Community Lessons: 4 Lessons from the Million Dollar Reddit Company

Hi everyone 👋

As a variation from our usual content, we want to share something new with you today.

Alright, so we know that many of you identify as bootstrapped entrepreneurs or aspire to become one. This journey is full of great experiences but also great challenges. Finding real problems in online communities is definitely one effective way to lower some of the risks connected to these challenges, and it’s one major reason why we do this type of research for you every week.

Today, we want to illustrate the power of community-based products from another angle. This is why we share the story of the million-dollar Reddit company Imgur, which will leave us with four important lessons for your journey as an entrepreneur.

We hope you enjoy these community lessons around Imgur and we’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Moritz
Matthias

🖼️ The Story of Imgur - and its Lessons

Reddit is awesome. And sometimes terrible. But mostly it’s awesome.

Why? Because it’s authentic. (Most of the time)

Besides being authentic, it has other incredible upsides that many people seem to be unaware of. This brief story of Imgur will explain what we mean by that.

🌱 How Imgur came to exist

Reddit is the only reason why the image hosting service Imgur was built – a company that got up to a billion page views per month, makes millions in revenue, and raised around $60M over the course of its existence.

But how did it all start?

Around 12 years ago, Reddit had a huge problem. Millions of users wanted to share images on the platform, but Reddit didn’t provide enough capacity for that.

At the time, this was a much-discussed issue on Reddit, and there seemed to be no solution in sight. Well, only until one community member decided to take matters into his own hands and build Imgur (check out Alan Schaaf’s historic post announcing Imgur).

At the core, Imgur provided exactly what Reddit didn’t: storage capacities. In doing that, it solved a very specific problem for a very specific group of people. But that alone does not explain the incredible growth it has seen basically from day 1.

🪄 What made Imgur special?

As a company that emerged from the Reddit community (for the sake of the argument, let’s pretend there is just one Reddit community), it had some incredible competitive advantages that we want to discuss.

Here’s what you can learn from Imgur’s story:

  • Demand: There are many reasons why 90% of start-ups fail. Building stuff that nobody needs is certainly one of them. As a company that responded to the existing demand from a community, Imgur did not struggle with this problem at all.

  • Audience: Even if you build something that solves existing problems, you might fail to distribute and market your product. As a member of the community he built for, Schaaf had a direct link to Imgur’s users, as well as an understanding of the community’s structure and culture.

  • Authenticity: Companies frequently have to face people’s skepticism. Oftentimes, they are seen as outsiders who simply want to profit from people’s needs and problems. Schaaf, in contrast, was a community member and was therefore perceived as an insider who genuinely wanted to help others and solve a problem that he was struggling with himself.

  • Empathy: Profit wasn’t Schaaf’s main motivation. He wanted to solve a problem for his own community. According to his own statement, his “irrational attention” to what people wanted at the expense of what was good for him and the company is what made Imgur so successful in the long run.

🚀 What does that mean for your business?

The story of Imgur represents a type of origin story that we as CommunityValidated would love to see more often: Founders that identify a real problem in a community whose needs and culture they properly understand, and for whom they can and want to build something.

To make these insights a bit more actionable, we suggest asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What are communities that I’m already an active member of? Can I easily reach other community members (audience)?

  2. What are problems that I and other community members are struggling with (demand)?

  3. How do members in this community interact (language, humor, etc.)? Do I know how to speak to them authentically? Do I understand the community culture (authenticity)?

  4. Do I have other motivations to build something besides money and success? Is my idea something that I would work on even if it was just a hobby? Do I really want to help others with my product (empathy)?

If you enjoyed these community lessons around Imgur, feel free to share it!

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