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As entrepreneurs, most of us tend to seriously underestimate the value of community.
I’m talking about the community you build with your customers—and no, a loosely engaged Facebook group doesn’t count.
I find it’s far too common that community is often the last thing to cross our minds. We devote boundless energy to perfecting our branding, marketing, and ad strategies, and yet we seem to expect a community to happen by accident.
Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs know a community is a powerful asset to any business. Just ask Kayla Itsines, founder of the viral fitness program BBG, who built her fortune and her following of 25 million+ with the help of her community. Scroll through Itsines’ feed, and you’ll find most photos aren’t her own, they’re her clients.
Client-generated content isn’t just free, it’s remarkably effective—92% of consumers trust peer-to-peer recommendations over traditional ads.
Going the extra mile to foster a sense of community within your business is worth it. This week on the Unconventional Life Podcast, I spoke with one millennial founder who says his community is the engine of his 7-figure business.
Meet Aristotle Loumis, the founder and CEO of Ellison, a Greece-based, handmade designer eyewear company. Ellison’s community is what you might call a group of die-hard fans. When he asked them to help fund his company’s crowdfunding campaign, they delivered—exceeding his initial goal fourfold and ranking it one of the fastest and most successfully funded companies on Republic. Not to mention, Ellison’s marketing budget is virtually nonexistent, with its customers’ referrals being off the charts.
“Every new customer we get is obsessed with what we’re doing,” Loumis says. “Not only is that really good for retention but it’s really good for growing our company.”
Want to learn how you can translate your community into capital? Below, Loumis shares ways to create a community around your brand so you can begin reaping its benefits.
Schroeder: What words of advice do you have for entrepreneurs building a community?
Loumis: When you tap into and work with your customers on a very deep level, they are essentially part of the company and they feel like they’re part of the company. While we only have 6,500 members that’s equivalent to 200,000+ members for other startups because the retention is so high for us. I’d rather have 10,000 loyal customers than 10 million because they’re interacting with the company and they’re moving the company up. Every new customer we get is obsessed with what we’re doing… not only is that really good for retention but it’s really good for growing it. Our tribe is growing because we’re bringing authenticity and recruiting the people who are aligned with us. Instead of spending money on numbers we’re going for quality.
Schroeder: Where did you get the idea for Ellison’s membership model?
Loumis: Picture this. You’d call me on Friday and be like hey Aristotle, I need a couple pairs of shades we’re going skiing this weekend. By Monday I’d get a call from you being like hey listen there was about a foot of snow, it was great skiing, but unfortunately I went off this ramp and while I’m still alive the glasses are not. As a result, I’d say to you, hey listen, don’t tell anyone but I’m gonna give you a hookup price. Instead of paying $150 I’d give it to you at $75. I got the idea for Ellison’s model when I started hearing more of these stories. After about 2,000 stories that were submitted I knew we were on to something.
Schroeder: How did you convert these stories into marketing materials for your company?
Loumis: We mobilize our customers as our marketing engines. The only way you get that replacement pair is to tell us a story, that’s all we ask for. We’d say how’d you lose them did you have too many beers at that tailgate? How was that honeymoon did your wife push you off the boat? And then we reward you for that story. We reward our customers for their living experiences, not punish them. They then share their stories organically with their own networks, and everyone knows the best form of marketing is word of mouth. As a result we have a very high retention rate.
Schroeder: Tell me more about Ellison’s social impact.
Loumis: When I was participating in Doctors Without Borders, I fell in love with an eye organization called the Himalayan Cataract Project which was giving people their eyesight back. I realized how big the problem was and I wanted to be able to impact that problem. This was around the time Toms Shoes was just getting launched so this one for one model was very innovative. I thought to myself if there’s a one for one model what if I was to do an eye for an eye.
I knew at the time there was a market gap when I created this. There’s essentially two big players that own the rights to licensing to some of the biggest brand names that everybody buys. What they do is they buy these brand names and then they artificially inflate the prices 10-20x the cost to manufacture them. I knew there was a way to create a better product at a better price, and that’s the idea behind our membership model.
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