You already know you need an online audience for your startup. To create a strong one, try building community offline for a change.
By Lorraine Sanders (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
In our increasingly mobile world, here’s a counter-intuitive but all-too-common fact: offline matters more today than ever.
Yes, we all know the power of good-old-fashioned, face-to-face, I.R.L. interaction when it comes to friends, family and colleagues. But brands like Bay Area-based mobile marketplace Poshmark are proving that offline interaction helps foster connections among people who’ve never met.
Earlier this month, Poshmark, a mobile app that allows women to buy and sell apparel and accessories via their smartphones, announced PoshFest, a two-day event taking place in Las Vegas in October. Building on the company’s in-app Posh Parties that allow buyers and sellers to interact in real-time and the occasional offline counterparts that accompany them in different U.S. cities, PoshFest aims to continue engaging its community and encourage its sellers’ entrepreneurial skills with a weekend of panels, workshops, speakers and parties.
The strategy puts a spotlight on just how much Poshmark values – and benefits from – a strong offline community, even though the transactions that create its revenue stream are generated entirely through mobile commerce.
Building an enthusiastic audience and user community of your own? Read on for insight from Poshmark co-founder and VP of Merchandising Tracy Sun, who weighed in recently to talk about the personal nature of closet sharing, helping users generate more income from the app and why the company is constantly quoting The Beatles.
You’re a mobile commerce platform. Why is offline interaction such an important part of Poshmark’s success?
Much of the interactions that happen within Poshmark feel very real and physical, even though they happen within a mobile app. The women in our community are building concrete relationships because they are part of a community that happens to be with you all the time on your phone. Opening up your closet is a very personal thing. When these women meet offline, they start to feel like they know each other, the relationship intensifies and the community becomes stronger.
Also, for many of the women in our community, Poshmark has changed their lives. Whether bringing them financial security through their “mobile boutique,” becoming a new and exciting creative outlet for their passion for fashion, or introducing them to women like themselves to be friends with, we’ve become an important element in their daily lives. The offline interactions are catalysts that make them feel supported and part of something amazing. They take this with them as they move through the rest of their day.
Why PoshFest and why now?
Why not! No, but seriously, PoshFest is the culmination of what we’ve been noticing since we began hosting our signature live Posh Parties. The women on Poshmark want to connect and get to know each other offline as well. They are sharing very personal aspects of themselves every day in the app, supporting one another financially by buying clothes from each other, but also emotionally by becoming close friends and confidants. We’ve found that the closer these women become, the more trust and love flows through the platform.
What key pieces of advice would you have for early stage startups that want to build community?
Focus on creating an environment fueled by love. Many startups focus on scaling and growing as fast as possible with the intention of cashing out. They don’t take the time and effort to facilitate and celebrate the love happening within the community. Our founder and CEO Manish Chandra often quotes The Beatles song, “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.”
Hosting events, conferences and meetups are obviously effective ways to build community and get feedback, but I often hear early-stage startups saying, ‘yeah, that would be great, but we just don’t have the budget’ (and often, they say they need the community to eventually get to the budget part of things). Any specific suggestions for I.R.L. gatherings on a shoestring?
The interesting thing about our offline events is that they really don’t need much, usually just a venue and a time for these women to connect. We’ve found that our community members are the best Poshmark ambassadors for which we could ever ask. If you have passionate users, they will help you spread the word. And don’t be afraid to begin small, you have to start somewhere.
Great events and offline gatherings tend to create or present some kind of real value for participants, whether tangible or not. What valuable things do you hope Poshfest attendees walk away with?
Poshmark is inspiring women to not just celebrate fashion but also become entrepreneurs. Many women using Poshmark have already turned the platform into a sizable income stream or would like to achieve this in the future. Others have created a revolving closet via the app. PoshFest will host educational panels and workshops where they will learn how to get the most out of Poshmark and run their growing business on the platform. We also want to celebrate their unique personal style with inspirational and aspirational content. At the end of the weekend, we want attendees to walk away empowered – not only about Poshmark, but about themselves as well.
Have you been neglecting the offline aspects of building your business?
About the blogger: Lorraine Sanders is a journalist, blogger and media consultant. She is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle Style Bytes column and writes regularly for FastCompany.com and others. She is founder of the blog Digital Style Digest and an inhabitant of the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Connect with her on Twitter @digitalstyledig or @lorrainesanders.