Office Hours: I grew my last startup to 100 million users and am now the CEO & Founder of Mighty Networks. I'm Gina Bianchini.Featured

Hi everyone!Excited to be here. I’m the Founder and CEO of Mighty Networks – we’re a platform for creating online memberships with online courses, community, content, and more––all under your brand.Before founding Mighty Networks, I was the CEO of Ning, which I co-founded with Marc Andreessen. We grew Ning to 100 million users in 300K social networks. I was also the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Adreessen Horowitz.I also serve on the board of two publicly traded broadcast and digital media companies – TEGNA and Scripps Networks. I’ve been featured on the cover of magazines like Fortune, Fast Company and in Wired, Vanity Fair, Bloomberg and The New York Times.I grew up in the Bay Area and attended Stanford for undergrad and my MBA. And I started my career at Goldman Sachs.Ask me anything about building community powered brands, growing as a leader while building a company, or anything else!
Thanks for joining us @ginabianchini!Hi Elphas – ask @ginabianchini your questions before this Thursday. She may not have time to answer all of them, so emoji upvote the ones you'd most like her to answer.
Hey, when is the talk on or where is the info?
It’s written!
Hi Gina! Questions on organic growth hacking.Can you talk about organic growth strategies to get from 20K users to 100K users? Can you talk about any partnership strategies you used to grow Ning?
Hey @AprilSnow!'s the thing that I've learned about organic growth strategies: What worked ten years ago or even a year ago may or may not work today. It's an area that requires each of us to keep experimenting, learning, staying curious, and pushing to new solutions, 99% of which won't work. At Ning, we grew through a PR push when we launched Ning Networks back when PR still worked (and I had a fancy co-founder). That was a different time and PR no longer has the sustained impact that it did then. We had no partnerships. What we had was great timing. At Mighty Networks, what we've used to grow revenue 100% year over year and that's going to be more like 140%+ this year is multi-channel:+ Direct traffic/word-of-mouth starting with our networks. This is how most new services get off the ground, and we've been no different.+ Podcast interviews. Our number one source of high-quality, free traffic over the past four years. Note, this is not podcast ads, just interviews. Podcast ads didn't work for us.+ SEO articles. I wish we would have started SEO earlier. Traffic from SEO has jumped for us 1,200% since January with me writing some solid stuff and not outsourcing this work thinking that it can be crappy. High quality articles designed for search, especially non-competitive keywords that are relevant to your product, could be super valuable to you. + Paid Search Ads. I know you asked for organic growth strategies, but this one has worked for us and I think it's going to get more efficient for anyone over the next 12 months. + Growth as a practice in the product. A series of experiments we've been running on a weekly basis have doubled our conversion rate from our free trials. It's not about new traffic, but it's about getting traffic to convert.What hasn't worked for us:+ PR. Especially today, a text article from a publication only lives for a few hours and then is gone. I've prioritized podcast interviews with even small but passionate audiences over pitching PR stories.+ Facebook/social ads or sharing. So few people see stuff that I don't even bother. + Affiliates. We've been experimenting with this and while we're seeing some traction, I wouldn't bet my company on it. External, financial motivation never works as well as you think it will in my experience. I'm sure there is more. The best (slightly douche-y but still super valuable) book on this topic I've ready is Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis. It does a nice job of outline growth as a practice.
Amazing, incredibly valuable. Thank you @ginabianchini
Dear @ginabianchini, thank you for offering your time to help female entrepreneurs on Elpha. My question: So many companies are competing for eyeballs, what are your tips and resources for strategically building community/audience from scratch? Is it necessary to spend marketing/advertising dollars to grow an audience?
Hey @lisastory! Great question. In terms of what worked for us on the marketing side, I share it above. Let me take another angle on this for the folks who are starting from scratch, especially if you haven't built your product yet or you're in the process of building your product and have a bit of time. *********Start bringing your prospective customers together before you have a product.**********In the past, we all looked to the Landing Page/Dropbox story of validating demand for the product. That was all well and good a decade ago. Today the world is tougher to get attention, tougher to find your customers, and tougher to understand what they want you to solve. It takes time and it takes ongoing conversations with the people you want to serve, especially in the earliest days.The two best things I've done to stay close to our customers (which we call Mighty "Hosts" because we see their job as hosting a community, hosting online courses, and bringing people together) are:1. Created a customer community for people not just using our product but who want to build "Passion Economy" businesses. This broader category and topic enables us to offer more people more value at the "top of the funnel" or before they become customers. 2. Launched our own online course called the Community Design Masterclass that offers a proven program for creating a community so valuable you can charge for it and so well-designed that it essentially runs itself. What I realized recently in doing both of these things is that I could have moved SO MUCH FASTER and seen so much more success earlier if we had been building both of these things (especially the masterclass) when Mighty Networks was just an idea. In other words, all the time you are investing into your investor pitch deck or finding a technical co-founder or coding up a prototype yourself could be MUCH better spent starting with a community or course that serves your ideal customer first. This is the same strategy that Emily Weiss and Glossier used with a successful blog, again, nearly a decade ago. Today the way to do this same thing is MUCH more powerful when you can bring your ideal customers together to meet and build relationships not just with you, but with each other. And then you're giving yourself more time to build deeper relationships with them that should be gasoline when you finally have your prototype or product ready.Plus, if you have to raise money to finish your prototype or product, imagine being able to answer a VC or angel investor's question around your go-to-market strategy with, "We already have 1,000 of our ideal customers who have spent $599 on an eight week course and community subscription with whom we've been talking to and getting feedback from for the past six months."Paying customers without a product? That's powerful to bring to a pitch.
Hi Gina! Awesome business name by the way :)Did you have any failures while building your company? If so, what's one that really impacted you and how did you overcome the struggles?
I fail everyday, @christinephu. In fact, I see failure and the ability to quickly turn it into "what can I learn from this" to be a practice that offers me a competitive advantage. Getting stuck thinking of something as a failure vs. an opportunity to learn faster and adjust just slows us down, making this hard path we've chosen to create something out of nothing even more of a grind. In this context, I learn everyday, and therefore I seek to fail everyday.
That is very beautifully said. Thank you.
Hi @ginabianchini what an incredible story. My question: Do the followers/users inform the brand or do you have a vision for what you want the brand to be before you start to fully engage followers?
I think brands are co-created with one's customers. At the same time, you have start somewhere and, as an entrepreneur or founding team, your personality, mission, and passion (or lackthereof) will come out in where you start, how you present your product and solution, etc.
Of the successful communities in Mighty Networks, what patterns have emerged among the most successful and engaging communities on the platform?
Hah! I l love this question! The patterns for successful communities are super clear: The joy of being a part of something bigger than yourselfThe joy of working towards a common goalThe joy of building skills and getting betterThe safety to be vulnerable and navigate challenges togetherAnd the ways that people get here and create these kinds of communities is also super clear. It's why we've been able to organize and present it as Community Design or the structure for making it super easy to structure a community that's valuable and also not a lot of work. One good resource we have that you can see the patterns, @rachelbell, is in our Stories of Awesome here: These are stories of individual communities and how they are structured.
Hello Gina. Thank you for joining us.What are the most important metrics to keep track of when you're growing a B2C platform like Mighty Networks and Ning. Did this metrics change through the stages from launch to early growth stage? Or did they remain constant beacons to calculate growth?
So, both Mighty Networks and Ning were "B2B2C" platforms. Meaning, our customer a small digital business owner who turns around and invites in their own members. We create a delightful experience for their members because we want to shine a big, bright, and awesome light on that customer or creator. With this structure, you probably see how the most important metric is and remains "Lifetime Value" of these creators, but the priorities around we deliver that lifetime value change over time. Some of the things that we have to be good at simultaneously in this model:1. Ensuring that the members these creators serve have an incredible experience on their Mighty Network. 2. Ensuring these creators can get more members.3. Giving these creators a way to charge for membership and their online courses.4. Creating a thriving digital business.
Hi @ginabianchini - great to have you in our community, very inspiring :-) I'm working on a FinTech startup launch as well - and my question is - how narrow should I be during early stages in customer acquisition when I'm still beta testing? I'm thinking to broaden at the start and depending on number of customers retained in a year (based on loyalty) - I can shrink the target, however I'm hearing otherwise to start very narrow during beta testing itself - what will you recommend please?
Start narrow and really invest time in understanding and defining your "ideal" customer. Being too broad for too long was one thing I'd like to go back and change as an entrepreneur. Today, it's even more important to truly delight and deliver for a narrow target and expand out from there.
Hi Gina - thanks for coming on here and chatting with us! Was there a moment in your career that you recognized you were missing a leadership quality that you needed? And what did you do to address that gap? I know as a person how hard it is to acknowledge places where we lack, and am wondering how you've approached that in the past (whether humbly, or not!).
Interesting question. I have a different approach: I am CONSTANTLY reading, learning, and trying to seek out growth so that it feels like a fluid process of always growing. I have too many gaps to count, yet think that's sort of the point: to take on challenges that feel outside of my current skills, so that I can build those skills.
@ginabianchini I love this approach! I feel the same way. I am late to this thread and I absolutely love everything you shared. Thank you!
Thanks for joining here, Gina! Very cool to see the CEO of Mighty here. (I remember Ning too!) I would love to hear you talk about community building. (I'm currently building a community for technical and entrepreneurial women specific to public speaking, and I previously built a local community to launch new products for startups in the Boston market - 1500 new products, more than $4B in funding.) BUT, I always wonder if I go about it the hard way. It takes years and a ton of heavy lifting. Are there short cuts and tricks you learned or have I been snookered by the myth of "growth hacking"?
That's a GREAT community, @bobbiecarlton! This is exactly why we created the Community Design Masterclass. I got sick of seeing people make community building and growing so dang hard on themselves when there really is an easier path with clear pieces where you can work smarter, not harder. I'd love to have you join us!
Very interesting new company and service @ginabianchini! My question: How can first time founders and CEOs convince especially institutional Seed and series A investors to invest in them. The team quality and experience makes up to 40% of their investment decision according to research. What can especially female first time founders and CEOs do or demonstrate besides compiling a stellar business and scientific advisory board (hopefully with engaged advisors) to get the first funding?Kind regards,SibylleCo-Chair, WIB-Entrepreneur Center and Women in Bio Founders Forum
Hey @sibyllesandiego! I wish there were one answer to this difficult question, but there isn't. I'm increasingly of the mind that not needing financing is the best way to get it, but in your case, I'm assuming that's not an option. Short of that, I think a stellar business and advisory board PLUS PR is the way to go. Anything you could do to establish a differentiated edge and stand out from the crowd will be important.
Hi Gina! How did your experience of working as an analyst at Goldman Sachs help you in your future tech endeavors? Also, what were the most valuable things you learned from your MBA program (asking as a CS undergrad who is considering a mgmt track)? Thank you!
Hey @soph! I loved my experience at GS. I think any early experience where one can work super hard and, in return, have a front row seat to businesses and business decisions that are way above one's pay grade is amazing. That's what that was for me. As for a MBA, I didn't find it as useful (or fun) as working in banking. I think especially today, finding learning opportunities that pay you is the way to go.
Thank you for sharing!
Hey Gina, thanks for taking the time for us! :) What's the best piece of advice you've ever received as an entrepreneur?
Hey @LisetteV! I don't know that there is one that stands out above all else, but I do love the entire concept of waking up in the morning and knowing that today is Day One.
Hi Gina! Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom. I'm the founder of a social impact for profit startup (e-commerce selling handmade furniture and home decor from global artisans). We are looking to fundraise in the near future and many investors are looking at traction. Given the current state of how things are, what other metrics would you say could be used for traction if we are pre-revenue?
See my idea above for a paying subscription around a network, an online course, or other way of demonstrating that you can bring your customers together efficiently (read: free or cheaply) and provide the value even before you have your product finished. That's a very difficult thing to say no to :-)
@ginabianchini Thanks for doing this!! I help women entrepreneurs scale businesses. I often find and work through with clients that transition from Founder to CEO which I find many struggle with because they are ideas and execution people not necessarily leaders and managers. What do you think your biggest challenge to scaling has been? (outside of funding which we know women get so little of those VC dollars). Why do 88% of women get stuck at 100k in revenue. Thanks!!
I think women can be leaders and managers although there are well-documented "likeability" and other taxes we pay that suck pretty hard. Trying to tackle new skills while at the same time contorting ourselves to meet all other expectations placed on each of us is enough of a challenge many say rightfully screw it, this is what I can handle, so will focus here. I get it.
Thanks! Yes, had lost sight of the likeability issue which can prevent women from taking action that may be necessary or carving out their own space and power.
Not a question, but @ginabianchini just wanted to say I've been following you for a while as a woman founder, and we're just about to launch our first of two networks on Mighty Networks. We had one of our amazing Advisors (expert in online learning) assess the tool, and even she's excited for it. Can't wait, thank you for being a great model of success!
Thanks for the kind words, @KateBrodock
Hello Gina,Thank you for sharing your valuable insights and congrats on your successful communities! I am looking to centralize and "level up" my online business and am excited to have just joined Mighty Networks. The case studies and success stories are very helpful, along with all the content in the Mighty Hosts Network. The post "How to create virtual conferences " was especially interesting because of the current need to connect virtually.*Question*: If you are just starting a new Mighty Network for your online business, do you think you should spend time building members first - then do a virtual conference? Or are virtual conferences a good way to start building members?
Great question. I would say that a virtual conference has to stand out from the crowd if you are going to do one today, so focusing first on membership is probably a good idea. 👍
How did you decide that problem/idea was something worthwhile to dive into and build a business around? What were some key steps you took to research/validate?
Congrats on all of your success. Random question that is a bit out of the norm - do you see more funding going towards consumer health startups and startups in the life science/robotics/ tech merging vs. the consumer space right now? (for reference I have a consumer health science startup focused on senior health)
Hi Gina!I have a couple of questions.1. Can you give advice about user retention? What is it better: to focus on satisfying users who already love the community, or on the retention of new users who have just registered?2. Do you think VCs are interested in niche community startups? What number of daily/monthly active community users (approximately of course) is good enough for investors? Thanks in advance for answering our questions!
Congrats @ginabianchini!! What a feat!Question for you: I worry that I should be hiring an “expert” to help me grow my community / email list. A marketing person. A growth hacker. A brand expert. Did you figure out how to grow your audience on your own or did you find real value in investing in experts? If so, which one(s) helped you grow your audience the most?
Hi @ginabianchini, nice to meet you and thank you for sharing your advice!I‘m in the early stages of marketing my app Prism. It’s a visual bookmarking platform and I want to target bloggers and influencers to use it to share resources with their audience, like a better way to share listicles. Do you have any tips for reaching out directly to specific people to ask them to try your product?