Jill Salzman is currently growing her third entrepreneurial venture, The Founding Moms, the world’s first and only kid-friendly collective of monthly meetups for mom entrepreneurs. She's also a sought-after speaker, published author, e-book editor, and podcaster. Jill was a natural fit for our Spring salon focused on starter stories. She starts more things before breakfast than most of us will in a lifetime. Here, she shares how community and business are connected.
It still baffles me every time someone asks, "Why is building a community so important to your business?" I am nothing without my community. My community is nothing without me. It's such a part of (my) human nature that I can't see a world—or a business—without it. It also seems to be a challenge for many folks to try and conquer. How does one build this thing called "community?" Where do all the people come from? How do you get them there? And why on Earth would they have any interest in what I'm doing?
The first community I ever watched grow like crazy belonged to The Grateful Dead. Their fans were dreaded. And smelly. And so rabid that they created a monster of a brand and sold thousands upon thousands of concert tickets, CD's and t-shirts. One day, it occurred to me that Oprah was doing the same thing. Her audience not only liked her, they loved—even obsessed—about her with a religious fervor that has since only been matched by Justin Bieber's Beliebers.
There was a common thread throughout all of these communities that I was noticing, and as both a music junkie and a Barbra Streisand fan, I knew Babs was right: People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. What she did not sing, though, was that they were quite profitable, too.
In my early entrepreneurial days, I assigned myself the task of helping touring bands grow their fan bases. I became a student of social media. I watched bigger artists' sales methods and applied them to local bands. I became a professional roadie, helping my clients put up band posters around town and selling their CD's at the back table in the music venue. For each and every band I championed, there was a fanbase. The intensity of their love for the artist grew only if the band fed them.
That was the first principle I learned: A community can only grow if there is mutual admiration. Fans can't do it alone, and the "host" (for lack of a better term), can't thrive on adoration alone, either. It's one big happy lovefest of a feedback loop. I took what I learned from those days and have applied it to every business I've started since. It's worked every time.
My latest venture, The Founding Moms, began as a self-serving meetup to help me understand how to juggle running a business with raising a baby. In four years we've gone from one monthly 10-person meetup in one small village to monthly meetups for mom entrepreneurs in 41 cities in 7 countries around the world. It blows my mind—still!—that so many women identify with this "entrepreneurial mom" thing and yet it makes so much sense.
So, I spend most of my time getting feedback from our members, building on their needs, and asking for more feedback to continue building. It's really the only way I know how to build a company at this point. As I write this I'm realizing that my mantra really should be: "No community? No company." Let's ™ it just in case.
That's really what drew me to Forth. There are a lot of communities that exist now to help women in business, or that help women help other women. But Forth instills something stronger. Something more intimate. The caliber of person who showed up to my first Forth event was extraordinary. I'd never met such a diverse group of women who were ready, from the get-go, to open up and talk about business issues—and at times, personal issues—so openly. It was refreshing, to say the least. I had a ball. And having run an organization that supports women entrepreneurs for years—it takes a lot for me to find a community-building event refreshing. I'm honored to be associated with Forth. Tickles me pink, actually.
Hip hip to high caliber, diverse, rad women.