On Sunday, we hosted brunch and booze with friend Veronica Chan for a special breed of community folks that we saw take independent flight this past year. From starting our own companies, to contracting, to finally settling down with dream jobs, we were surprised (or perhaps, not so much?) to find some common experiences as we tried to piece together why we all chose to strike out on our own.

On choosing to be independent, we learned that:

  1. Sustaining passion for full-time roles is critical. It’s important that the values and shifting direction of the brand/company align closely with our own, particularly as the company grows.
  2. CM roles are now just starting to become more senior and influence product and design - we like this. 

We also came up with a pretty interesting list of resources:

Let us know if you’d like to join us next time - tentatively planned for Sunday, March 10th!  

Pictured here: Megan Berry, Kristen Taylor, Veronica Chan, Sarah Judd Welch, Leiti Hsu

Introducing LoyalCX (V1)

Today, I’m excited to share something very dear to me that I started just over 6 months ago - LoyalCX, a community experience studio with focus in community design, brand messaging and social media. Loyal came out of what you might remember from a year ago as my “learning plan” on people, community and products. Now, I realize is that this “learning plan” was actually a “plan of intent” for my life’s work in the intersection of these areas in a specific niche that I’ve defined as community experience, CX for short.

Loyal is based on the idea of community experience - the way that a group of people or community feels when engaging with a product, service, system or with each other.  

I just wanted to see if it could work, this idea of CX, and officially committed to it on Memorial Day. I put in just enough for the high side of legal and domain fees, and by June 7th, Loyal was in business. By July 4th, Loyal had brought on its first two large clients, was offered cash to close shop, and made 32x return. Like all brand new companies, we’ve had our share of hiccups, too. :)

Today, Loyal is intentionally a slow-growth company. We want to do less, better work. We’d rather be more like Ideo, 37signals or Behance than a high-growth “agency.” Loyal will not scale in it’s current state because it’s already incrementally moving towards what it will actually become - first, a firm for community design, and then much later, a products-based company. This change will be good, because it’s more sustainable for both for Loyal and our clients.

It’s going to take me a lifetime to see that original learning plan to completion in all of its narrow depth, and I feel really good knowing my focus. I’m also ready to run at it full force -  Loyal is hiring and looking for new projects for 2013! Get in touch at sarah@loyal.cx.

There is no way Loyal would have made it this far without the help, advice and support of these fine folks: Elizabeth Presson, Matt Shampine, Matt Blanchard, Nate Moulton and the community of #cmgr - especially Ana Hevesi, Veronica Chan, Karen Schoellkopf

Introducing Trista, Loyal's Project Manager + Community Strategist

Last week, we welcomed a new member to our team. Trista Kempa has joined us as Project Manager and Community Strategist! 

Trista is a Michigan native, Brooklyn resident, and passionate community and operations strategist. She believes in lists, outlines and guides, and lives by the motto: Work hard and be nice to people. Trista graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Advertising, where she first fell in love with startups, community, and operations. After graduating, she moved to New York City and worked at WeWork, first as Community Manager and later as an Operations Project Manager. After opening and operating the new 200+ member WeWork Labs space, she helped build their Community Management department and grew the team to 30+ Community Managers. From there, she worked with the Digital team to design and create the tools Community Managers used to do their jobs. It is at WeWork where Trista learned firsthand what it means to build and foster community and the effect it had on its members, deeming her a ‘community person.’ 

At LoyalCX, Trista will be doing what she does best: working with Loyal’s clients to take every project from point A to point Z. She looks forward to developing each client’s unique and engaging community experience plan!

We’ve been told that Trista loves Red Bull, the Internet and emojis. Needless to say, we’re excited about that combination.

Introducing Shannon, Loyal’s Content Manager + Community Associate

We’re excited to share that we’ve welcomed Shannon Byrne, the newest member and second addition to LoyalCX team! Shannon has been working as a freelance content strategist and copywriter for a variety of industries. Hailing from St. Petersburg, FL (the Tampa Bay area), she previously worked as a Marketing Coordinator at global digital marketing agency, BlueGlass Interactive, and at a nonprofit economic development organization, where she fell in love with physical communities after earning her chops with a boutique PR firm. Shannon will be focused on developing content strategies for both Loyal and our clients.

We heard that she’s a live music junkie, loves herself a good craft beer, and will eat almost anything chocolate, and we’re ok with that.

Yoga for Business, Being a Better Human & What Worked in 2012

This morning, I went to a different yoga class than usual. The sequence was tangential core exercises (ex: transition from lunge to plank without moving the hips) that led up to two separate pose series that both ended in side-angle pose. At the end of class, the teacher noted that as we transition to the new year, we should strive to keep the path (e.g. each pose series) to our goals (e.g. side-angle pose) flexible as we strengthen the attributes necessary to get there (e.g. core exercises).

This lesson was an echo of yesterday’s skype convo with a good friendtor (friend + mentor) of mine, Sarah Bishop. We reflected on major transitions from 2012 - Loyal for me and grad school in London for her - that were just the first steps towards our ultimate goals. The transitions were unexpectedly challenging of our characters rather than our skills as we had expected. Meaning, we needed more core exercises and pose series rather than just physical strength for poses. We had to grow as people to accommodate change and progress in pursuit of our goals.

As businessmen, we constantly tout our skills at BD, marketing, etc. But, the word “businessman” has two parts: “business” and “men.” We forget that it’s not just our business skills that make us good at what we do, but who are as men (and women!), too. To be better at business, we also need to be better as human beings. So, here are a few things that I worked on in 2012, and will continue in 2013,  to help me to be a stronger, healthier and happier person and, I hope, a better human being:

1. Increasing my Average
If we’re the average of the five people who we spend the most time with, I sure hope that we’re all spending time with good humans. Surely, we’re the average of how those five people treat others, too. This past year, I made a special intention to spend more time with people who not only inspired me, but also treated me well, supported me and were legitimately good people. This meant surrounding Loyal with very specific companies to learn from, putting monthly dinner dates in the calendar with my college gfs, passing on mentors for friendtors, going to less tech “vanity” events and refusing to date assholes.

2. Discipline in Taking Care
Many of you know me as a reliable comrade for late nights adventures and whiskey. Unfortunately, I can no longer deny the fact that my body wants to wake up at 6:30am everyday and still get seven to eight hours of sleep. I put yoga in my calendar like a meeting and went no matter what (hungover handstands are the worst!) and have now been for 53 weeks straight according to Foursquare. I also switched back from coffee to tea for more consistent energy. So, there has been far less late whiskey nights for me (*super sadface*), but also far better productivity and concentration.

3. Building Confidence
Some of my biggest mistakes both in 2011 and 2012 came from doubting myself - mostly based on my rational or irrational perception of others’ doubts. The best way to overcome this, I found, was to just say fuck it and focus on addressing my own doubts. I intentionally put myself in situations in which I had to exercise confidence - vacationing by myself (do it!!), starting a values-specific company, transitioning from cofounder to solo founder, and going on dozens of first dates (best way ever to convince yourself that you have your shit together compared to the majority of NYC, btw).

4. Being Really, Really Honest
As a super private person with a whole other world inside my head, I sometimes struggle to be transparent with others and even to be honest with myself. But, when surrounded with good people (see above), it just gets so much easier. Rather than worrying so much about how others will react or holding them at a distance, being really honest about my intentions, situation, beliefs, history, needs, etc. allows me to attract people and opportunities that are more aligned with me. Sometimes this meant really awkward conversations, but it also helped me to decide not to take a job earlier this year and to navigate some early bumps with Loyal.

5. Separating business and personal (kind of)
As a really small company (1-2 people), it can be difficult to distinguish between what is best for you personally and what is best for the business. I had to learn to think of my company as something external to myself so that I could have the perspective to simultaneously manage the day-to-day and vision. To do this, I decided to work less (yup.), never work from home, and work according to when I’m most productive on Sundays and in the morning. I defined core values for Loyal to aid in every facet of our business. Having a written standard holds me accountable and removes the personal emotions from tough decisions. Creating this separation has definitely made me both a better friend and a better business owner.

Series of good habits are self-enforcing. These five themes were not intentional - I just decided to be a better human and make day-to-day decisions accordingly; these are the five themes that emerged. It goes to show that the process or path to goals is equally important to the goals themselves. Strengthen the small attributes (the core exercises) and be flexible in approach (series of poses) to increase success in the goal itself (the final pose).

From Sarah: The State of the Business of Community, One Year Later

Today, LoyalCX has officially been in business for a year - a whole year! Wooooo! We’ve made it, and it feels pretty damn good.

Loyal came from the melding of my own experiences in community growing up, as well as my frustrations working within community roles. I empirically knew that there was a place for us in the market. However, a year ago, my experience in the space was limited to just startups. At this point, we’ve developed relationships with and worked with other players in our space, namely, brands and agencies. Even more so than when Loyal was just an idea, the state of the business of community gives us confidence that Loyal is on to something special. After one year, here are our thoughts on the state of the business of community:

Agencies are Scared

All it takes is a call to your friends in advertising to know that traditional agencies are laying off talent left and right. Agencies simply can’t make as much money anymore. It’s difficult to sell brands on big ticket media when digital is far more affordable. Yet, as technology and saturation have caught up with digital channels such as paid search and email, for which the cost per lead now averages $55 and $52*, margins are decreasing.

So, they’ve turned to the next “hottest” marketing channel: social media… or as agencies like to call it, “community management.” But a quick trip to agencies’ community management events would give any n00b the impression that community is narrowly defined by social media platforms, content and copy. How underwhelming. Realistically, however, large agencies are not nimble enough nor close enough to their clients’ business to support more fully-stacked community efforts (see VaynerMedia’s smart shift from support+social as community to micro-content**). Nor are they able to deliver results or ROI on social media for their clients.

Brands are Confused

After trusting their agency partners to lead them into the digital age, brands are disappointed with their minimal, or even negative, ROI in social media and so-called “community.”

From what we’ve heard from our agency friends, large brands have held on tightly to their Q1 and Q2 budgets, waiting for a clear directive on how to proceed with allocation. Additionally, more progressive brands such as Gap and American Express are investing in in-house talent, which is both more economical and produces higher quality, more timely results. This makes room for startups serving brands in their varied stages of content development and ownership such as Percolate, Contently and NewsCred.

Even still, it’s only in the past month that Loyal has spoken to large brands that we felt truly understood the difference between and complementary nature of content and community. We’re pretty excited to see the results of those community efforts over the next few months.

Startups are Distracted

Startups are taught by investors to strive for hockey stick growth. But what does growth matter when engagement and retention are flatlined? Even when founders know this in their gut to be true (see Groupon), they are are ultimately at the mercy of their investors to deliver the desired results to keep the lights on. As such, many startups perceive that they simply cannot afford to invest in community unless it is immediately clear that the effort feeds their bottom line. (Nevermind that it costs 5x as much to acquire a new customer as it does to keep one*. Nevermind that community done well snowballs, scales and lowers the cost of growth.)  

This is changing, however. Fitocracy was recently noted as one of Time Inc.’s NYC startups to watch based on its community. Andreessen Horowitz led a $60M round for Lyft, for which Scott Weiss cited community as the success factor. VCs such as USV and Collaborative Fund are long on community and are definitely seeing returns, too. Based on our client experience, the next step to solidify community’s role in startups will be focused on the hiring, compensation and talent development - efforts that need to be prioritized internally. 

So what does this all mean for Loyal? Well, let’s just say that we’re long on community, too, and we’re looking forward to continuing to shape the business of community as we further define and own our market niche. For more on how we look at community and what we do, check out our info here.

* Richard White, CEO of UserVoice, Keynote at UserConf NYC, May 2013

** Word of mouth


From Sarah: An Update on LoyalCX; Happiness + Commerce

When I was growing up in San Jose, I completed a ton of community service hours at an elementary school downtown in a low-income, Spanish-speaking neighborhood. It made me feel good to be doing something for others less fortunate than myself. Later, when my family had to move in the wake of the tech crash of the early 2000’s, I stepped out of my mom’s moving van and turned around to find that my new home was directly across the street from that same school. It was a humbling and humanizing moment in which I realized that there was an infinitely thin line separating myself from any other person – that we’re all in this together. That moment later became the foundation of many of my pursuits in life, including Loyal’s product story.

As we onboarded Virginia, we took the opportunity to reflect on Loyal’s past, present and future and dug deep into our “why.” Why is Loyal important? Why CX? Why have we spent 10 months working on this? We identified two pillars as answers: 

  1. Community makes people happy.
  2. Where there is a healthy and dense community, there are opportunities for commerce.

Happiness + Commerce are good for people and for the world, as well as for all kinds of businesses from small startups to big brands. This is good.

As we do with many of our clients, we used our own product story to revisit our values, audit our assets, refine our brand messaging/voice and refresh our copy. You’ll notice these changes reflected across our site, tumblr and twitter. Going forward, you’ll see our story and our two pillars reflected in our content as well.

We hope that more than just seeing these changes, we’ll inspire you to feel them, too. Feel our pillars in your heart down to the core of your work everyday.