Hi there, I’m Ward Sandler the cofounder and CEO over at MemberSpace. Our mission is to help anyone build a sustainable membership business (without coding) anywhere on the internet! We do this by turning any part of your existing website into members-only with just a few clicks. People use us on Wordpress, Squarespace, Webflow, Wix, Weebly, Duda, Notion, HubSpot, and custom HTML sites.
Last year we 10x’d the amount of revenue our customers generated through our platform and we’re super proud to say we help people make millions of dollars every month via their memberships.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
So I actually met my cofounder Ryan in college at Steven’s Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. We both majored in Business & Technology and ended up joining the same fraternity. After college, we were working at the same startup company called TaxStream. We sold enterprise tax software to Fortune 1000 companies and the product was as boring as it sounds! BUT, the people that worked there were great and we all had a blast hanging out after work and joking around during the day. It was a fun culture.
Focusing on becoming and staying profitable gives you flexibility and freedom in your business.
However, after a few years, the company was acquired by a Fortune 500 company, Thomas Reuters, and everything changed.
Ryan and I both didn’t like the culture anymore and decided to do something about it. We both had always talked openly with each other about entrepreneurship and various business models we liked. We quickly realized to start anything we would need to hire developers and designers for the web, but that didn’t sit right with us. We figured we could try teaching ourselves first and began learning basic HTML and CSS.
Ryan ended up focusing more on the backend and programming logic as time went on. I gravitated towards design and the frontend. Eventually, we learned enough to start looking for clients and working on small projects.
We were still employed at Thomson Reuters this whole time but Ryan left towards the end of 2011 and I left in early 2012 so we could focus full-time on our (slow) growing consulting company called 320NY. Luckily Ryan and I had done well at TaxStream/Thomson Reuters so we were able to leave with significant savings and plenty of runway.
We grew 320NY over the years and refined our model to focus solely on building and supporting Squarespace websites for our clients. We generated significant recurring revenue (5-figures) from our $99/mo support package while at the same time pulling in around $1,000 a pop to build new websites (usually in under a week). We ended up building and/or supporting over 400 Squarespace sites and were well known in the community.
We kept hearing an interesting request from our clients: “How do I add membership functionality to my website?” We did some research and found there weren’t good solutions and after exploring the Squarespace forums I noticed this was a very popular topic.
So we figured we could try and build a solution. It took us a couple of months to launch a basic MVP of MemberSpace where our users could simply lock down access to specific pages of their site and require people to create an account (name + email + password) to get access to the page. That’s all it did! Our initial (free) users helped us beta test and gave us feedback + ideas for future features. We found these beta testers by posting in the Squarespace forum and on Facebook groups. Our SEO was pretty solid as well from the start since it was a specific niche e.g. "Squarespace membership site".
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
I alluded to the beginning stages in my previous answer, but after we launched the beta MVP of MemberSpace, things really took off. We were able to get a lot of interest and free sign-ups even though our product barely did anything. The reason being we think is because it still solved a core need that I had read about during my forum research - people wanted to collect emails to let people access certain pages.
Our #1 feature request was to add the ability to charge members money for access to pages. We built out a Stripe integration and in April 2016 launched the feature. That’s also when we started to charge for MemberSpace. We were actually using a special version of MemberSpace to run MemberSpace so we didn’t have the ability to charge customers until they had the ability to charge their members. I think dogfooding your own product is super valuable for so many reasons.
Since then, we’ve been steadily growing every year and expanding our team. Our first hires were support reps because we really value support and providing an amazing experience for our customers. Our main marketing channels were word of mouth and SEO so the more we cared for our customers and their success, the more they talked about us and left 5-star reviews. We still follow this strategy today.
After a few years went by we decided to expand MemberSpace to work on other website platforms (which was a popular feature request). We now integrate with Wordpress, Wix, Webflow, Weebly, Duda, Notion, HubSpot, and custom HTML websites. The cool thing is customers can move their membership easily if they ever want to change their website CMS and there won’t be any interruption for members. We continue to look ahead and figure out other CMS platforms we can expand to like Carrd and Jimdo.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are profitable and growing. We have thousands and thousands of customers and our team is up to 15 people (with a mix of employees and contractors). Our customers are generating millions of dollars every month through our platform and that’s growing each year as well! In the short term, we want to expand our features and educational articles to make it even easier to use MemberSpace for more use cases (like 1-on-1 coaching memberships).
As mentioned, most of our growth has been through SEO and word-of-mouth from our happy customers. But we’ve been trying to expand our social media reach as well as produce more written content to help people be successful with MemberSpace.
The future looks bright for MemberSpace. There is a huge and growing wave of people out there who want to create their own membership sites - whether it’s for yoga classes, investment advice, or even knitting how-to videos. People now more than ever want to have a side hustle and turn it into their main revenue source where they are in control of the business and have more flexibility in their lives to do what they want.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We’ve learned a ton so far on this journey and I’m truly excited for what we’ll learn in the future (there’s still a lot we do NOT know).
So far though, staying laser-focused on our customers and what they want has always been a guiding principle for us. We don’t pay much attention to competitors since they can easily lead you astray. For example, say you see a competitor build out feature X and you get envious and try to replicate it. You have no idea if that feature was even successful for your competitor - you’re just guessing. A better approach we’ve found is listening to the main benefits your happy customers already like and doubling down on making those even better. And then on the other hand, also listening to the main improvements your happy customers want and delivering that for them.
In regards to hiring, we’ve tried to only hire when it hurts and that has mostly served us well so far. Being profitable is super important and provides a lot of mental reassurance when you have a down month. Optimizing your business to become and stay profitable is probably the #1 thing I’d recommend to folks out there in the early stages. Profitability gives you more flexibility and freedom to make big bets on product decisions and also to do the right thing for your customers (e.g. refunding them when they ask for it).
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
One methodology we’ve been using lately is the Superhuman product-market-fit engine Here is an article explaining each step of the process. We use this engine to codify the main benefits our happy customers already like about MemberSpace (so we can double down on them) and also discover the main enhancements they want (so we can build them).
We use Basecamp for project management and are very happy with it. They have super reasonable pricing and the software is flexible enough to adapt to many different processes we need it for without being too rigid.
We use Stripe exclusively at MemberSpace to charge our customers and also to allow them to charge their members. We believe it’s the best payment gateway out there and generally continues to get better.
We use Screenjar to help with customer support. It allows our team to send a link to a customer which will take a screen capture video (and audio) of them so we can see exactly what their issue is. The customers don’t need to download anything either, it’s easy.
The rest of the tools we use to run MemberSpace are pretty standard and reliable: Github, Codeship, Mailchimp, HelpScout, Wistia (video hosting), Zoom, Snappa (simple graphic editing), Profitwell (SaaS analytics), Fathom Analytics (privacy-first traffic analytics), BrowserStack (browser testing), Balsamiq (wireframes), Honeybadger (error monitoring), AWS, Heroku, Typeform, and Postmark (application email).
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Rework and It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and DHH are two great books that impact how we think about business and the culture we want to cultivate. I’ve re-read both multiple times.
Deep Work by Cal Newport and Company of One by Paul Jarvis are also great. Deep Work helped us think about protecting everyone’s time better so they can focus and not get interrupted often. Company of One helps ground you in the idea that you don’t need to grow for growth’s sake and to only grow when needed. Otherwise, you’re likely to flame out and get crushed under increasing expenses.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Tough question since universal truths in entrepreneurship are hard to come by and everyone’s experience will be different and uniquely challenging. That being said, here’s my best guess.
As mentioned previously, focusing on becoming and staying profitable gives you flexibility and freedom in your business. Whether that means the freedom to hire another support rep without worry or going on a month-long vacation. You want the freedom to make the choices you need to make and not be constrained because you can’t afford it. Just because you have profit doesn’t mean you need to spend it. It’s ok to save for a rainy day or potential storms ahead which will inevitably come.
Finding balance in your personal and work life as an entrepreneur is a forever challenge and requires adjustments month by month. When you’re first starting you likely do need to invest extra time and energy to get your business off the ground and on the road to profitability. However, that doesn’t mean pulling all-nighters, eating junk food, and doing nothing but work 7 days a week. You still need to carve out some semblance of balance otherwise you’ll be headed for burnout quickly.
Make sleeping, drinking water, getting movement in, and doing a hobby a priority even in the beginning. It will help you to step away from the business and think about it in a new light when you’re not constantly focused on work. You need to keep your mind and body healthy otherwise you will undermine yourself. You don’t want to get into a bad habit of working all the time and becoming progressively unhealthier. It’s much harder to break the longer you do it and the older you get. Also by getting into this practice of taking care of yourself, you can expand on it as your business achieves some level of stability.
Good luck to everyone out there!
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