Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

Brands like Airbnb and Peloton that have been able to build a loyal community around their products, may seem to have cultivated that community size through an alchemical mix of marketing spend, timing, and luck. But it doesn’t have to be so opaque — especially not for businesses that make community building an essential part of their blueprint to growth, even from the early days. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja talk to Jonathan Mildenhall, former CMO of Airbnb and founder and Chairman of strategic branding firm, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, about ways to articulate the narrative of a modern brand – with community building as a key element. Jonathan walks us through a four-pillar process for creating strategic blueprints to build brand narrative, and tips for B2B brands to elicit the sort of emotional resonance that B2C brands have found with customers. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The four pillars of a modern 21st century brand that’s built to scale. Community isn’t just something that comes once a brand has been built. In fact, having a vocal, loyal community is one of the four core pillars of building a modern-day company. In addition to community building, the other three pillars for twenty-first century brands are being purpose driven, making sure your technology is well-designed and human, and focusing on storytelling.
  • How to perform a deep analysis on your own company and create a strategic blueprint to activate on each pillar. One of the first things Jonathan and his team at TwentyFirstCenturyBrand do when building out a new brand is to sit down with the founders and leaders of the company to do what they call a deep extraction. The purpose is to get a better understanding of the brand’s potential size and aspirations. “I don’t just mean in total numbers and size of revenue, but in terms of its cultural impact. We like to say we’re revealing the soul and purpose of the company back to the founding team,” Jonathan says.
  • Specific strategies on building a community that can meaningfully drive growth and brand perception. When Jonathan was the CMO of Airbnb, they had to get creative about how to use their marketing spend, which was a fraction of their competitors’ budgets. Jonathan’s team decided to activate Airbnb’s community of hosts to tell stories, by providing them photographers to take photos of their rentals and turn that into marketing collateral. Those community stories helped drive Airbnb’s initial brand narrative and turned those same hosts into vocal advocates for Airbnb with cities and potential users. Per Jonathan, “if you get community right, you can reduce acquisition costs, content creation costs, and you can drive referrals, word of mouth, and the brand narrative in ways that are unprecedented for marketers.” 
  • Why strategic community building has to come from the C-suite. Community building is an ongoing process and a two-way conversation; not just when a brand needs the community to telegraph its approval. It’s why Jonathan believes that community engagement should come from company leadership, who can maintain that dialog with followers of the brand and the wider community: “The chief executive’s voice and presence needs to be heard.”
  • Lessons B2B marketers can take from B2C campaigns when it comes to eliciting an emotional connection. Whether you’re a B2B company or a B2C company, Jonathan urges marketing teams to think about more than selling a product, and instead focus on the human being receiving the message, and whether that message moves them emotionally. His advice for B2B marketers? “I would love it if B2B businesses made a greater effort to move audiences emotionally and treat them as human beings, as opposed to somebody on the other side of a business transaction,” says Jonathan.

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Elevating Community Building to Drive Meaningful Growth


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