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May 12, 2022

E019 Erik Israni: Expert Community Builder

Building An Engaged Community Is The Ultimate Leverage To Reach Any Outcome.

Erik Israni is a lawyer turned community builder and no-coder.
He is the President of the New York City Alumni Board at Babson College, and he launched Bubble's podcast and built their bootcamp.
He led community at three different startups, and he is currently working on a no-code hackathon as well as building the community of talented, creative Developers and fantastic Marketers at Prismic.
His Twitter: @ErikIsrani
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Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 0:07
Once upon a time, there were millions of businesses struggling. Every day they wasted time, effort and money on repetitive tasks that added no value. One day, the Better Automation podcast by PROCESIO came to help them find a way. Because of this, these businesses save time, reduce costs, innovate, and make better decisions. Because of that. These businesses grow, scale, and use human creativity to change this world. Hello, my name is Aziz and I'm your host that Better Automation podcast by PROCESIO, where I interview the world's top experts and share their very best ideas on how to improve automation in your business, processes, and life. My guest today is Erik Israni. Erik is a lawyer turned community builder and No Coder. He is the President of the New York City Alumni Board at Babson College. And he launched the Bubble podcast, and built their bootcamp, he led community at three different startups. And he is currently working on a no code hackathon, as well as building the community of talented creative developers and fantastic marketers at Prismic. Prismic is the headless website builder, a headless content management system that helps you generate growth by rapidly creating fast on brand pages that empower your content team. Erik, how are you today?

Erik Israni 1:50
I'm doing great. Thanks for having me. Aziz.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 1:53
I'm honored. I'm excited. I'm so full of questions, because this is an exciting topic to me. And let's really zoom out on the big picture. What is community for you? What holds the community together that makes it different than like a group of random peoples at the same place at the same time? What is all that like on a more metaphysical or conceptual level? What makes a community? and how do define community in your mind?

Erik Israni 2:27
That's a great question. And there's not a simple answer. But if I were to tell you how I think about community through the lens of my roles, but also through the lens of life, I would say that community is when people come together, when they gather around a shared purpose and mutual growth, people come together for a reason. And that and that reason is, it's tough, because when they come together, a lot of people will join communities with the idea that they're trying to improve themselves. But an effective community, a true community is one in which everyone who joins come to the realization that by putting into the community, you're gonna get a lot more out. And so this mutual growth is what underpins the healthy the effective communities, as people drive themselves and each other towards some kind of shared goal or mission. And that could be as simple as improving your neighborhood. And it could be as specific, as I'm trying to become a better developer are no coder. And so that is how I would think about community.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 3:40
Thank you. I love this topic, I believe in the power of community. But I'll play the devil's advocate a little bit. There is a quote by Steve Jobs, I think to paraphrase it that he loves people individually, but in groups, they become dumb, and not so good. But at the same time, there is a perspective that to get anything done that requires real work, you need a team, you cannot do it on your own. So to get it back down to basics, is building a great community about screening for the right people who are givers who want to give more than they take and all that. Or do you believe that humans are more like a blank slate where if they come to a community with a culture of giving, everybody will become that great person while in another community they might not be? What is it? Is it both? What is the interaction? Is it selecting the gems of the best people? And that's what builds the community? Or is it the culture that anybody who joins will become that great person?

Erik Israni 4:46
Sure.. I think the answer to that requires us to take a step back and look at what drives us as humans. Right. And for the most part, broadly speaking, humans are so social creatures, we're social animals, the way in which we learn the way in which we find happiness, the actual chemicals in our bodies that drive us to succeed to be happy, or all bound up in this idea of being with others, or building a tribe and finding this tribe. And while of course, there are exceptions, but understanding that that's what underpins all of human civilization is this gathering and growing, I'd say that the building community requires that right, the individual contributor can join, and can learn and be a part of this. But it's an individual effort to recognize those things. But the success of the community requires that we do everything together. In terms of building an effective community depends on your goals, right? If you're, if you're looking to build something that will benefit, society will benefit everyone where your your goal is far reaching, then you want to try and create rituals, you want to try and create a welcoming environment where you bring people in, where they get that opportunity to learn what it takes to be a part of a community, where the onboarding, you know, I use that term, because that's what I use for work. But like the onboarding into a culture into a community, is such that it's welcoming, and people can learn. In terms of building an effective community, if you have a very specific goal, right where like, you know, for work, I, I have very specific goals for the communities that I built, then you want that onboarding to self select for the people who are going to be giving the most who are going to be getting the most out of it. So you're creating the optimal environment for success of the group. To go back to your Steve Jobs, quote, I'd say that I understand what Steve Jobs says when he when he dismisses people in large groups. And I think that that's in large part because he's thinking about people who are unaffiliated, except in the fact that they want to share their voices, there's no driving community to them. But when you gather people together with a purpose, it becomes very different people will learn and people will grow at an exceptional rate. Because they have each other when I was teaching the boot camps when I was building those out, and, and all the educational resources since then, the one thing that I can't see remind the educators that I bring on and I train is that your students aren't just getting an individual experience. The reason we do it cohort based the reason that we bring them all together, and have them share what they're building is because that's seven 810 other lessons that the student is learning that they wouldn't otherwise experience. It's the same reason I encourage people to read, you're living other people's lives, you're seeing other people's vantage points, without having to go through it yourself, which ties back to like I said, that's how we learn, we learn from each other, we learn patterns of behavior, we learn how to approach problems, we learn so much. And if it is, given the given the focus of a community with a purpose, it accelerates your learning well beyond anything that you can do as an individual.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 8:19
Thank you. I love this. Thank you, I love this. And one more time, I spoke to two community founders who said two things. And it seems like the number 10 is a recurrent theme within them. They say the first 10 people they had in their communities were high quality individuals that shaped the culture that really extended throughout time and space until now and therefore choosing those. So practically, for someone building a community, those 10 First People are what will determine the success or the failure. But even more when they think now about their communities, even if they have 1000s of people, it seems the magical number 10 That there are 10 people within the community that are having disproportionate impact on everything. They're opening all the doors answering the best giving the best answers, whatever it is. Did you notice this within your experience? How could you explain this? Is this a factor that any community builder should keep in mind? Or was it just random like that to community builders had that experience

Erik Israni 9:32
I personally have not had the experience of that number 10. It has varied widely. I do agree with the idea that you're the founding members of your community are going to be the folks that help set the culture. And the reason for that is because they are the way in which you extend yourself and the rituals that you want and if they don't embrace them, if they're not all on the same page, then you are not going to be able to scale up In this community beyond the group, they're gonna be constant, constantly intention in terms of what you're trying to achieve. There's no alignment. And when people join, depending on who brings them in, I think that's the key thing there too, as well. Keep in mind, the people that you bring on first, they themselves need to also be ambassadors for your community. They're the evangelists, they're the ones who are going to be key to bringing on more people, they're gonna go, Well, this is what I can expect, when I join the community, this person is what I can expect. This is, this is a template for what is going to happen if I join, who I can be what I can accomplish, what I'll learn who I get to spend time with. So those people were very important, not only, you know, individual as contributors, but also they're all in alignment, to point about 10, I think that might honestly just be a factor of the fact that we as humans can also only maintain so many relationships. And as a community leader, you have to maintain a tremendous amount of relationships. And so how many close relationships can you foster? Can you cultivate, and 10, honestly, is probably a good number, considering you have the rest of your life to consider as well, you've got family, you've got friends, you've got it's outside of work, you might be a part of multiple communities and fandoms. And, and so the idea that the 10 of the, I think the numbers about 150 is that you can maintain is, is probably spot on in terms of building a new community 10, high value intensive relationships as you build a community that that feels like a solid number to shoot for.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 11:37
Thank you. And I love this, this is very great on a theoretical foundational understanding. And let's get to the step by step practical perspective, based on your own experience. Let's say right now, you decide to build a community and you want to have the outcome or the end of the process is as many evangelists as you mentioned as possible. What would be that onboarding experience? What psychology to keep in mind? What would you automate? And what would you keep at manual or personal one to one level? How would you approach it so that any business or person who are interested in building a community might have some kind of blueprint?

Erik Israni 12:25
Sure, there's a lot to unpack there as a multi step question. I'll start with this. I'll say that doing the introspective work of really thinking through Well, what community Am I trying to build? Who am I building this for? What am I trying to achieve with this community? What are our guiding values? And what are some potential rituals that I want these folks to take part in? Right? You think through all these things, not only because you, you'll think that there'll be the most successful in achieving the community trying to build and bringing on the right kinds of evangelists. But also, because if you're not excited by it, if you're not interested in it, if it's not deeply satisfying to go through, figure these things out and be like, Yeah, this is something I would join, I want to be a part of that enthusiasm is not going to spread. If it's just another job, it's it's very difficult to then recruit people who are also going to evangelize the community, right, and everything that it has to offer. And so once you think through all that thing, you think, Okay, well, now I have to build an onboarding, I have to build a sales pitch, why are people going to want to join this? Why is this important? What are we doing? What need are we filling? And tying it back to what I said earlier, like, this is a deep, important need for people, right, this need for communities and to be a part of something? And so having clarity on that, what is the purpose of this, and there are many purposes to communities, right can be like, my purpose is to enjoy the, you know, the culture and the media put out, you know, around Star Wars, there's a huge fandom around Star Wars, where this is gonna be a community of practice, I want to get better being a developer, specifically a front end developer, right? What where can I go find people like this, who are doing this so I can do this together? And we're going to fill that need, right? We're going to create that experience for you. And now understanding that there are people who are going to be more active, they're going to want to share their experiences, they're going to want to do it for multiple reasons. So understand that psychology. Why do people evangelize? Why do they do this? They do it for all sorts of reasons. So the social capital, the cloud, they're trying to build their own business they, they simply just like, can't stand the idea that no one else knows about this and they just want to share it. They just they want to get it out there because they feel like it's important. There. There's a there's a huge societal implication, and they feel very mission driven, right. They want to get behind the and share this. And so you find these people with that spark of energy around it. And you do it without judgment, you do it with the understanding of what it is that you're trying to build in your community. And now you build a process around it to help people self select into this, right? So you make it very clear what is, uh, what are we trying to get done? Who is this for make it very clear who this is for? So people, like, that's not me, I'm not gonna go through this process, right? That that's not me at all. And then the beginning, much like every other startup and you know, for those of you come from the startup world, you talk to them, you, you get in a room with them, there's no automating those initial conversations, and you workshop, your language, your workshop, your messaging. And you get to a point where you nail your stump speech, right? Like, what are you providing these people, and then you can really start to scale from there. But hopefully, by then you've talked to enough people, enough potential community members, evangelists, people who are excited by your idea and want to take part, you have a very clear idea of what they want, what their expectations are, and then you can build something for them. And so that's why I would start, I'm happy to get into more specifics from there. But that answers, at least the beginnings of your question,

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 16:16
Thank you. And if I understood you correctly, it's first about building an identity or a story for the right people to self select. And that's very important people with the right spark. So some people think, Oh, you will influence people to motivate them or whatever. But actually, we are living in a world with almost 8 billion people. Now, trying to like squeeze water out of Iraq isn't really the most efficient use of your time, but having very, very clear identity values, behaviors, rituals, like you mentioned, that bring those people together will let even if it's, you know, Pareto Principle fractally, like 4%, or 1% of everybody who sees it says, that's for me and 99% say, that's not for me that 1% have the potential become an evangelist. And once you gather them together into this tribe, then you understand what do they want? Where is the promised land, and then you begin moving to that direction, knowing that you have the right people on board who will contribute as much to the journey as you do. Did I understand correctly?

Erik Israni 17:31
You did. Absolutely. And the other thing that I will say is, it's a turn this concept on its head a little bit, this idea that you're going to find 10 people, and those are the people you need to start with, right, and those of your evangelists, you're gonna invest in them. The, I think some help early on is great. Understanding what you want out of an evangelist is great. But I also think that there's a lot of value in picking a single ritual, something that will bring people together, and getting people to actually come together and to see who who matches your idea of an evangelist, right? So don't don't go looking for those 10 apostles and then start your community start doing something right I have a I have a friend in the in the no code space at kp. The he started his initial community locally for builders, no code builders, just by putting out a message and showing up at a cafe every week. And it started small and eventually grew, and more people came and more people came. And eventually someone's like, you know what, I really want to be involved in this at a deeper level. And I want to I want to jump in the hierarchy and I want to help and like, okay, this person has a spark this, this person understands what I'm trying to accomplish here. You see companies like the trench newsletter, right, where you're not allowed to come and join the rarefied air of their like top tier of community, until you've shown that you can show up for things consistently. And then you can progress into that section. Space space is Squarespace does the same thing where you can't join their circle until you have three active pieces of three active portfolio pieces on space Squarespace, right. So having this small hurdle, like I said, the sub select people before they even get considered for this larger, more more active roles is super important. So I don't want people to get the idea that you need to start with 1210, five evangelists before you can start your community then quite the opposite. You should be looking for those people, but you should still be testing rituals, still testing coming together, see what attracts people and growing so that when you do find that for Can you find that diamond in the rough when you find that person who's like, Yes, this is where I belong, you can now empower them to do great things. A great example of that is when I was running those boot camps that you mentioned, introduced me very kindly. I had a couple of folks who were like, you know, what we want to run study groups outside of classes. And honestly, this was fantastic. I didn't think to do this, this isn't part of my list of rituals, I want to try, this has been something that I, you know that I had any, any, any thought behind. And it's been, you know, what, I'm going to give you everything you need, I'm going to set you up, I'm going to support you, and I'm gonna let you run with it. And the overall student experience grew exponentially because it wasn't being led by me, it wasn't being led by one of the teachers, it's being led by another student who was building within our community, a smaller subset, to help folks really focus in on their own success. And that's a huge part about being a community leader, is empowering the people who resonate with your message like they are here for it. And now you've recognized that, but like, if I wait to find that person, I would never have started anything.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 21:08
I love this. I agree with it. 100%. Like you said, it's like a sonar, what are you paying into the world for the people to come to you. And then you test whether those people are willing to put skin in the game, to know whether they are serious, or the right people, when they put skin in the game, you empower them and understand you don't have all the answers or all the strategies, they will surprise you with how they will create things you didn't expect, could be done. And those things could be really the difference makers that will benefit the community more than anything you could have come up with that it's not pushing a boulder uphill, when you have the right people on board. And before we finish as well, I would like to ask you something both related and unrelated. It's on personal branding, and I noticed your Twitter bio, you have a rebel spirit in it or archetype for picking fights and our case, your jurisdiction, all that stuff. Do you believe Okay, do you believe in personal branding? Do you believe in needing the clarity of having a specific archetype? How does that relate to a community building? What is that all about?

Erik Israni 22:31
Absolutely. So I've given a fair amount of thought to this. And I don't have an answer yet. I don't know that. The way in which I present myself now will be the final way I present myself. But what I will tell you what I where I have found success is in keeping a consistent message. And to you Rutan find if that is who you want to be online, it's not who you that your complete person. You'll never in any scenario, in any situation in any community, in any online presence, be able to present your full, true self. And I think that's not a problem. That's not like, you have to figure out what is this platform going to do for me? What am I trying to achieve personally. And now I have to pick one thing, because what I found is that in people's minds, they want to see a single idea that they can understand. And they want to see continuity and consistency in that idea. And the reason that I I really delved into this understanding and really tried to poke around the edges of his idea is because I am multiple things. I've done multiple things you mentioned, I was an attorney. And while I was an attorney, I did a good amount of startup consulting, as well and building communities. And, you know, I've done a whole host of different things. I've run a lot of different small businesses on the side. And anytime when I brought one of these new things, to the forefront, to my community, to the people around me that way, man, I thought you were an attorney. What are you doing over here? What are you doing over there? What is this? And they just, they don't it doesn't make sense to them to have someone who does multiple things. And you know, I, I think about it if I had if I had to give you like an anchor image for that. There's a scene in the movie zoo lander, where, you know, they're doing the award show, and it's very embarrassing for Zeelandia but they talk about the slashes right the actor slash model, the singer slash Ma, and then they make a big deal about the purebreds. Right now. We're just going to do the people who are just, they're focused on this. And I think that that's absolutely true. Society, humans, they value the clarity of you do one thing. And as for my personal branding, you mentioned the you know, the fighting spirit it, I think that good conflict and discussions and you know, well intentioned arguments are very important. Being able to voice your opinion, being able to accept that some people will disagree with it. And then the have a true deep discussion around it, and pick fights, when they need to be picked is super important, super important to me, and is definitely a part of who I am. And I want people to know that, that when they come there, we're going to have a discussion, you're not just going to throw an idea out there and walk away, like we're going to have a deep discussion. And if I disagree, we're gonna delve into why

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 25:38
I love that. And actually, that's one of the things that will put a spark and charge within a community, because there is no story without conflict, and no heroes without conflict as well. And since we're mentioning the slices, or whatever it is, but also clarity on what you're doing. Can you speak a little bit more about what you're working on right now? What is the hackathon that you're preparing? What people like where people can find more about you what you're up to? And I'll make sure to write your Twitter in the description as well.

Erik Israni 26:17
Fantastic. Sure. So you can find me on Twitter, that's probably the best place to reach out my DMs are open at ErikIsrani, E r i k I s r a n i. Aziz, thanks for sharing that later. And the no code Hackathon is, as you'll find information is I'm updating right now. But you'll find that at to fantasic URL I scooped up a couple of years ago. And the idea behind this is going to be to bring together folks that I've been working with over the last couple of years, to build some civic minded tools. To help specifically in the first one, I think we're going to be focusing on the Get out the vote here in the US. So for those of you who are US base, you'll understand what I mean for the international folks. You know, our country has been woefully under voting, there are a tremendous amount of people that just never make it to the polls. And no code is such an incredible industry, such an incredible mindset about getting things done. And I know a lot of people share the same fire, the same passion for like really taking these tools and making some incredible change in the world. And taking these things together. This sounds like a fantastic way to bring together people that I love. And I want to work with in a concentrated period of time to build something that will be super meaningful, that will last and keeps it fun because it takes away, we still have a mission, we still have a goal together, right? But it takes away this pressure of making a financial, right, of trying to build a business out of it, like you're here to learn, you're here to build something useful. You're here to meet some fantastic people. But you're not here to just try and build a business, which is, you know, what a lot of people I think are missing from the community. They're missing this fun, that comes with hacking away. Because a lot of people doing it alone, they're doing it quietly alone, with this overall goal of one day breaking free of the nine to five that they find themselves in. But um, for me, that's what the community is missing, a fun, mission driven activity that will bring together some of the incredible people that are in this community.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 28:42
That's wonderful, because like you mentioned people who are trying to make it financial, they're in survival mode. And therefore that brings a lot of scarcity, thinking and selfishness, while in when it's about fun and playfulness. That's the energy of self actualization and self transcendence. And therefore, it's very perfect and Exactly, Let me transcend you by ending this, of course by sharing some great things with the viewers and the listeners about the reason this podcast exists in the first place, which is PROCESIO. PROCESIO is the modern low code, no code platform for advanced automation and creating an enterprise grade back end for your software, or your community or handling your onboarding. It's very flexible. And anybody who is listening is very lucky to be able to request free access to For use, that is very generous. And for those who have business needs that are higher, there is a discount code of 50% BETTER50OFF one word in capital letters that you can use when creating or upgrading your account more information about this and about Erik in the description. Erik, this was my privilege, my honor, such an enriching conversation and I wish you to keep going. This is fantastic.

Erik Israni 30:15
Thank you. I've had a fantastic time here chatting with you. This was a real pleasure. And if you're if you haven't already I suggest everyone take a look at all the past episodes is ease does a fantastic job, and it's well worth a listen. Thank you. Thank you