We launched SPI Pro in July, but our team has been dreaming about it for over a year. I recently spoke to SPI Co-CEOs Matt and Pat about the history of SPI Pro and why and how we started this membership community. Hopefully, if you are thinking of starting your own membership community, it will give you inspiration and a way forward.
Step 1: identify the problem
In late 2018, Matt and Pat were concerned.
It was just before they merged their two companies (Matt and his team at Winning Edits, a creative agency that merged with Smart Passive Income), and when they were discussing the company's future, they realized a problem.
Selling online courses had been SPI's main revenue for a number of years.
“We had discussions about the future of online courses,” says Matt. “At that point, we had been tracking financial performance in selling SPI courses for at least a year. So I've been thinking about the business model in the future and in the context of the industry, and I've found that we are struggling with certain promotions. "
SPI did a lot of the same things we'd done for years, creating courses, and then promoting them. Course promotions and sales occurred a few times during the quarter and were labor intensive and time consuming.
"Some of our tactics still worked, but relying on just one primary source of income was too risky," says Matt.
Instead, he wanted to create a business model with more stability and predictability. “I firmly believed that we had to grow and diversify across a few new offerings and add a new dimension to the business model,” he says.
Recurring Income? tell me more
In all of its twelve years of existence, SPI has never had a recurring revenue component. "In any business that you're doing sales all the time, ROI is more volatile," says Matt.
The other problem with selling courses is that creating and promoting courses takes a lot of time and energy on the team. "We didn't want course earnings to be the main thing forever. I'm not saying that I was worried that course earnings would go to zero or that there would be some sort of bubble bursting in relation to the market burst and people suddenly stop buying classes. I don't think that's true, especially this year when, more than ever, everyone is going online for education, but it is an inherent existential threat to this company – or it would be any business – if you only rely on one main source of income. "
Matt asked Pat if he was open to diversifying a few things. Pat said he'd love recurring income as a broader concept.
Step 2: develop the idea
"So what Pat and I were talking about at the time was more like, 'Oh what if, what if it was more like a digital conference or a digital gathering,' with that mindset," says Matt.
“Entrepreneurship is a very lonely road,” says Pat, “especially when you're just starting out and you feel like nobody in the world can understand you, and that's why people show up at conferences. That's why the people are in Facebook groups. "
Personal Inspiration – How FlynnCon showed the way
Pat's theory was confirmed at FlynnCon, SPI's first in-person conference, held in July 2019.
"There was a certain magic about FlynnCon that we wanted to try to replicate digitally and online in a certain way." Says Pat. “I keep hearing feedback on FlynnCon and it was the moments between the main meetings. It was these conversations in the hallways. It was the connections. It was only the mastermind groups that were formed in those moments that really delivered the real value there. "
It was around this time that Matt drew the vision for what he and Pat then called SPI Plus (which would later become SPI Pro).
The vision was to have a place where people could find each other and be supported by each other and by Pat and the SPI team.
Matt's original notecard vision for what could become SPI Plus (later SPI Pro).
“In my eyes it was called SPI Plus at the time. So you see SPI Plus in the middle of the map, not SPI Pro. And it was this six-dimensional, composite idea of community as portrayed by Meetup.com in a digital sense. "
Components of the Community Idea
Matt's idea had six components. The program had to have:
- Appropriate communication (similar to Slack)
- The ability to have private networks (similar to LinkedIn)
- A robust knowledge base (similar to HelpScout)
- Exclusive access and advice (clarity)
- Enriched content specially created for the needs of the community
- Exclusive discounts
Step 3: swivel if necessary
Talks between Matt and Pat and eventually the rest of the SPI team about the idea of SPI Pro continued.
During our annual team retreat in Columbus, Ohio in Fall 2019, SPI Pro was identified as one of the "big new things" we would be introducing in 2020.
Mindy, the SPI Solutions Manager, documents our ideas for SPI Pro at our team meeting in autumn 2019.
“Our idea was to be on stage, like at an Apple event, when they bring out their big, new thing. We wanted to get some trouble and fanfare and try to get some new members enrolled right from the conference, ”says Matt.
But then COVID happened.
We had to cancel the FlynnCon.
Our dreams of bringing it to the stage at FlynnCon with a lot of hoopla were dead.
From disappointment to opportunity and urgency
“We thought, okay, we won't start from the stage anymore. How are we going to start this instead? “Says Matt.
Aside from having to change our launch plans for SPI Pro when FlynnCon was canceled, it was even more urgent for us to get SPI Pro up and running.
The people were in quarantine. Everyone worked in isolation from home. We knew that a membership community would be a way to connect online as no one could go to face-to-face meetups or conferences.
The sad reality of having to cancel FlynnCon came with a silver lining: the SPI team had more time to focus on getting SPI Pro up and running.
Step 4: choose a platform
All this time, Matt was looking at what kind of platform would support our vision for the membership community.
Where would we host it? His initial idea for the community was inspired by various technology platforms (Slack, Meetup, LinkedIn), but was there something out there that combined all of these things into one platform?
“I evaluated different platforms like Mighty Networks and Podia. I went through the software and got a feel for it. Will this support the vision and concept that I have? “Says Matt.
He was also in contact with Ankur Nagpal, the founder and CEO of Teachable. Teachable has hosted the SPI courses from day one, and knowing that a large part of the SPI community is made up of people who have taken SPI courses, Matt Ankur kept up to date with his thoughts on SPI Pro to his In fact, I wonder if Teachable would eventually create something that we could use.
Circle the best option
But then Ankur said, "Holy s ** t, you should talk to the Circle people – they are some former top brass teachable employees who would just love to do this thing."
The three founders of Circle.so, Sid Yadav, Andrew Guttormsen and Rudy Santino, had all worked at Teachable and had gone to create their own platform especially for creators to build their own member communities.
“So we spoke to them and at that point we were very impressed with their functional prototype,” says Matt. “We arranged a meeting in February. I went to New York, and when I was there in person, they certainly had developed their prototype further. I've seen more and basically that's where I made the decision that we would do that. I called Pat a couple of times to keep him updated. And I said to him, “Yes, it is. We have to say yes, we have to do that. "
Check out our in-depth interview with Circle founder Sid Yadav
Pat was totally on board. Circle's vision is for the creators to shape a membership community the way they want, rather than being forced to develop a unified mindset about the community.
“We did a lot of research on these platforms and Circle seemed to be best for us, based on how we wanted it and what kind of experience we'd like to have with SPI Pro in the community,” says Pat. “We definitely got into the Circle Platform in love. It takes the best things about Facebook groups and combines them with the best things about Slack. "
Step 5: build the product
So we had the idea. We had the platform. Now we just had to create SPI Pro.
In March of this year, Matt presented his vision to the entire SPI team and began delegating projects and tasks. It was all hands on deck.
Put all parts together
The entire team entered the implementation phase, including developing and implementing plans for:
- The SPI Pro membership application
- Accounting facility
- New member onboarding plans
- Rules and policy documentation
- A schedule of events and meetups
- Create content, including eight e-books
- Offers and discounts
- Integration with our other platforms
We also had to figure out which features offer value but are not overwhelming for members. After several iterations of what we wanted to include in the member community, we settled on a number of features, events, and content that we believed would add real value to our community and give them what they needed.
“Our ideas for what to record were rooted in an ethos of connection, more than content and connection, even before we got involved,” says Matt. “I give credit to my friend Jay Clouse for this concept of pre-engagement connection. Jay is a great guy. He's one of the consultants we've brought in to advise you on some of the finer points as you develop SPI Pro. We want our members to make their own connections, discover people, and find their own buddy programs to develop small mastermind groups who may even be able to live and actually have their conversations on private channels within SPI Pro. "
A look in SPI Pro on the Circle.so platform.
SPI Pro features
Some of the features we landed on include:
- Learning channels for discussions on skills development topics such as podcasting, affiliate marketing, and email marketing
- Recognition channels for member networks, collaborations and more
- Monthly challenges that encourage, support, and reward membership growth
- Pitch opportunities where members can get known for their new cause
- Private channels for targeted discussions between member cohorts
- Private 1: 1 messages between community members
- Matchmaking with a mastermind group or a responsible partner
- A monthly discussion in the book club
- Free workshops and "Ask an Expert" events
- Free content such as e-books
- Community meeting places for new members
- Regularly ask me about AMA events hosted by Pat and SPI team members
- Professional networking community meeting places organized by topic
Some of the areas we developed in SPI Pro that are similar to Slack channels.
"We consolidated the first version of our information architecture for the community quite dramatically," says Matt. “In the end, we had a sharper focus, less overwhelming, more deliberate messaging, especially for new members when you walk in. You have to think about the experience a person has, and not just the typical experience on many other member site platforms. That just means, "Let's throw it all in there and have them pay monthly to get access to it all". That's not the most helpful thing. "
The features and value of SPI Pro ensure members keep coming back. We had to think about what the motivation is to join SPI Pro every day.
Step 6: start the community and celebrate!
Finally, in July we were ready to welcome people into the church.
We couldn't start SPI Pro at FlynnCon as The Next Big Thing. However, we did promote it on the SPI podcast, Smart Digest newsletter, as well as through an email campaign and social media.
The start was a great success. We have over 500 members (who are exceeding our target) and new people apply to join every day.
Members network, learn, form mastermind groups, connect one-on-one, ask questions, receive feedback on ideas and much more.
It's already a thriving community and we couldn't be more excited.
We recently hired a community manager, Jillian Benbow, and plan to grow bigger in terms of marketing next year and try to bring additional firepower behind it.
"It takes community," says Pat. "It takes commitment. It takes accountability and commitment to a group of people who speak and speak and think the same way you do. There's nothing like that. In SPI Pro, we can all be our weird entrepreneurial selves when we often can't have conversations with our immediate families about these things because they just don't understand. "
“We're building this here. I just haven't been that enthusiastic about a project for a long time. I mean, I'm happy about every project, but nothing at this level. "
SPI Pro: Your Safe Place to Learn and Grow as an Entrepreneur
In SPI Pro, entrepreneurs like you come together to meet and support, get answers to burning questions, learn from experts and much more. Consider joining us!