Building an invite-only community
Etienne de Bruin
- Part 1 Building an invite-only community
- Part 2Brainstorming the MarTech community — Etienne de Bruin // 7CTOs
Speaker 1: (00:04)From advertising to software as a service to data across all of our programs and clients, we've seen a 55 to 65% open rate, getting brands authentically integrated into content performs better than TV advertising. Typical life span of an article is about 24 to 36 hours for reaching out to the right person with the right message and a clear call to action. That it's just a matter of timing. Welcome to the Martec podcast. A Ben J Shap LLC production in this podcast, you'll hear the stories of world-class marketers that use technology to drive business results and achieve career success. We'll on earth, the real world experiences of some of the brightest minds in the marketing and technology space. So you can learn the tools, tips, and tricks they've learned along the way. Now here's the host of the Martec podcast, Benjamin Shapiro. Speaker 2: (01:02)Welcome to the Martec podcast today. We're going to discuss the value in process for building a paid community. Joining us today is at 10 DeBruin, who is the founder and CEO of seven CTOs, which is a community that helps chief technology officers grow into worldclass leaders through in-person forums that connect enlighten and soundboard technology strategies. And today at 10, and I are going to discuss how to build an invite only community. Okay. Here's the first part of my conversation with Etienne DeBruin CEO of seven CTOs at the end. Welcome to the Martec podcast. Thank you very much. Wonderful to be. Are you Benjamin or Ben? And you know, I've been called worse either way. I generally write Benjamin because I'm trying to differentiate from the political podcast or actually most of my handles are Ben J Shap. And I will say that thought did cross my mind. Speaker 2: (01:56)I'm the marketing guy. He's the politics guy. Politics will not be associated with this podcast, no matter how much you agree or disagree with me. I have a friend who is the founder of lemon Lee. His name is John Mayer. I actually think he applied to be a guest on the Martec podcast. Like you're kidding. I think that he might be sitting in our yes, the applicant inbox, but I definitely had a John Mayer apply to be a guest on the show or his PR rep did I think he has it T in his name. So he's John T Maya. Absolutely. That's the person I know I've connected with him at some point. And it all goes back to office space with Michael Bolton, the no talent ass clown, sorry for anybody who was offended by my language. Yeah, it's a tough one. Are there any other at the end of Bruins that are famous, that we should know about are really you're leading the SEO charge there. I have a wonderfully unique Google search results. I've been told that I remind people of the shoe company and I have been told there's a French song that was popular in the eighties that repeated my name a very Speaker 3: (02:59)sensual way. That sounds nice. But other than that, no, Speaker 2: (03:03)I was thinking the mascot for the UCLA Bruins was another one. Speaker 3: (03:08)I have a very interesting story, but it'll take up the rest of this podcast. So let's move on. Speaker 2: (03:13)We'll have to have a third episode where we talk about the origins and intricacies of your name. You are the founder of seven CTOs, which I assume means that you have a technical background. Talk to me a little bit about what you did prior to launching seven CTOs, that community for technologists. How did you decide to launch your platform? Speaker 3: (03:34)So I am South African and grew up coding ever since I was, I think, nine or 10, I just loved coding. I'm very fortunate because I've known since day one, what I want to do with my life. And so just coated my way. I got a computer science degree, landed at a startup or scientific foundation in South Africa, which took me to a German company where I did a lot of low level programming. And then my wife and I got married in 96, moved to Germany in 97, moved to the States in 2000. So the progression for me has always been more coding, more solving, harder problems. And it was in early 2000 that I met a friend of mine who decided that we wanted to do the startup thing and I could code and he needed a product. And I like to tell my geek friends, I opened up a blank zoom session, and I started counting and Speaker 2: (04:30)we Speaker 3: (04:30)we're able to sell that company about four or five years ago. And that was my progression where I had to go from software engineers, sort of classic path towards technical co-founding and then the role of a CTO, which I realized probably halfway through the journey that I didn't know what on earth I was doing. I thought that by virtue of coding and knowing how to talk two engineers, that I was qualified for the role, but I realized very quickly that I was failing. Speaker 2: (05:00)So my understanding about the sort of common traits of CTOs, I dunno if this is going to be stereotyping, I hope nobody who has a technical background is offended that there are lots of people that obviously have a various sort of specific process and way of thinking about problem solving. And as you get into executive leadership, they start to struggle because the communication skills, not the coding skills and development skills are put in the forefront. Was that part of the reasons why you started seven CTOs. Talk to me about the reason why you started a community after your exit from your last startup. Speaker 3: (05:36)I've actually seen this in many startups, especially if you grind it out from the beginning around the fifth or the sixth or the seventh year, you start looking up from your desk and you're like, well, I wonder what everyone else is doing. And as I told you earlier, my tooth co founders were excelling as business people. My CEO joined O N our COO joined vestige. And I noticed the not executive sync ups that it was more pragmatic. It was more metrics driven. I just noticed that both of them were excelling. And so I struggled with where do I go? Who do I talk to? And [inaudible] tech space, as you know, people are a little more guarded, introverted. And I often joke that the CEO, when they're talking, they're probably working for a CTO type. When we're talking, we feel like we're not working. We feel like we're in between coding or in between drawing on the whiteboard. Speaker 3: (06:30)And so it's not a natural inclination for us to think of talking to other people as actually working. So I started calling up other CTOs of companies, just asking them for what was working for them, what wasn't working for them. And then it turned into larger and larger donors. It turned into something, you know, I think I called it the San Diego CTO forum and the game was on, it was, let's find sponsors for dinners and let's all eat together. And it's all shared together. And I think at its prime, we were about 350 members and three different cities, 30 plus events. And it was all run on meetup.com. So I had a presence in San Diego, Portland, and Austin. And those just happened to be cities that I loved and cities where they were conferences in at some point where I just decided, Hey, I'm going to host a CTO dinner while I'm at this conference. Speaker 3: (07:21)So momentum was building as far as people wanting to talk and wanting to meet other CTOs. So a couple of questions for you. It seems like you isolated a pain point for a larger group. That was something that you identify that, you know, something that you were struggling. Normally I would imagine with an engineering background, you try to be as pragmatic and take yourself out of the process and think about all the scenarios. When you were starting to think about the product offering of your community, you decide, Hey, I'm going to go have a dinner and eventually turn it into a product type business. How did you think about finding your product market fit? What problems you were solving for your group? That's a great segue because I had no idea. I knew how I wanted to feel when I was with the right people. Speaker 3: (08:10)And I wasn't feeling that way. I had, like I told you 300, plus people actively participating, showing up to dentists more and more vendors buying out dinners for us. But I felt like the conversation was surface deep, but we weren't breaking through, into my real issues and my real challenges. It was a boondoggle, not a professional educational event. No it wasn't. And I knew that I had issues. I knew that I was bored in the executive sync ups. I knew that I had a chip on my shoulder about the product. So I had the gift of awareness that I need it, people to call me out on my struggles and I needed to be able to draw something on the white board and have people call me out on it. And I'll my biggest, Oh, shit moment. When I realized I needed outside, help was I was in an executive sync up with my two founders and we were discussing some feature that we wanted to build. Speaker 3: (09:07)And we were brainstorming basically from idea to conception in this one 30 minute meeting. And the meeting ended with me drawing on the white board, how we would build this feature. I think it was some integration. And I basically designed the whole thing on the white board. And I looked up and the two of them are making notes. And my COO was planning the expenses. My CEO was planning the marketing campaign. And I had this moment where I thought, what if I am completely missing it? I mean, they were both amazing, but on the technical side, what if I was overestimating the delivery speed, the velocity? What if I was under estimating cost? What if I was just rambling things off that was going on checked by? Yes. And that's when I had that moment where I realized I have to have that conversation with people that I can trust and people who could say, you know, what you think there's the API layer is going to take you two months, actually that was done seven years ago. So you can do that in a day. Why are you rebuilding features that already exist? So I needed that sort of interaction and it wasn't happening over casual dinners. Casual dinners are awesome for war stories and ordering your second dirty martini. Great for really taking and making the effort to do dig into people's stories. Speaker 2: (10:18)Yeah, there's the professional networking that you get out of a casual dinner, but it doesn't necessarily provide the sort of valuable community, right. A resource that you could really rely on in a professional education sense. So you don't get to use it as a sounding board. Talk to me about how you cultivated the product from, Hey, we're getting this collection of 350 people together to everyone was actually using the community and deriving value out of it. Speaker 3: (10:46)So I struggled with this and this part of the story is the name of the organization. I was struggling with what this organization really was. And there was definitely a hot minute where I thought, you know what, maybe this is just a meetup style get together. And it wasn't terrible. It was fun. And then let's just rely on the serendipity of conversations to create onesies, twosies in friendships and peer mentorship. But I did have a Zen moment where I closed my eyes and I was like, what is this? Yeah, opened my eyes. And I saw six CTOs. And I thought, Holy shit, is that the name of this organization? So I think I had a new Rica moment ran out of my office. And I told the first person I saw this CTL organization of mine is going to be called six CTS. And the guy looked at me and he was like, sick CTE. Speaker 3: (11:36)I don't get it. You guys are sick and now you're going to help each other, what is this? And then I realized I have a phonetics issue. And so I ran straight back into my office and registered like five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 ctos.com. Cause I knew somewhere in there I had the formula. And in my case, I knew that the forums had to be relatively small. So kind of want it to go with five ctos.com. But then I thought that it's not logistically two people call him Mike, and then you sit with three people. So I went up one to seven and then I felt like seven was a little too cliche. And then I just decided, fuck it. I'll just do seven CTOs cliche sometimes sells. You mentioned the concept of a forum for the marketers, listening to this podcast that are thinking about developing communities that actually have value. Speaker 3: (12:27)The forum is essentially a hybrid of the language used by EO entrepreneurs organization, which is like a class or a small collection that are your peer group. You get direct private communication between this group. Why is the forum style? Something that provides value as opposed to having everyone in the same group, the 30 or 300 people in the room? Why did you need to trim it down to seven? Yeah, that is a great question. And I did learn a lot from what I saw in what was happening in EO and Vistage Vistage. I think that groups are 20 and 20 plus. And with EO, I think there are smaller groups. You know, there is the idea of in the scientific community of peer reviews, where you expose your work to a small group of people and then they review your work. And so felt natural and sort of the sciencey process for me to have it. Speaker 3: (13:21)Peer review group. I had an intuition, which I liked to on learned for a fact that I had an intuition that with introverted people, the work that goes into getting to know each other, it just grows exponentially when you add one additional person. So my intuition was that the smaller we keep the groups, the more comfortable and the cipher people would feel with each other to actually start getting beneath that first defensive layer into sort of the nitty gritty of what is actually going on in their companies. And so the forum model to me, it's almost a tried and tested model globally peer groups to get together and help each other. Now I will say just to kind of close off the origin story when I was very excited about seven CTOs. And I felt like to answer your earlier question. Yes, product was seven people in a room led by a facilitator and month in and month out. Speaker 3: (14:20)Let's work together, shared learning, shared challenge processing, and let's do that. So I came up with a brand, I'd spent some money on little explainer video and I, I did all that. And I had a big launch. It's a marketing podcast. You have to tell me what a big launch means. Well, a big launch means I invited everyone over for a very expensive dinner and did a little PowerPoint presentation to them of where this thing was going and launching seven CTOs, big launch, probably 60, 70 people in a room dressed business, casual, enjoying very expensive dinner. Speaker 2: (14:55)It sounds lovely doing a sales pitch to introduce the brand Speaker 3: (14:59)well. And I thought that I was selling it to the convinced I was, Hey, you guys have been following me for two years. Let's define the relationship. And I had zero signups. Speaker 2: (15:09)That's a tough conversion rate. Generally. You know, X over total number of invited equals zero is not the math that you want. I know I'm not an engineer, but I'm assuming that you had higher expectations. The group has grown significantly since then. Talk to me about what you've done to recruit and onboard your members. Speaker 3: (15:27)So the problem I had was something I was offering for free. I was now saying, Hey, let's make a financial commitment. Let's make a time commitment. And let's commit to meeting with people. And I think people at that point felt like, well, I've been having amazing dinners. I've been meeting great people. I don't need to pay to do this. So we went from 300 to zero and then I had to big borrow and steal seven people to just please give it a try, trust me on this. And I was able to get seven. Now it's debatable whether they were actual CTOs, but they were willing to be my first group. And to this day, some of them are still in seven CTOs. They just later. And I use that group to really try and model like, what are we actually doing? Yeah. And I think to your earlier question, I still didn't really know what the product was. I just want it to feel like there was a safe place for people to talk. Speaker 2: (16:22)Did you charge that first group? Speaker 3: (16:23)I did. I think I charged him 200 bucks a month each and we're at 10 grand a year now. So it's significantly different. The outreach is interesting. It's very much word of mouth. I've found that the cold outreaches like, Hey, I have a community. You should join me. It doesn't work for the CTO. Even though many of them love the idea of talking to others. I think there's a challenge with the CTO role. If I can juxtapose this with ER or vestige, the boss is joining a forum. Whereas with the CTO, you have a boss and just by nature of many, many, many startups CTOs, again, feel like they're stepping away from their business to go and join this forum on always able to just justify or convince their C suite that this is necessary. So it's a bit of a wrestle to help people understand that the financial and the time commitment they're making is actually an accelerator for them when it comes to day to day decision making. So I have a inbound marketing strategy where in good faith, I put content out there. I host calls. I let people really just into like what we're doing. And more often than not, that turns into a convert. Speaker 2: (17:37)Interesting. So you're not doing a lot of outbound marketing. You're getting, I'm assuming lots of referrals, lots of word of mouth interest. And then you're creating communities and scenarios where people can essentially sample the value. Right? See the type of content and understand what they'd be getting out of regular access to a community like seven CTOs. Speaker 3: (17:59)It's tough though, because a lot of people said to me, well, I'd like to try this out before I make my commitment. And it's a bit of a chicken and the egg situation because our forums are based on confidentiality. And to maintain that integrity, we actually can't do that. I've tried over the seven, eight years. I've tried various ways of trying before you're buying come visit us before the forum starts. And none of those models really worked. Speaker 2: (18:24)Can I make a suggestion? Speaker 3: (18:25)Yes. Speaker 2: (18:26)Have the CTOs that are having conversations, start a podcast and say, Hey, if you want to hear the type of things that we discover in seven CTOs, you should listen to our podcast. And it allows a way for the CTOs to convert the private conversations into public conversations when they think it's appropriate. Speaker 3: (18:44)That is indeed. We have a podcast called CTO studio. Great. We're actually doing that. Hey, you're head of the CTO studio has actually brought in quite a few people, Speaker 2: (18:54)the podcast space. It's not a small thing. So when you went from, you know, your original collection of seven, and you're relying on word of mouth marketing to get more interest in your community, and you've gone from a, what sounds like a $2,400 a year price point to $10,000, how were you able to drive demand while also raising the cost of the membership? Speaker 3: (19:18)It's interesting. I was being coached by a very good friend of mine who kept pushing me on the price point. And I wasn't a natural sales person. I still don't consider myself a sales person. I'm a CTO who wants to be with other CTOs. So I was having these rich conversations, objection, conversations with myself in my own head. And so by the time I actually talked to someone, I've convinced myself that the product is not valuable enough to pay so much money for. So I had to work with a sales script that helps me bring the conversation to goals and obstacles, and really help the person see that seven CTS is a way for them to achieve their goals. And why would you say no to that? So the interesting thing is more and more companies in the, I would say $25 million plus revenue space. Speaker 3: (20:09)He's coming to seven CTOs for them. The value, you know, 10 grand a year is really nothing compared to the coaching fees and all that, that exists out there. So I guess the price increase at times feels artificial because you're just pushing the price up every year. I think every two, three years we went from 200 to three 75 to 500 and then to eight 33 a month, basically. And it's just easier to bring in new people at those price points. My biggest push was to get them all the grandfather, people up to 500 bucks a month at the very least. Speaker 2: (20:44)So you've gone ahead and you had your initial group, you've now the community over eight years, you've raised the price point. I'm assuming that focusing on retention as something that matters very much to you, right? You're not just in it for the 10 grand annual fee. You really want a recurring business. That's what makes the community model so attractive. It also is great for the other marketers that are listening to this podcast. If you can build a rich community, you have regular access to all the smart people that are in your community. Talk to me about how you think about engagement and retention. How are you keeping people that are in these groups sticking around? Speaker 3: (21:21)You need to be willing to lose people if they stop engaging, if they stop [inaudible]. So, one of the big indicators for us is if people stop showing up to forums, and by that, I should say, if they start missing the second or the third one, that's usually an early indicator for us that the value isn't clear anymore. Also the last minute cancellations. So we went through a painful phase last year, where we had to basically just say, Hey, seven CTOs is a peer mentorship organization. Your voice is as valuable as the other people in the forum. And if you are not there, other people are missing out on your point of view. So we've had to come up with, we call it the promise document. And so with that promise document, our CTOs, before they even joined the organization are committing to attending forums and providing the necessary rescheduling window when they can't make their forums. Speaker 3: (22:16)So we have that as far as attendance goes, something else that we've noticed is with every one of our forums, we do what we call a health check. And we can tell from people's the way they complete those forms, whether they're in it to win it, or whether they're sort of getting bored with the process and to do marketing speak with you. You know, every month we have hundreds and hundreds of collective hours of finding out what CTOs are struggling with. So it's very easy for us to glean even just casually from the forms that are coming in, where we need to focus our attention as an organization on the shared domain. So in terms of the content we do colloquiums, we do multiple events to keep people interested and ongoing for everything where we feel like we can't actually address what people want through content and engagement. We focus on introductions. And so we make sure that people feel like the value of being part of seven CTOs is that they can also meet the kinds of people that they never would have been able to meet or would have had to spend the extra effort to meet. So a lot of the help also comes from the introductions that we make. Like, Hey, we think, you know, with this MNA activity coming up, the two of you should talk and then we make the introductions. And more often than not, those are incredibly valuable. Speaker 2: (23:34)Where did you decide to draw the line in terms of what your product was, what your service offering was and what value you didn't want to provide? Speaker 3: (23:43)That is a continuous for me. And for that, I have to thank my team. Whenever I wake up in the middle of the night with another idea that we should do. I have some really feet on the ground team members who are like, ah, you know, you're now asking for an additional X number of hours for people every month. So I do rely on my team to give me the sanity feedback. People who've joined seven CTOs, want to talk to their peer group for a half day a month. They want to interact with them. They want to ask them the questions they want to be with those people. If I do nothing else, that is what they want. My goal is to on top of that, just show them that we are indeed aligned with where the industry's headed. We know what's coming up and we are exposing them. Speaker 3: (24:30)And really the word is inspiring them to grow to more than what they really are. Bye. Bringing other people into the conversation. Yeah. It seems like a big part of the value prop here is not only the peer mentorship, right? That's the core value prop, but the idea that you're able to tap into the collective mind of a larger group of CTOs, and then also get the sort of direct connections, that networking introduction component as well. It is not just access to the other six CTOs and your seven CTO forum. It is the 700 or 7,000 or how many ever CTOs you have in your group. And then the one on one connection. So maybe we have to rebrand the seven CTOs to one seven and 770 and 700. Maybe that's a little much, thank you for that feedback. Yeah. I did notice that there was a Rubicon moment for me at around 60, 70 people where our Slack just came to life. Speaker 3: (25:28)Every question being asked at this thread of answers and because we're all in the same training, we all subscribe to the same values in the organization, a growth mindset, optimism, emotional intelligence, the level of discourse happening to the random technical question is really off the charts. And that happened because of the numbers. And there's just that sweet spot. And ever since then, we're approaching about 200 members. Now we've had just a tremendous number of people drawn to just that aspect, which has in and of itself become a product. All right. At the end, there's a lot that I personally have learned about this. We're thinking about, and we're in the process of starting to build out a MarTech community. Can we bring it back tomorrow? Can we continue the conversation? I want to pick your brain about how we're putting the MarTech community together a hundred percent. Speaker 3: (26:17)Awesome. All right. That wraps up this episode of the Martec podcast. Thanks to Etienne. DeBruin CEO of seven CTOs for joining us in part two of my interview with Etienne, which we're going to publish tomorrow. He and I are going to talk about the plans for the Martec podcast community and what we're getting right. And what we're getting wrong. If you can't wait until our next episode, and you'd like to get in touch with that again, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, you can contact him on Twitter. His handle is E T Speaker 2: (26:44)DeBruin that's E T D E B R U I N. Or you can visit his company's website, which has seven ctos.com. That's the number seven C T O s.com. Just one more link in our show notes. I'd like to tell you about, if you didn't have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to MarTech pod.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can subscribe to our once a week newsletter. You can send us your topic suggestions or your marketing questions, which we'll answer live on our show. Of course you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is MarTech pod, M a R T E C H P O D on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, or you can contact me directly. My handle is Ben J Shap, B E N J S H a P. And if you haven't subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of marketing and technology knowledge in your podcast feed, we're going to publish an episode every day, this year. So at the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we'll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right. That's it for today. But until next time, my advice is to just focus on keeping your customers happy.
- Part 1 Building an invite-only community
- Part 2Brainstorming the MarTech community — Etienne de Bruin // 7CTOs
Part 1Building an invite-only community
Today we're going to discuss the value in process for building a paid community. Joining us today is Etienne de Bruin, who is the Founder and CEO of 7CTOs, which is a community that helps chief technology officers grow into world-class leaders through in-person forums that connect, enlighten, and soundboard technology strategies. In part 1 of our conversation, we're going to discuss how to build an invite-only community.
Part 2Brainstorming the MarTech community — Etienne de Bruin // 7CTOs
Today we're going to discuss the value in process for building a paid community. Joining us today is Etienne de Bruin, who is the Founder and CEO of 7CTOs, which is a community that helps chief technology officers grow into world-class leaders through in-person forums that connect, enlighten, and soundboard technology strategies. In part 2 of our conversation, we're going to discuss how we can build a community that is specific to the MarTech industry.Play Podcast