From Hobby Product to 3,000 Users/Month

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hi, I’m Aleksey Weyman. I’m the founder and editor of Millennial Moderator. My background is in cloud computing as well as the creative industry, where I’m a musician and record label manager. More info can be found in my portfolio.

Millennial Moderator is an online publication that finds and shares informative bits of knowledge (we call them “Mods”) about emerging topics and ideas that are revolutionizing their respective industries. Our mission is to be a treasure chest of practical tips for our readers, helping them improve various aspects of their lives and showing them things they may not have known — but should. Millennial Moderator is not an online newspaper, but rather a guide of applicable tips and methods for improving the quality of life in areas like business, technology, and lifestyle.

Right now we publish three Mods weekly, all of which can be read on our home page millennialmoderator.com. We also post tips and interesting #themoreyouknow content on our social media and mailing list. We are averaging about 3,000 readers each month and around $500 in revenue per month.

Millenial Moderator homepage

What motivated you to get started with Millennial Moderator?

I was originally interested in web development which led me to learn how to build a website from scratch. I’m also very interested in how emerging technologies can disrupt entire industries. Combine those interests with my Bachelor's in Technology Innovation Management from the University of Washington, and a tech/news blog became the obvious way for me to channel my interests into something productive. I’ve also always considered myself to be a creative person, so I take any opportunity I have to create something awesome.

Because Millennial Moderator started as a hobby project, I had no need to validate the concept. The first several months of publication were just me testing how to use a CDN, create social media sharing links, format pages across multiple devices, etc. It was when I started sharing some of the Mods with my friends that I realized there was a genuine interest in what Millennial Moderator had to say. I created social media pages as an extension of the content, as well as a mailing list where I could send the latest Mods directly for people to read. Soon people started sharing the posts on their own networks, which to this day continues to bring in new traffic.

You absolutely need to have an online presence everywhere, but only need a few reliable avenues of traffic to make a blog thrive.

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What went into building the initial product?

The biggest resource that went into the building of Millennial Moderator was time. Since I had close to no technical expertise in web development, I spent hundreds of hours taking courses online and just getting my hands dirty in communities like Github, Stack Overflow, and even Reddit, learning from others and asking questions. I would say that it took about a month to build a decent MVP, and then another six months before the blog really earned its character in terms of layout, design, and SEO footprint. It was around that six-month mark that I also began to understand the value that MM had for readers, and the entire game changed after that.

As a creative I’m a bit of a night owl, so much of Millennial Moderator’s infancy was nurtured in the late hours of the night after working my day job. The initial eagerness to build MM came from a similar creative excitement as when a musician has their ideas freely flowing, or a cartoonist laughs to themselves. That creative eagerness still exists; however, it has shifted from technical design to the excitement of showing people all these great things that they could and should know about. Like having your name carved on a microchip and sent to Mars with NASA in 2020. Or getting a $2500 tax credit from the IRS to help offset education expenses. Or some clever Google Easter Eggs that you can play around with in your down time. There’s so many useful things that people should know exist — our mission at Millennial Moderator is to be a treasure chest for that kind of information.

Millenial Moderator blog post

How have you attracted users and grown Millennial Moderator?

After we hit our six-month milestone and shifted our focus from the platform to our readers, we quickly realized that we needed to find a way to draw readers in consistently. Never having grown a blog before, I spent the majority of my time researching methods and strategies for generating organic traffic from other bloggers who have had success. SEO became increasingly important, but also the importance of just having high-quality content in terms of the Mods themselves. We started implementing various giveaways and contests on social media that involved following our accounts, or signing up for our mailing list in exchange for a free e-book or something similar. We also branched out to other social platforms for exposure such as Pinterest and Medium, both of which we still use to this day. As we continued to add third-party accounts and consistent posting cycle to our marketing plan, we began to see an increase in monthly readers.

Month Readers
Dec. '18 100
Jan. '19 300
Feb. '19 1000
Mar. '19 1800
Apr. '19 2200
May '19 2600
Jun. '19 3000

Some of our most effective methods for drawing traffic to our site have been our mailing list and social media referrals, where we combine organic engagement (commenting on people's posts) with automated content using platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social. However it took some tweaking to find the right schedule cycle and frequency. We use Google Analytics to track all of our traffic and by using that information over a period of time, we’ve been able to identify the best times to post. We also use Heatmaps, which allow you to see which parts of your webpage is getting the most physical engagement — touching to highlight text, clicking on ads, swiping the page down, etc.

We found out rather quickly that some social media sites were getting barely any click-through traffic, despite the account getting high amounts of likes/followers. One of these was Twitter. We saw that people were liking our tweets but never clicking on the links to go to the article itself. After some research, we found that clicking a foreign URL in a tweet is apparently a high barrier of entry for our readers (can’t blame them), so we set up customized Twitter cards which turn all of our URLs on Twitter into clickable images.

After that, our Twitter referral traffic increased 10-fold. Just goes to show the importance of minimizing barriers of entry as well as the need to differentiate your marketing channels; Twitter makes up about 30% of our referral traffic.

My advice for anyone trying to attract users is to start by pushing your content through as many channels as you can, then evaluate which channels are the most effective and doubling efforts on using those. It’s also important to optimize your content for higher ranking in Google search results. You absolutely need to have an online presence everywhere, but only need a few reliable avenues of traffic to make a blog thrive. The big three social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) are a must; but I also recommend trying out sites like Medium and LinkedIn, especially if your product or service is writing-based.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Millennial Moderator makes money in three ways:

  1. Affiliate networks and banner ads. I categorize these together because they involve a certain amount of autonomous engagement — readers are presented an ad unit and they make a choice to whether or not to click on it based on their level of interest. The only design that goes into this revenue model is selecting relevant ad content to be shown to readers. That and the placement of the ad units, though we really don’t like to make our ads too intrusive. There are tons of affiliate networks to choose from but I’ve found AWIN to be the easiest and most rewarding to use.

  2. Affiliate marketing. This is different from affiliate networks in several ways. The biggest difference is that affiliate marketing is decided via an agreement with a particular business entity. It requires a personal connection with the business which makes it more tedious up front, but has greater long-term potential and offers a more lucrative business model. Depending on the type of business we partner with, we might write product reviews or simply mention their product within a relative Mod before pointing readers to the business's landing pages where they can learn more. This is a great opportunity for small businesses and startups who are trying to get more traffic/leads to their sites, and we are always open to working with new businesses to help them capture leads and ultimately improve sales. However, we do have a high standard of quality we hold our business partners to. After all, our priority has and always will be our readers, and we only want to show them the best of what’s available.

  3. Donations. We've been fortunate enough to have a very supportive community that finds value in what we do. All donations are accepted via PayPal on our donate page. Funny story: I recently implemented a BTC/ETH donate address on Millennial Moderator as an additional way to donate, and in the short time it’s been active we’ve collected the same amount of BTC donations as USD since the donation page's inception at the start of 2019. I guess it pays to keep up with the times!

Millenial Moderator donation page

Thankfully, platforms like AWIN handle all of the payment processing on their end for affiliate ad networks. B2B affiliate transactions are simply invoiced and paid however is most convenient (PayPay, Square, Wire, etc.) for both parties; however I think it’s worth mentioning that there’s a pretty easy way for people to collect payments on their site in a non-intrusive way. I won’t go into too much detail here, but it’s using an integration between Stripe and Checkoutpage.co. We actually wrote a detailed Mod about how to set this up, which you can read here.

My advice for entrepreneurs is this: don't kid yourself. If something isn’t working and you know it’s not working, don’t try to find excuses to justify why it’s okay to let it keep happening. This will only lead to more problems down the road. The sooner you can tactfully address the issue, the sooner you can move on to the next thing. When I was first building my blog, I settled with leaving a few limited features on the site because I simply didn’t know (programmatically) how to change them. I told myself that these features were not important to the overall blog experience, but I knew deep down they were; eventually people began asking me to fix it because it was affecting their experience on the site. It’s hard to say how many potential readers I may have lost because of my inability to address the concern when it first arose.

What are your goals for the future?

Millennial Moderator has a lot of ambitious goals, and we review them on a near daily basis to ensure we’re on track. By the end of 2019 we want to be generating 5,000 organic visitors per month, earning $1,000 per month in revenue, have an on-staff marketing director, be utilizing a customized CMS, and have an on-call team of 15+ writers. We also have our vision set on sponsoring community events and introducing a new product/service that provides consistent monetary value to readers. I can’t talk too much about it now, but you can join our mailing list to be the first to know!

Right now our biggest roadblock is having a proper CMS to add publications and push updates to the site; currently that all happens manually. Though I technically wouldn’t call this a roadblock, but more of a necessary checkpoint in our journey to being a treasure chest of practical knowledge.

If something isn’t working and you know it’s not working, don’t try to find excuses to justify why it’s okay to let it keep happening.

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What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

There were a lot of mistakes made in the creation phase of Millennial Moderator, mostly because I was building it from the ground up. Tons of bad formatting decisions, quality of writing/writers that didn't necessarily add to the value of MM, and even the fact that I coded the blog from hand may have been a bad idea as we are now looking at the complexities of migrating into a CMS.

In terms of lessons learned, the most valuable (which can be carried across nearly any type of project) is to stay ahead as much as possible. For Millennial Moderator, this meant having Mods written days in advance before publication, as well as scheduling social media content days in advance. Technology gives us the tools to stay ahead of our deadlines and agreements, and striving for our goals at Millennial Moderator has been a great reminder of that.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

In addition to being a creative, I’m an idealist and a bit of a romantic. So I do spend a lot of time thinking about what it is that Millennial Moderator is setting out to do for the world. I’ve always found the book As a Man Thinketh by James Allen to be helpful in realigning why we’re doing the things we do. When I adopt this kind of mindset and think about the bigger picture, temporary obstacles and roadblocks become trivial.

As I also mentioned previously, time management is an important habit to perfect; especially if you have several projects you are involved with. I’ve actually created a project management tool for myself over the past few years and am in the process of producing it into a tangible service for others to use as well. There’s no announcement date, but I’ll be sharing information soon about it via my personal mailing list.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

For anyone just starting out in the world of entrepreneurship, my biggest piece of advice is to always put yourself in a position to learn something new even if you don’t immediately see the value. I frequently force myself to go to business conferences and meetups to talk with other people in the industry and to learn what they do and how they do it. Even by reading this article on Indie Hackers, I’d say you’re already in the higher percentage of people who are acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills to be true industry leaders. Never give up your hunger for knowledge.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can visit millennialmoderator.com to see our latest Mods, as well as join our mailing list to get the latest before anyone else. We also do occasional giveaways and share knowledge from other sources other than our own — there’s a lot of value there for casual readers and entrepreneurs alike.

You can connect with me personally on Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as join my personal mailing list where I share project updates and private, weekly vlogs to investors.

That’s a bit about Millennial Moderator! I’ve said a lot, and now I’d love to hear if any of you have questions or comments. We can all learn from each other, so fire away.

Aleksey Weyman , Founder of Millennial Moderator

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