Jan 2019: What's Community Got To
Do With It?

By Maya Frai, January 31 2019

When I started baking in the idea of what a female empowerment platform could look like, I mostly focused on what people were circulating around the time the #MeToo movement was incepted. Around that time, you couldn’t catch a break from the numerous breaking news articles directed towards the men who were accused of sexual harassment claims and perpetrating non-inclusive work environments. Although the information was disconcerting to hear, a byproduct of the news articles was a movement led by women. What the #MeToo movement initiated was a strong sense of community that spurred a domino effect where more and more women began to speak out and join in.

I was motivated to become part of the conversation and the community around empowering women to speak out and get noticed. LHI was born out of this movement in order to spread the mission of “No more anonymous women.” Since then, the concept of community has only become more relevant, especially for women. Women crave spaces where they feel welcome and supported. More often than not, these spaces are hard to come by. However, when we do find a community of people we relate to, we create a strong network of powerful and supportive individuals.

The mere presence of a community empowers and motivates people around a singular mission. The first example that comes to mind is The Wing, a female-led co-working space for women. A month ago, the company announced a $75 million Series C funding led by prominent VC firms including Sequoia and Upfront Ventures as well as support from Airbnb. Just this past month, The Wing announced a new location to be opened in Chicago. The shear success and growth of the company shows the importance of building community around a singular mission: in this case, the advancement of women.

We’ve also seen the rise of a community of women in exercise and fitness — and I’m not talking about the stereotypical “yoga moms.” Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice came up with the idea for Soul Cycle after they realized how important it was to be part of a community centered around uplifting yourself through moving your body. In a recent podcast episode on How I Built This with Guy Raz, Elizabeth mentioned, “I really missed what I had had in Los Angeles in terms of an exercise community exercise. For me it was social. It was a huge part of the way that I connected with people. It was big.” And, Elizabeth certainly wasn’t the only one who felt this way. As Soul Cycle gained momentum, over thousands of women began to take part in the community of “Soul-cyclers” and soon the workout became part of their daily routines. Today, Soul Cycle has 88 studios in the United States and Canada. The two founders made around $90 million following the sale of the company to Equinox.

Community-focused brands are on the rise given their power in bringing people together for shared purpose. VC Sutian Dong of Female Founders Fund stated in a January interview with Glossy, “We’re excited about brands that are creating communities. How are they leveraging Instagram, for example, to really reach their customer? And how are they doing things that are creative around experiential commerce so that their shopper sees them online but also gets to experience them in person, and also gets to experience them alongside a community of other people? We’ve invested in companies like Peanut, which is a social network for new motherhood, and Tempest, which is a sobriety program and a community for people who are sober, and Co-Star Astrology, which is an astrology app and social network.” Reaching customers and making a profit has become a product of building a community over what you’re trying to achieve as a brand.

A great example has been seen with Glossier. In a January episode on Recode Decode, Kara Swisher interviews Emily Weiss on Glossier’s growth as a million-dollar beauty company. In response to how the company has grown over time, Emily stated that, “I would say so much of how we serve our customers is actually our customers talking to each other. If you go into one of our two stores, or even if you look in our comments section on an Instagram post, people are answering each other’s questions. I think the ability to even just empower our customers, it’s not through revenue shares or anything like that but just they’re really doing a lot of that work for us.” Today, companies look to brands like Glossier to take note of the ways in how they try to understand their customer and build a community entirely rooted in empowering them.

Evidently, community brings people together in incredible ways. It also creates a network of women other people can look up to. In a world where people often say they lack female role models, a community of women is necessary for others to find their way in discovering who they are and what they aspire to be. In a January feature piece in the NYTimes, Stacy Brown-Philpot, CEO of Task Rabbit, talks about her background and rise to becoming a CEO. While attending UPenn, which was 6% black at the time, she found it difficult to fit in. “So I had to find community. I had to figure out how was I going to succeed in this environment where most people don’t look like me, and don’t come from where I came from. There was a black college house. I would just go over there and spend time just sitting around with people that, you know, ate collard greens and fried chicken, just like I did growing up. It just made it safer for me and more confident for me to walk into a classroom and know I knew the answers and speak up,” Stacy mentioned. Now as a chief executive, Stacy said she didn’t grow up aspiring to be a CEO, instead she wanted to be an accountant. She didn’t see women in the role and instead thought, “I was like, ‘OK, there’s a black person who is a partner at this firm. This is something that I can accomplish.’” Community, in her mind, allowed her to seek support as well as inspiration in understanding what she could achieve.

The lack of a community deters people from seeking out new avenues and puts women in the minority. For instance, Bitcoin has become one of the examples where a community of women is crucial. A survey done in 2017 found that on EthTrader, an online investment community of Ethereum traders, just 4% of traders are women. On talking about her experience being in Bitcoin the space, Demirors recalls, “there’s pervasive gender bias that’s in tech in general and that’s transferred over to Bitcoin.” However, community has sprouted in order to improve this environment. Amanda Gutterman, CMO of ConsenSysa, company focused on building the Ethereum ecosystem, organizes the Women in Bitcoin meetup and mentioned, “It’s a very boisterous event and we’ve built a really dynamic community” and despite the lack of female leaders in cryptocurrency, the network of women has quickly become a strong one.

Community is powerful and inherently achievable through constant effort and most importantly, feedback. The success of community-based brands, companies, and firms have all been attributed to understanding the key issue at hand and how to leverage the power of that issue to build support and communal effort.