How Nigeria’s leading startups build and maintain thriving communities

Community-Led Growth is the process of creating a pool of enthusiastic customers who promote your product and recommend it to others.

How Nigeria’s leading startups build and maintain thriving communities
The African startups featured in this article

"Piggybank? No. I haven't heard of them before." I replied to Mary Imasuen, my manager at the time, who had asked me if I knew Piggybank.

"Okay. So Piggybank is a…" Mary narrated how using Piggybank made her a better saver.

Afterwards, she sent me a referral link to download the app. I downloaded Piggybank (now Piggyvest) instantly without thinking or doing further research. This happened in 2019 and I've been an active Piggyvest user ever since.

An interesting journey, isn’t it?

I became a Piggyvest user without needing ads or salespeople to convince me. A testimonial from a passionate user was all it took.

My experience is a case of Community-Led Growth (CLG).

Simply put, Community-Led Growth is the process of creating a pool of enthusiastic customers who promote your product and recommend it to others, thereby driving acquisition and retention. It is the fuel that drives word of mouth.

The genius execution of CLG by Piggyvest is what made Mary not only recommend them to me but go as far as creating a podcast episode documenting her journey with the app:

Source

Piggyvest aside, there are other tech companies with communities of loyal fans. AltSchool, Bumpa, Cowrywise, and EdenLife fall into this category.

AltSchool has fast become a household name in the tech ecosystem and the substitute for traditional institutions:

Source‌ ‌

Bumpa has customers and prospects betting on them to transform e-commerce in Africa:

Cowrywise is often praised for its excellent community management:

Source
Source

And customers praise EdenLife every other day:

Source

Wondering how these brands built and maintained thriving communities? Then this article is for you.  

Keep reading to see the secrets behind their success and how you can achieve community-led growth seamlessly.

But before we move any further…

Why Should You Invest In Community-Led Growth?

In 2021, 70% of companies with communities increased their budget for community building.

Source: CMX Hub

That budget increase is most likely because the surveyed companies enjoyed the following benefits of community-led growth:

It is a powerful moat

Do you know how iPhone users vehemently swear Apple is the best thing since sliced bread? They even go as far as refusing to use other products, even if they are superior.

That's an example of what having a solid community around your product can do. CLG gives you an unfair competitive advantage. It causes users to be loyal to your brand even during downtimes.

Take Piggyvest, for instance. On September 24th, 2022, a certain Twitter user accused them of fraud:

As you can imagine, that created panic. But amidst the brouhaha, some users vouched for Piggyvest’s efficiency, putting the minds of shaken users to rest:

A user testifying to Piggyvest’s efficiency
A user vouching for piggyvest

Such is the extent of the moat Piggyvest has built with their community. According to Peace Obinani, one of their Product Marketing Managers: "Whenever we experience glitches, we always have users vouching for us. They assure the doubtful public by saying, 'I've been using Piggyvest for 4 years, they cannot dupe you.' Basically, we have people ‘who carry our products on their heads.’"

It propels your existing momentum:

CLG flips the traditional sales funnel, where momentum often slows down after the prospect becomes your customer.

When you commit to helping new customers and making them zealous advocates of your brand — the core of community-led growth — momentum continues even long after they've stopped being a prospect.  

It drives customer success:

A well-managed community is a safe space where users freely share their pain points and provide feedback about your product. This is important because it means you get to hear directly from your customers and apply their feedback, thereby improving customer happiness/satisfaction.

Damilola Olopade, Community Manager at Bumpa said:

"Our community serves as a repository of useful feedback. For example, whenever we launch a new update or release a new feature, we get opinions, recommendations, and sometimes, critiques from our community members.

All that feedback makes it easy for us to continually improve our product and always meet our customers' needs."

It generates qualified leads

The typical CLG process entails:

  • Awareness: A prospective customer learns about a startup's product via brand building, content marketing or thought leadership efforts.
  • Engagement: The startup begins to nurture the prospect with social proof and community-enabled prospecting.
  • Acquisition: The startup continues to support the prospect even after they become a customer. It executes this with customer-to-customer support, self-service, customer education, product feedback sessions, and release updates.
  • Advocacy: The above steps compel the engaged customer to recommend the product to their peers, thereby generating leads who are easy to convert.
Source: Zapnito

If well executed, these four stages, particularly the advocacy aspect, make your brand a magnet attracting high-quality leads who require little or no effort to convert. Brands like EdenLife can testify to this.

In the words of Hamdallah Odukoya, Community Manager at Edenlife:

"Investing in community building allows Eden to attract customers who scale to become brand advocates. These people put us in front of more leads easily as they are constantly talking about Eden. As a result, we are getting brand awareness and leads at no cost."  

By now, you are probably wondering how to execute a community-led growth strategy.  I'll get to that in a bit. But let's quickly run through the…

Types of Communities

When trying to build a community, you have two options, namely—the community of product and the community of practice:

Community of product

As the name implies, this type of community centres specifically on your product. It serves as a space for members to ask questions about your product, share tips with each other, report bugs, or stay connected with your company. AltSchool is a startup with this type of community.

Tabitha Kayvu, Community Manager at AltSchool, explained the motivation behind building a community of products. She said:

"After AltSchool identified the importance of having a solid community, we went ahead to build an actual community management team (with me being the first hire) and set up a platform where all students would interact, learn from each other, get support, and provide feedback. Essentially, our community is about all things AltSchool."

Community of practice

Coined by social anthropologists, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, a community of practice is shared by people with a common interest in learning a particular skill. It extends beyond your product and serves as a resource centre helping users solve their problems.

For example, Piggyvest and Cowrywise foster their communities of practice via social media and blogs, helping users who want to improve their finances:

Cowrywise's blog


Piggyvest’s blog

To determine the best type of community for your brand, ask yourself:

  • What motivates my customers?
  • What do they have in common?
  • Where will they like to gather?

Now that you understand the types of communities to choose for your brand, let's get to the meat of the article.

How to Build And Maintain A Thriving Community

Before writing this article, I thought deeply about the question: How can early-stage startups build a thriving community?

Unfortunately, nothing tangible came to mind as I lack in-depth community-building experience. But I also knew better than to base my answer purely on search engine results.

So what did I do instead? I learned straight from the horse’s mouth.

I spoke to experts at AltSchool, Bumpa, Cowrywise, EdenLife, and Piggyvest, documenting the processes that helped them build and maintain successful communities.

Piggyvest

According to Peace Obinani, Product Marketing Manager at Piggyvest:

"Our products, starting from Piggybank, were built around the users and customers. I mean, the idea of Piggybank came from a tweet. This customer-centric origin translated to a connection that has since built a large community around Piggyvest.

We don't rest on our oars as we constantly nurture our community. From our social media content, such as the Savers of the Month segment, to the stories on our blog, we speak a relatable language that endears our customers and prospects. As a result, they realize we're not just here for their money. They know we care. Other initiatives like our CSR projects (like the one with Non-tech in Tech) and giveaways reaffirm that knowledge."

Key Takeaways

  • Know your customers first. Understanding your customer's needs is the foundation of excellent CLG. The more you understand your customers, the more you can predict what they’ll love to have in a community. So try to understand your customers and their needs before anything else. Here is a guide to help you with this.
  • Community building requires consistency. Despite the huge size of their community, the Piggyvest team hasn't relented. They're still working hard to engage their community members.
  • Humanity is the best hack for community-led growth. Piggyvest's community thrives by the day because they show, not just say, that they care. By using relatable language in their marketing efforts and organizing CSR projects, they demonstrate authenticity and humanity. Prove your humanity; the community will follow.

AltSchool

"Initially, AltSchool Africa was only an online school designed to equip people, regardless of their background, with the relevant skills required to launch their tech career. As we grew and attracted students from different countries, we saw the need for a solid community," Tabitha Kayvu, Community Manager at AltSchool, said.

Consequently, we went ahead to build an actual community management team (with me being the first hire) and set up a platform where all students would interact, learn from each other, get support, and provide feedback. We also doubled down on our social media presence, sharing valuable and relevant content. This has created a thriving external community as well."

Key Takeaways:

  • You can build a two-tier community. AltSchool operates two types of communities. Their internal community is a community of products centring around their online school. On the other hand, their social media is a community of practice dedicated to people, students or non-students, who want to improve their tech skills. Similarly, you can choose to build two communities. Who says you have to stick with a single type?  
  • You need a team to scale your CLG efforts. Community building is a full-time job. And so, you'll need to hire for community roles. You don't have to go full-scale if you don't have the resources yet. You can start by hiring only a community manager or even asking your current marketing team to take up community management.

Bumpa

For Bumpa, Damilola Olopade, a community manager at the company said that:

"From the onset, the Bumpa team decided that we would not only build the best product for small merchants to manage and grow their businesses online but also create a community in them to excel. We have since built a community nurtured by webinars, personalized support, partnership with relevant stakeholders, and essential resources.

Beyond that, we're constantly figuring out how to ease our community members' problems. We achieve this by examining their business lifecycle and identifying their biggest challenges. We also take our time to listen to our customers and note their suggestions, reactions, and engagement level.

By doing that, we get our customers to trust us and become our brand champions, thereby unlocking an enviable community-led growth."

Key Takeaways

  • Find extra ways to support your customers. Beyond your product, you need other ways to add value to your customers. Like Bumpa, creating a community of practice can help you achieve this. While at this, take the extra mile to ensure you're listening to your community members and making their lives better every step of the way.
  • Take feedback seriously. Ken Blanchard, a business consultant, once said, "feedback is the breakfast of champions." He's right. Bumpa's impressive community led-growth is largely due to its culture of seeking customer feedback. By keeping tabs on their customers' reactions and suggestions, they're able to know how they can serve them better, thereby generating a legion of advocates who never shy away from recommending Bumpa. Make customer feedback your breakfast and win at community-led growth today.

Cowrywise

For Cowrywise, Michael Oladele, Growth Marketer at the fintech said:

"We started a community with a single mission: build a moneywise generation by helping Nigerian students understand personal finance better. To kickstart the community in 2021, we made a call for ambassadors, and from the thousands of applicants, we selected about 600 students from various tertiary institutions across Nigeria to become our ambassadors. Today, that number has done 5x.

Building a thriving community is not easy, but our goal was to share value, making community-led growth seamless to achieve. After all, we knew what students wanted: career clarity, personal development, leadership opportunities, internships, and a community of like minds.

We provided all that in our campus ambassadors' community, which we nurture with knowledge-sharing sessions, meetups, and games. Apart from increasing Cowrywise's reach via word of mouth, our community-building efforts have led to the rise of a generation who knows how to make, save, invest and spend money."


Related Article: Amidst the ASUU strike, Cowrywise and Ingressive for Good are building tech communities across Nigerian universities


Key Takeaways

  • Prioritize value above anything else. The Cowrywise team has been able to build one of the biggest student communities in the country because they're big on adding value. They have a plethora of valuable activities that serve the different categories of their community members.  
  • Exclusivity might improve the quality of your community. It won't be far-fetched to say Cowrywise owes part of its success to being exclusive. Rather than making their community open to every young tom, dick, and harry, they organized a stringent application process, helping them filter out potential inactive members. You should consider doing the same if you want to open a dedicated community platform and desire a high engagement rate.

EdenLife

"The secret to Eden Life's community-led growth success is simple. We first gained clarity on our mission - to 10x the life quality of Africans. Afterwards, we leveraged our understanding of customers, available data, and storytelling to create valuable and engaging content that aligns with that mission. Our community is a byproduct of that alignment," according to Hamdallah Odukoya, Community Manager at Eden Life.

Key Takeaways:

  • An active community can be a byproduct of aligning your mission with content. You don't have to open a Slack channel or start a dedicated platform to build a community. Sometimes, comprehending your startup's mission and crafting content that conveys that mission is all you need to attract customers who will willingly catch a grenade for your brand.
  • Storytelling is king. According to Quantified, stories are 22 times more memorable than facts. Storytelling makes you unforgettable in this current landscape of sameness. Little wonder Eden Life's use of storytelling in their content marketing efforts led to a fast-growing community.  Instead of boring your audience with statistics and facts, wrap your messages into narratives that resonate, granulate information, and provoke bursts of emotions.  
  • Make data-informed decisions. While building a community on a whim is easy, it's better if you make data-driven decisions. Using data, like Eden Life's case study revealed, increases your chances of success.

Tap Into Community-Led Growth

An engaged, loyal community can be your startup's most valuable asset. The success of AltSchool, Bumpa, Cowrywise, Eden Life, and Piggyvest should convince you if you think otherwise.

But despite its inherent advantages, community-led growth isn't an easy nut to crack. And as you can see from the featured case studies, there is no silver bullet for it.

Ultimately, your startup's mission, goals, and the nature of your customers should determine your strategy. Don't use another startup's community-led growth map to navigate yours.