A bit of background
From 2011 to 2015 my work was focused on expanding CreativeMornings, a lecture series about creativity. What began as a monthly event in New York (started by Tina Roth Eisenberg), evolved into an opportunity to lead a small HQ that scaled the community to almost 1,000 organizers in 100+ cities.
Since moving on, I’ve had the pleasure to meet remarkable people that are also making an impact through events. From a women’s salon for changemakers that started in New York, to a barber shop speaker series in Detroit, to a global community of educators, I find these projects not only inspiring but also fascinating.
Why I’m writing this post (and others)
Those interactions were the impetus for this post which is the first in a series of articles about scaling communities. My purpose is to create the playbook I wish I had five years ago when I was figuring out how to expand CreativeMornings. If I can better equip one person that’s dedicating time to nurture a network of people, mission accomplished.
If you happen to be one of these fine humans that’s gathering a secret army of diverse, likeminded, passionate folks–don’t hesitate to email me. I’d love to learn more about what you’re up to and humbly offer any help because I probably think what you’re doing is rad.
Thanks for listening,
Part 01: How to Create a Great Application Process
Whether you run a successful meetup and want to replicate it in other cities or you’re at the helm of a large online community that’s considering in-person events, you’re probably going to design an application process at some point. When trying to find your local ambassadors (you might call them something else: organizers, partners, hub leaders, paladins) an application is a great way to gauge interest, set expectations and save time (for all parties).
Here are my three pointers for creating a great application process.
Tip #1: Search like you’d search for an apartment
In marketing, the word “funnel” describes the stages a customer travels through to eventually buy your product. A bunch of people go in one end, and they get whittled down to a few that actually buy.
If we look at our application process as a funnel, we start with ni interested parties and after a series of checkpoints (e.g. an email, a written application, an interview) we eventually choose nf parties to join the inner circle.
Conventional wisdom might lead us to think “the more people entering our funnel the better.” So should we make the application easier to increase our leads? I prefer the opposite approach. Make it hard. Remind people they have alternatives. Create a high barrier to entry.
When it comes to your application process, every time an unfit prospect “exits” your funnel, they’re going to feel like you wasted their time. Think about all of the wasted hours and bad karma that result from rejected applications. Instead of the time sink that is sifting through a sea of no’s to uncover a few yes’s, I recommend treating your search for quality local ambassadors like the ideal apartment search: expend minimal effort to find exactly what (or who) you’re looking for.
In short, you want to weed people out early.
- List reasons why someone shouldn’t apply – List them loud and proud. It’ll not only act as a filter but also set expectations.
- Make the application sneakily difficult – Nobody likes an unnecessarily long application but consider incorporating a creative challenge like a video or sample blog post.
- Intimidate applicants with stellar examples – You want the person who says, “Wow, that’s impressive…but I can do better.”
- Make it social – Require team members or pre-approved references. Discussing the application with others is an uncomfortable step.
Though aggressively weeding out prospects doesn’t work for every people process, in the context of recruiting local ambassadors I’d argue it generates optimal results while minimizing squandered time for everyone involved.
If you get through my application, chances are you’re exactly who I’m looking for. Bottom line, don’t go easy on’em.
Tip #2: Get to know the humans
When my dad immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975, he could only send written letters back to his family for years. Today, he can pick up an iPad and with a few taps watch chubby Vietnamese baby nephews eat their dinner live.
The fact that video chat exists is mind blowing. Use it and any other tools at your disposal to to try to get to know the person behind the qualifications. Of course, in-person is best but if you’re interviewing an applicant in another country turn on the video and dig in. Or you can take a page from the book of the Lean Startup Machine, those guys would literally travel to each workshop in a new city.
- Require video chat – When you interview applicants, chat it up face to face. If they don’t speak English, suggest they bring along an interpreter.
- Incorporate video into the application – My favorite tactic we employed at CreativeMornings was asking for a 3 minute talk-to-the-webcam video.
- Ask weird questions – During interviews, CreativeMornings’ head of community Sally Rumble would ask,
“If you had unlimited money and a year of free time to make a documentary, what would it be about?”
This person is going to be representing your brand to foreign audiences and whether you like it or not, he/she will be a direct reflection of your judgement. Get to know them on a deeper level.
Tip #3: Make it official, sign something
I’m the guy that doesn’t celebrate until ink is on paper. That’s partially because of my personality and partially because I’ve already made the mistake of pre-celebrating deals that have fallen through. Guh.
In terms of bringing on a local ambassador, I advise folks building communities to draft some sort of basic agreement. You can go full on like TEDx or just send a few bullet points via email and ask for a confirmation.
Either way, the exercise is meant to create a moment where expectations on both sides are clarified. If you want to keep it simple, write out two lists: what you’ll do and what the new guy’s supposed to do. It might seem like overkill but one of the basic rules of business has to be, “get it in writing.”
- Cash in your favors with that lawyer friend – draft a not-so-intimidating agreement for both sides to sign when you’re ready to accept a new ambassador
- Clarify expectations in the application – another early filter. We love filters!
- Walk through expectations during the interview – repetition, repetition, repetition. Give folks an opportunity to ask questions live.
I know you can’t think through every scenario (nor would I recommend it; that’s a recipe for high blood pressure). Treat this list of expectations as a prototype that’ll develop over time. You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to get burned (hopefully not too often). Take each lesson and ask yourself, how might I have avoided this situation by communicating an expectation earlier?
In the words of my friend Becky,
“Every issue is a communication issue.”
In summary, my three tips for building a great application process are:
- Try your best to weed out applicants at every stage by making the process purposely difficult. It’ll save everyone time.
- Employ video as a strategy to get to know applicant’s on a deeper level.
- Clarify expectations in writing. Getting a clear confirmation will pay dividends.
The best part of an application process is saying congratulations. If I had one more piece of advice on this topic, I’d recommend calling applicants to tell them the good news just like a job recruiter.
I’ve eked out tears seeing the excitement in an applicant’s face when they learn they’ve been accepted to the family. Imagine the last time you got that sort of validation. The words, “application approved” feel really good.
You hold great power my friend, put it to good use.