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The Signal

Business analysis and trends to help entrepreneurs like you stay ahead of the curve

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Date Published: 
November 24, 2020

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🧠 Genesis

// What’s the basis for this report?

Community is big business. As individuals become more disconnected than ever, and social media deprives us of genuine connection, more and more people are turning to vertical communities in their own niches to find the connection they crave. Reddit is a prime example of this – where sub-reddits each have their own MO, vibe and rules.

One of these communities which has succeeded is Indie Hackers. IH is a place where makers and entrepreneurs go to hang out, discuss, and share the stories of their businesses.

This report looks at what has driven the success of Indie Hackers from 0 users, to being acquired by Stripe in 2017 – only 8 months after it was started.

🌱 Early Days

// Company background and founding

Founder, Courtland Allen, set out to scratch his own itch. He was manually scouring through Hacker News trying to find and read about successful businesses. He realized others were doing this too.

One of the motivations and founding principles of IH was that the success stories of other bigger businesses seemed unrelatable to an average programmer trying to build a small saas product. He figured there would be small-time founders

The site was launched on Hacker News on August 11. Three months later it had 128k visits per month, and Allen’s newsletter hits 4k subscribers.

🌐 The Industry

// What other players are there

Niche Community Sites:

Indiehackers: Connect with developers who are sharing the strategies and revenue numbers behind their companies and side projects.

  • Monthly Visits: 607.29k
  • Visit Duration: 4:49 mins
  • Pages/visit: 4.64
  • Bounce rate: 48.02% A community of over 500k developers. “A place where coders share, stay up-to-date and grow their careers”.

  • Monthly traffic: 1.1M Visits
  • 26 Employees

Product Hunt: A place to discover the best new products in tech.

  • Monthly traffic: 1.4M Visits

Something Awful: An online comedy forum/community

  • Monthly traffic: 2.97M Visits
  • Visit time: 20:11 mins

Compare the metrics below to Facebook's:

  • Visit time: 10:55 mins
  • 8.46 pages/visit
  • Bounce rate: 31.89%

Bigger Generic Communities:

Discord: Your place to talk. Whether you’re part of a school club, gaming group, worldwide art community, or just a handful of friends that want to spend time together, Discord makes it easy to talk every day and hang out more often.

  • Monthly Visits: 898.59 M
  • Visit Duration: 7:51 mins
  • Pages/visit: 8.91
  • Bounce rate: 44.72%

YPO (Young Presidents Organization): "We are the global leadership community of extraordinary chief executives. Together we become better leaders and better people."

  • Founded in 1952
  • 29 000+ members
  • 142 countries
  • Over 450 local and regional 'chapters' worldwide
  • Members employ a combined 22 million + people
  • Members' companies generate a combined $9 trillion USD revenue (equivalent of the world's 3rd largest economy by GDP)
  • Membership fee = $3525.00 annual + same amount as initiation.
  • Estimated revenue (though YPO is not for profit): $102 million USD (Not including initiation fees and local chapter costs) The social network for meeting new people

  • Monthly Visits: 25.41 M
  • Visit Duration: 12:49 mins
  • Pages/visit: 18.85
  • Bounce rate: 21.31%
  • Founded in 2004
  • Majority US based (33.98%). Next biggest is UK (6.67%)
  • Sold to Meet Me for $60M in 2017 after acquiring Hi 5
  • The combined company pulled in $44M in AR in 2016, with 5.4M active monthly users Makes it easy to meet and socialize with new people through games, shared interests, friend suggestions, and more

  • Monthly Visits: 8.72 M
  • Visit Duration: 11:34 mins
  • Pages/visit: 17.96
  • Bounce rate: 22.97%

Twoo: Meet millions of new people from all over the world. Have a good chat, make new friends, or even find the love of your life

  • Monthly Visits:17 M
  • Visit Duration: 8:48 mins
  • Pages/visit: 12.48
  • Bounce rate: 22.04%

📈 Trends to Monitor

// Quick thoughts on what you should be keeping an eye on in the industry

  • Introverts require social connection, too.
  • Communities need managers and moderators.
  • Communities need places to hang out, host their resources, organize events, facilitate communication etc:
  • ($5.6M in funding)
  • Reaching decision-makers is big business.
  • Search interest in accountability partners is on the rise:
Image Source: @Jakobgreenfeld on Twitter

⚠ Takeaways

// What can you learn from this business

1: When creating a community, culture is everything.

Courtland Allen created a culture of sharing, and transparency. Sharing numbers, thoughts and feelings is the norm. The more people who do it, the more others are invited to do it.

2: Getting the flywheel started is difficult

There is upfront work required in any community. You have to generate the culture and conversation.
Allen started the community off the back of his interesting interviews. What interesting content can you create which will nurture conversation?

3: Sponsorships are the best way to get to revenue-generating fast

Memberships are only viable when there is a clear value proposition, and the value can't be gained elsewhere.

It also helps to have user investment. Once they have created connections on the platform, there is an investment that makes going elsewhere unattractive.

4: Build a moat before going with a membership fee

If you are plan to charge people for being a member, you have to make sure your community has a big enough 'moat' so that your members can't all go somewhere else and get the same value, without paying.

Ways to increase 'community inertia' include:

  1. Having a repository of resources and tools that is continually growing. Losing access to this would be a big loss.
  2. Build a powerful 'you help me, I help you' culture. When members of the organization engage with each other inside the walls of your community there should be a culture of giving that doesn't exist in the every-(wo)man-for-(her)himself world outside. This usually starts with the founding members.
  3. A constant reminder of the value you're getting. Do summaries of the week's interactions, resources and conversations from the group. Keep reminding members of what they get from being part of this community.

5: Additional perks sweeten the deal

Large membership organizations (like YPO, for example) have an extremely targeted and engaged community. Businesses that are looking to target these individuals will often partner with you to get access to your audience. This means being able to offer discounts and special offers to your subscribers.

6: Don't leave the gates open

To curate a valuable culture, members should be vetted.

Additionally, by only allowing access to certain people, you create scarcity, which can sometimes drive further demand.

📕 The Playbook

// Steps for creating a successful business like this one

1: Look at your hobbies and interests.

  • Where do those people hang out?
  • Are there others with the same interests?
  • Is there a place where these people hang out already?
  • Are the users of the platform engaged? (Check last post and posting frequency)
  • Can it be improved?

Or, if you are just in it for the business, look at trending Subreddit communities ( is a goodie):

  • How can you create a better experience for them?
  • Is there an existing external community?
  • How much inertia is there associated with the subreddit (How hard will it be to lure them away?)
  • Does it lend itself to a specific community?

2: Speak to at least ten other people like you.

  • Twitter, Instagram DM’s, Email, In-person.
  • Find out what their interests are, problems are, and where they like to hang out.
  • Pitch your solution: “If I built an online community where you could do x, y and z, would you use it?”
  • If the majority say yes, ask them to be beta testers and early adopters.

3: Niche down

  • Don’t try and appeal to your whole market. It’s likely that you won’t win against any of the big incumbents.
  • D2jsp was started for players of the game Diablo II – that’s how niche you can go.

4: Find a revenue model

  • Direct Advertising (not Display ads)
  • Memberships
  • Affiliate

5: Find a platform to host it on

  • Consider the features you will need
  • Consider the engagement frequency
  • Consider where your users are already (will they have to sign up elsewhere)
  • Consider how easy it will be to bring them back to your place of meeting

6: Create a content schedule.

  • You have to be consistent in engagement
  • Shareable content will grow your user list. Don’t advertise your community. Create content that appeals to your ideal users, and attract them using that. I found out about IH through a Google search for a topic I was trying to understand. I wasn’t looking to join a community.

7: Reach out manually to your first users.

  • Reddit sub communities (careful!)
  • Quora
  • Facebook Groups
  • Go to where they are and offer value

8: Create Product-led growth

  • This will start with your content. Try and work in an element of 'shareability' to it.
  • Encourage users to find and invite other people like themselves
  • Leverage distribution of other places where your target audience is:
  • Medium,
  • Reddit,
  • Facebook Groups.

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