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How to Build a Community, With Sarah K. Peck

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In this episode of our series, The World’s Most Interesting People, I sat down with Sarah K. Peck. Sarah is the creator and executive director of the Startup Pregnant podcast that shares stories of women business founders and leaders in their pioneering journeys through both entrepreneurship and parenting. You also can find Sarah writing on her personal blog.

Meet Sarah 

When I first found out I was pregnant, listening to Sarah’s podcast, Startup Pregnant, was the recommendation I heard over and again. I started listening and I was absolutely hooked. 

When Sarah first found out she was pregnant, she felt lonely. She didn’t know who to ask for advice or who to listen to. At the time, she was working at a startup with mostly male colleagues. She didn’t have anyone telling her what it looked like to be a working parent or an ambitious mother. In a nutshell, she began finding the answers she had been seeking in interviews with mothers who were entrepreneurs. She hit record and voila! Startup Pregnant was born. 

Virality: Ideas that Catch 

In the very beginning, when you first launched into this journey, did you have any idea how big the show would get?

Sarah answered: “I thought I was writing a book at first. So, I put together a big book proposal. Their feedback? ‘Your story isn’t quite enough. We want to hear about more than just you.’ So, I started interviewing people.”

As a pregnant working woman, Sarah wasn’t sure she had the time or energy to take on another unpaid project. She had the idea to ask for a few sponsors to help her start the show. A few months in, she thought, “Hmm, this looks like a business, smells like a business and I’m making money from this.”

When you’re talking about sponsorship, when you’re talking about approaching people, how does one even begin this process?

Sarah’s personal blog was the first step. She had been writing on this platform for a long time. So she put up a simple announcement stating her desire to start a podcast and put out a blanket call for sponsorship. She also contacted a few good friends who were already in businesses related to motherhood and startups: “Do you want to get in front of a related audience? Here’s your chance to get in at the ground level.”

What was the most surprising thing that happened from putting out that call?

“The interesting thing is that everyone I asked said yes,” Sarah told us. Additionally, two people reached out to her cold to sponsor the podcast. Remember, your audience doesn’t have to be millions of people! In Sarah’s case, an audience of a thousand pregnant entrepreneurs was a great place to start!

Action Step: If you have an idea you want to share with the world, start by finding your voice. Second, put out the call. It never hurts to ask!

How to Rev Your Idea Engine 

In the very beginning, what were the first three things you did to push the podcast out into the world? Did you send it to one VIP? Did you contact a media company?

From Sarah: “We recorded the show in August 2017. I started promoting the show by reaching out to people I thought were really interesting and asked if I could interview them.”

Sarah’s network has grown as her interviewees share the podcast episode with their network and then those followers come back to Sarah. She set up the podcast as its own domain name since she didn’t want to assume everyone who was reading her blog also was a pregnant entrepreneur. 

Did you take out ads? How do you think it caught fire so quickly?

Sarah reminds us that she doesn’t have 300,000 people listening to her show. It’s a targeted, niche audience. 

“For the people it serves, I get emails all the time that say, ‘I started listening to your podcast. I’m binge-listening to it. I’ve listened to every episode,'” Sarah explained. 

But on the other hand, she tells us that as she’s riding the Manhattan subway, she knows the people next to her probably don’t know about her (at least not yet, anyway), and she’s fine with that. 

When did you know this was something? Something big?

Sarah’s Aha! moment: “When I was five months pregnant, I was working at a startup, and I was super sweaty. It was, like, 40 degrees in New York, and I was wearing too many clothes. I couldn’t find any information that served me that was honest, told the truth about pregnancy, that wasn’t black or white. There were so many explicit do’s and don’ts.”

There’s no one right way to be an entrepreneur and there’s no one right way to parent.

Sarah K. Peck

“That’s when I typed the email to pitch the book proposal,” she said. 

And that failed book proposal was the best thing that could have happened to Sarah. She was forced to reevaluate her story and how she could bring real change to a community of women. 

Since August 2017, with the launch of the podcast, was there an influencer or a media hit or a tweet that served as the tipping point?

Sarah told me she didn’t have a big email list to start with. So, she started emailing people one by one. Her goal was to email 100 people every week. 

There can be a brute force attached with virality. I just told people about it. People often tend to overlook this as the first step

Sarah K. Peck 

In her direct emails, she encouraged the reader to share her show with a friend, mother or anyone they thought may find the show helpful. The next step was getting influencers on the show. Danielle LaPorte has been the biggest guest so far. Sarah told us that Danielle was very generous about sharing the interview to her own network.

I’ve tried to reciprocate that generosity when I’m being interviewed on someone else’s show.

Sarah K. Peck

Action Step: Ask people to listen, do, buy, read. And be generous on both ends for sharing content and supporting someone else’s content and network.

Cultivating Your Community 

You have created a community around Startup Pregnant. Do you think you purposefully created that or did it evolve magically?

In the beginning, Sarah devoted a lot of time and energy to a free community resource you’re all probably familiar with: The Facebook Group. For four months, it was crickets, with little engagement or member activity. 

Sarah stuck with it and never lost faith in the process or the community. 

You need to show up enough times for people to feel comfortable to engage.

Sarah K. Peck

The way Sarah viewed this process was like a science project. She knew it would take multiple exposures for her community to feel as though the space she was offering was safe. Since the group started, membership has grown, engagement has improved and she even has an application process for new members to keep the group a safe place for entrepreneurial moms. 

Action Step: Success often isn’t instantaneous. Keep the faith that your idea can be something. Sarah recommends the three-month experimental process. Try something for three months. If after three months, you’re aren’t gaining traction or seeing results, give yourself permission to reevaluate or change course. 

Do you have a specific mission?

Startup Pregnant has 12 core values, a mission and vision for the company and brand. 

If you don’t know what you stand for, it can be really hard to know how to make decisions.

Sarah K. Peck

Sarah told us she’s viewing this year through an experimental lens. She may not have the perfect business solution today, but she’s surely working on it. She trusts that by pursuing this project, the next sets of ideas will begin revealing themselves. Even big ideas, such as solving the maternity leave crisis in the United States. 

To me, I see this project like my personal MBA. I’ve spent the last two years studying people, seeing the systems, studying the problems, and I have a ton of business ideas. But I’m also trusting that through this methodical process, there’s going to be a powerhouse hit in the next couple years.

Sarah K. Peck

You can follow along with Sarah’s journey at Startup Pregnant

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