Creating Connections By Building Communities with Mighty Networks' Gina Bianchini
Lindsay Tjepkema: Welcome to Casting A Vision. A new show that I personally and very, very excited to launch because it allows me to play to two of my biggest passions. Having conversations with incredible, I mean, incredible leaders and capturing them to share with our incredible, I mean, incredible audience, that's you. So follow along as I get to talk about marketing, technology, the future of work, business, entrepreneurship, growth, people, team development, and so much more with the people that I frankly and just really super excited to have the chance to connect with. I bet you'll actually see me get a little star struck at times like I did in the interview today that I'm sharing with all of you with Gina Bianchini. You see, Gina is someone I have admired from afar for years. She is a force. She's a founder, she's a CEO and entrepreneur. You guys, she's brilliant. Today she is the founder and CEO of Mighty Networks, which is where she and her team are introducing a whole new generation of creative business. It's all built entirely around community, you've got to check it out. But before Mighty Networks, she was CEO of Ning where she founded that company with Marc Andreessen. I was actually a fun fact, an early user of Ning back in the day, and I really enjoyed it. But over the years you have seen Gina on the cover of Fortune, Fast Company. She's been Wired, Vanity Fair, Bloomberg, New York Times, not to mention on TV where she's shared multiple viewpoints on business. But today she's here with us, isn't that amazing? So come in and listen in on this conversation with my new friend, Gina Bianchini, as we celebrate international women's month as just two bad- ass women sitting around talking about their businesses, teams and innovation that we are passionate about. Gina, thank you so much for being here. I'm so glad that you are. Thanks for celebrating-
Gina Bianchini: I'm happy to be here.
Lindsay Tjepkema: ...women's month with me. Glad to have you.
Gina Bianchini: I'm thrilled to be here. This is great.
Lindsay Tjepkema: So and it's fun that we're doing this via video, which is new for us. So those of you who can hear us know that you can also watch us if you want to. So, so to kick things off it is women's month and broadly speaking, what is something that you want women specifically but it appeals to everyone who are early in their careers to know?
Gina Bianchini: I think the biggest thing is that a lot of the narrative and stories that have come to define how women move forward in their careers is actually wrong. And I think looking beyond all the things that you might think are true, I'll give you a perfect example, mentors. By definition a mentor is somebody that can offer counsel. Someone who is a sponsor, is a person that is willing to put their political capital in support of you and so if you think about it, looking for sponsors as opposed to mentors is actually the right way to go, or at least looking for both, that would be an example. Another thing is that, well if I involve myself in women's organizations and I build a really strong network of women that I will be able to realize my full potential. There is an absolute time and place for women's groups and networks and friendship and all of that. But what we know about teams is that diverse teams, when not all women teams, not all men teams. And having and being thoughtful about the situations that you put yourself in with respect to looking for diversity, as opposed to looking for women will be helpful. And so just staying a little bit skeptical and finding the things that work for you. I would say the people that have made the biggest difference in my career are men. And I think most women that have achieved some level of success will say something similar to that. And so that doesn't mean there isn't a place for deep female friendships and lifting each other up professionally. But it does mean that alone not something that will suffice.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yeah. That's really good advice. I think that's really, really, really important. And the more you can surround yourself and the sooner you can surround yourself with others who are different and that's even in your career, that's really in life. The broader your horizons will be and the more you'll be able to think outside of your own box. Yeah. So how do you think that would have changed you? Or do you think it would have changed if you hadn't had that realization earlier on, if you knew then what now. What you just went through now? Is there anything that-
Gina Bianchini: Oh, oh. Yeah, that's a great question. Because I did... There was no women's world. There was no professional, there was no lean in. There was no 47 other organizations that are like," We want to be different from Lenan," There was none of that. When I was a CEO for the first time, I was president of a startup that had raised a bunch of money when I was 28. And then when I was 33, 34, I was CEO of a company, the one before Mighty Networks. And now I'm still the CEO of Mighty Networks. But I went back and I read Gloria Steinem's essays, just to try to find some resource. And so in a decade, the amount of information and the amount of... just even the social science resource. Research and resources that are now available, none of that was available to me. And I was in male dominated positions and organizations, but also I always had a very strong peer group of women in every professional environment that I had been in, and good friends starting with my first job out of college and my college friends. And so it's always been something that I think this new... I am more skeptical of this new strain of every woman needs a mentor, and we're going to be mentors and we're going to spend all of our time. That if you're a female founder, you're going to raise money from other women, not in my experience. And just so all of that, that was not stuff that was the conventional thinking when I was starting out. In terms of though if I could go back and talk to my 22 year old self or my 25 year old self, or my 32 year old self. I think my counsel to each of those people would be, think bigger, be more ambitious and find whatever I could. And I didn't have all the tools at that point to be as confident as possible.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Absolutely relate to that. That's 100%, you're only limited by the biggest dreams that you put in place, and if you-
Gina Bianchini: And look people always tell you, you're crazy.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Just own it.
Gina Bianchini: I was thinking, there's a couple of things right now. inaudible we're growing really fast and there's a couple of things where I'm like," Well, why couldn't we do that? Or why couldn't that be our case?" And I married an accountant. I married a very... what I would like to say, is a very cute accountant, but if I'm not careful and I'm talking to him about my wildest founder hopes and dreams, I have to remember my audience, right? Because it will sound insane, one of the other things is, find the people around you or put the people around you or find people in your life who don't think that what your crazy idea is, is that crazy. Find people that are like, okay, you want to build a business that goes from 20 million to 50 million in one year in revenue, great.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Let's do it.
Gina Bianchini: Well, how are we going to do that? And by the way, that is about carefully crafting and being really protective of who you share your hopes and dreams with. And also the environments that you put yourself in, and the kind of people that you surround yourself with. We live in a time and place where, we're not limited by location. Actually crosstalk you and I met, exactly. You and I have met over zoom and it's awesome and I'm super stoked, and now you're my friend. And that's just going to be sorry, but we're friends now. And so, really I would say that is an area just even the question and I'm just processing it in real time. I think at every stage in my career, in my life. Surrounding myself with people and being very careful to surround myself with the people that are like," How do you think bigger? How do we go bigger? How do we..." I think actually it would have been really... probably would've made the biggest difference.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yeah. And absolutely, I think that is great advice for anyone listening, especially if you're younger in your career or just younger in general is, I think that a lot of us tend to surround ourselves by those that are comfortable, and that want to bring us back to our comfort zone and give us a warm hug when we're feeling just exposed. But those that say,"No, no, no. Get back out there, we've got you. We're here in the front row. We're cheering you on. I know it's scary, but you can do this." Those have made all the difference for me too. And those have been men and women. And so, yeah, I think it's really important to realize that early on, and to surround yourself with people that are just going to be your biggest cheerleaders.
Gina Bianchini: And it's okay to break up with people. Break up with friends, partner, if they are inadvertently or consciously or unconsciously wanting you to be held back. We only get one shot at this. We only get one shot at this. And if... in this I think is also true for... I've been thinking about this a lot with respect to some new social networks and services. It's just like, this doesn't make me feel good. I don't feel good here and paying attention to those things and adjusting and being willing to adjust your life and your career and the things that you're doing by making those hard decisions to say," I don't want to be here, or this relationship is not healthy for me." Those are the things that if we look at, again, and I should say, when I think about ambition or dreaming bigger or whatever, you can apply that to anything. It's are you surrounding yourself with people, not just, yes people, because you don't want that either. Something that seriously irritates me is the group of girlfriends that we're all together. And it's like," Oh my gosh, I can't believe that person did that. You're so amazing." Or it's like the sort of, you go girl vibe when it has no basis in reality or fact. I would rather have a group of friends that are like," Yeah, that's not hitting the mark, but I think this could hit the mark." Or the person that's like," Oh my gosh, I can't believe they did that. They're just so jealous." It's like, well, that's maybe, but maybe not. And so I think that's blind support, no matter what you do is as dangerous as the person who's like," Don't think so big." And I think being really thoughtful about what kind of friend and person you show up as for other people, and then also what you need in your life to be able to realize your full potential, I think are both really important things.
Lindsay Tjepkema: For sure. My mantra, and I like to say it found me. It's not like I went out and sought outwards to live life, but they found me a couple of years it was boldly be yourself, right? And many of us have been through this, where you try to be this for this person. You try to be this for this group and this season of your life and for this boss and for this job. And you end up being not enough of anything and too much of everything, right? And so at one point a few years ago, I was just done with it. And I was like,"Yeah, I'm just going to be me. I'm going to set out. I'm just going to just boldly be who I am." And to your point, there are going to be situations and social media platforms and feds and trends and groups that just are not for me or not for the brand that I represent for my company. Or if I was a marketing leader like those people that are listening that just are not going to be right for the business that I represent. And that's okay, and you don't have to be everywhere. You don't have to be everyone. You don't... In fact, you shouldn't. And the more you know who you are, and the more you show up for those people that are in your life and you expect them show up for you, and you surround yourself by those people that who are going to truly see where you're going and want to help you get there. It makes all the difference.
Gina Bianchini: I think that's beautifully put.
Lindsay Tjepkema: So you have spent a lot of your career, and I'm interested from your perspective from the outside looking in, it looks like a lots of things around connection and groups, and putting people together and bringing people together, especially now when we can't be together. So I'm interested in kind of that said, everything that we've been talking about, your perspective on what that looks like now, and as we eventually someday make our way out of the pandemic and just thoughts that you have for that and what we should be thinking about as marketers, as leaders as people.
Gina Bianchini: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. So fundamentally my big purpose is I want to live in a world where there are a million unique and vibrant colorful communities, each with their own culture and their own purpose and their own opportunity to carve out their own corner of the internet. Led by brands and creators, because I think when you have a brand or creator in charge, you can bring that personality to the community and that the community is mastering something interesting or important together. So bringing people together, not just to mess around but rather with a purpose, with an intention and then obviously fueled by whether it's digital subscriptions or payments. I truly believe this will be the decade for membership and for digital subscriptions. And in looking at that and what I see is, look as human beings we are meant to be in communities. And if anything, the crisis and epidemic of loneliness, and just feeling like what we were talking about a moment ago of just always being on the outside, or reliving your worst day of junior high online over time.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Over and over again.
Gina Bianchini: Yeah. It's like, no, thank you. And I believe there's a different connections that are around a purpose. That are about mastery. That are interesting and different, but also create a space for people to master skills, reach a common goal, be a part of something bigger than themselves. And ultimately navigate challenges and setbacks, honestly because that's actually how somebody is actually going to get there. And so to me that's what I care about. The other thing that's really fun about moment is, this is a software I've been building for 15 years inaudible do today is so relative to anything that people expect, or when I say community, they're like," Oh, that Slack community that I've been in," or like that it's quicker. What is coming next will feel fundamentally different, because there is so much we can do with software to create these natural, normal relationships that feel almost like the best party or the best event you've ever been to with like a fabulous host. Who's like," Gina, you have to meet Lindsay. Lindsay is amazing because she is this incredible founder with this incredible business. Here's the three things you need to know about her. Lindsay, you need to know about Gina, because Gina has this in common with you," or whatever it is. You've been to those, whether it was just a serendipitous night where you ended up at the right party, or an event where you're like," This feels different. This is better." And software has the best ability to provide that context and the difference between social media, which is much more about the... I think about it as like, in social media we're in the arena and we're fighting for attention. This is describing something very different of like, again, showing up at that party or that event or that dinner. And it's about how are those people connecting to each other, that is fundamentally different than sitting in the audience of a drop in audio talk show. It doesn't mean there's not a place for that, but that is what we do at Mighty Networks. That is my passion, because I think it's human relationships are the most interesting puzzle that any of us can have. And we've been thinking about audience, audience, audience, audience, audience, even social media it's like," I talk out at you, you talk back at me." But no one's talking to each other. What we know about the world is that the most valuable businesses that have ever been created have all basically been created in the last 25 years. They are all network affects. They are all businesses that get more valuable to every member with each new person who joins and contributes. And while there are multiple flavors of network effects, a community network effect that again is about you as a brand or you as the creator, bringing people together and surfacing the most relevant members to each other, and nudging them in that way that I just described to meet and build relationships with each other, such that you're looking around you're like," I am surrounded by the people that I want to be surrounded by. I do believe that I'm capable of something bigger," is so fundamentally different than the FOMO of like, did I get into... and I want a 5, 700 people that get into a room with like Elon Musk.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yeah. And the... what did I miss? Like you said, it's the FOMO, and-
Gina Bianchini: It doesn't... why can't software make us feel better, not worse.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Right. And like you said, it has the power to. It should, right? Especially now and in the years ahead, we are so obviously at a turning point as a world in a society, and as people, as humanity.
Gina Bianchini: Oh and there's such a hunger for new experiences. And I do think this is super important. There's a couple of things that I think are really important for marketers. One is, there is a hunger for new social experiences. Two, the software is finally good enough that you can get off Facebook and the less... you will never be able to fully get off Facebook. But the more that you use Facebook ads to send people into a destination that you own, it is these destinations are now engaging enough and valuable enough that you can successfully do that and own and audience, but not just own an audience, translate your audience into a membership that gets more valuable to every member with each new person who joins and contributes. And this is... I was talking to a marketer yesterday of a pretty large brand, and they were like," You mean, I don't have to just keep playing this game." And the answer is," No, you don't have to keep playing this game." And to me, that's the really exciting thing about this moment is underlying the decade of digital subscriptions is this opportunity to truly create a network all your own.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Where you truly on the experience that your audience, which you also own is having and how your brand shows up and the value that it provides. And yes, a hundred percent. And people are... like you said, hungry for it. They want that from the brands that they're engaging with and yeah, now more than ever. So how can leaders right now specifically, help make that happen for their teams and also for the brands?
Gina Bianchini: Yeah. I was also asked this question yesterday. It's interesting my answer when I was like, okay, great. Where do I get started? Number one is the buy- in, where are we going? And how important is it to us to be able to start to take an audience and turn it into a network effect? Is everybody bought in on that? Is your CEO bought in on that, is your team bought in on that? Because one of the things about creating your own, think about it as your own community but it's really the kind of community you want to create under your brand is one that is for people who are beyond just your customers that are mastering something interesting or important together. So for example, if you are running anything with some mastery component to it, so for example, for casting it's like, what is great storytelling? It's not just, what are the mechanics of a podcast? It's how do you tell a great story and what are some of the most interesting brand stories right now? And what's the framework for that? So for example, we run a community design masterclass. Which is, our promises create a community so valuable, you can charge for it. And so well- designed, it essentially runs itself. Yeah, we've got software that underlies that, but it enables that, but it's not about our software. It's about what are you trying to create with a community. So getting sort of buy- in on that top level, and what does it look like to have a community? And then the next piece is, and then what's our migration or launch strategy? What are we doing today that we want to keep doing? What is the set of things that we want to move into this new community space, and what are the things we're going to stop doing? Because we don't need to do them anymore. And that migration path or launch path is really important. And then the last piece is, who's going to own it? And this is not... community building in the way that I'm describing is not social media. The last thing you want to do is put your social media manager in charge of a community because there is a bias towards, well, I need to get more engagement on a post on Facebook. And if I can put more money against a Facebook boosted posts, and that's what I want. And this is a complete reframing to say, actually we are creating something that is going to be more valuable with each new person who comes in and contributes. And in doing that, we are not going to just hammer. This is not another content channel. This is not about just posting more stuff, which is what social media managers have been trained to do. This is about how am I facilitating conversations? How am I facilitating value that is happening and being exchanged between members and how am I building relationships between people, not just yet another content channel, which is yet more work. So who is that person? Who's excited about this new challenge. And certainly from a marketing perspective, this new marketing opportunity to really have a hub for all of the other spokes or all of the other channels that you're actually driving towards.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Okay. So we're on for some exciting things, as we find the list, as we... even today, before we even breakthrough this crazy time that we've been in over the last year or so. That starting now, because what we're talking about software and the beautiful connection that it facilitates and the possibility to be a part of the connections that we can make.
Gina Bianchini: Yeah. Our platform inaudible tripled in size and scope in one year. And that doesn't happen if it's not working.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. So congratulations on that. That's amazing.
Gina Bianchini: Thank you.
Lindsay Tjepkema: And I'm excited to see what's ahead. And I guess as we wrap up, especially in this month and this women's month, kind of thinking-
Gina Bianchini: I would like to have more than one month for 50% of the population.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Used to be every other month.
Gina Bianchini: Well, we should get six months. Six months or half the population let's have six months.
Lindsay Tjepkema: I like it. I like it. So. Okay. Anything else going back to where we started, anything else you feel like especially young women that are... want to be where you are, want to do their own thing and want to build their own thing and be really successful? What kind of inaudible
Gina Bianchini: Again, just even reflecting from what I first said now. We are taught as women to be good girls, get straight A's follow the rules, not get in trouble. I hated getting in trouble. I loved following the rules.
Lindsay Tjepkema: I'm hanging on your words. Because I like, yeah, that was me.
Gina Bianchini: Yeah. It's all... and the challenge is that if you follow the rules and gotten A's on the test, the real world does not have A's. One of the things that's really interesting. So women are really successful and then when it gets into the place where the rules disappear and political-
Lindsay Tjepkema: Contradict each other.
Gina Bianchini: Yeah. And political power and effectiveness actually starts to take over, and we've had no training for the most part in that strategy and in fact, it's like, I don't want to be political, that's the worst thing ever. I think we've done a disservice to women. I think if anything, one of the things that I had it for a while, but I just started reading it and it's really good is The Art Of War. Normally, we're supposed to be reading books about empowering women. It's like The Art Of War is super interesting and we need more women to win. We need more women to be unapologetically ambitious and there are a ton and-
Lindsay Tjepkema: Ambitious of every crosstalk I've been calling it ambitious and not in a good-
Gina Bianchini: Not in a nice way. Yeah, yeah. Or intense, I get intense a lot. And it's like, I'm not intense and I'm like, I'm probably intense. So, thinking about those kinds of things. But The Art Of War it's like, why is there not like a lady book club for The Art Of War? I think I'm going to start that because it's strategy and if... to win in the arena and there's somebody listening to this and they're like," Well, I don't want to win if somebody else has to lose," it's like, okay, got it. But if we're going to change, you know the ratio and we're going to do the things that allow for more opportunity equally distributed, it's going to be a fight. And last I checked having the better strategy will help us win and I like to win.
Lindsay Tjepkema: There you have it, there we were. Casting A Vision, I can't wait to hear how it resonated with you. So let me know, reach out on LinkedIn or find me on Twitter @ castitlindsay, or castitatcocastit. Thanks, and be sure to join us next time for the next episode of Casting A Vision.
Today’s conversation is with Gina Bianchini, CEO & Co-Founder of Mighty Networks. The goal of Mighty Networks is to usher in a new era of creative business built on community. Their SaaS platform serves “creators with a purpose” selling experiences, relationships, and expertise to their members via community, content, online courses, and subscription commerce–all offered in one place under the creator’s brand.
This episode talks about the different narratives of women moving forward in their careers. The people, groups, and environments we surround ourselves with and finding what works for you. Women should have diversity in their work culture because diverse teams win. Think bigger and be ambitious; being something bigger than ourselves...Boldly Be Yourself! .