More Digital Communities?

Last week I listened to an entrepreneur describe her vision for her startup. It’s an online community tailored to a specific group of people with a common passion. She created it because broader communities like Reddit can make certain groups of people feel uncomfortable. I don’t know much about the interest these people share, so I was surprised to learn that she has tens of thousands of active monthly users after launching in early 2019. That’s impressive growth in a short time.

Thinking about this conversation, I remembered the role that niche online forums and communities played for me in high school and college. I used message boards and forums to feed my automotive curiosity. I learned about new products and the best sources for them, which positioned me well for my first company (more of a side hustle, really). I used an online blog to crowdsource my transition to corporate America. I was passionate about things and wasn’t able to find like-minded people or enough information in my local community. These online communities helped fill those voids.

Niche digital communities have exploded since I was in high school, and one could argue they’ve become too important in our society because they contribute to keeping us on computers and away from human beings we know—or could know—in “real life.” The pandemic, another force that minimizes face-to-face contact, is undoubtedly enhancing the popularity of niche digital communities.

Putting philosophical quibbles aside, this expanding market presents an amazing opportunity. Entrepreneurs who take the time to deeply understand specific groups who are looking for their peeps could build wildly successful companies.