EP5: How Sketch Manages 100 Cities Running Events

Today on the show, we welcome Patrick Hill, a Community Manager at Sketch. If you haven’t already heard of Sketch, it has skyrocketed to become a staple in the creative community. They doubled down and invested in their in-person communities. In this episode, Patrick shares how building a community is a great way to create a space for yourself within your market and differentiate yourself.



Derek Anderson: 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 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 talked with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer to customer marketing strategies and create in-person experiences for your brand and customers before your competitor does.

John Frye: John Frye from the Bevy team here, and I'm extremely excited to announce our next interview with Patrick Hill, who's currently a community manager at Sketch. Now, if you're not familiar with Sketch, they have skyrocketed to become a staple in the creative community, and they did the right thing, which was doubling down and investing on their in-person communities. Derek and Patrick touched on a lot of great topics in this episode. They talked about how building a community is a great way to dig a space for yourself within your market and differentiate yourself, because anyone can just come in and copy features, community is a great way to do that, how they're managing over a hundred cities, I'll say it again, over 100 cities with local events, how to focus on picking healthy growth metrics and not just focus on vanity metrics, and what you need to look for when you're finding local ambassadors to run your events. Without further ado, please enjoy the show.

Derek Anderson: Patrick, thanks for being here.

Patrick Hill: Absolutely Derek, thanks for having me.

Derek Anderson: Tell me a little bit about what you're doing at Sketch and what Sketch is.

Patrick Hill: Definitely. So Sketch is a UI/UX program and I am on the community side, so Sketch has a community team and this is separate from customer support. I think sometimes people blur those lines. But the community team's job is to manage a group of ambassadors that we have that are spread out across the world. We have 109 ambassadors and currently we have about 40,000 members that participate in regular meetups. And so recently, Sketch has decided to expand that team and we tripled it, which is just moving from one person to three people, but we've tripled the team in order to provide better support for ambassadors and community members.

Derek Anderson: And how does, why has Sketch, or what value has Sketch gotten out of that and why have they decided to put more into it?

Patrick Hill: I think the biggest thing is a conversation. When you're developing a product, it's very easy to operate in a vacuum and only make decisions based on you and the people you're collaborating directly with. And what's happened now is that that's been opened up and said that that collaboration can happen amongst the entire community. And that conversation really helps steer the direction of, certainly the product. But you also have a case where you're moving people from being just users of a product to fans, to then wanting to proselytize on behalf of you. And that's a really, really powerful thing.

Derek Anderson: Yeah. And these ambassadors that are running these programs, I assume they're customers or users, they're not team members, they're not employees?

Patrick Hill: Completely. And in fact, the ambassador, that concept was not something that Sketch just woke up one morning and decided to do. Initially there were some groups that just began meeting organically. They were already holding design meetups locally, and they reached out to Sketch to say, 'We love your product. And so we're just already doing this thing,' and Sketch began offering support and then it's grown from there. But yes, all the ambassadors are volunteers. They're just people that live at this intersection of being passionate about a community and being passionate about a product.

Derek Anderson: Yeah, that's really cool. Yeah, it seems like a lot of these really great community movements start with this organic spark of somebody discovering themselves, or just taking their own initiative and getting after it and then trying to make waves. They'll apologize later if they break something.

Patrick Hill: Sure.

Derek Anderson: It's definitely a common thread between a lot of different communities that the users just say, 'We want this, whether you're going to support it or not,' like, 'We're doing it.' And then the great companies see that and latch onto it and then eventually, at it sounds like it's happening there, start supporting it a lot, which is really cool to hear.

Patrick Hill: Absolutely. How could you not? If you have a group of people that just want to pick up a flag and run with it, how could you not get behind that?

Derek Anderson: Well, and that's a great point, but I think what a lot of people say is, their first question would be, 'Why are they doing that? What's the ROI for us? And how are we making, are we going to monetize this? Or how are we going to capitalize on this?' And in some ways it's like, 'Look, you just got to like pour some gasoline on it and whatever it is, it's positive, it's good. So just let it roll, let it run.' But a lot of people, they just get wrapped up in focusing on the wrong things with it. And then they end up getting in a committee that can make a decision.

Patrick Hill: Sure. Yeah. I think from my perspective, and I'll say I'm very community focused. Probably I'll say that's one thing that Sketch has been great about is not being ... Certainly everybody has, every company has business objectives, right? You have goals that you're trying to reach, everything that you're doing you have finite resources as far as people, time, money. And so those have to be directed in a manageable and productive way. So I understand all of those things. And that being said, Sketch has been very good about being loose with the reins, right? Allowing the ambassadors to really take it the direction they want to. And then from the perspective of the actual community team, allowing them to really focus on building healthy groups of people. So certainly there are objectives wrapped up in there. But from my perspective, if we only focus on a product and we only focus on a feature set, then the day someone comes out with a feature that's better, like a blip on the map, then your product's sunk at that point. And so from my perspective, if we have buy-in in the community, if we've established those deep roots that create something that is much deeper and much longer lived.

Derek Anderson: Most people are probably listening to this and they're not watching it, because I don't know where you would watch it unless you're looking through the window of one of our respective environments. But I notice your a beard person, you have a beard for those at home that don't know. I wonder, do you find that the community respects you more with or without a beard? Is it a company mandated thing or is this just something you've-

Patrick Hill: It should be. So actually the first thing you would notice if we were in the room together, I'm six foot seven and-

Derek Anderson: And I am not. And I wish I was.

Patrick Hill: I am the size of an adult brown bear. Just so you know. So if you've never seen one in person, when we hang out you can size up. So that's what you would notice first. I try to be that happy, lovable, big personality in the room. But certainly the beard also contributes to that.

Derek Anderson: So 109 cities, it's pretty amazing. How big can it be? What are the aspirations for it? How far can it stretch?

Patrick Hill: So what we're in the process of right now is really trying to determine what healthy growth looks like, as far as how big can it be? There's, every day, a stream of people ask, like saying, raising their hands saying, 'I want to do this, I want to take this on.' And what we want to make sure that we're doing is that we're equipping those people well. Because running a meetup is not, from an organizer's standpoint, is not necessarily an easy thing. I think it is very easy to be naive about what that process looks like. And certainly we want to make sure we have people that are aligned with our value set and are representing us well. But more importantly than that, are just building really good strong community locally. And so the question right now is less about how big can it be, but how can we make sure it's healthy at any size and then scale that up? And that's really where we're sitting right now.

Derek Anderson: I love that. And what is the optimal community, what's the optimal health level? What does that mean? If I'm a healthy, good community, what am I contributing to this Sketch community?

Patrick Hill: So I think there's a couple pieces. If I take Sketch out of it and I just think about people having relationships with each other, there are things that are global. Being welcoming to everyone is a global value. Encouraging participation locally, not just only highlighting the rock stars, but really highlighting the people that form that foundation. Things like consistency and seeking out local support. These are all things that globally are good values that help create a community that can have legs, that's healthy. There are also things you need to take into consideration locally that we can't. The way you would operate a community, and even if I'm thinking in Texas, San Antonio can look a lot different than what you would do in Austin, can look a lot different than what you would do in Houston.

And certainly we're talking about global. I would say the minority of our meetups are in America. So it's very easy for me to have a limited perspective and I have to realize that there's big cultural differences and implications. There's big social differences. And so what we're trying to do is make sure that we're instilling those values that we see as being global values, but also giving people room to tailor it to their, again, their local community, their local culture, environment. So it's something that we have to, we have to meet our ambassadors halfway. It's not a job that we can take on completely and it's not a job that they should have to take on completely. We have to find that balance.

Derek Anderson: Yeah, that's a great observation. And it seems like whenever you're either starting to sell one of these up or once you get going in it, that give and take, you've got to work it and massage it until you figure out, look, what can we actually do that's going to add value in your life, that's within reason of what our company can actually support, and then what can you do that's in reason for you to actually support us and to carry the torch for our community? Or for us to carry it together. And there's all sorts of, it feels like the people that are ... this is such an early, I feel like, concept that there's certainly a lot of companies doing it, but there's a lot of companies that aren't doing it and it's as much finesse and trial and error as anything. I wonder if you all have experienced that, where you said, 'Hey, we thought this was going to be so valuable, but it had turned out not to be,' or, 'We didn't think this was valuable but people thought it really was.'

Patrick Hill: I love trial and error. So I, before moving into this role of community focus, I was actually a developer for several years and the whole mindset of a developer is we want to MVP solution, release early, and then iterate over time, through gaining feedback from users and that type of thing. And so that's the perspective I also want to bring to the community efforts we're making here. So it of course has been trial and error. We, again, part of the reason that we're in the process of redefining some of these guidelines and trying to find ways of gamifying positive habits, is because we have found out over time there are things that don't work as well and things that do work exceptionally well.

But it's just trial and error and that's the, I think that's the place that I like to live in. I don't want to try to get something perfect and just drop it. I would rather put something out too quickly and it not quite work and get feedback and then pivot, than hold onto something too long that could have been very helpful.

Derek Anderson: We've had some communities who have said, 'Geographically we only care about these, let's say 50 cities,' or, 'We only care about these hundred cities.' And when we were building Startup Grind, we basically just said, 'As long as we can find somebody that matches our values and gets what we're doing and shares our mission and what we're trying to do, then we don't care where you are, we'll do it.' Now, that always wasn't the most, that resulted in some things that weren't positive or as positive as we hoped they would be. And also is more, less driven from a business standpoint and more of an impact standpoint. But as the business of Sketch, how do you all look at where are you going to go and when you go into those places, do you care where they are? Do you look at it based on people? Do you say, 'No, if we can just hit these places then we think we're going to be covered'?

Patrick Hill: There's a couple of things. I do believe that you are more likely to be successful if you have already been involved in a group. And I don't mean organizing a group, it could just be attending. I don't, again, and wanting to set people up for success and to help them be able to build healthy relationships, if you have someone that hasn't lived in the area very long, if they've never attended another group, if they've never tried to actively participate, then that's probably not someone that's going to be successful, even if they're a power user of your product. And so that's one thing to consider. Another thing is because we recognize that this can really start to feel like work at a certain point. From an organizer's standpoint, we want to at least have pairs of people that are putting on these events. So if someone reaches out to us and they're in a city and they are alone, we want to help them pair up with someone else. And if we can't find someone, or they can't find someone to pair up with, then we think it's too early for them to jump into holding meetups.

So again, we want you to have support, not just from us, but we also want you to have support locally. And we prefer people that are already established in a community, already know what a healthy community looks like.

Derek Anderson: Let's talk about authenticity of people running these groups and making sure that you're getting authentic real people and the community is getting more of a critical mass of those kinds of people. How do you look at that? How do you measure someone's authenticity inside of a community environment?

Patrick Hill: That is a difficult question to answer, and I would actually love to know what your answer is for it. For me personally, I value one on one conversations where I can have them. I think there is, I don't even know how I would put it in words, but I think there are flags that can be raised when you're talking to people. So as far as setting up someone with a group, that's a one on one conversation. As far as a group-

Derek Anderson: Do you do that? Do you get on and interview each person before they start a group?

Patrick Hill: Yes. Now, there are groups that are already established that I also am trying to reach out and connect with, people that I haven't had a chance to this point. But yes, the new groups that are coming on, I try to talk to them as much as I can. So it's, again, there are other people involved and it's not always possible and there can be language barriers and things like that, but where it's possible, certainly one on one conversation. From an organizer holding a meetup, I think that the reason it's important to me to know that someone is coming from a genuine place, is because I think that the people that are attending, the people that are actually showing up once a month or whenever it is, they can really sniff out those ulterior motives even if in a subconscious way. And so it's important that we're not trying to put a bunch of salespeople on stage. That's not what we're trying to do. The people that we want to promote are people that want to add value to other people within their local community. That's their primary goal is, 'How can I add value to a group of people that I care about?' That's what we want.

Derek Anderson: Yeah. I think that what we used to try to do is try to set things up where we could figure out if someone shared the values and was authentic, without having to ask them, obviously. It's like the interview questions, I want to learn, I want to figure out how you solve problems. So I'm going to ask you how you would count golf balls if a car was full golf balls or something like that. So you say like, 'Hey.'

One thing that I know we would sometimes get people and they'd say like, 'Hey, I'm the right person for this. Get on the phone with me and talk to me.' We'd say, 'Yeah, actually you need to fill out this application. You need to do this, you need to do this.' And they'd be like, 'No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I am the right guy, I'm the right gal. You just need to pick me, or just get on the phone with me, we'll talk through it. You'll see.'

And we learned that even if they were super connected or they knew everybody or maybe sometimes they even had a group already that they were running that could immediately be successful because they knew what they were doing, people with that kind of attitude didn't match our attitude and it was going to end up being much more headache than it was worth in that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.

Patrick Hill: Sure.

Derek Anderson: And so I think it's like finding, A, what does our perfect representative ambassador look like? And then when you identify that, being relentless about getting those types of people involved. And at the same time, when you find those people, give them everything, give them the world, trust them, trust but verify, but trust them as far as you can possibly trust them. Because they've gone through those hoops in the beginning.

Patrick Hill Absolutely. And I love the idea of a response like that already. It's like, 'Okay, so here's some ego right off the bat and this is pretty aggressive right off the bat. These are already throwing some social flags.'

Derek Anderson: That's right.

Patrick Hill: When you can have those conversations, whether it's text or verbal, I think trust in your gut. From my perspective in the seat that I'm sitting in, I think, 99 out of 100 times my gut feeling tends to be right about a situation. And so if I'm already feeling a bit rubbed the wrong way, then how's that going to get better? If I open that person up to 30 people or 50 people, it's likely not. So that being said, the vast majority of people that reach out to us are really genuine, authentic people. But, yeah, we don't just want to hand over the reins to anyone, because again, as much as I said that my focus is a healthy community, even above pushing a product, the reality is that the investors we put in place still on a level still speak for Sketch. And so it is something that we have to be cognizant of.

Derek Anderson: Great. Let's end there, Patrick, you're money.

Patrick Hill: Awesome. Thanks Derek. I appreciate you having me.

Derek Anderson: Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you'd like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that's B-E-V-Y-L-A-B-S.com/pod.

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