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What is a community company?

Helping customers connect with each other unlocks new value, says David Spinks, author of "The Business of Belonging." Here's some insight from’s latest Culture Builder newsletter.

A June 2012 meetup for social good practitioners. (Courtesy photo)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink,’s new Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up here to get the next one this Friday.

Prepare yourselves for the chief community officer.

Though the C-suite can get too crowded, Dave Spinks is betting the business world is due an explosion of CCOs. It’s the natural conclusion to the rise of community businesses and the familiar community manager title.

Spinks is the cofounder of community managers community CMX, VP of community at events software company Bevy, and the author of a new book called “The Business of Belonging.”

Community companies are generally thought to be those that provide a platform for customers and stakeholders to connect with each other. In his new book, Spinks outlines his view of how companies can grow with and for a community that can serve and create value together — everything from neighborhood groups to software businesses.

“An audience is a one to many relationship,” said Spinks. “Communities help each other. It’s an interconnected network.”

I crossed paths with Spinks a decade ago when he and I were both figuring out how online communities could have greater meaning for the people powering them. I’ve spent the ensuing years trying to pair sustainable local journalism with a community of purpose. Spinks has become one the movement’s fiercest champions. He’s here to tell you that community makes business better and community businesses make the world better.

“People think, ‘Business is cold and transactional. Community is human and emotional,’” Spinks said. “I challenge that assumption.”

He’s not alone. In the last 18 months, at least three new venture capital funds have been formed with a focus on community companies, including a $5 million one neatly titled The Community Fund. They’re betting communities will power more unicorns like the $1.8 billion acquisition of Stack Overflow and publicly traded software giant MongoDB.

Spinks and his tribe argue this is a meaningful trend that businesses need to understand. Like how the web gave rise to customer support and then to customer success, Spinks argues community is the logical conclusion, distributing the ultimate power of a company across customers.

Like any movement leader, Spinks is no small thinker: “If every business in the world became community driven, it would have a massive impact on the world.”

“Community ownership is the longtime trajectory,” Spinks said. The COVID-19 pandemic “made us advance three years because companies had to create engagement online,” he added.

A popular case study among community-company boosters is Duolingo, the Pittsburgh-founded language learning community valued last fall at $2.4 billion. Founded in 2011, the company has developed more than 100 language courses taught in 38 distinct languages with the help of their community. Before the pandemic, volunteers were hosting each month 2,600 language-learning meetups with the help of just three Duolingo community builders, according to Spinks.

“That scale is not possible if the business has to control everything,” he said.

Duolingo’s foil is typically Rosetta Stone, the Arlington, Virginia-based language-learning software pioneer founded in 1992. Today, despite 20 years older, the publicly traded company is valued at $737 million, less than a third of Duolingo — though a fine surge from its price last year when it was rumored to be in pursuit of a buyer.

“Community isn’t a new value,” he said. “It’s a new methodology to achieve that at a really high scale”

Spinks is careful to note the community movement can be as valuable for unicorns as they are for the tiniest efforts. No matter the size, the power of a community business is that there’s no going back. If your company’s value is tied to the people your company serves, well, then, there’s not much room for spin.

“We’re giving our customers the power,” he said.

How do you make the case at work to invest in community and track success? Spinks thinks there are six metrics, which calls his “SPACES model,” an acronym for Support, Product, Acquisition, Contribution, Engagement and Success. In his book, Spinks dives into his preferred metrics for each.

“Start with the business objective you’re trying to achieve, and you design the community programs that add to that business outcome,” Spinks said. “The fabric of business will change in the next 10 years and be more community owned.”

And now the links.

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