Thought Leader Pat Flynn Shares the Keys to Attracting Superfans

Pat Flynn started an online business in 2008 after getting laid off from a job in architecture. Since then, he’s built Smart Passive Income into a thriving online community complete with a blog, podcast and online courses.

The Smart Passive Income Podcast has been downloaded over 58 million times, and Flynn’s insights on online entrepreneurship and digital marketing have been featured by the New York Times and Forbes magazine, among other publications. He’s written several books, the latest of which is “Superfans: The Easy Way to Stand Out, Grow Your Tribe, and Build a Successful Business.”

We caught up with Flynn to discuss why superfans matter, how startups can cultivate intense loyalty and more.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

StartupNation: What’s the difference between a fan and a superfan?

Pat Flynn: If you want to go into the music industry, for example, a fan is somebody who loves a certain group’s songs, so they turn up the volume when the song comes on, and they might even buy an album or two.

A superfan is the person who’s going to travel eight hours to watch a set. They’re going to wait for you backstage and want to take a selfie with you. They’re going to come home with all of these amazing memories and become an even bigger fan.

Let’s talk about how this applies if you’re an entrepreneur who creates products. A fan might be somebody who is subscribed to your email list, and they’re excited when you come out with new things. They may or may not buy a new product when you come out with it.

But a superfan is somebody who will know about those products that are coming out before everybody else does. They’re going to be the first in line to buy it, and they might even camp outside of your store the day or two before it comes out. We see this sort of in the Apple space, with superfans who are literally camping outside of stores.

Superfans are so important for businesses today. They’re created by those magical moments you build for them over time. Your superfans are always going to be there for you.

Related: Accomplished Entrepreneurs Share Rules of Thumb for Getting Your Content to Stand Out

StartupNation: Why are superfans so important to startups and other businesses right now?

Pat Flynn: We’re starting to see this on social media. Not every one of your followers is seeing your messages. On Facebook, there are algorithms that are being put into place so that only the most engaged people actually see your stuff.

I have nearly 200,000 YouTube subscribers, yet a video will only get a few thousand views, unless it happens to be one that YouTube decides to promote. We’ve been building our businesses in other people’s sandboxes. It’s about time that we take control so that no matter what happens out there, we’re always going to have this group of superfans.

A lot of us feel like superfans are only for things like musicians and artists and actors and actresses, but my first superfan came about with my architecture-related website when I was helping people pass the LEED exam. I remember after creating a study guide for that test, a woman named Jackie emailed me. At the end of the email she said, “I’m a huge fan of yours, Pat, thank you.”

I didn’t understand how she could become a fan of somebody who just helped her pass an exam. But she had just struggled so much with it until she found my stuff. There were a lot of moments when I communicated with her over time that really made her understand that I actually cared. After she passed that exam, she then convinced everybody in her office to buy my guide, too. I saw 25 additional customers come in from her office. That one fan turned into 25 additional sales.

For businesses starting today, you don’t need a lot of superfans to build a supportive, reliable and fulfilling brand. You just need 1,000 true fans.

If you had 1,000 true fans who loved whatever it is that you create, and if they were to support you with just $100 a year each, that’s a six figure business right there from just 1,000 true fans.

StartupNation: As a startup scales, maintaining close relationships with people becomes more challenging. How do you deal with that?

Pat Flynn: Scalability is difficult. You need to understand the kinds of people who are in your brand. They are likely going to be different segments of people in your audience. And as a result of that, you can speak their language. The beauty of this is when you even highlight just one person in those groups, you’re actually highlighting everybody at the same time.

I always recommend that brands find some of their most engaged audience members, even some superfans, and highlight them. Then a person listening on the other end will go, “Oh, that person is just like me. Wow, this (business owner, artist, etc.) is actually paying attention to their people.” That inspires them, and that motivates them to continue to take action.

I also love getting people excited about what’s coming, and getting them a little bit behind the scenes. This is where you can provide those really cool moments for people on a scalable way. You can be open and vulnerable, and share some of your plans. Or if you’ve made some mistakes in your business, just share those mistakes. People love and gravitate toward that authenticity, and people love to see what’s happening behind the scenes.

I feel that every brand should be a little bit more open with their process, and how they do what they do. It’s sort of like a factory tour. When you go on a factory tour at a chocolate factory or brewery, not only are you getting access to the inside of that space, you also get to see the quality of the products and you get to meet the people. You have experiences and make memories that other people don’t have. You remember those things, and you then share those moments. Really, the whole idea of superfans is making people feel special.

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StartupNation: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or the book?

Pat Flynn: The book is a result of the superfans that have been so supportive of me over time. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the superfans.

It’s become an amazing insurance policy for my brand to shift my focus from building that brand from the outside and just focusing on those experiences on the inside. This is where I feel business is headed. If you can get in early on this, then you’re going to win.

“Superfans: The Easy Way to Stand Out, Grow Your Tribe, and Build a Successful Business” is available now wherever books are sold and can be purchased via

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