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The 5 Ways Local Motors Built an Online Community

Posted: 04/10/2013 8:08 pm

In this blog, I'm continuing my conversation with Jay Rogers, CEO and co-founder of Local Motors, the open-source automotive design company. Here, Jay shares how he builds and engages his 30,000-person crowd.

As I've conducted my interviews with crowdsourcing entrepreneurs and experts, it's constantly hit me that your ability to do something big and bold is really a function of the size and quality of your crowd. The questions I'm always fascinated to ask successful crowd-related CEOs are: "How did you do it? How did you recruit, build and engage your crowd?"

In this blog I'll share five specific ways that Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers found to build and engage his crowd of innovative automotive designers.

To recap, Local Motors is a crowdsourced car-design platform that also allows the micro-manufacturing of cars by its members. Local Motors built a community of people who are versed in every critical aspect of engineering: the interior design, the exterior design, the suspension system, and so on. Here are the five ways in which Jay Rogers and his team built their online community.

  1. Create a bold dream that allows for creativity, with a measure of supervision: "Management of open source is definitely a guided endeavor," Jay said. In its early days, Local Motors very closely managed its forum of roughly 1,000 people who were contributing designs. "Basically, whatever was being discussed on our forums was being communicated to the entire membership," Jay said. "However, for it to work, we had to run it as a benevolent tyranny, or benign dictatorship. The reason I say that is that we ultimately had to make a decision about which car we were going to design and produce," he said. Ultimately Jay couldn't allow the discussion to go on forever or diverge in a multitude of directions. As the benign dictator he had to step in and "make the decision that we would take the most-liked designs from the community and produce that car."
  2. Embrace failure. Use it to improve your process: According to Jay, "Failure is as important, or perhaps even more important, than success. Small-scale manufacturing means fail early, fail often. Crowdsourcing means fail early, fail often," he continued. "The important thing is to get something created, see where it breaks, and then fix it. I tell people to build it for manufacture, see if people like it and then if they don't, we can change it." "We've even had failure in how we created our competitions," Jay reflected. "At first Local Motors thought it would attract its teams by approaching design schools. It failed miserably. We had a lot of legal wrangling over design ownership and licensing. So we backed off from that, and found another way."
  3. Use evangelism to create interest in the site. Evangelism is creating enthusiasm among your crowd so that they are eager not only to work with you, but also to tell others about what you do to help build your community. To help create early interest in its platform, Local Motors staff visited sites frequented by designers. "We'd simply say, 'We're going to make a car that you guys design. What do you think?' The important thing is to plant the flag," Jay said, "and tell people what you're going to do. Give a vision and say, 'You're going to make a vehicle on Local Motors and it's going to be awesome, you're going to love it and we're going to be honored to make it.' That was the first community evangelism that we did."
  4. Move people through passion: Passion gets an entrepreneur through the startup days and the enormous efforts it takes to build a business. "If you start with passion, all of the hard days are easier to deal with," Jay said. "You don't know if your idea is going to work, but you just have to stay true to what you wanted to do at the beginning. Getting through the hard times is what you need the passion for and organizing your community is what you need passion for. You have to foster and develop the community and you need passion in order to be able to do that," he said.
  5. Leadership, Organization, Respect and Engagement -- the 4 Key Parameters: Jay told me, "When I'm building a community, I focus on four key organizing principles: Leadership, Organization, Respect and Engagement or LORE." He outlined them:
  • Leadership. This is a bold vision for the community. "Creating a vision is a form of leadership," Jay said. "To lead means to have a vision," which can encompass everything from what your cars should look like to the way the factories are going to be run.
  • Organizing. This means creating a very defined, constrained box within which the community can operate and design. "Most people create better in a box," Jay said. "We had to set the box for the right conditions for successful micro-manufacturing." The Local Motors team learned the importance of creating parameters for engineers and designers. Early on, Jay remembered, "We learned two things: First, every engineer we interviewed said, 'Tell me the parameters of what I'm designing.' Second, everybody in a design school never asked those questions, but said, 'I've some great ideas.' They were more free-flowing with their great ideas and willing to share them under the right conditions."
  • Respect. Respect is about managing that community and keeping people's name on their ideas and on what they create. "You're respecting their work," Jay said. "Your ability to be able to post your work and keep it as your own is critical to the fostering of such a community. Respect is also managing that community actively through the process."
  • Engagement. This is about speaking honestly and openly to the community. "We don't pay money to make people come to do what we do," Jay recounted. "Yes, we need money, such as competition prizes, in order to be able to make them do things. But the most important thing is to actually talk with them. That's what engagement means: Instead of paying you, I'm going to pay you with my time and I'm going to pay you with my building of what you design."

In my next blog, I'm going to continue my conversation with Jay Rogers, and how he manages the competition and design initiatives at Local Motors, plus what's ahead for the site.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.
 

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