My Startup Story #15: Finding a Sense of Community

Once our beta was finally up and running without any critical bugs, it did not take long to discover our super users. With help from our community growth team, we captured the creative hearts of birders, herpers (reptiles and amphibians), scuba divers, big cat lovers, skydivers, and more. In just a few weeks, we were on our way to several hundred content contributors from all corners of the planet; Madagascar to Australia to Canada. Some of these contributors were local to San Diego and were so inspired by the Mammalz mission that they took it upon themselves to organize in-person community events.

A flock of San Diego bird photographers at our community-organized birding workshop.
Mammalz team member Sabrina holding one of her first snakes on a “herp hike”.

The beta was on fire — in a good way this time — as were our spirits. However, our fuel was not unlimited. If you remember in my last chapter, we had reached the end of our runway two months after the beta launched. By this point, the end of 2019, my credit cards were all maxed out. I was living at my parents’ house, spending as little as I could. All of my side gigs had diminished after working for Mammalz full-time. Meanwhile, the beta users were uploading content so frequently that we had to upgrade our data storage twice. Despite my concerns about our collective finances, we were not discouraged. There was nothing that was going to make Rob or me stop working as hard as we could to keep this company afloat. If only we could secure what investments we needed to get over this hump and launch our app for real.

This is where the beta community truly shined.

Why not give our community a chance to own part of the company? Rob and I knew there would be a point in time when this would make sense. We were building a community for a cause everyone was passionate about, and now, they had a real taste of what it could become. With help from Wefunder, a crowdfunding platform allowing startups to offer future equity to investors for as little as $100, we launched a campaign that would do just that. We called on our community to help us at our greatest time of need, and once again, they surprised us.

Within the first 24 hours of our public launch, we hit the minimum of what we needed to make it through the end of beta and prepare for an official launch. 2020 was off to a wonderful start. The five of us were working harder than ever to develop more strategic partnerships, share our vision with future members of our community, and keep our creators engaged with creative content challenges.

Each month, we were seeing engagement metrics on our platform that were crushing the industry standards, and each week, we were securing more investments through our Wefunder campaign. At this pace, we were going to comfortably exceed what we needed to launch on April 22nd, the world’s 50th Earth Day. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect… or so we thought.

It turns out that the timing couldn’t have been more terrible. Just as our Wefunder campaign was hitting its third benchmark, COVID-19 arrived in San Diego. The stock markets plummeted. All of our interested investors pulled out, all of our investment events were canceled, and in what seemed like minutes, our world turned upside down.

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Alexander Finden

Co-founder of Mammalz, underwater cinematographer and Divemaster