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5 Ways to Build a Community for Startups. Learnings from Leading Female Health App Clue

Clue started out in 2013 with a small team and quickly grew into a leading period tracking app with millions of users across 190 countries. The Berlin-based company just raised a $20M Series B round and, besides being a beautifully designed and functionable app, developed into a relevant resource in female health and science with regular features in The New Yorker, The Guardian, Bloomberg and others.

What got them there? In a recent conversation, Lisa Kennelly, Director of Marketing at Clue, shared her insights about the company’s unique take on thought leadership, PR, influencer marketing and community building strategy. Lisa joined Clue as employee nr. 2 in 2013 and is responsible for the brand’s content, communication and marketing efforts since.

Read on for her 5 tips* to getting started.


1. Find new angles to tell your story

Many startups struggle with PR because they run out of stories quickly. Founding stories and new investment rounds work well with journalists, but you can only tell these a few times.

When Lisa started at Clue in 2013 she took on a wider spectrum of themes: healthcare apps were on the rise, a female founder stood out, Berlin as a city was up and coming, and she could focus on a female audience and lifestyle topics. All of these provided angles beyond the usual startup story that got Clue press mentions from the beginning.

“Think about your industry. What are the hottest topics right now? Identify them and think about how you can contribute a unique angle to it,” says Lisa.

A prime example just went live a few weeks ago: Clue’s data scientists worked together with the University of Oxford to find out if it was really true that if women spend a lot of time with each other, their cycles sync. The results of the study showed that this was likely just a myth. Clue got over 60 articles (and counting) on the study, including high value mentions from The Guardian, NY Mag and others.


2. Influencers work, if they’re well selected

Clue has a long history of working with influencers. It started when Laci Green, a popular YouTuber from the US, mentioned Clue in one of her videos and the app’s downloads skyrocketed in the following weeks. The company also hosts yearly retreats, called “The Berlin Affair”, where it invites selected influencers from around the world to spend a weekend in Berlin.

The brand fit is important, though. Lisa and her team put a lot of work into finding the right people, starting a conversation and discussing the messaging and talking points. YouTube works extremely well because there are many female YouTubers that focus on related topics. The platform remains one of Clue’s main (paid) marketing channels.


3. Do user research through customer support

Lisa and her team don’t see customer support as a one-way channel. Instead, they involve everyone who contacts them in a conversation.

“Every single touch point with the user is a way to learn more and do more user research. It’s very time intense but it’s totally worth it. It’s also a great way to build community because you start to have personal relationships with your users and they perceive you as a company that truly cares about them.”

It also helps in marketing. Everybody at Clue’s marketing and content team takes a dive in customer support. “You have this ongoing conversation, we learn how our users are thinking, what they want, how to talk to them. It makes you better able to produce content and marketing that resonates with them.”

4. Favorite hack: test messaging with Facebook ads

It’s a challenge for many young companies to find out what messaging resonates with their target audience. There’s usually no budget for market research.

Lisa’s suggestion: test your messaging through Facebook ads. Put a small amount of money on an ad, push it to your target group and compare the clicks and conversions.

“In the early days we would test messaging to see what resonated with people. These A/B tests showed us that “The period tracker who wasn’t pink” was a super effective messaging. We used that for a long time.”

5. Build a community by serving it

You don’t have to create a community from scratch. Often, the people you’re looking for are already out there, but don’t have a place to connect. That’s where Lisa sees the potential of building a community.

“The entire topic of menstruation and female health is something people always talked about, but it’s still a taboo. What we’re doing, both by sharing information about the topic and by our events, we’re creating spaces publically for people to talk about something they’re already talking about. There’s sort of a built in community and we’re creating a space for it to live in a more open way.”

Thank you for the conversation, Lisa

* These insights were taken from a wider conversation that took place on April 19, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.