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Fame vs. Community: The Small Army Model

Originally posted on June 11, 2012.

I don’t often discuss news articles or reblog things from elsewhere, but I loved a recent article on an independent musician who recently raised $1.2M through Kickstarter for her new album.

A couple of things struck me from this story.

Point #1: “It doesn’t feel like a windfall,” Ms. Palmer said in an interview before the party. “It feels like the accumulated reward for years and years of work.”

In The $100 Startup I told the story of how one of our products produced $100,000 on its first day of release. During a media interview last week, someone kept asking about this fact. “You really made $100k in one day?”

“Well, sort of,” I said. Yes, the numbers are accurate, but I didn’t like the idea of the story being written that way. (The headline I pictured was “Blogger strikes it rich,” which isn’t really my style.)

So I said that another way to think about it is that I worked for three years to earn the $100,000 that happened to come through in one day. By the time we launched that product, hundreds of people were eager to purchase—not because of what happened during that 24-hour period, but because of everything that led up to it.

Trust isn’t build in a single action but rather through ongoing presence and reliability. Amanda Palmer, the musician who raised $1.2M, didn’t achieve success because her Kickstarter campaign was awesome. Of course it was awesome, but that’s a given.

These days, there is no shortage of awesome in the world. What there is a shortage of (and what people find so refreshing) is trust. The fact that people love and trust you is the only reason they would pledge a million dollars toward an unheard, independent album.

And here’s the other thing I thought was fascinating.

Point #2: “It’s not about fame,” said Yancey Strickler, a founder of Kickstarter. “Fame is a lot of people caring about you a little. What Amanda has is something different. It’s a few people caring about her a lot.”

This perspective—”a few people caring about her a lot”—is essentially the small army model of community. It’s not about becoming famous; it’s about cultivating loyalty through ongoing service and attention to detail.

I’ve been on tour to 18 cities over the past few weeks, with many more to come. I go to bookstores and it’s standing room only after they put out every chair they have. Here is a snap I took from my phone during the introduction at Powell’s last week.

The takeaway from these experiences isn’t, “Chris Guillebeau is famous.” Because I’m not. I’m a lot less famous than Amanda Palmer, and even she isn’t really famous—that’s why the story is so interesting.

The lesson is: care for people and they will care for you too. And for everyone who is trying to build or recruit their own small army of remarkable people, consider this four-step approach.

1. Do what you say you’re going to do. You’d think this would be the easy part, but for some people it’s not. Make a public commitment and stick to it—no matter what. Over time, this practice will greatly help you.

2. Work on the important things every day. How do you know what the important things are? Easy. Make a list of the top 20 things you need to do. Then, cross off items #3 – 20, but make sure you complete items #1 and #2.

3. It all comes down to relationships. Understand that technology and online networks can be great, but in the end they are just tools or forms of communication. Also, if you want more followers on Twitter, do something interesting—away from Twitter.

4. Help people and make things. When in doubt, do this every day. You can even structure your life around it.


One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is about building a platform. Sometimes people say, “But you have to have the people first.”

No you don’t! You don’t start with the audience! You start with the work. You do something that matters. Then you add the relationships. THEN it will grow.

It’s not that complicated, but it does take devotion and commitment over time.

Side note: Michael Hyatt has a great new book all about this exact topic. He sent me a free copy, but I’ve bought others to share with friends.

Thanks to technology and online media, we can now reach people all over the world based on shared values and ideals. But while this part of the world is constantly changing, relationships will always remain the real secret to success.

Biggest lesson: Give people your all and they will love you back.


Image: Joe