Fame vs. Community: The Small Army Model


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.

Click here to view or share comments.


*Thanks to you, The $100 Startup continues to race up the charts! Five weeks after launch, we’re still on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.

*I’m currently home in Portland for a few days, but I’ll be off to Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver next week—say hi if you’re nearby.

Image: Joe

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  • I LOVE this. Community is FAR more desirable than popularity, and far more meaningful, too. Thank you for sharing this.

  • James says:

    One of the things people forget about Amanda Palmer’s kickstarter is that this isn’t donations for her album. Anyone who contributes is getting something in return. Some of those things are very unique and special, like limited edition art books, or Amanda coming to the buyer’s house and playing a private show. Imagine getting that from a major label act.

    So while people may think, this woman is getting money for nothing, she is actually using Kickstarter as a marketplace for art. The difference is that people don’t know what that art is exactly going to be.

    Which is where you are exactly right about the trust factor. She spent a lot of time (years) building a direct relationship with her fans, by being authentic and available, by connecting with them and providing her own brand of art. She built her audience up first, before bringing this project to them. Which is the right way to go about it.

    The hard part is sustaining that period of time while you build that trust. In fact, I would like to read a post from you about how you did that. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.

  • Chris says:


    Yep, great points.

    Also see Adam Baker’s new Kickstarter project (I’m a backer). Similar to what you mentioned, it’s not just about the movie itself; it’s about encouraging people to invest in a project if they believe in it.

  • I always love to hear stories of deserving people being rewarded for their hard work. It does seem like common sense but the idea of doing something of value first and then being rewarded for it is actually very rare. I mean look at professional athletes these days. So many young kids come into their sport expecting huge contracts, and usually getting them, before ever accomplishing anything. I think this breeds a population of entitled and lazy people. It goes for any industry really where the idea that I deserve this or that because I am me before I deliver anything of value trumps my desire to produce something that matters for the sake of creating and not for the payout. Thanks so much for the reminder Chris, take care.

  • Dr. Samantha says:

    Yes. Yes. And you can give people your all and they might not love you back. That’s ok too.

  • You’re right. I love you back.

  • John says:

    “a few people caring a lot” is the strategy I’m following. I also think to get a people to like you a lot, you have to have some people that don’t like you at all. Like your guide to “overnight success” – it takes a long time. This puts consistency and quality as the most important metrics.

  • betsy burns says:

    The statement, Give people your all and they will love you back, is untrue or our definition of love is vastly different.

  • Relationships and doing what you say you are going to do are the most important things. Not only in business but in life. I recently posted on Facebook my 5 year goal to living the life I want to live. I said what I will have done each year. I am printing it out also and framing it to hang on my wall for all to see. Why five years, because I will be working my day I.T. job while building my photography business and living life. I stay in the day so I can pay the daily bills but more important pay off the credit cards, car, and student loan (in that order), plus to build a savings. I will also continue to build my small army. Good luck in your adventure to living the life you want.

  • Justin says:

    This is such an inspiring story. I agree with you 100% that it is most important to provide value. There are so many people that are just waiting to find the voice of inspiration for themselves. Someone to show them that something is possible, whatever that something is for them.

    There is so much joy in helping others and trying to make the world a better place. The battle is long and the journey ahead is going to be rough, but as long as people like you are doing something that helps someone else, the change will be evident.

    Thanks for your inspiration and dedication to helping.

  • “You don’t start with the audience! You start with the work.”

    Chris, such heartening advice for those just starting out and getting overly obsessed with the numbers (# of followers, fans, readers, etc.). Great point when you say “Do something that matters. Then you add the relationships. THEN it will grow.” Great read.

  • I only keep less than 10 emails in my inbox at anytime – urgent needs or stuff I like revisiting. The email referring to this blog post will be one of them. Thank you. Later this week I’m launching a free opportunity for an instrumental musician to perform alongside me in NYC, London or Sydney. In some ways, that will confirm if I have fans or a supportive army, and will know what to focus on next (building those relationships).

  • Great post. Thanks for fhe encouragement.

  • SHARKMAN says:

    “But you have to have the people first … No you don’t!” Chris is absolutely right. We carried an unpublished manifesto around inside us for years because we didn’t have a tribe of people to give it to. One day, thank’s to inspiration from Chris, we decided that what we had to share – even if it only helped ONE person – was too precious not to share. We published our manifesto (platform) and have been amazed at the good it has done. DON’T WAIT like we did. If you have something that can help the world, SHARE IT TODAY. Thanks Chris.

  • Excellent post and so very true. They say most “overnight successes” are several years in the making. I agree. There is no silver bullet. Success is the result of hard work, doing work that matters, being persistent and working smart. Building a community is equally important but only if it’s to lead them to somewhere better than they are today. When we do that, everyone wins.

  • Tim says:

    Great Advice, very much appreciated.

  • I have been so extremely blessed with having met some extraordinary people across South America. People who have contributed in giving and caring for others. People who are NOT famous and probably never will be. I wrote a story about a woman I met in Valparaiso, Chile. Julia’s son caught a rare virus at 1 month old that left him deaf. At the time, (nearly 40 yrs ago), there was nothing to educate the deaf in Chile. Determined to teach her son how to speak, she traveled across Europe, self taught herself to teach her son. Years later, her son was able to speak, read lips and carry on a “normal” life. Julia did not stop there. She thought about the other kids back in Valparaiso. She made her way back there and founded the “Helen Keller Institute” with absolutely NO support from the government and the banks. She started by going door to door to get students to enroll.

    Today, 25 years later, the institute is successful. She said, I never refused a student who couldn’t afford the fee. For every student I registered for free, God has given 2 who could afford it. So, absolutely, it is not about the fame and the numbers, but, the work.

  • Therese says:


    Thanks Chris.

  • Kathryn Plett says:

    The turn out at Powell’s bookstore in Portland was fantastic…. I knew it would be big!
    Thanks for this blog, very good to read! Thanks for the inspiration… now we need to take action!
    I have had several opportunities to share your new book with friends.

  • Same thing is said about sports stars (although some argument can be made that they earn too much). Nadal, Federer and the like don’t get paid $1m plus for winning the finals match at Wimbledon, or even for winning seven matches for the fortnight. They get paid $1m for the time and dedication over 20 years from a young boy, hitting millions of tennis balls, running thousands of miles, pushing tons of weights, dedicating themselves to diet, training, travel, and sacrificing a ‘normal’ life. Thats what they get the million bucks for.

    Many of us could have similar rewards, or at least much greater rewards than we have now, with dedication to the task. This applies to building an audience, a business, a relationship, or anything other worthy pursuit.

  • Mark says:

    Wow, just realised you wrote it on the same day I wrote my article. Synchronicity! For me it was the ongoing realisation that popularity on youtube and in the travel blogging community was not always based on talent, but more on who had learnt to game the system. And I suppose it was just a realisation I don’t want to play that game…and shouldn’t have to, if my content is good!

  • Laura says:

    We seem to share the same values in life Chris and as I grow my new business venture, your posts keep me inspired to stick to what is true for me. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes at least a small army to grow a business!

  • jeff noel says:

    Chris, this is one of your best posts, imho.
    A brilliant reminder that the long way IS the shortcut.
    Safe travels.

  • Jon says:

    “When you don’t take [physical] action, your mind has to have action, and that’s an open invitation for the Voice of Knowledge to begin talking.” – Don Miguel Ruiz The Voice of Knowledge.

    Taking action can be difficult because of procrastination, which really comes from the idea that we have so many years in the future. We may die tomorrow. So what matters is that we do our best today. The whole recognition thing comes from our domestication as humans, where we seek attention from other humans to justify our own existence. I’m not suggesting one cannot advertise, but consider what you would like or not like if someone were to advertise to you. Would you like if someone spammed you? People like the idea of faceless communication. This does work in some cases, but in most cases (initially) you will have to invest time into launching a product and receiving feedback about bugs and things like that.

  • Mark says:

    It’s good you mention Amanda Palmer – many are quick to assume that all the success is a result of winning a sort of kickstarter lottery, but there’s much more to it than that. She has a pretty good run down on her blog somewhere about her gaining momentum, and it being a result of hard work over the past 10+ years as a musician – and more importantly, where the money is going. Even though she’s independent, she still has a ton of people to pay to get the record out.

    That said, talking heads everywhere are using AP as the poster child of musicians using kickstarter to fund their records. And, as said in her post, she doesn’t want that at all… She wants the record to stand on its own (though I don’t think she’ll be able to avoid the connotation).

    After this, we’ll see a huge influx of bands/musicians trying to achieve the same success. But musicians need to remember that she has been on major labels, indie labels, and has been in the business for a while (leaving Roadrunner just three years ago). She has that community backing her, and it has been growing for 10+ years – something that the majority of artists don’t yet have.

  • I’ve just been from Sydney to Auckland and back in the last few days.

    When I saw ‘The $100 Start-Up’ well stocked on in airport bookshops on both sides of the Tasman, I felt a little flush of pleasedness as if I’d had a hand in it somehow.

    That is successful community creation – we feel good for you 🙂

  • Chris says:


    Thanks for making that happen! 🙂

  • deniz says:

    Exactly – a lot of the people who focused on the sum total of her Kickstarter failed to see the important point – every one of those backers pledged their money in return for a product. Kickstarter’s not begging, it’s a brand new model of ensuring artists and entrepreneurs are paid for their work. It’s exciting!

  • Jen M. says:

    Thanks, Chris. This is the best business post I have read in a long time! So, so true!

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