The secret to community-led growth
The exact strategies Renji used to build a community-led startup, raise $12M, and revolutionize the remote working landscape through VR
Renji Bijoy is the founder and CEO of Immersed, the most loved app for coding, designing, and working together, anywhere in the world, through virtual reality offices.
Renji launched Immersed in January 2017, and after three years of R&D, they experienced explosive growth when COVID-19 changed the remote working landscape forever. Since then, they have raised ~$3M from VCs and an additional ~$9M from over 3,300 users via a community round on Wefunder.
But this success is not just the result of building the right product at the right time. It is also the result of a team that had such a strong faith in Immersed that they went without pay for six months, and a community that believed in them so much that they invested millions.
In this episode, you will learn the exact strategies that Renji used to build that community, and hire that team.
Leveling up through mentorship
Back in 2017, remote work wasn't really a thing. However, Renji noticed a rising trend of software development teams working from home. He knew that this shift would become increasingly common and that developers needed better tools beyond Slack or Zoom.
At the time, Renji was pursuing a Ph.D. in computer vision and machine learning. However, he decided to leave the program to learn more about virtual reality and eventually started Immersed.
Renji was confident in his product background but recognized his weaknesses in other business aspects like legal, hiring, finance, fundraising, and marketing. That’s why he decided to apply to Techstars. Renji recalls, "We were finalists at both YC and Techstars. I had a strong product background, but I knew I was weak in other areas. Techstars pitched to me that they could help, so I decided to go through their program in 2017. Our managing director was Logan LaHive, a brilliant founder who raised $40M with Andreessen Horowitz and built a great company. Being under his leadership was awesome and extremely refining. He was very tough on us, but it was what we needed to become strong founders.”
Building a community through Reddit
We've discussed this several times at Founder Secrets, but it's worth reiterating that "luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." For Renji, that opportunity was the significant shift to remote work during the pandemic, with more and more people realizing that this trend is here to stay.
This certainly contributed to raising a $9M round in just two weeks and to Immersed's web traffic skyrocketing from 2,000 to 200,000 monthly visits. But as Renji points out, "Growth is not the result of a one-time event or a single silver bullet. It's an iterative process. It's lead bullet after lead bullet that can lead to significant growth."
One of those lead bullets at Immersed was working on building a community from day one. They consistently posted feature updates on Reddit, ensuring the content was entertaining, valuable, or intentionally controversial to engage and align with users' interests.
But you're not here for vague advice, are you? At Founder Secrets, we want to provide you with the exact strategies that successful founders have used to grow. So, here you go:
First, search for existing subreddits that align with your startup. For Immersed, the most relevant subreddits are those about virtual reality, such as r/virtualreality, r/oculus, r/OculusQuest, and related.
Carefully analyze what type of content is allowed in each subreddit. Popular subreddits usually have strict criteria around what can be published, but this shouldn't discourage you. Analyze the requirements, get in touch with the moderators, and ask for permission to publish your post. If it adds value and is relevant to the community, they likely won't say no.
A post that Renji published in the r/OculusQuest community, which got significant traction (1.1k upvotes, hundreds of comments, and hundreds of thousands of views.)
Don't tell anyone I told you this, but if you're trying to stand out in a highly competitive subreddit, you could consider buying upvotes and comments to give your post an initial boost. However, keep in mind that this strategy will backfire if the content is not relevant or good enough.
Engage with your audience after posting. Publishing something and not engaging afterwards is a big red flag in any Reddit community. In addition, engaging with commenters is beneficial for the algorithm and can boost the reach of your post.
Be consistent! As Renji mentioned, building a community is not an overnight process; it takes time and effort. At Immersed, they started publishing on Reddit four years ago and never stopped, even after raising millions in funding. However, as Renji's story demonstrates, the results are worth the effort.
Adding value and building relationships
Reddit has been an incredible tool for Immersed. However, building a supportive community is not just a matter of following a step-by-step guide. Renji emphasizes that the key aspect is consistently adding value and building relationships.
He explains, "Whenever someone DMs me, I always try to sacrifice my time to help them. Over the course of a decade, I've always had this desire to be responsive and reliable to people. You can do that on Reddit, LinkedIn, Twitter, and with your users...and you can build a large network of people who trust you and will help you if you need it."
As Renji points out, empowering others, adding value, and genuinely caring about people and their needs can really pay off in the long term.
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An army of 3,300+ supporters
Renji has always been aware that building a community and consistently adding value to people would be worth it, but he couldn't have known how big of a deal it would end up being. This was until he launched a community round on Wefunder and raised over $9M in just two weeks.
When people invested in the company, a simple community became an army of super fans. As Renji puts it, "The biggest win is having an army of 3,318 people who want to see your startup succeed because they have invested in you. They have done so many things for us. They have helped us with pushing marketing campaigns, they have generated leads (including enterprise customers), and connected us with VCs.”
Immersed’s community round has not only generated a network of supporters who actively contribute to the company's growth, it has also helped the company acquire over 1,000 potential customers. In fact, 42% of Immersed investors found them via Wefunder and were not part of their existing community.
Having raised VC funding before, Renji also notes that the community round was more founder-friendly compared to VCs. He explains, "You do have to take responsibility for your decisions, but you get to decide your valuation and terms of the round upfront. Moreover, we have raised $12M to date, and I am still the only person on our board. This enables me to focus on what matters for the company.”
Building a strong team
If the Immersed community has played a significant role in the company's success, their team has played an even greater one. The team had such strong faith in Immersed that, when things got tough, they went without pay for six months. Here’s how Renji was able to build such an incredible team:
Be straightforward with candidates about the company's values and the fact that you hire and fire based on those values.
Hire slowly and fire quickly. If someone is not a good fit, waiting causes damage.
Proactively reach out to great candidates. As Renji puts it, "The candidates we look for are extremely competent and are already changing the world. They are not actively applying for jobs, so reaching out to them is necessary.”
Hire the right leadership team in the early stages of the company to set the tone and culture effectively. Seek out leaders who possess high emotional intelligence (EQ), are aligned with the company’s values, and are willing to apologize when necessary. It’s also important to be transparent about mistakes, take ownership, and strive for continuous improvement.
Incentivize your team members with generous equity as it serves as a mechanism to align everyone's interests and promote a culture of elevating others.
Dedicate significant resources to hiring. Three out of Immersed's team of around 30 people are full-time recruiters, and Renji also dedicates a significant proportion of his own time to recruiting. Assembling and leading the team is ultimately the CEO's most important job, and this should be reflected in how you spend your time.