When Paz Pisarski and her two co-founders started The Community Collective in 2021, they never imagined that it would turn into a high growth business. But it did.
In fact, it went from 17 people in their first Melbourne meetup to over 500 members across 16 countries within two years.
Paz, who’s also one of our Flexi Impact members based at Hub Collins Street, tells us more about her journey in building this movement – and the crucial lessons she’s learnt as a founder.
Supporting the supporters
Paz Pisarski has always been at the intersection of supporting startups and building communities. As a community manager, she was passionate about helping people launch new businesses and ensuring founders have a supporting network around them to help them succeed.
She’s worked with universities, and at RMIT Activator. Helped asylum seeker women in not-for-profits build their own businesses. And in 2021, was the community manager at Startup Victoria (now known as The Startup Network), Australia’s largest startup community.
Suffice to say that even then, she’s always made it a business of hers to support founders and communities.
Then the pandemic hit – and Paz, together with her two co-founders Melia Rayner and Jaala Alex, soon noticed a growing need.
“It was in between the fourth and fifth Melbourne lockdowns,” Paz recalls. “Businesses were struggling, and we saw that there were a lot of people who, like us, were building startup communities to support founders through the difficult times.”
“These were the program coordinators at universities, or the people who were running accelerator programs and managing incubators.
“We realised that so many founders were leaning on the community support,” Paz continues. “But the people who were running the programs and managing the communities? They didn’t have anyone to lean on – and that was the gap we identified.
“So we decided to create a support network for the supporters. A community for the community builders. And that’s how The Community Collective began.”
An exponential growth they didn’t see coming
Led by their vision to support people on the frontline of building startup communities, Paz, Melia and Jaala kickstarted The Community Collective in June 2021. Seventeen people turned up at their first meetup group in Cremorne.
Then, almost immediately, they went viral.
From 17 to 100+ community builders across Australia and New Zealand – in just six months. With no marketing.
“We had no idea how big of a group there was, that was just waiting for support,” Paz tells us. “Hundreds of community builders were signing up through our Airtable registration link – just through word of mouth and personal LinkedIn posts.”
Although Paz, Melia and Jaala were still at their full-time jobs at Startup Victoria, Blackbird Ventures and Monash University, they consistently hosted one online meetup per month for community builders. And despite not organising any other offerings outside of this monthly meetup, the community kept growing exponentially – and showed no signs of slowing down.
By June 2022, one year in, there was an undeniable call for more support from the hundreds of community builders they had gathered. It was clear they had struck a chord with a niche group that needed more support.
So Paz, Melia and Jaala came together and decided that more needed to be done. Melia and Jaala became the first Advisors to join the Board, while Paz quit her job to focus on this full time. And together, they registered The Community Collective as a PTY LTD company.
They were now set up to offer more and deeper support. And as Paz puts it, she “became a full-time founder by accident.”
Community is the new currency
Today, The Community Collective has run three programs for 100+ community builders, and has grown their community to over 600 members across 16 countries. And some of the businesses they’ve worked with – to build community strategies and support the team – include Canva, Airtree, B Lab Australia, MYOB, Antler, CSIRO and KPMG.
“I think what the pandemic showed a lot of people was that human connection is not just a value add,” Paz says. “It’s actually paramount to business success and general wellbeing.
“We believe that community is the new currency. It’s the future of business. Not only can it deliver immense impact for customers, but it can also drive some of the strongest strategies and results for a company.”
As such, investing in community builders and managers is crucial. Because unless they’re properly equipped and trained, they’ll never be able to do the best they can.
Paz shares an example.
“We often have founders who run coworking spaces or are in a community lead role come to us, explaining how their members use their space but don’t know anyone. Businesses tell us they want their members to connect on a deeper level, but they’re not sure how to create that community vibe.
“Founders want their members to walk into the building, and be able to have lunch with someone, collaborate with another member, and leave with new friends. This ensures a better experience not just for the member, but the space as a whole.
“Not to mention the immense business value this can bring when they refer their network to join the coworking space too.”
She continues, “After we’ve worked one-on-one with these founders and community leads to enhance their community building tactics and design an actionable strategy, they tell us that word of mouth referrals are through the roof.
“Their members are attending weekly events, and even proactively organising their own gatherings among themselves. You can actually feel the magic in the space.
“And that’s the impact that we’re having on people, their businesses and communities.”
Expanding their movement
Although they’ve achieved so much in the past two years, Paz feels the industry still has a long way more to go.
“The community industry, I think, is where project management was 10 years ago,” she explains. “Or where marketing was 30 years ago. It’s confusing. There’s not a lot of templates. There’s not as many university degrees that you can do and have a clear pathway into this role. The industry is also rapidly changing and evolving.”
To amplify their impact and further support community builders, The Community Collective is now built on the following key offerings:
- Community Cohort, which trains and upskills community builders through an eight-week program
- A recruitment service to help companies hire community talent
- One-on-one consulting to help companies design their community strategy
On top of that, The Community Collective has welcomed 10 ambassadors and 6 alumni hosts to grow the movement.
“In 2022, some of our members offered to run gatherings in-person in some of the cities, such as Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Auckland,” Paz says. “So to formalise it, we launched our Ambassador program, which is a free professional development program we run to upskill our current members to be at the forefront of building a community.
“We give them the skills, the network, our brand, a role title, and the credibility to represent The Community Collective and host in-person elements. For example, we recently had five end-of-year celebrations across two countries in five different cities – all run by local members.”
The flip side of unexpected growth
While building and growing The Community Collective has been such a joy, Paz admits that the journey was not without challenges. In fact, she tells us that there’s been two core challenges.
“One of the biggest challenges – which has been such a blessing but also a challenge – is unexpected growth,” Paz states.
“Personally, it was never my intention to be a founder. I definitely, absolutely love what I do, and I think I have the best job in the entire world,” she quickly puts in, “and it’s such an honour to wake up every day and support everyone.
“But I definitely didn’t expect to become a CEO of a company. To manage a team of three. To build professional development plans, hire, and build out new offerings. It’s such incredible growth, but when you’re not expecting where it’s going to go, you have to quickly learn and unlearn and learn and unlearn… you’re forced to grow. And rapid growth brings on different challenges.”
The second challenge? Energy management.
“I think because we didn’t expect the growth,” Paz explains, “I didn’t anticipate how much time and energy it would require.”
For example, she expected 10 people to sign up for their first training program. Instead, they had 37 turn up. Then 52 for the second program. And 63 for the third.
At the same time, Paz was also running a music business, organising a fundraiser, and travelling across the globe for a conference – to name a few. It did not end well.
“I overcommitted myself. I fully burnt out and was absolutely exhausted by the end of 2022. I had to cancel everything for about two weeks and just rest.”
This is a lesson that can be particularly difficult for founders, because founders tend to – understandably – love what they do and want to give their all. But Paz stresses that you simply cannot overcommit.
“I now have very clear boundaries. I set my working hours in my calendar and I don’t go over them. I don’t do more than two events a week. My phone is on Do Not Disturb at all times.
“I meditate twice a day, every day. And I’ve learnt that saying ‘no’ is one of the best tools that you can ever have.”
What success and the future looks like
When asked about The Community Collective’s biggest wins, Paz didn’t give a list of achievements or statistics. Instead, she tells us a story.
“I recently talked to a CC’ian – that’s what we call our members – who had just been through our program. She said that before finding our Community Cohort, she was extremely lonely. No one understood her job. She felt pretty lost in the role, didn’t know where community management would take her, and wasn’t even sure if it was for her.
“But after eight weeks of going through our third cohort, she told me that she’s never felt so certain about her purpose in life,” Paz shares with a big smile.
“She now knows exactly what she’s here for. She feels supported and connected, and has met so many people who inspire her. She’s become way more productive in her role, and loves that she’s here to build communities. And that feeling of loneliness and confusion is gone.
“And that, for me, is success,” Paz says. “Being of service to other people and leaving the world in a better place than we found it is just one of the best things I could ever experience.”
So what’s ahead for The Community Collective?
With over 450 people on the waitlist to hear about their next cohort program, Paz says she’s excited to continue in that direction – and do more training programs with larger organisations and coworking spaces.
They’ll also continue to grow in recruitment, and a podcast is on the table in 2024.
In addition to all that, Paz believes it’s time to expand The Community Collective team to meet the growing demand.
“I don’t want to be the bottleneck for the success of the business,” she says. “So the more that I can write myself out of the business, the better it will serve members because it won’t be tied to me and what I can do as one single human.
“Because, really, the more that we can inspire the masses, the more we can continue to create this movement together.”
On her experience as a Hub member, Paz says she’s loved every bit of it:
“Hub has been such an amazing home for me and has really helped me in my business. I joined Hub through the 2023 Flexi Impact program and have met so many awesome people. It’s a phenomenal support network.
I’m based at Hub Collins Street, but when I travel to Sydney, I go to Hub Customs House. Always having a place to pop in and out has helped so much in terms of productivity. And I love that I can have conversations, build partnerships and explore collaborations in such a conducive environment.
Other highlights: I also had the opportunity to be on a panel with Brad (Krauskopf), the founder of Hub Australia, at the 2023 GCUC Conference in Sydney. We celebrated our business’s 2nd birthday at the Collins Street cafe, and that was great!
The Hub team has been so supportive and responsive, and I don’t think our business would be where we are this year without Hub.”
Explore The Community Collective’s website to learn more about how they support community builders.
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