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Tristan Pollock is an American tech entrepreneur and startup investor who’s built and sold two companies and has invested $30M into startups.

He’s currently the head of community and content at Tiger Global and Slack-backed CTO.ai, a developer workflow platform that is replacing Heroku.

As a startup ecosystem builder and entrepreneur-in-residence, Tristan has supported Google for Startups, 500 Startups, Techstars, and hundreds of other venture capital firms and startup accelerators around the world.

While a VC at 500 Startups in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Tristan invested in over 220 startups via Fund III and Fund IV via the accelerator program and seed fund producing an above-average IRR.

Before that, Tristan co-founded Storefront — hailed as 'Airbnb for Retail' by The New York Times — and used their $10M in venture funding from leading Silicon Valley investors, hip-hop artist Nas, author Gary Vaynerchuk, and former Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter, to help brands like Nike and Kanye West scale. Storefront merged with Oui Open in 2016 to continue expansion internationally.

Tristan’s first startup, SocialEarth, the leading source for social entrepreneurship news, won multiple awards for impact journalism and was acquired by 3BL Media in 2012. His passion for the intersection of impact and technology remains.

Tristan has also been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 List and given a TEDx Talk on creative cities featuring his own art.

With this extensive background, you can ask Tristan about a wide range of topics, starting with: 

- Growth Hacking 

- Marketplaces

- Community Movements

You can find his author columns on Entrepreneur, VentureBeat, and Medium.

  • TL

    Taro Le Cuy

    about 2 months ago #

    Hi Tristan! Great to see you here, I am a big fan :)
    Since Covid happened, "community" has been on every business owner's mind. How do you develop the community aspect of transaction-based platforms, such as e-ecommerce websites or marketplaces? Do you have any examples of successful transitions? My second question is desktop vs mobile: is it realistic to try to build a community on a website or is it an absolute necessity to go mobile (apps)? Thanks a lot

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Hi Taro! You are definitely correct there. The net worth of a company isn't just monetary anymore. It grows with your community. What used to be "brand building" is more "movement building" and related to growth by community.

      One of the most successful examples of a transactional marketplace turned community-centric company is Airbnb. What started as AirBedandBreakfast for vacation rentals in people's homes quickly turned into a strong community brand led by inspiring unique rentals, customer delight, and a very successful annual host event.

      In order to make the jump from transactional to community-led, I think you need to define your mission and culture clearly. Repeat it often, internally and externally. And discover the people that feel the same way as you. It helps to have an awesome product, too. Design was a big part of that journey for Airbnb. Professional photos of spaces that got you excited, as well. Then you can build ways for your community to be a part of what you are building - online/offline spaces, ambassador roles, community highlights, and interesting content. Lyft did a lot of these really well, too, and we modeled a lot of what we did at Storefront off of these community mechanisms while customizing to our marketplace community.

      Desktop vs mobile is an often debated question and I think I can answer it much more quickly: Desktop. A web app allows for easier building and more growth opportunities. You've probably heard it before but less than 10 mobile apps get 90% of the attention. It's very hard to break into mobile first unless you have a core product reason to do so. Dynamic web design that's mobile optimized can help you with that. You can also use community platforms like Discord or Slack that have a strong mobile app for communication.

      2 Share
  • AS

    Alex Sarto

    about 1 month ago #

    Hello Tristan,
    thank you for this AMA.

    I'm working on travel startup and we need to build community. But our startup is a disrupting technology, so it's something new for our brand ambassadors.
    1. How would you start building community for such a new startup?
    2. How would you start building community in a marketplace project? It's a kind a chicken-and-egg situation, because you need "sellers" and "buyers" in the same time...
    3. Do you recommend any books for building communities? Anything must-read?

    Thank you very much!

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Howdy Alex! Glad that you are thinking about community so early on. I'm excited to see you following your entrepreneurial path.

      1&2. When you are starting out with a new community you need to handle a few things in tandem: defining a strong mission that people can be a part of, creating magic moments with your product and customer service, and contributing to spaces where your future community is hanging out. As you get these things going, you can start to build your own spaces (chats, Slacks, groups) and avenues (content, podcasts, fun engagement) to parlay off of your initial customers and the greater community you want to recruit. Remember, that it's often easier to adapt current behavior in an industry than to just tell people to change.

      3. Well, funny you asked. My friend David Spinks just came out with his book, The Business of Belonging. Check it out: https://cmxhub.com/the-business-of-belonging/

      For a shorter read, this might be helpful as well: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/347036

      Good luck and keep me updated with your journey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pollock

      2 Share
  • KK

    Kristen Keys

    about 1 month ago #

    What companies do you think "get" Community and do it really well? I launched Community for HomeAway in 2011 (!) and worked on both the product and marketing side for it. It's been a while since I've focused on Community so I'm pretty out of the loop, but I agree with Taro's observation about how Community has been cropping up in places I wouldn't expect. And that got me really excited for all of my Community friends across the world. I I'd love to hear your thoughts on who you look to in the field as a leader or best in class.

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Hola Kristen! Thanks for sharing your question. HomeAway is great! Probably one of your friendly competitors really defined the industry, Airbnb, but I also love Lyft's early community approach. When you got into a Lyft the driver was bubbly, their music matched their positive attitude, you fist-bumped them, and the pink mustache on the front grill was legendary.

      Now, that said, through the startup I'm working on now — CTO.ai — I've been spending a lot of time with developer platforms. I've been particularly impressed by GitHub and HashiCorp. Hashi has built and open sourced a lot of cool things as well as created a fully distributed team similar to GitLab. The culture and technology focus is so vibrant I can feel it even outside of the organization. GitHub on the other hand had one of the most epic community events in GitHub Universe. I absolutely loved their intro "talk" that you can peek here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m9nUP-e8Co

      Finally, you are right, community has taken over since it was just kicking off in the early 2010s. Community platforms like Discord, Hopin, and Slack are blowing up to levels I would have ever expected even as a community-first person. So it wouldn't be right to now call out how community has expanded into more intimate, creator-led communities via social media influencers in all industries, Substack, Clubhouse, messenger chat groups, and so many other ways.

      Crypto and blockchain companies in particular are a good example of how powerful creative community incentives are. Airdrops of tokens, crazy-active Telegram and Discord channels, NFT art galleries in virtual spaces like Decentraland, and the list goes on. The possibilities are endless to the desires of the community. It's a really exciting time, and I hope to welcome you back to the community side of things soon!

      1 Share
  • AU

    Abhishek Upadhyay

    about 1 month ago #

    Hey Tristan! Great to see you :)

    What metrics one tracks to measure the impact of community building on Growth? What are the leading and lagging indicators? What are different stages/levels of the maturity of community building initiatives?

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Hiya Abhishek! Welcome to the AMA and thanks for asking your analytical question. The short answer is there are A LOT of metrics you can track based on what community activities you are doing. Imagine if you are running online and offline events, hosting a community space, creating content, and so on. Then there are specific growth metrics you can track around each of those activities, plus how they contribute to the bottom line of # of community members and overall community engagement similar to DAU/MAU for a product.

      For specific examples in different types of companies, the CMX "community of communities" has some good content to break down the many ways to track: https://cmxhub.com/community-metrics/

      Re: different stages of community members and the general directional flow - I think you'll like this diagram from Orbit: https://github.com/orbit-love/orbit-model

      Anyways, there's a lot more I can add here, but it often depends on the type of business you are running and thus the community activities that make the most sense. If you want to follow up with more detail, I'd be happy to dive deeper.

      2 Share
  • MF

    Mark Finnern

    about 1 month ago #

    What is the best platform to deeply integrate community into your SaaS offering?
    Build? Buy? Build on Open Source?

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Mark! Yes, so many great community tools these days. With all the options I'd shy away from building a custom solution. If you want to build a white-labeled forum on your site, there's an app for that. If you want to host a metric-led community platform, there's an app for that, too. If you want to host group conversations, there are TONS of apps for that (Facebook groups to Slack/Discord). So, would definitely recommend looking to see where your customers/audiences are engaged and following the pull instead of trying to push. It's also smart to choose wisely upfront because it can be VERY difficult to migrate a community from one platform to another.

      At a high level:
      1. Think about the types of interactions you want to foster.
      2. Look at what are the popular community platforms in your industry.
      3. Understand your budget (many free options out of the box as well).
      4. Pick your top 3 and get feedback from your community/customers/team/mentors.

      I mentioned a couple of platforms above on Kristen's question, that you might want to dig into as well.

      1 Share
  • AL

    Audrey Liu

    about 1 month ago #

    Hi Tristan! Thanks for being here for this AMA.

    My company is B2B SasS, our product is a data analytics software. We focus on DataOps (think DevOps for data).
    Our target audience are technical people like Head of Data, CTO, data engineers and analytics engineers. We've a Slack community for them, and we've activities like small group size meetups and a newsletter about the convo that happened in Slack every month.

    1. Any specific principles and tactics to engage technical people in a Slack community? We realized that if we didn't post questions or content, the rest of the community members aren't very engage. What can we do to engage the members more? To make it more community driven, rather than led by us.
    2. Because we've a technical audience, I think people only hang around when they've questions about their work and data stuff. How do you inject elements of fun in your CTO.ai community?

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Konnichiwa Audrey! Good question and very relevant to my work with CTO.ai. We've been building out a community in Slack here: https://cto.ai/community and I'd love to join yours and check it out, too. It's taken some time, but we went from 100 members to 1000 with lots of time, energy, and effort.

      To answer your questions:
      1. Generally, 90% of your members are lurkers and 10% or less will get more involved. There's no quick fix to this. It takes time spent engaging at a human relationship level, 1:1 and in groups. Opportunities to support your community members, especially the active ones, could be things like user groups, AMAs in Slack or Zoom, webinars, topical chats (this one took off on its own in our community), and putting together an ambassador program that supports your active customers and community members. all that said, Slack can be hard. It's siloed off. There's no SEO value. And often active community members have A LOT of Slack spaces. Overall, start empowering your active members and see where that goes.

      2. Totally understand where you are coming from. We have a highly technical audience of developers and CTOs as well. I do love to have fun and I think doing things that are humorous and relaxed, real-world (non-business) talk, can have great effects. Check out this viral piece of content I created for our community: https://twitter.com/pollock/status/1313560021251362821 - it was probably the most successful piece of content that led to a huge uptick in site traffic and community membership.

      1 Share
  • GF

    Gustavo Fonseca

    about 1 month ago #

    Hello Tristan, thank you for this AMA.

    I am building a new law school based in life long learning and community.

    1 - What advice do you have for getting the first clients for the school?

    2 - What proccess do you use to implement Growth Hacking in a new startup?

    3 - What is the best tool or software to start a community? Here in Brazil, Facebook groups are very popular, but I would like other alternative.

    Thank you very much!

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Ola Gustavo! Congrats on starting your startup journey with this new venture.

      1. First clients are often network referrals. Start by talking to everyone you know about what you are building and who you are looking for. Make sure you have a clear mission and vision in order to inspire people to join you.

      2. When thinking about growth/sales hacking, I think you should go out and find where people are currently discovering their legal career paths. Then find ways to tap into these communities online/offline and provide value to them through what you are building. Here are some examples of growth and sales hacking that I did in my last startup.

      3. I've mentioned a handful of options from Orbit to Commsor to Slack to, as you mention, Facebook groups. Honestly, I like to go with the path of least resistance when building a community. Follow the trends down the river. If Facebook groups are where everyone is, start there. Differentiate yourself from the other communities through exclusive, thoughtful, and helpful ways. Empower and offer opportunities.

      Report back on how it goes!

  • AV

    Anton Viborniy

    about 1 month ago #

    We are creating a platform for b2b software lovers. We have tree pylons in our business. Free API integration platform (free Zapier alternative), b2b software marketplace (g2 crowd, Capptera alternative), and community for b2b software lovers.

    Free APi integration platform drive traffic, software vendors pay for ads.

    Now we want to launch a community.

    What first step we have to do?
    Have we done a big launch or do it organically?
    Can our business-model be "Github for digital marketers and b2b software lovers?

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Bonjour Anton! Love it. I think B2B, especially in SaaS, is a very active community.

      First step, seed the community. Get some of your most vocal customers in there and empower them to be champions of the community. Outline how they can get involved. Look at other ambassador programs. Understand the value this new community can bring, and how you can build trust with your members as a reputable startup community that has something new and differentiated.

      Second, once you have the foundation laid. Build the walls and roof. Invite in your greater community from your newsletter and the B2B industry as a whole. As a part of this I think you should definitely launch on ProductHunt. Some thoughts on that here: https://publc.com/content/My-Process-For-Winning-at-ProductHunt-Tristan-Today.20181565

      Third, continue developing the product with love and creating magic moments with it. Lean into customer surprise and delight. You can even run support and customer success through your community.

      Good luck and let me know how it goes! I would be happy to hunt you on ProductHunt if you need the support.

  • RP

    Romaine Piper

    about 1 month ago #

    Hey Tristan! My observation and experiences with community makes me question:
    - How does one apply growth hacking, not to focus on acquisition but retention?
    I've noticed that communities with under 50 people sometimes have a higher retention rate from 50% and above, while communities that have millions or hundred of thousands tend to have a few thousand active members which would represent only about a mere 10-30% of the total community members.

    I feel the same principle applies to startups, where as you scale, the opportunity to personalize your approach on an individual basis dwindles and thus the generic or a less refined way of personalization (due to automation) only recovers a mere portion.
    - Are there any potential features or hacks that could be introduced to more effectively segment users to the point where it feels closer to knowing them personally?
    - And lastly, do you think the lack of customization as you scale on limited platforms like Facebook Groups, Discord, Slack, etc is the reason for our inability to maintain that individual level of personalization?

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Hej Romaine! Welcome and thanks for the question.

      You are spot on. I'd say even less of a % are active in communities. Maybe 5-10% are speaking, posting, and getting more involved. So one question is how to move community members up the scale from lurker to advocate and what mechanisms are necessary to do so. Some ideas may be centered about your idea - retention hacking or engagement hacking - finding ways to increase DAU/MAU of the community. How to do that? Well, you'll need to provide ways to get involved. Better yet, empower your active members to host and offer things to other members so you can have a multiplier effect beyond just your own work.

      This graphic might be a good reference for you: https://github.com/orbit-love/orbit-model

      You'll often hear the startup motto, "Do things that don't scale." It's definitely true that you can do more one-to-one interaction when you have fewer customers. So do it! Take the time to call, talk to, understand your early adopters. Make them supercalifragilisticexpialidocious happy! It's hard to scale that, but that's why having a good community manager is so important.

      To that point, I agree. It's harder to maintain that personal feel as you scale, but it is possible. Employ contests, events, and other ways to empower your community to connect with each other. Instead of 1:many it's many:many and you just create the spaces but not every interaction opportunity.

      Let me know what you try in this journey. I'm excited to hear about it!

  • GN

    Gustavo Nunes

    28 days ago #

    Hey Tristan. Tks for joining us today :)

    I think that growth hacking is no longer a buzzword but still there are a lot of misconceptions around the topic. Do you agree? And what is the thing that you wish that everybody knew before shifting to a growth culture/mindset?

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      28 days ago #

      Gustavo! Thanks for hosting me on Growth Hackers. It's been a pleasure. I really enjoyed the community's questions and look forward to continuing to watch the journeys of the wonderful people here.

      Growth hacking has definitely changed over the last decade (has it been that long?!). Today, I think we've seen a transition from traditional marketing and advertising to brand building to influencers and now community. I believe in mission-driven movements, and that starts with communities (and the greater macro trends like ClimateTech and Blockchain, some of my favorites, for example).

      Now, some thoughts on where we are going:
      1. Product Magic is more important than ever. Your product must get people excited. It must be easily accessed. It needs to have reminents of product/market fit. Without this to rally around you are just a voice in a sea of ideas.

      2. Backchannel Marketing is the next big thing. Bottom-up communities leading growth, often private spaces like groups/chats, are where intimate referrals happen. The big question is how to become a part of these places, or to delight people enough that your product is talked about and linked in them.

      3. A Strong Content Game. Content ranges from podcasts to videos to blogs, but all in all thought-ful leadership pieces for these trusted communities is key. You need to have a voice (I prefer fun tones like Hackernoon or this piece: https://gtmhub.com/blog/villains-of-okr-hans-gruber/) and make things sharable/viral and not overly self-promotional. Lots of ways to have fun here, especially in events.

      At the end of the day, I believe you need a noble mission. Something to drive you, your team, and your customers, and the greater community forward. It has to matter to the people involved and it has to actually make the world a better place. Find your meaning and you will find your movement.

  • TP

    Tristan Pollock

    28 days ago #

    Now that I've gotten through all the questions, I just wanted to give a big THANK YOU to everyone that participated!

    I appreciate your time in having this discussion with me and wish y'all well on your startup journeys.

    If you'd like to say hello, send me updates, or dive deeper with me, here are a few places you can do that:

    > Twitter at @pollock for the casual hello 👋

    > Superpeer for deeper dives into startup strategy and ProductHunt launches 🚀

    > AngelList for everything startup investing 🤑

    You can also catch some of my recent meanderings here:

    > Workflows are eating the world

    > The rise of alternative venture capital

    > 6 steps to going virtual with your startup accelerator

  • HT

    Helen Toto

    16 days ago #

    Hello Tristan,
    Thank you for offering an AMA.
    Here are my 2 questions:
    1.) How would you market an underdog in an over-saturated industry?
    2.) If you're going to build your community from scratch, what factors should you consider?

    • TP

      Tristan Pollock

      3 days ago #

      Hi Helen!

      1. I think you can play to that story. The story of the underdog is one that is of the people. It's the 99%. It's the Tesla (until recently). It's the Airbnb (vs hotels). Think about how to position yourself in branding and community with a powerful underdog mission to help people.

      2. Choose carefully. Pay attention to where your community is today. It's hard to switch platforms and retain engagement so choose wisely and make it easy to adopt your new community gathering space. Also, make sure you nail point #1, differentiation.

      Hope that helps + I'm always available to chat further. Just book a time via superpeer.com/tristanpollock

  • BS

    bispendra singh

    28 days ago #

    Can you please tell us some - Growth Hacking techniques?