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Cohort Alpha

How to Curate a Community

3 min read
jar of M&M's
Photographer: Robert Anasch | Source: Unsplash

One of the problems Cohort Alpha tries to solve is the "curation." This is hard and may even be at odds with a much more egalitarian world view.

However, while the serendipity of meeting someone at a Meetup is great, there's still some value to signaling and curation. This is part of the appeal of selective schools, for example.

Unfortunately, that perspective is also what created discriminatory institutions like certain country clubs.

So there are pros: it elevates the quality of the people to align on goals and values, which reduces time being in "hit and miss" mode to build a community of "loose ties".

The cons: it can smell of exclusionary practices which hurt diversity.

In the short term, actively diversifying a curated list of motivated, interested people seems to be the path forward. It's not perfect, but it's better than the status quo. Currently, there probably is not an active forcing function that empowers and broadens the networks of otherwise marginalized people.

Some may argue that in a free market environment, the good folks, whatever their background, will find each others; but social dynamics are more complicated that that and put the onus much more on those not typically found in positions of power and influence to be visible and selectable.

Anyway, none of what I'm proposing with these small cohorts will make super-dramatic impact in either direction. But I wanted to call out some of the principles.

I think we all benefit when we have diverse, cohorts where people can get to know each other in a more consistency, content-driven, and confidential environment. It matters both at the macro and the micro.

It does shift the onus onto me while developing this cohort, and that's hard. But hopefully by thinking actively about it, I'll find ways to solve for it.

The second way to curate a community has to do with time: people need to be able and willing to spend the time together. This is supremely hard in the technology/start-up world because of the work demands.

Even a 15-20 minute travel time from work to a lunch destination can put a crimp in reliable attendance. Much easier to do probably after work, but during lunch can be hard without proximity.

The last Cohort I set up had pretty consistent attendance while people were in walking distance -- 10-15 minutes. But once that 15-minute line was crossed, attendance dropped dramatically.

This makes it hard for areas in the suburbs where all the companies are driving-distance from each other. In fact, it may mean it's only really possible in a place like San Francisco which has a high-density of companies within walking distance of each other.

The third is signal. On the one hand, filters are diversity and proximity. But I still need signal to create a pool from which to build smaller communities.

My current signals is Wealthfront's list of career-launching companies. If their thesis that working at these companies is the best way to launch a career, then picking people who work at those companies is the best way to find people who care about and invest in their career.

Is this signal comprehensive, meaning if someone is not on the list, they wouldn't be a good candidate to belong to a cohort? Certainly not. But I'm not sure what an alternate signal would then be given limited time to build up these small communities, while also filtering for distance and diversity.

This is my current thinking on how to curate a community of "loose ties":

  1. Intentionally drive for diversity
  2. Cluster based on proximity
  3. Create a pool based on Wealthfront's annual list

Let's see how this goes!