Startup Advice

What Community Growth Means to a B2B E-Commerce Company

By: Shan Lian | August 28, 2015

I attended a roundtable at SoftTech VC at which Ligaya Tichy of AirBnB and Yelp fame spoke about community-driven growth. I began asking myself some important questions after that discussion that opened up new avenues of conversation on our team around outbound marketing, the customer community, and scalable growth.

I’m sharing a smattering of the takeaways and related thoughts here. I encourage you to ask yourself these questions and think about applying these ideas to your company, as well, even if you’re at a B2B company, like Shippo, instead of the B2C companies Ligaya hails from.

Idea #1: Your customers talk with each other and learn from one another.

Once AirBnB had a strong sense of its host community, it became determined to capture the knowledge-sharing happening between its hosts so that all hosts could benefit. You need a critical mass of people to make that work, as well as, consistency of communication and accuracy. Otherwise you risk opening up a can of worms that you don’t have the power to moderate.

Q: Should we connect current Shippo users – of both the API and app – with potential/new users? Should we start an ambassador program? When will we know if it’s the right time to create a forum? When should we consider hiring a dev community manager?

How to Connect Customers:

  • referrals

    referrals

  • education (webinars, blog posts)

    education (webinars, blog posts)

  • events

    events

  • online forums

    online forum

  • direct connection via email

    direct connection via email

  • ambassadors/evangelists

    ambassadors/evangelists

Q: Do our customers talk to other companies like themselves? Is there a tight-knit ecommerce community?

We see glimmers of this here and there, on Facebook, through Meetup.com, but we don’t yet have enough evidence to call the e-commerce community of users we touch every day a robust one. To learn more, we’re now running a beta referral program. We’re reminding our customers what they’ve achieved from using Shippo (e.g. money & time saved) and hoping that, in return, they’ll spread the word. If we find that our customers have lots of people they want to and do refer to Shippo, then that’s a great indicator of a talkative community. That may mean we consider doing more active community engagement, things like sponsoring meetups, attending hackathons, and writing on forums like Reddit & Stack Overflow to attract the attention of devs.

Idea #2: Once you fully understand your customers – their habits, their questions, how they interact with people like themselves – build community among your customers.

The 3 Reasons Why People Engage:

  • fun

    fun

  • learning/teaching

    learning/teaching

  • support

    support

–Webinars are highly effective – and time-intensive – tools for bringing people together and sharing information. At some point, Shippo should test out a few with the purpose of educating our developer and small business communities and measure the impact on customer service and product engagement.

–We call many of our customers “accidental entrepreneurs.” They didn’t start a business because they were necessarily into business, they were into the creative, innovative product or design elements of the challenge. These people have demonstrated to us that they need a lot of help to get started – they want to jump on the phone, they want to talk through the choice between shipping carriers and service levels, and they want to be reassured that they’re making the right decisions.

How Community Drives Growth:

  • referrals

    referrals

  • ambassadors

    ambassadors

Q: Ask yourself, “Is our product good enough for people to evangelize?” Your product should speak for itself. The best sign is when people are naturally talking about your product — we were pleasantly surprised to find out early on that many Shopify customer service agents recommend Shippo’s Shopify app to merchants who write in with shipping questions. Next steps were leveraging that love and doing things like cc-ing Shopify, Etsy, BigCommerce, etc. in our tweets to encourage them to retweet our content targeted to their customers.

Idea #3: Build trust and increase the incentive towards referrals by making your current customers celebrities.

4 Things That Make People Share:

  • money

    money

  • free stuff

    free stuff

  • love & appreciation

    love & appreciation

  • recognition & status

    recognition & status

Q: What’s the #1 barrier to people using your product and spreading the word?

For AirBnB, it was trust. Trusting people to take care of their homes while they were away, trusting that their hosts wouldn’t be crazy.

For Shippo: When someone chooses not to integrate a shipping API or to download another shipping app, is it for lack of awareness? education? resources? API too complicated? did we sell to the wrong person (dev vs. sales)?

We’re actively working on publicizing our merchants more, showcasing our two customer types (API and web app customers). I’ve reached out to customers personally to have them share with me their startup stories plus their shipping, logistics, and e-commerce learnings. If you’re interested in contributing your learnings and/or advice from your e-commerce experience on the Shippo blog, reach out to us at marketing@goshippo.com.


Shippo is a multi-carrier API and web app that helps retailers, marketplaces and platforms connect to a global network of carriers. Businesses use Shippo to get real-time rates, print labels, automate international paperwork, track packages and facilitate returns. Shippo provides the tools to help businesses succeed through shipping.

Shan Lian

Product Marketing at Shippo

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