February Month in Review

It's March! That means I'll be turning 30 in another 22 days or so. I honestly don't know how something like this could have happened. 😶

February flew by as usual, but it was another record month for Indie Hackers in terms of revenue! And there was a noticeable uptick in traffic as well. I'll go into the details below, and I'll try to keep this post short and sweet, like February itself.

Revenue and Expenses

For the third month in a row, Indie Hackers made more money than ever: $4100! For reference, I made $2200 in December and $3500 in January.

Here's where that revenue came from:

$4103 Total Revenue
$2120 Text Ads + Featured Interviews
$1040 Newsletter Promos
$300 Podcast Shoutouts
$349 Amazon Affiliates Program
$183 Other Affiliate Programs
$91 BuySellAds
$20 Donations
$753 Total Expenses
$450 Backtracks (podcast hosting + transcription)
$100 Twitter Ads (for podcast launch)
$83 MailChimp (weekly newsletter)
$41 PayPal Fees (2.9% + 30¢ per sale)
$24 Firebase (database for forum)
$20 Zapier (automation tool)
$20 Zencastr (podcast recording service)
$10 Buffer (scheduling social media posts)
$5 G Suite (Google-hosted email)

There are only two minor differences here from February:

First, I've gotten better at making money from the website itself. Previously, most of my sponsorship revenue came from the newsletter and the podcast. This is partly because I sold a lot of February's podcast slots back in January. However, it's also because I introduced lightweight website text ads this month which sold very well. By comparison, I'm still having trouble selling featured interviews to sponsors, which take a lot more effort than just giving me a line or two of text.

Second, my expenses were much higher this month than they've ever been. It turns out that transcribing, editing, and figuring out hosting/metrics for a podcast is very boring and time consuming, so it's better just to pay someone else to do it. I've been using the excellent Backtracks service for all of this, and it's been a no-brainer investment. They also have a really cool podcast player that I'm using for all my episodes on the site.

Growing Traffic with Better Content

In addition to revenue, traffic also got a nice shot in the arm this month: up to 119k sessions from 92k in January:

Daily Sessions Graph for February

Usually there's a big HN spike somewhere, but not this month.

I rarely think about traffic anymore. Earlier it was a barometer for how much ad revenue I could make. But now that I'm generating that revenue, there's no point in continuing to think about it indirectly. Given how much I used to fret over traffic, it's been interesting to look at these charts the past few months and feel… nothing. 😆

That said, traffic is also an indirect indicator of the quality and reach of the content on Indie Hackers. When it's high, it's usually because great interviews are making the rounds on Twitter and Hacker News, so I'll take that as motivation to keep doing what I'm doing!

The Indie Hackers Podcast

I finally launched the podcast this month! I don't have much to say about it, other than that launching a podcast is a lot of work.

It seemed like you guys didn't care much initially — that particular newsletter issue got fewer clicks than ever. But since then, the episodes have been downloaded over 9000 times in two weeks, which is a great start in my book! 👍

Talking to founders in real-time and recording our conversations is by far one of the most fun (and valuable) things I do for Indie Hackers, and I look forward to it every time. I'm super excited about some of the upcoming guests (John O'Nolan, Josh Pigford, and Nathan Barry, to name a few), and about experimenting with some solo episodes, too.

Please keep the feedback coming!

The Ups and Downs of Sponsorships

While I'm still far from an expert, I've learned a lot in the last few months about how to make money from sponsors. There are things I like about it, and things I don't.

Sponsors have a lot more upside than an ad network, because you can work out highly targeted deals on an individual basis. You also have the freedom to get creative, and to make sure your ads fit in with the design and culture of your website. But these benefits are also the source of a big problem: sponsorships are extremely time-consuming.

I spent something like 21 hours in February just talking to sponsors and implementing ads. And while I love my sponsors, I would much prefer to spend that time producing good interview and podcast content, and working to make the community a place where indie hackers can thrive.

Time Breakdown Pie Chart

So here's what I'm thinking:

  1. Now that most of the experimentation is out of the way, it makes sense to start automating the sponsorship stuff. I want it as close to self-serve as possible.
  2. Instead of constantly searching for new sponsors, I'd prefer to find a few long-term partners, even if that means giving them highly discounted rates.
  3. I'm going to be putting some serious thought into alternative business models that more closely align with the things that I want to put effort into.

Alternative Business Model?

The two areas of Indie Hackers that I enjoy working on are, hopefully, the two areas you guys care about the most: the interviews and the forum. But, apart from ads, how do you monetize content or communities? 🤔

Luckily, I'm not the first person to think about these things. And the answer is always pretty straightforward: create amazing content, build a valuable community, and charge for access!

The big decision is where to draw the line between free and paid. You don't want the value to be invisible to visitors, but you want to give people a good reason to join, too. It turns out that the options are pretty much limitless. Here are just a few:

  • new interviews are free for everyone, but after 1-2 weeks they're community-only
  • free visitors can read 5-10 interviews/month, but the community has no limit
  • all interviews are community-only, but members can share links to read for free
  • some questions/answers are only visible to the community
  • revenue and other stats are only visible to the community
  • add editorial content/analysis to interviews that's exclusive to the community
  • no limits on anything, but constantly ask for monthly recurring donations 😇
  • exclusive Slack room, AMAs, or other events for the community
  • special tools for the community, e.g. searching and filtering interviews
  • etc.

I've got a Google Doc with a stupidly high number of these ideas at this point. Pretty much all of them can be mixed, matched, and combined with each other, and it's been both scary and fun thinking about the tradeoffs.

For example, founders who come on Indie Hackers really want their stories to be read and shared. Thus, anything that severely limits sharing will also make it harder for me to find people to interview. That's bad for everyone, and it counteracts my entire goal here: more and better interviews.

My plan is to keep thinking about this for a week or so, and to keep you guys in the loop, too. So to kick things off, I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments below!

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