Scaling a Product Community to 100,000 Members

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Dear subscribers,

In my previous post, I wrote about why community-led product development wins. For today's post, I interviewed Mark Tan, who built a product community of 100,000+ members with his team. 

Mark helped scale Wyze (a smart home startup) from 0 to 5M+ customers in 3 years through this community. Below, Mark describes:

  1. Why product teams don't prioritize community

  2. Why community-led product development matters

  3. How to build a product community from scratch

Why product teams don't prioritize community

We both worked at Amazon, which is famous for having a customer-obsessed culture. However, most Amazon product teams are not community-led.

Why do you think this is the case?

At a big company like Amazon, building a community takes a backseat for three reasons:

  1. Customer obsession takes a metrics-focused lens at the expense of talking to customers. 

  2. Product teams are too busy with internal stakeholder feedback to bother with building a community.

  3. Direct customer outreach requires working with multiple teams (e.g., legal, compliance, copywriting) just to get a few messages out. If product teams don't follow this process, they get their hand slapped.

Why did you leave Amazon to join Wyze?

While at Amazon, I noticed that Wyze offered a lot of affordable smart home products. I had a few coffee chats with Wyze's CEO and was inspired by his mission to deliver great tech to everyone. I joined when the company had only 25 employees.

Why community-led product development matters

After you joined Wyze, when did you realize that community was important?

Building with community was part of Wyze's DNA from Day 1. Our smart home products are hard to test unless we put them out in the wild. So having a community of beta testers was a necessity, not a nice to have.

How did community help you build better products?

There are so many advantages to building with community — I'll just list three:

  • Reach product-market fit faster. We saw early signs of product-market fit (or lack thereof) by building with our community’s feedback.

  • Generate word of mouth. We have parents recommending Wyze baby cams, DIY enthusiasts showcasing their 3D printer setups, and more. Our community members are our strongest customer advocates. 

  • Competitors can't copy communities. A community creates strong network effects. Customers are less likely to switch to a competitor because they enjoy sharing feedback with our product team and interacting with each other.

How do you convince stakeholders that building with community is important?

I think it comes from a shared belief that having open conversations with customers will lead to better products. For example, we have forums where people can vote for the next product that we build. Every employee can see the great feedback that we get in these forums. We also make every effort to invite our execs to talk to the community directly.

Are you worried about product leaks from your community?

We've had a few leaks, but just explaining to our community that pre-launch products are confidential has gone a long way. For the most part, the benefits of building with community far outweigh the negative impact from any leaks.

How to build a customer community from scratch

How did you start the product community at Wyze?

We started by asking family and friends to spread the word. We then created a landing page for a beta testing community and promoted it on social channels and groups. Reddit, Product Hunt, and Indie Hackers are other places where you can find early customers for your community. 

How did you keep the first few people in this community engaged?

We used a few tactics:

  1. Focus the conversation: In the beginning, we just had one main channel to get feedback from our community. We tried to make it as frictionless as possible for them to share feedback.

  2. Build trust: To encourage members to post, we asked questions and followed through on their feedback. Showing that you are listening and taking their feedback to heart goes a long way.

  3. Get to know them as humans. We showed genuine interest in the daily lives of our community members. I can give you the names of at least dozens of our members, along with what motivates them.

How did you scale this community to 100K+ members?

It took us three years to scale 100K+ community members across all of our groups. The primary growth drivers were:

  1. Referrals and community programs. Once we built trust with members, we asked them to refer other people into the community. We relied heavily on word of mouth from our primary customer segments: Tech and gadget enthusiasts, DIY hobbyists, pet owners, and security-conscious customers.

  2. Product launch promotions. We celebrated product launches with our community through tiered rewards, limited offers, raffles, and giveaways. We reached out to customers through newsletters, community, and social posts during these launch events.

How did you manage the community as it scaled? 100K+ members is a lot.

We have a team of community managers who reinforce our guidelines, interact with customers, and share our product roadmap. We also recruited 25 volunteer community members to help us champion our mission. Finally, we invited other internal team members (e.g., PMs, designers) to provide updates directly to community members.

Did you use any other tactics to keep a large community engaged?

We hold events and offer rewards to our most active community members. For events, we host AMAs and product launch celebrations. For rewards, we created an Early Access program to let members opt-in to receive new products first, get prioritized support, and unlock special badges in the Wyze app.

How do you measure the success of your community?

Our primary metrics include:

  • Active community members (e.g., people who post at least once a month)

  • The number of quality ideas and discussions (e.g., number of upvotes, comments)

We combined these metrics with a sentiment analysis to see if the overall trend is positive across our community channels. We also looked at secondary metrics such as referrals growth, feature adoption, and more.

Do you have any closing advice for product teams trying to build with the community?

Instead of just focusing on individual users or small focus groups, find ways to empower your community to share more openly with your team and each other. Investing in your community and bringing them earlier into the product life cycle dramatically increases the likelihood of product success.

If you're interested in learning more, Mark is working on a new Build Early Product Communities course with Maven. You can also read my previous posts on the intersection of community and product below: