Building social change.
How Vessy.com uses membership for their global community.
Starting an online membership program isn’t always about creating a channel to fund your business; in some cases, it can create a platform for social change. For Vessy Tasheva, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) expert and founder of Vessy.com, membership made it possible to build a global community.
Vessy’s story began in 2007 when she came out publicly during her sophomore year by publishing an article in her student magazine. A native of Bulgaria, she became the first openly gay student at her university. “Even today, only 17% of Bulgarians support marriage equality,” Vessy said.
Since 2007, Vessy has become a D&I champion in multiple ways. She marched in Sofia’s 2nd Pride in 2009 and challenged people’s perception of sexuality in her presentation “Normality is an illusion” at the 2011 Forum Change. After moving to Ireland, she canvassed for marriage equality before the referendum in 2015. And in 2018, she started her D&I consulting business.
A solution from frustration.
“I started Vessy.com out of frustration,” Vessy said. “I’ve worked in companies where some employees could be making sexist, homophobic, and racist jokes and comments, and this wouldn’t be considered a “real problem” or a priority.”
2018 also became the year that she began her work on the 2019 Diversity in the Workplace Report. The goal of the report was to offer those who take D&I seriously a place to learn and relate to one another.
“A good friend and mentor of mine, Joel Semeniuk says that compulsion is what creates this obsessive urge to want to change things. It was that restlessness that pushed me to come up with the idea.”
The report covered 10 companies from 10 countries around the world and explored their approach to Diversity & Inclusion. It required extensive research and in-depth interviews with 22 individuals from companies, including Atlassian, TechStars, Swedbank, TransferWise, and Hotjar.
During her work as a consultant, she noticed a pattern of D&I professionals dealing with isolation and emotional burnout. With a high volunteer turnover rate and major knowledge leaks, Vessy saw an opportunity to offer support on a global scale.
“I thought - how can I bring D&I champions together and facilitate knowledge sharing between them, so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes on their D&I journeys and they don’t burn out? That’s how the global D&I knowledge community was born.”
Taking the community online.
She decided to foster an invite-only community to create a safe, selective environment for D&I professionals. Building that type of community meant investing time and research in identifying the right people for it. She realized the best way to fund that commitment was through a paid membership.
Knowing that developing her own payment system was not an option, Vessy began looking for membership management software. She wanted the platform to be user-friendly and not require community members to be tech-savvy. She also wanted the platform to be easy to navigate since she wouldn't have extra time and energy to work on the backend while fostering her community.
“I wanted something easy to access,” she said. “My focus was on creating a way for people to get emotional support and share knowledge that would work for anyone regardless of their industry or location.” After researching the market, Vessy decided on Memberful.
Helping people directly.
Today, the community supports Employee Research Groups (ERGs) and D&I leads through knowledge sharing and emotional support. Since Vessy.com’s private beta launch on June 4th, the invite-only community has grown to more than 40 members across 10 countries.
Members are corporations like Mozilla, Heineken, and Soundcloud, NGOs and educational institutions such as Africa Trust Group and the Immigrant Council Of Ireland. The community also includes experts, individual contributors, and CEOs of D&I tech startups.
The Vessy.com community offers knowledge sharing through messaging platforms and forums, collaboration opportunities, monthly calls, and in-person invite-only meetups and live events.
“I love working with and creating communities. Working with people directly, helping people directly, energizes me,” Vessy said.
Vessy’s public launch of the community will take place at her next live event in Berlin on September 26th followed by 2020 events in London, Berlin, San Francisco, Dublin, and Sofia, Bulgaria. She is also currently working on next year’s Diversity in the Workplace Report, which is set to publish in January.