How Fritz AI is adjusting and figuring out community-market fit

An interview with Austin Kodra, Head of Content & Community at Fritz AI

Community enthusiasts, we’re back! 👋 This time, we’re sharing Austin Kodra’s story with you, the Head of Content & Community at Fritz AI. We’ve seen lots of stories of people who seem to have figured out the foundational parts of building and growing a community. Most are already at a certain scale, running into different challenges.

For earlier stage startups, the challenge is about finding product- and community-market fit. That’s hard. I think this conversation with Austin gives you a peek into such a journey and how they deal with it in terms of building community.

Austin shares how they’re transitioning in terms of the persona they target, how they keep things transparent while making the transition (building trust in the community), and shares some advice about thinking through whether a community-first approach is right for your startup 💎

Let’s dive in, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button (if you haven’t) to follow along on the next issues! 👇


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About Fritz AI and Austin

Fritz AI is a machine learning platform for iOS, Android, and SnapML in Lens Studio. They offer their model development Studio to train custom solutions or jump right in with pre-trained models and projects. They raised their second round of Seed funding last year and are currently zooming in on Snapchat Lens Creators to focus their business around.

As Fritz is still in their early startup days and the team is relatively small, Austin is running community efforts as well as working on the general product & content marketing parts of the business. Their journey of exploring and potentially tailoring more to the Lens Creator audience makes for an exciting story, as this heavily impacts the community efforts.

When did Fritz decide to focus on community building, and how did it start out?

When I came on board a few years ago, I was fortunate that there was a dedicated section to community on the roadmap. The idea was to start off writing our own content and initiate some other lightweight initiatives and then recruit people to write inside our community.

The idea was to eventually develop a shared, global space in which we could host events, with the ultimate goal of having our own conference series on mobile machine learning. In other words, becoming the authority and using the community to attract people to this new technology space. It was a foundational approach: test the market, help it grow, and build relationships. Then down the road, entice folks to write content for us, advocate for our product, and do their own events with their communities. Some of these ideas have materialized, so they met with our initial conceptualization. 

What was the reason to put Community on the roadmap in the first place? To educate what was essentially a new market?

We thought, "Which type of marketing will be the most effective". As a company, we have a firm root in inbound marketing. And though that is not new anymore, that overall concept proved to be an effective way to approach developer audiences, who are especially hard to market to. We understood it took more of a community-centric approach to get developers interested in the type of technology we’re working on.

So we decided to invest in building a community and content resources. We transposed a marketing budget that would usually go to paid campaigns to remunerate our contributors and expand the content ecosystem, considering that these assets consequently help the community. 

How many people are working in the community team at the moment?

On the Fritz Heartbeat side, it's a content manager and me. She's a fantastic editor and writer, also from a non-tech background, so we tend to bring a more creative, flexible, and relationship-based perspective into the company.

On the contributor side, we've had between five to ten people writing semi-consistently for us. But, like in any community, it's a mix. You have your watchers who tune in when they have something to share. Then you have those who are consistently there for you. It's a wide range of people.

In terms of community initiatives, what have you been doing to bring value to members?

This has been challenging due to the technological space we've traditionally targeted. We serve mobile developers, but we also cover machine learning, which is an entirely different discipline. So one of the main difficulties has been to identify the right people interested in that intersection. Or trying to get each disparate group interested in the intersection of the two technologies. Some folks come into our community after reading a comprehensive machine learning article - but they have no interest in the mobile development side. And yet, the product we are selling is for mobile development specifically. That's why we struggled when running AMAs on Slack, office-hour lunch-and-learns, or even when trying to incorporate our newsletter into the community to share resources. 

I think that's a persona issue. So we no longer want to invest in pushing toward mobile plus machine learning intersections. Because holding a webinar on general machine learning, for example, takes a lot of our team's time, and yet we're not getting the audience any closer to the aspect we want them to start exploring.

We've done webinars and more co-marketing to focus on that community; a more tight-knit community who really need and want that education because they are designers or graphic artists or 3D artists—not machine learning engineers.

We have recently started working with Snapchat Lens Creators, and that has been more successful. Lens Studio, the tool that they use to build Augmented Reality Lenses such as face filters, has a component that allows them to bring in machine learning models from the outside world. We thought this was a perfect opportunity for us: it's a mobile platform and there's a lot of similarities in technology. Since we began targeting this new, more defined persona, the advance has been easier. We've done webinars and more co-marketing to focus on that community; a more tight-knit community who really need and want that education because they are designers or graphic artists or 3D artists—not machine learning engineers.

Communities tend to have these repeating activities that people can depend on and come back to. Is there anything like that in place for either one of those audiences? 

Not yet. We're in the early stages of developing a more focused community program—like an ambassador program—and that's the direction we're starting to aim for when we have something more focused around the Snapchat ecosystem instead of the other personas.

We have tried the weekly office hours, weekly AMAs, and a few other things for the other personas we used to focus on more heavily. People would get excited about this new technology, experiment with it, play around with some open source stuff, but then realize that it's not going anywhere unless they invest money, time, and business resources. Building consistency around these personas was difficult since no one was adopting the technology for the long term. 

Now we're shifting into a stage where I think we might see more success. It's really because this new persona is more defined. They engage well with video content, tutorials, live events; they like to chat and get together.

Now we're shifting into a stage where I think we might see more success. It's really because this new persona is more defined. They engage well with video content, tutorials, live events; they like to chat and get together. And though we want to tap into that, we are still in the process of planning. We're identifying these folks, talking to them, and seeing what they would want out of it so that we can play into it with repeating activities that get people together.

What sort of path do you see - perhaps more directed at this new persona - to move people from getting acquainted with who you are towards being an ambassador in the community?

There are some clear contributions this new persona can make. There are ways for them to build machine learning models without code, for instance, and we can support them in that. In such a new technological area, everyone needs some kind of support; hence, a big part of our pitch has revolved around offering that incentive.

One of the pros of this persona is that, because machine learning is new to most of them, some folks are eager to add us and our resources to their tool-set, as it can help them become an Official Lens Creator

The fact that they are striving to reach this official status from Snapchat allows for hero-making, which is something we have tried to focus on a lot.

The fact that they are striving to reach this official status from Snapchat allows for hero-making, which is something we have tried to focus on a lot. By leveraging our relationship with Snapchat, we can help these up-and-coming creators explore AI technology. They, in turn, can share what they are learning with the community. And there begins a feedback loop that renders us as an authority on these other technological areas.

Though we're still figuring out the details, the general hope we have for this new idea is to incentivize and re-adjust how we're investing in community.

What tools are in your current community stack? And what are the pros and cons you find with those tools?

One of my tasks for this week is to refresh my content dashboards in Google Sheets. We use a straightforward set of Google Analytics and Google Sheets for measuring our success. Google Sheets includes our marketing and content budget and content breakdown, all of which are manually updated. We use Slack for the general community space and HubSpot for set parts of our community. We use MailChimp for our newsletters, but for more direct, personal mail, we use HubSpot. 

We're not too deep in the weeds yet on specific metrics for our community, as it's a new technological space, and we're adjusting the people we cater to. As a first step in facilitating these Lens Creators, we're mainly interested in understanding what chunk of our content should go towards this persona to bring value first.

How does the community help you on the product side? Is there a collaboration between learning from the people you interact with and then translating that into insight for the product team to make better decisions?

Although our Slack group is limited in terms of engagement, which is a result of not having nailed our target audience fully, it has introduced us to a couple of really dedicated community members. I've had several product feedback chats about the workflow of the product. We have ideas on how we want these interactions to go but they haven't yet reached the scale we were hoping for.

We've tried to be responsive in all aspects, particularly in product support and how diligently we're thinking about communicating this shift we're about to make towards the Lens Creators. I think that has built trust across our community. 

For now, there's just the general idea that when there's product feedback, we jump on our internal company's Slack and discuss it almost immediately. I believe we have done a good job of identifying and creating a process to handle product improvements based on that feedback so far. We've tried to be responsive in all aspects, particularly in product support and how diligently we're thinking about communicating this shift we're about to make towards the Lens Creators. I think that has built trust across our community. 

One piece of advice you'd give to anyone building out a community around a software startup?

One thing I wish I had done better is to understand the longer-term purpose of the community earlier. It sat on our roadmap, but I didn't engage with those questions enough, even as the community manager. If you're building a community, whether it's talking to your co-founder (if it's a new startup) or to your head of marketing, you need to be addressing purpose questions like "Why are we doing this?" consistently.

It's also important to imagine what the alternatives might be. Compare it to a paid strategy, project what it's going to be three or five years down the road even if you're not sure. Essentially, trying to figure out what the ideal path might be so you can start from a place that combines your identity as a community-first organization with your business. The earlier you form that identity, and the more connected to the business roadmap you make it, the better. 

Sometimes engineering and product-related topics take precedence in an early startup. As a community manager, you should make sure these are brought up in meetings and communicate them fairly.  

Another thing is keeping the Community in front of mind - or at least a part of the discussion internally all the time. Sometimes engineering and product-related topics take precedence in an early startup. As a community manager, you should make sure these are brought up in meetings and communicate them fairly.  

How do you get inspiration for your work?

I had a couple of good mentors. Rebecca Corliss, the VP at VergeSense, has been great. She understands the ins and outs of a lot of different parts of marketing. In terms of community, Paige Bailey from TensorFlow has been a good example of how to do hero-making or support the community through social media. If you're doing developer relations and community, exploring DevRel Twitter can introduce you to many amazing people.

How can people find out more about you?

Going through our blog, Heartbeat is the best way. That's how you'll be introduced to what we do, what kinds of things we publish. From there, you can find our are product, look at the range of contributors and how we think about content organization, and see how things change and evolve.


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