Ask a lot of modern tech founders, and they’ll probably tell you: “This business was built with community in mind. Connecting, sharing, and generally bringing people together.” But we’ve reached a point in history where people are starting to question that. Is it truly possible to use technology to build a genuine online and offline community? Sure, we can. It just takes a passionate founder — and the right approach to building and promoting your idea. So, a community to me would be something in the regards of a bunch of people who come together for the same cause. Community actually means relationships. It means opportunity… And a little bit of security. The community is here to help. It’s also being a part of something that’s bigger than just yourself. And you don’t realize there’s communities of people who feel and think the exact same way you do, and all of a sudden you’re like, “I’m not crazy!” Passionate founders, plus a community of people with shared values, plus leveraging tech in the right way, equals growth. It’s a simple equation in theory, but what does it mean to leverage tech in the right way? Well, we talked to two passionate people who have successfully executed that equation — and learned a little bit more than we were expecting in the process. Do you have a three of hearts, anyone? Go fish. Deering is a family business, going back quite a ways, correct? 44 years, yeah; 1975 it was established. Now, if you search for Deering Banjos online, it’s pretty easy to see that you have a pretty active community, on YouTube especially. So, when did you realize there was a community out there with such a passion for your product, and for your brand? Probably around 2011-12 there was a big spike in banjo interest. We just knew that many of our customers were searching for us online, and we had to have a good presence there. There wasn’t enough information that people were looking for. They weren’t just looking for banjo — they were looking for how to play the banjo, they were looking for how to maintain and how to tune. Those really basic-level things that really didn’t exist online because no one had created that content yet. And so, we were looking for it and thought, that needs to be us: We need to be those creators of the information that people are searching for. So, they’re not just about the product, but about helping that community, and helping people grow into the product. Which kind of serves at the center of what we do, right? It’s all those things around it that help. People don’t think that they can play a musical instrument; they think they can’t play the banjo, and the banjo is seen as a ‘hard’ instrument. I mean, you can pull it up on YouTube and you can start to learn. The problem with learning the banjo you hear all the time is, “I don’t have a teacher in my area.” You now have a teacher everywhere. Yeah, just… It’s all education. You just need a win or two. “Wow, I just learned a song!” That’s huge in a musical instrument. And if you can do that, and take it away feeling inspired, like you can do it, and then you go through whatever learning curve after that. But then, a lot of the time, following up with them digitally, being part of the social community or whatever message forum or blog we’re doing — we encourage comments, we encourage feedback. We’re always there. And again, we’re not just there to kind of have a product and go create, we’re there to get them started on what is, for many, a lifelong journey. You’re teaching people something.
Yup! It’s all education. Will you teach me how to play the banjo later when we’re done playing cards? We have two here — you can do it! In five minutes he can have you playing a song. [laughter] So, you can teach me how to play the banjo in five minutes… Yeah! Ok, let’s do it. Just strum all the strings… Perfect! Beautiful! You’re playing a G chord. It wasn’t too long ago that learning any kind of specialized skill required tracking down the right person to teach it. Which, before the online resources we have today, also required old-fashioned word-of-mouth: having the right people to ask for recommendations, and acting from there. [singing] Alright! That’s wasn’t bad! You’re a banjo player! Do you have an eight of clubs? Go fish. What was the biggest change you started to notice when you really started to put technology at the forefront of what you do? I think we could really hear back from a wider gamut of our customers, all around the world, all different ages, and demographics, and playing techniques. So, maybe Deering Banjos wasn’t necessarily built with community in mind, but what we’ve learned today applies to any business leader — or even any passionate business founder. Technology doesn’t have to be divisive. In other words: teach me something. Give me something that I can bring into my offline life, and share with my family, my friends, and my community. [music] [applause]