We Built A Virtual Community To 2K Members [#1 On Product Hunt]

$2K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Indie Worldwide
from Remote
started January 2019
$2,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
1.15M
alexa rank
1.18K
followers
487
subs
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello, I’m Anthony, and run a virtual community for indie founders called Indie Worldwide. Over the last couple of years, we’ve grown to over 2,000 members.

Indie Worldwide has two main revenue streams:

1) Founders’ Club

An “artisanal” version of Lunch Club. Once a week I make hand-reviewed introductions between club members I think should meet. We currently have 91 active participants and $5.5k in ARR.

we-built-a-virtual-community-to-2k-members-1-on-product-hunt

2) Sponsorships

We’ve sold about $3k in sponsorships over the last couple of months and this side of the business is quickly growing.

The community is profitable and also serves as a powerful launchpad for new products.

We’re about twice as active as similarly sized communities on Slack and the quality of discussion around everything indie hacking is very high.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Three years ago I was fired from my first job at an early-stage startup after 6 months. I was relieved. I finally felt I’d proved I could do the thing (get a software engineering job) and now I was free to do whatever I wanted.

Your first few attempts are going to suck almost no matter what, so get them out of the way quickly.

The startup is known for sharing quick videos and is now valued somewhere over $1B. In hindsight, had I stayed, my equity would have been worth a few million dollars at least. In reality, a new grad with little experience launching products was not who they needed at the time. It wasn’t likely to work out and I don’t regret being let go.

After a few months, I found my first freelance gig by volunteering at a tech conference in San Francisco. I got myself a spot in the “green room” prepping speakers and made a point to talk to everyone I could.

One of the speakers invited me to coffee to talk about their vision of a platform to make skilled nursing facilities easier to find. I offered my services on a contract basis, and just like that, I was a self-employed freelancer.

It took me a bit over a month to build the v1, leveraging everything I learned at the startup to build web apps and figuring out the rest along the way. I immediately loved the freedom of working for myself and my productivity went way up.

Furthermore, I thought the idea was great and considered joining as a co-founder (we even applied to YC), but we had some “founder drama” over the equity split and decided to part ways amicably.

we-built-a-virtual-community-to-2k-members-1-on-product-hunt

This time I wouldn’t be out of work long. An acquaintance was looking to hire for his fast-growing and well-funded startup team. They needed things done FAST. I wasn’t looking for another job, but maybe he’d be interested in hiring my team of freelance engineers?

Turns out they were interested, so I hung up the phone and reached out to two engineer friends who were both more experienced than me to quickly build the team I didn’t technically have yet.

They were in, we got a juicy contract signed, and 6 months after being fired I was the owner of a small software studio. A few days later I moved out of San Francisco and flew to Singapore, the first stop on my journey as a digital nomad. In hindsight, trying to manage my first big freelance contract and travel the world at the same time might have been part of the reason I botched the delivery.

In my first month as a freelancer, I made $10,000. And then $3,000 a month for a few months. Then I landed a $55,000 gig, hired two of my friends, delivered on time but with integration problems and lots of miscommunication with the client, and ended up back at $0 in revenue the next month.

Burned from the experience but with some profits, I spent the next several months traveling, learning Spanish, and avoiding freelancing.

I wanted to build products but I didn’t have any good ideas. I’d recently discovered the concept of indie hacking and I wanted to be just like the founder of Indie Hackers, Cortland Allen, and Pieter Levels, the founder of Nomad List.

What I did have was experience running events. In college, I’d helped run two of the largest hackathons in the world hosted at the University of Maryland: Bitcamp & Technica.

So I started gathering people. First in Boston, then DC, then Medellín, and Mexico City. I helped start or organize almost half a dozen indie hackers’ meetups in the Americas.

Indie Hackers: Medellín, Indie Hackers: Boston, and Indie Hackers: Mexico City were some of the meetups I helped out with, or in the case of Medellín, started myself.

we-built-a-virtual-community-to-2k-members-1-on-product-hunt

But every time I moved cities I’d lose the tribe I’d helped build. What I needed was an Indie Hackers: Worldwide, a virtual indie hacker meetup that I could take with me wherever I went.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

My first business was growing and selling Snap Dragon flowers at 12 years old. I sold exactly one, to my Grandma.

Later I found out about E-Commerce and tried to start a business reselling air-pistols online. I sold 0.

Freelancing has made solid money, often $10k/month or more, but I wouldn’t call it a product.

I built a few websites like FEIE Test, Good Work Cafes, and Healthcareisdumb that had no business model and made no money.

Indie Worldwide was the first product where I started by building an audience.

At first, we were just a monthly Zoom call advertised on the Indie Hackers Meetups section. Later we added a Facebook group and grew through their group recommendations for a while.

More recently, we’ve started growing quickly through launches on Product Hunt and challenges like https://100in100.co/.

Indie Worldwide has been designed organically. I try to build what I think the community needs and optimize for friendships and learning.

Describe the process of launching the business.

We didn’t have anything like a “launch” day for a long time. For more than a year and a half, we grew slowly and linearly through hosting events and people finding us through Facebook or Indie Hackers.

Our first big launch was for the Founders’ Club community on Product Hunt which about doubled the size of the group.

Our second big launch was for the 100 in 100 challenge. The goal: get 100 new paying users in 100 days. That got us to number one on Product Hunt and doubled the size of the community again.

we-built-a-virtual-community-to-2k-members-1-on-product-hunt

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

By taking the long slow path to growth for the first year we were able to establish a strong culture. Now, when we double in size, the existing community helps the new members understand how to participate.

If we’d jumped straight to hundreds of weekly users, I’m sure it would be a very different culture.

As it is, my current focus is on fostering good discussions, new friendships, and finding new ways to serve the community.

We’ve never paid to advertise. I don’t blog, though I feel like I should. No major audience partnerships yet.

We do generate content from our Podcast and recorded Q&As at events. These have led to incremental growth and keep the community engaged.

Big growth spurts have come from attention on relevant platforms like Indie Hackers, Product Hunt, and Hacker News. These work because there is a large overlap in the audience between them and us.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Indie Worldwide is currently profitable if I don’t value my time and very nearly covers my living expenses as a frugal digital nomad. If I do value my time (and I really do), then it’s still deeply in the red.

We have approximately 400 monthly active users in Slack and up to 100 people attending our live events each month. We’ve made about $3,000 in sponsorships over the last few months and Founders’ Club has also brought in about $3,500 so far. We have 2k email subscribers.

we-built-a-virtual-community-to-2k-members-1-on-product-hunt

Founders’ Club is growing by about $100 in ARR per week and growth is accelerating but we’re still early days. Growth is not necessarily the goal for Founders’ Club, the goal is increasing the value of the community by introducing the right people to each other. Creating our own knowledge economy.

Most people have found us through Twitter, Product Hunt, Hacker News, or word of mouth. I don’t have great numbers on how traffic breaks down across those channels.

Ongoing expenses are minimal, a few hundred per month and a lot of sweat.

I would love to see this community grow to reach thousands of more founders, but as we scale, we may have to transform ourselves to meet the needs of that amount of growth.

Set a time limit to your greatness.

My current vision for Indie Worldwide is for us to become a Startup School for indie hackers.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Community is a superpower but takes a long time to build. It’s taken me over two years to build a large active indie hackers community (400 monthly active users). If I started over tomorrow it would probably take me almost as long despite everything I’ve learned. Part of what gives a community legitimacy is how long it’s been around and very much who’s already in it.

The best decision I made when starting Indie Worldwide was to focus on live events and to invite interesting speakers that people looked up to. That made the community feel real and legitimate to people almost from day one.

The biggest mistake I made was making it free.

If I were to start over today, I’d start with content.

Another good move as the community grew, was focusing on building one-to-one relationships between the community members. This led directly to Founders’ Club, and that led directly to being able to monetize and start running the community full time.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

Launch. Launch fast and launch often. Your first few attempts are going to suck almost no matter what, so get them out of the way quickly. All the same, try to make them great. Set a time limit to your greatness. Give yourself a month and then launch.

Launching means advertising your product to a wider audience. You can launch the same product many times to different audiences. Find your audience before you build the product, listen to them carefully, and you’ll know what to build.

Have a way for people who like what you’re doing to follow you. An email list or a Twitter account is all you need (or both). Every launch builds your personal audience and your growing personal audience will make each new launch easier.

Learn to code, or at least learn to no-code. Learn to build products. Read about design, about good writing, about marketing, and sales. Great distribution and marketing will beat great products every time. You have to learn both or become exceptional enough in one to attract a co-founder who can do the other.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Anthony Castrio,   Founder of Indie Worldwide
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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