EP14: From Daybreaker to Tech Leaders- How Mustafa Khan Uses Research to Build Community

So many successful companies found their success through their community like eBay, AirBnB and many more. Plato also relies on their community, Plato helps developing tech managers become better leaders. They do that through connecting members to mentors and providing continuous calls, AMA’s, feedback and more to make sure they are growing as a leader.

They conducted lots of user research to see what the community would want, they found developing tech leaders wanted to connect with other tech leaders offline and online in a structured way. The event format that works best for them is interviewing experts with networking and breakout sessions where they could dive into deeper discussions after the interview. They call this the “Elevate Series”, while they are flying out to all the events currently they plan to build a playbook from what they learn and use that to scale the program with their community.

They look at several metrics from the product and the community that help drive their decisions. For every call that their members have with mentors they ask for feedback to both improve their product and see what the community needs are. For their events specifically they track both NPS (Net Promoter Score) of the events and the number of attendees to gauge success.



[0:00:03.8] DA: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am your host, Derek Anderson. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400 chapter community based in over a 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time, your customers.

Yet, I couldn’t find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brand in person or at scale. On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build a customer to customer marketing strategies and create in person experiences for your brand and customer before your competitor does.

[0:00:43.8] JF: Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the C2C Podcast. This is John Fry from the Bevy team and today we are talking to Mustafa Khan, who is currently the head of community and events over at Plato and Plato is a company that helps developing tech managers become better leaders.

On today’s episode, we touch on something we hadn’t really touched on before, which is user research. We talked about both the user research that went into the product that of course ties back into the community and the research that was done on the community itself, making the online community better, making the community events better and so, so much more.

So without further ado, please enjoy the show.


[0:01:23.7] JF: Mustafa, tell us about what Plato does and tell us about what community means at Plato.

[0:01:30.9] MK: So Plato is a mentorship platform at its core and we help engineering managers and product managers become better leaders by connecting them to a mentor. and we have two parts to our community. So there is the members who are managers, who want to develop their soft skills and mentors who are experience managers. And I would say the people in our community all have a shared value of wanting to become better leaders and our community lives in the digital world and in the real world.

So for example in the digital sphere, we have group mentorship calls, which we call tracks where you meet with the same group over the course of many weeks and then in the real world, we host events where attendees can hear from people who lead engineering and product teams and hear about the insights they have gained, the mistakes they have made and the lessons they have learned

[0:02:16.8] JF: Awesome and how did the community start? What is there from the beginning, was it added in later? How did it kick off?

[0:02:23.8] MK: Sure, so the digital community was formed when our founders, Hoang and JB realized that a lot of managers really want to improve their people management skills and yet most managers don’t have a coach or a mentor.

When in fact any good athlete, for example, has a coach. The digital community started really when being realized that there’s managers out there who want to become better leaders and then there is experience managers who want to give back and really support the next wave of tech leaders.

And so Plato started out as a product, as platform to solve that problem. And then we started throwing events in the real world and that has become an important part of what we do because when we talk to managers, the tech managers across the country, many of them feel like they are not part of a community when they really want to connect with and talk to likeminded people who are sharing the same management challenges.

[0:03:14.7] JF: What do you mean the digital versus the in-real life piece, how do you separate the value proposition with those two different communities? How do you look at, hey, is it clear like the digital side does this for us and the in real life site does this for us or is it the water muddy or how do you look at those two?

[0:03:34.8] MK: Yeah, so in the digital community our members and mentors they’ll have one on one video calls, group video calls and even large webinars, led by executive level leaders at various tech companies. And the digital interactions and calls they deal with different topics like how to scale your team, how to build a great engineering culture, even how to give good constructive feedback and we are always grateful when a member meets us and says, “Hey, I learned so much from the mentor and this one conversation helped me navigate a really tough situation, a really tough management situation.”

And then in the real world, we host events in the US and in Europe where existing members and new members gather to ask questions to some of the best tech leaders in their respective city and even have breakout sessions where they can have structured conversations with their peers about different management topics.

[0:04:26.7] JF: And how do you activate your digital into the real life side? What do you all do to bring them over and get them meeting in person?

[0:04:34.7] MK: Yeah, there is so many marketing and promotional tactics but I think the first step is really doing user research, really understanding what is going to get your digital community excited enough to attend a real world event. And through interviewing a lot of them, we learned that they want to hear from engineering and product leaders and high growth startups. Plus our members want to network with other managers in a structured way.

So we spend a lot of time finding great speakers, finding great breakout facilitators, many of which come from our mentor network and then we use email, Slack, meetup.com, we collaborate with various community and promotional partners to spread the word about our events.

[0:05:14.7] JF: Yeah and tell us about the Elevate Series. What is that exactly?

[0:05:19.2] MK: Yeah, the Elevate Series is the name and brand for our collection of events where engineering and product leaders can share advice on how to tackle different management topics like how to source and hire candidates, how to build diverse teams, how to gain respect as a new manager and even how to help your direct reports grow their career. And then later this summer, we are going to be hosting a leadership conference. To help attendees become a manager that people love working with and working for.

[0:05:52.1] JF: Very cool. And is it local ambassadors? Are you running these yourselves? Who is executing the local Elevate program, series or other events?

[0:06:02.4] MK: Yeah, right now the events are very handmade. So we are based in San Francisco but we fly out to all of the different cities we host events in. So we were just in New York and Austin for example. And we definitely want to scale those though. We want to – right now we are actively identifying engineering and product managers who want to be local ambassadors and we want to supply them with a playbook, so that they can execute the events themselves, so that we don’t necessarily have to fly out to every time.

[0:06:28.5] JF: When you go back to the CEO or other people inside the company, senior people in the company, how do you justify this program? What is the ROI? What is the return of the investment for the company with these programs that people acknowledge or care about or appreciate?

[0:06:46.9] MK: It is interesting because it is an opportunity to activate our digital community when we throw events and build a brand. And what I mean is, so we have 400 mentors and our events are a chance for our mentors to be in front of a live audience and share their wisdom. So that helps strengthen our relationship with our mentors and give them a nice perk to be a part of our mentor network.

And then we justify these events because well we are a small startup and you know, we want to be known us a thought leader and when people think of, “Hey, how do I develop my people management skills, my soft skills?” We want them to think of Plato immediately.

So for us building community and creating events and throwing events is really all about the long game and creating relationships, creating trust and ultimately it is all about delivering great content and facilitating great interactions because that is going to result in people loving our brand.

[0:07:38.6] JF: Do you have any metrics or any data that you have seen around people that are either engaging in the digital community or the real life C2C community that they are more engaged with the product or they are contributing in some unique way or anything like that?

Is there sort of and maybe some of this is done from inside of a marketing platform, maybe something that is what you’re seeing or what you are hearing or the wins that come out of these programs with individuals. But does this increase engagement inside of the core product? Does it increase MPS? Do they spend more money if they’re coming to the events or participating in the digital community? Have you seen any of those things?

[0:08:26.0] MK: Yeah, for the digital community, we gather feedback from every video call that a member has with a mentor and luckily the average rating for the calls are very high. Plus we get lots of qualitative feedback from members about exactly what they’ve learned and even how they are planning to apply it in a workplace. And then at our events, we’re beginning to gather MPS scores about the event experience and then we are also getting qualitative feedback from attendees about what they have learned from the panel discussions and some breakout sessions.

Plus we also track our attendance count. So luckily the attendance is growing across all the different cities that we are hosting events in.

[0:09:01.3] JF: You are also as if you have apparently a lot of extra free time, you are also involved in fairly amazing community called Daybreaker. Tell us about what that is and what is the mission behind that?

[0:09:13.3] MK: Yes, so Daybreaker is a silver morning dance party, typically before people go to work and it was founded about five years ago in New York City by two friends, Radha Agrawal and Matt Brimer and I have been hosting it for many years in San Francisco, we host it across the country. Now we have hundreds of thousands of members across the world.

[0:09:35.0] JF: Okay, so do you always host them on a certain day of the week or is it always in the morning I guess, is that right?

[0:09:41.1] MK: Yeah, generally they are in the morning before people go to the office and they’ll be on a Wednesday or a Friday before 9 AM or even on a Saturday to kick off your weekend from roughly 9 AM to noon and then we also host sober evening parties. So we just had one at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. We had 700 people on a Friday evening from 7:00 PM to 10 PM.

[0:10:05.6] JF: Wow that’s amazing. Okay, so they start at what time?

[0:10:09.1] MK: Yeah, they start at 6 AM on a weekday. So we will have a 100 people coming for yoga at 6 AM and then we’ll have another 500 people joining around 7 AM and we do a lot of them on a boat. So imagine a Friday morning boat party.

[0:10:24.6] JF: Wow and so people dance and like – I mean are they going hard? I mean I am watching some of the videos at daybreaker.com and I am seeing people are pretty hard like is that normal? Is it dance? I don’t know, electronic dance music or is it hip-hop or what kind of music is it?

[0:10:44.8] MK: Yeah, the music is generally funky, upbeat, positive house music and then we’ll have live musicians like a sax player improvising a top of the DJ’s music. And yeah, there’s no alcohol. There is no substances, everyone is just having a good time, being present and it is almost like the vibe of a Saturday night party, like a really great Saturday night party but yet it is on a Friday morning and yeah, I think there is something special about that.

You know people really feel connected to the other people on the dance floor where you can see everyone’s faces and it is really a uniquely magical experience.

[0:11:19.0] JF: Yeah, it’s great and so people like they come and then they just go straight to work or they go home and shower or if I am attending one of these, I come and I do yoga and I dance and then when I go home and shower then they go to work?

[0:11:31.7] MK: Yeah, luckily we have a wide spectrum of individuals who come to Daybreaker. So we’ll have people who have a day job like a 9 AM to 5 PM job that might bring the extra pair of clothes or some extra deodorant after they are partying for when they go to work.

We also have lots of freelancers so people have more flexible schedules. So yeah, I think we’re lucky that we have a diverse community and even the age diversity. You can definitely see that on the dance floor.

[0:11:58.9] JF: This combines one thing that I am very familiar with and the other thing I’m not and that is that I don’t drink and then the other part is that I also don’t wake up early. So this would be part of me is saying like this is something I could really get into and the other part of me saying you know just stay in bed.

And so – but it is one of this ideas that is not like you probably tell it to a lot of people before you launch the first one. And it’s like, “Hey this is my idea,” it’s like yeah, I don’t know man. I don’t know if that is going to work very well for you. But it does. I mean it is like people seem to loving it and it is in dozens of cities and it is all over the world and it seems like it’s got this really passionate, vibrant, interesting group that is getting together and working out and dancing and hanging out and doing it all the while sober. It is really cleaver.

[0:12:56.9] MK: Yeah, I appreciate that and I think for any experience creator, anyone who is building a brand or a product, it is all about how do you create something that truly stands out. When someone hears about this, this brand, this concept, you want them to stop. You want them to ask questions. You want them to be curious, you want to grab their attention and it is not easy. And when we launched Daybreaker, a lot of people thought no one would ever come to a sober dance party at 7 AM in the morning.

That is crazy, that is what people told us and it is all that persevering also but experimenting, iterating and keeping track of the lessons you learn. And it is also I think all about taking something that is mundane and routine and putting a fun twist to it, kind of a playful twist to it.

[0:13:40.5] JF: Mustafa, thank you so much.


[0:13:43.5] DA: Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you like to see more, about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that’s bevylabs.com/pod.


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