“It Takes a Lot of Listening Up-Front” and Other Must-Dos of Placing Community at the Core of Building and Selling with Harlow’s Co-Founder, Samantha Anderl


In the following exchange, Harlow’s co-founder, Samantha Anderl (@SamanthaAnderl), shares brief notes — filled with great wonderment and intention — on the passionate, community-first approach that has informed all aspects of their business from day 1.

The essence of building a community-led business
A lesson (from the Campaign Monitor playbook) on efficiently scaling a low ASP product
Doing things that don’t scale and measuring community efforts
How the Harlow community drives their product roadmap


The essence of building a community-led business

It’s actually not as different [compared to Notion, Figma, and other community-led successes] as you may expect. In order to gain that bottom-up adoption, you have to build a product that is wildly useful for the user and then leverage that affinity to expand and grow.

At Harlow, we are passionate about being the most helpful and educational brand on the market for freelancers.

We want to help freelancers be successful whether they are using the product or not, giving them the right resources and support they need while advocating for them and magnifying their voices.

This creates that brand affinity, that results in recommendations and word of mouth that helps us grow. Even though we’re building for individual freelancers, they are still part of a larger freelance community where users share tools and best practices.

A few start-ups we are really inspired by are Groove, Fresh Starts and OwnTrail. All of these companies are focused on empowering individuals by connecting them to a larger community and genuinely nurturing & supporting the greater collective.

And a few larger tech companies who have absolutely killed it as making community part of their core ethos and created brand affinity with their target market — Buffer, HubSpot, Wistia.

A lesson (from the Campaign Monitor playbook) on efficiently scaling a low ASP product

Both markets [Harlow’s and Campaign Monitor’s, where Samantha headed self-service marketing] are highly saturated and have relatively low price points so creating efficient go-to-market programs and ensuring you are differentiating your product becomes incredibly important.

This is why we focused on creating helpful content & supporting our community from day 1.

Even before we had a product, we were interviewing freelancers, creating useful guides and resources to get in front of our audience.

Organic reach takes a very long time, but the payoff is huge, and as we learned at Campaign Monitor, it’s the backbone of any efficient GTM for a low ASP product.

We also learned that differentiating your product doesn’t necessarily have to be based on features.

Campaign Monitor did a great job of really understanding their audience — agencies and mid-market ecommerce companies — and making sure they went above and beyond for them.

This took the form of personalized support, free tools, and meet-ups geared specifically to these users and their pains. By doing this, they created a lot of goodwill with the audience.

While hard to measure, users loved the brand, and that affinity helped fuel word of mouth growth. Making sure your user feels seen, and heard, can go a long way.

This is something we strive to do at Harlow as well. We’re working on building the most helpful community and product for the white collar freelancer, the skilled solopreneur who is selling into businesses.

Think content writers, designers, social media consultants, PR professionals.

Focusing on this specific segment of the market helps us tailor our content, community and product so these people truly feel understood and like their needs are being met.

This audience segment has also been underserved historically in this market, which is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to focus here.

Doing things that don’t scale and measuring community efforts

When you’re first establishing a community strategy, one of the trickiest parts is figuring out where your audience is and how you can add value. You have to immerse yourself where your community already exists before you can create something on your own.

It takes a lot of listening up-front, and that takes time. One of the things you learn early on as a founder is that sometimes you have to do things that don’t scale to get your footing.

And the early days of building a community are just that — doing a lot of things that don’t scale! But once you have established your brand as one that can add value, and is genuinely interested in helping, you start to see the payoff.

A few things we spend a lot of time on right now that don’t necessarily scale:

  • responding to every DM and social comment,
  • answering support tickets asap,
  • flagging user feedback as a priority with development,
  • and inserting ourselves into ongoing conversations around freelancing tools on social.

It’s hard to balance it all. But we know that interacting, engaging with and prioritizing our audience and community is at the core of our ethos and always will be. Setting aside a specific amount of time each day to do this is really important.

My typical work week shifts based on our current focus. We might be spending a majority of our time on getting a new feature and supporting assets out one month, and then be spending 70%+ of our time on fundraising the next. No two weeks or months look the same.

But what does look the same is our commitment to our community and audience. Regardless of our focus outside of that.

Measuring community, as we all know, is extremely difficult.

But there are signals you can look at to determine if the community is having a meaningful impact. Some quantitative ones include: engagement on social platforms, mentions, user generated content, increase in traffic & in sign-ups.

And then there are more qualitative aspects like positive feedback on the product, the sentiment when your brand is mentioned in organic posts, or review sites.

All of these are useful indicators of how the community is, or isn’t, engaged and helping support your brand message.

How the Harlow community drives their product roadmap

Our community has had a HUGE impact on what features we build and how we prioritize our product roadmap.

First, we make sure to gather feedback from a lot of different places.

Not all of our customers are active on social, or proactively reaching out to us via support tickets, so we make sure that we engage with users in a variety of formats and channels including email, surveys & 1:1 interviews.

It’s also critical that we’re getting feedback from not just our customers, but also prospects that didn’t purchase. This helps us to get well-rounded feedback and ensures we’re not operating in our own little echo-chamber.

We also try to collect open-ended feedback so we’re not guiding the person down a specific path. Here’s an example of the email we use to collect that feedback:

While somewhat primitive, we collect all of this information into a big spreadsheet and then group requests & feedback into feature areas that we work on.

Andrea [Samantha’s co-founder] has a whiteboard with post-it notes on it next to her desk that we reprioritize with each release and when we start to see a theme emerge, we add it to the board.

We also try and reach out to users when we launch something they specifically requested or provided feedback on. Creating delight for our users is something that is really important to us, and you do that by delivering what they ask for and need.


Related reading from the Relay archives:

Pocus’ co-founder, Alexa Grabell, on community-led category creation
Passionfroot’s co-founder, Jennifer Phan, on bringing the community on the cap table


Thanks for sharing these notes, @SamanthaAnderl!

Your enthusiasm for the wider community that Harlow is building for, really shines through.

You’ve mentioned how despite being a very horizontal product it has helped to focus on a few segments. I’d love to learn how this niching down has informed Harlow’s pricing strategy. And specifically what has helped you decide on a free trial vs going freemium (increasingly a standard choice for low ASP products)?

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Hi Krish!

To be totally transparent, we’re still in our infancy and testing pricing strategy. We’re about to release a new feature where we allow our users to invite others into the platform to collaborate which will add new editions and pricing tiers. This was driven directly from feedback from our audience that they need to use virtual assistants, accountants and sub contractors to run their businesses as they grow.