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Once Upon a Burb

Drew Dillon
Dec 9, 2022

Burb started as a rambling DM.

A months-long thread between Danielle Maveal and I in the On Deck Founders Fellowship Slack. Back and forth on the intersection of people and technology. What brings them together, what drives them apart.

From my days at Yammer, Fond, and Skedulo how people come together to get things done. From Danielle’s experience across Etsy, Bark, AirBnb, and Lyft, building relationships by hacking together tools built for other teams.

In the earliest days, I interviewed dozens of community leaders of all kinds and would ping Danielle with observations and crazy ideas. One foundational insight:

Communities originate like little suburbs around interests, values, and relationships. Communities grow and spawn their own ‘burbs. Over and over again.

This is the fundamental philosophy of Charles Vogl and Carrie Melissa Jones, that communities are inherently small. They’re intimate relationships, based on mutual care.

Where apps for community builders exist, they’re built for wrangling thousands of members. These apps help B2B brands reduce their support costs or plumb the depths of member data for leads and market signals.

It occurred to us that an app for communities would support leaders of the ‘burbs, not just the cities.

Who leads the ‘burbs?

The people who run small communities are often budding businesses. They’re professional creators, educators, makers, and solo entrepreneurs. Tired of fighting algorithms for attention, they’re taking their thousand true fans off public social and supporting themselves with courses and memberships.

But this isn't easy. We expect creators to learn:

  • Digital marketing
  • Community management
  • Dozens of software systems, community platforms, LMSes, CRMs, automation suites
  • How to teach

Could we make this easier? Could we lower the bar to success?

As we were having this epiphany, fellow Yammer-soft alum, Nate Fink, introduced our CTO Philip James. From his work on the Patreon platform, Philip has an intuitive understanding of the problem space and a passion for creators and community. He got what we were doing implicitly.

The Dream Team officially joined a little over a year ago, June 6th, 2021, and set out to build.

We weren’t starting from scratch. We’d already been working with a development team in Buenos Aires for a few months and had a pretty good idea of what we wanted Burb to be, but we were still quite a ways from being able to deliver on it.

The hypothesis

We hypothesized that the folks with the highest need would be those teaching cohort based courses. CBCs are operationally intense highwire acts, involving content, communication, events, tracking assignments, all in a compressed timespan.

So we recruited our initial set of users from among our friends who were doing this kind of work: Carrie Melissa Jones, Bryony Cole, Tatiana Figuerido, and Sonali Nigam.

The offer: we’ll do whatever it takes to lower your operational burden and give you more visibility into your cohorts. If Burb can’t do it, we’ll build it in Zapier, Airtable, and Notion.

We were privileged to learn alongside them and use that experience to inform the product.

By January of 2022, we had an MVP:

  • A variety of integrations
  • Unified data from community spaces on Slack, Circle, and Discord, learning management platforms like Teachable and Thinkific, even email marketing systems like ConvertKit.
  • The ability to schedule posts and series of posts, schedule direct messages in bulk.
  • Even group members based on activity levels, re-engage folks who are falling behind or thank those who are taking a leadership role in the community.

So we launched our closed beta and started iterating with dozens more folks.

The last major pieces of functionality slotted into place in April:

  • Google Workspace integration, the ability to send members messages from your own email inbox.
  • Automations, the ability to build complex workflows made simple, templatized, and shared. Like Danielle I used to ramble about.
from January 2021

And with that, we shifted to an open beta and started working with hundreds of communities.

Just click for early access. Free for life for smaller communities, two week free trial if your member count or usage put you in a paid tier.

We’ve spent the past few months onboarding customers, squashing bugs, and iterating on functionality. We’re still a small team and these are still early days for us, but we’re excited today to launch and iterate in public from now on.

From a rambling Slack DM, to an amazing team, helping people while learning, then scaling those lessons to hundreds. Onto the next step.

I’m ecstatic to introduce: Burb.

If you have a moment, would deeply appreciate your support on Product Hunt.

If you have a community on Slack, Circle, or Discord, it would be an honor to have you try us out.

And if you just want to get to know us better, we’d love to have you in our community.

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