Why Building Community Is the New “Growth Hack”

The stories on how startups convert their most passionate users into their loudest microphones.

We recently launched an ambassador program. Our goal is to build a strong community where our biggest fans can give us feedback and we can reward them for their loyalty. We also hope these ambassadors will help grow our company.

Why Building Community Is the New “Growth Hack”

None of us are professional “community builders” so we based our strategy around companies that had created successful ambassador programs.

We thought it would be selfish to keep our notes a secret…



theSkimm is a daily email newsletter that gives you everything you need to start your day. They break down the latest news into digestible tidbits… which makes it easier to keep up with current events.

What do ambassadors do?

People who love reading theSkimm share their unique referral link and get credit when someone subscribes. They need to collect 10 emails to become an official “Skimmbassador.”

What do ambassadors get in return?

  • 10 emails = Skimm tote
  • 25 emails = T-shirt
  • 50 emails = Skimm newsletter shout out
  • 100 emails = Umbrella
  • 150 emails = Phone case
  • 200 emails = Wine sippy cup

theSkimm encourages Skimmbassadors to wear their swag around town.

theSkimm 2

“This will be the only occasion we encourage selfies”– theSkimm

Extra benefits:

  • Invitation to Secret Facebook Group: Skimmbassadors get to connect with other Skimmbassadors around the world
  • Invitation to Secret LinkedIn Group: Anyone can share job openings within the Skimmbassador network
  • Early access to Skimm internship and job opportunities
  • Partnership Perks: Scholarship for a Skimmbassador entrepreneur or early access to their brand partners

Did it work?

theSkimm quickly grew their email list to one million email subscribers in three years. They contributed their biggest growth factor to the ambassador program, which launched Day 1.

They currently have 12,000+ ambassadors divided into two Facebook groups: one for college students and one for everyone else.

What we learned: theSkimm readers love swag and representing theSkimm to their friends and family. They also enjoy connecting with other “Skimmers” online who are interested in the same topics they’re passionate about.


Huckberry is a bi-weekly web magazine that brings you unique apparel and gear at members-only prices along with the stories behind the products.

What do ambassadors do?

Ambassadors are given a dedicated page on the site that features bios, photos, social channels, and their favorite gear. The program was launched in early 2015.

Beyond being general goodwill ambassadors for Huckberry on the ground, ambassadors share their Huckberry pages across their social channels and on their personal websites at various times throughout the partnership.

The team tries to include ambassadors in many creative brand projects – such as Californian Dylan Gordon, who shot Huckberry’s capsule collab with designers Iron & Resin; and surfer Nick LaVacchia who shot Ty Williams for the artist series. These ambassadors just ‘happen’ to have serious photography skills…

Huckberry’s ambassador program is seen as both a growth channel and source of inspiration for the brand. Huckberry also leans on ambassadors to drum up support and excitement for local events in their towns.

What do ambassadors get in return?

Huckberry provides different incentives for their ambassadors, including gear, support for special projects, and social promotion. Since Huckberry is selective about who they choose as ambassadors, they are able to give away more swag for a personalized experience.

Did it work?

Huckberry saw 84% year-over-year growth on Instagram in 2015, which they contribute in part to the cross-promotion they’ve done with their Instagram ambassadors. Their program is still fairly new, and they’re currently measuring success by traffic to their site, new signups, and social growth. They told The Hustle that their overarching goal is to create a tight-knit family of adventurers, creatives, and athletes whose work feels authentic to the culture of Huckberry.

What we learned: Keep it personal. Create a tight-knit family of people who admire the brand and lifestyle of Huckberry.

Chubbies 3

Chubbies are a line of short shorts aimed at young men with a booming social media presence (their words, not ours).

What do ambassadors do?

Chubbies issues weekly challenges that encourage ambassadors to do outreach and create content.

“Recently our ambassadors took over BSR Cable Park in Waco, Texas and while they got to have an incredible day at a water park, we got some truly incredible photo and video content; win-win much? They’ve also led photo and video shoots, conducted holiday cheer spread-a-thons, and organized large get-togethers where ambassadors come from all over the country, hang out and get to know one another.”Mason, Content Guru for Chubbies

“There are no social post requirements or mandatory events, however when an ambassador does have a great idea for an event we do everything we can to make it a reality.”

Chubbies ambassadors also assist with new products and give feedback on how the company can improve.

What do ambassadors get in return?

Chubbies ambassadors get rewarded for winning their weekly challenges with swag that includes sweatshirts, tees, customized athletic gear, mullet wigs, and stunner shades.

Ambassadors receive a discount code they can use for on-site purchases. Chubbies also highlights ambassadors’ content to the 1.5 million people on their social media channels. Their Instagram is almost exclusively content submitted directly from users.

Did it work?

Chubbies now has 400 ambassadors all over the country.

The goal was to help their customers live more fulfilling lives and bring more fun into the world. That conveniently created a passionate group of fans that spread the word at their college campuses.


“The program’s contribution to the growth of the brand cannot be understated, and we’re stoked because we only expect the program’s influence to expand.”Mason, Content Guru for Chubbies

What we learned: Highlight your ambassadors’ work. Encourage them to create content that aligns with your brand. Make everything a win-win situation.


Serengetee creates pocket shirts using fabrics from all over the world. A portion of the money from each shirt bought goes to a charity from the country that the fabric is from.

What do ambassadors do?

Serengetee calls their ambassadors ‘student reps,’ and their goal is to spread the word about Serengetee. Student reps earn prizes with a point system. It’s like an arcade where you get all your tickets and redeem them for whatever you want at the end of the semester.

To get points you:

  • Post pictures of yourself wearing Serengetee apparel on social media
  • Sell shirts to your friends or family, keeping track with your discount code
  • compete in a variety of competitions independently + as a region
  • Everyone has to create a “rep project” at the end of their semester that promotes Serengetee. Jeremy Uniszkiewicz created a video called What is Serengetee?, explaining what the company was about. Casey Daly created a Tumblr profile that highlighted her experiences working with Serengetee.

What do ambassadors get in return?

  • Discounts: Buy anything from their store at a 15% discounted rate
  • Free swag: After a certain amount of points, you can earn free t-shirts or accessories
  • Free trip to Guatemala: If your rep project happens to be the best rep project, you could win a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Guatemala, traveling with the founders of Serengetee, Jeff and Ryan
  • Rep captain: After your rep term, you can graduate to rep captain, where you can help other Serengetee reps by sharing your experience with Serengetee.
  • Reference letters: The rep captains often write reference letters for student reps for college, jobs, and scholarship applications.

Did it work?

Serengetee grew to 2,500 student reps after starting the company in 2012.

College reps are all divided into eight regions around the U.S. They have campus rep leaders –who are college students – managing each area. High school reps have two regions, East and West, which compete against each other. It creates communities within each region by fighting for the same cause.

Social media influencers like Jimmy Tatro started endorsing Serengetee, which gave them a ton of new fans.

The founders say their campus rep program is a big growth factor for them.

What we learned: university and high school students can be your greatest asset in sharing your brand on social channels.

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The Hustle is an email newsletter for savvy forward-thinkers interested in business, design, and tech. We find, explore, and uncover original content on stories that inspire (a.k.a. this badass website).

After researching other successful startup programs, this is what I set in place.

What do ambassadors do?

People who love reading the content on our site share their unique URL and invite their friends to subscribe to our email list. You need to collect four emails to become an official ambassador for The Hustle.

What do ambassadors get in return?

4 referrals = Invite to our private community, where you connect with other Hustle ambassadors from around the world.

Monthly Q&A: We host an intimate conversation in our private group with interesting entrepreneurs. Our first Q&A was with Sam & John, the founders of The Hustle. Our second Q&A was with Jack Smith, who co-founded two $100+ million startups before he was 25.

Hustle Network: Where you can list your skills and offer help to fellow hustlers. In return, you can ask for help from any hustler in the group. This will become especially useful once we reach 1,000 people, so everyone will be just an email away from getting support.

  • 10 referrals = T-shirt
  • 25 referrals = Hoodie
  • 50 referrals = Free ticket to Hustle Con 2016


This is a picture from Hustle Con 2015, our flagship conference where tickets cost $300 on average. Ambassadors who win a ticket have a chance to hang out with our team and 2,500 other attendees, in addition to seeing presentations from 15 startup founders.

Did it work?

Since launching in January, we’ve collected a few thousand emails and our community is over 100 people strong (active and growing). Join the movement here.


Every ambassador program is different. If you set up your own ambassador program, find what motivates your customers (or readers) to spread the word about your brand. Then create a program that gives them the ability to do so and support them along the way.

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