d be interested to hear what his answer is as well. But I’m sure it it comes from the same place exactly of just you know, what super connecting means, but through a different Lens, him being more of a an extrovert and doing things a certain way, and me being more of an introvert, now you know my, my definition of of super connector would start by first explaining what super connectors aren’t super connectors are not. You know, that sort of caricature of a person at a networking event who’s just doling out business cards less than right with reckless abandon and not really taking the time to really connect with people and you can tell that when you’re shaking their hands and talking to them, they’re already looking over your shoulder trying to scout out the next person.

Who are they going to talk to in the room? That is sort of the opposite of a super connector, that more transactional networker that is sort of the person or the caricature of a person who’s given networking such a bad name. And why so many people hate networking today. What a super connector does is genuinely values the relationships they form and are more strategic about how they make connections when they enter a room or a forum. Um, you know, they’re thinking more strategically about who’s in that room and where they can provide value. They’re thinking about who they can provide value to, even before they’re thinking about what they can get in return because they know that by giving before expecting anything is gonna lead to the most opportunity down the road for them. Uh, rather than trying to make a quick transaction. In essence, they’re the next generation of, um, you know, business people who have learned to understand that, um, through social media and through yield networking event, the way that we connect and build real solid business relationships in our life has become bastardized. But there’s a better way of doing things. And you know, they’re leveraging the tools, some of which are in our book to a forged great relationships and to, you know, create common bonds with people who are going to help each other succeed in their career. Because at the end of the day, I guarantee if you ask any successful business owner, you know what made them successful, it wasn’t their millions of twitter followers, it was a close knit circle of individuals who are invested in each other’s success and are helping each other along the way.”