10/15/2014 02:41 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

Make Your Startup Insanely Popular

If you have a startup, you need to be noticed. You need more users. You need traction.

So you're probably thinking, 'Oh sure, more users, that sounds great. But first I need more coders. And I need more UX people. And pizza, we need pizza delivered now. Everyone is hungry. And where's my coffee? Somebody go to Philz and get me a Code 33.'

I get it. Getting noticed is on your to-do list, but it's the kind of thing you wake up remembering in the middle of the night realizing you never got to it.

Traction happens when you have a community of users. That community of users has to be so enthusiastic about what you're doing that they are willing to tell other people about it.
The paradox here is that building community is something that can't be done in a hurry, so even if you put it higher up on your to-do list, it doesn't mean that a community will form around you fast. Too many startups wait too long to hire a community manager and expect that person to do instant magic. Magic can happen with communities, but instant magic? Not so often.

I hope you agree that building community is a long-term play. But, surprisingly, once you establish an identity for yourself and your startup, you can go about building your community a little bit at a time, day by day.You can devote 15 to 20 minutes a day to it and do just fine. you can schedule social media, create systems, make it pretty easy on yourself. But first, something important has to happen.

You need to define your online identity: An online identity that permits people to know you. So how do you get that identity, and how best to communicate it to the world?

People buy things because they like who they're buying from. Customers, users, early adopters, they are all getting to know you and what you stand for before they will buy from you. So you have to put yourself out there. That means asking yourself:

Why have you started the company?

What do you really stand for? Politically, socially, personally.

What's the origin story of the company?

The most interesting and successful companies in the world have answered those questions about themselves and roll them out as social narratives. We have a sense of the values and back story of Branson (Virgin), Jobs (Apple), Musk (Tesla and SpaceX). That matters. A lot. Doing remarkable work like those guys means that people will talk positively about you. Ninety percent of customers say that buying decisions are influenced by online reviews, so the vision customers and prospective customers form of you is a big deal.

You can influence those impressions pretty easily. If your app is buggy but you don't respond to customer cries for help, they will remember that for a long time. According to a recent Gallup study, memorable, caring, thoughtful customer service makes a huge positive impression. Customers not only are more likely to do business with companies that work toward social good, they will pay more for what those social good companies offer. Whole Foods is one example. Toms Shoes is another. Is social good somewhere in your message? It would help if it was.

If your app is going to be insanely popular, you'll need to build a community around it. To build a community, you'll need to express your company culture, your values, and what you stand for.

I'm teaching some classes about this at General Assembly in Los Angeles. Check out the schedule.