“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” -Yogi Berra
In 2013 I launched the eCommerceFuel forums with the mission of building the web’s best private Community for store owners.
I invited about 100 people I personally knew to kick things off and then opened up membership to store owners who met certain revenue guidelines. (The revenue guidelines ensured all members brought meaningful business experience to the group).
We grew consistently until we neared the 1,000 member mark this last January.
Early on, that growth was incredible for the Community. More members meant more experts, good questions, great answers and unique perspectives.
But growth is rarely good in perpetuity.
A strong Community needs to have strong ties among members. If a group is too big it’s hard for people to know and trust each other. It’s also harder to make sure everyone inside is a great fit.
This is especially true when members are talking about potentially sensitive topics involving their their business and livelihood.
So we recently we took a cue from Mr. Yogi Berra and made the hard decision to cap our Community.
There are two primary reasons we put a limit on our Community’s size.
Keeping Things Intimate
The first reason involves intimacy like I touched on before.
There’s a lot of value in knowing and trusting the people in the Community. And that gets harder the bigger a group gets.
So maintaining a higher level of intimacy was a big part of the decision. The more people feel like they know other members, the more open and engaged they are.
Ensuring Contributions from All
Secondly, Laura and my goal is to build the absolute highest quality Community for independent merchants in the world. A big part of that is making sure that everyone contributes to the discussion at some level by sharing their unique areas of expertise.
Capping the Community allows us to reserve our fixed number of spots for people who are willing to engage, share and give back. We’ve updated our membership guidelines to make participation a requirement and have started replacing people who never contribute with the best new candidate applications we receive.
There’s obviously concerns to be had here. My intention isn’t to turn our Community into a full-on Hunger Games style contest. Not everyone can be a top poster or engaged on a daily or even weekly basis.
But by replacing members who rarely/never engage with the top candidates we’re able to greatly strengthen the Community over time.
The Path Ahead
Going forward our focus will be to strengthen the bonds inside the Community.
We want to ensure that everyone is deeply invested in the group and to make it place where people can get world-class advice from people who genuinely care.
It means we’ll have to put the brakes on growth but I think it’s the right decision to help us achieve our goal of building the world’s best private Community for experienced store owners.
Why You Should Still Apply for Membership
Surprised to see me say that after my tirade about growth? Well, I’d still love to have you apply to join our Community!
The number of spots we have available will be greatly diminished each month but we still will be adding new members on a regular basis.
Whenever a member quits, is removed due to inactivity or leaves the eCommerce world we’ll have an opening.
Thoughts on our new approach? Or questions about membership? Let me know in the comments below.