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12 months ago, I quit my job and launched a paid writing community. Today, we’re backed by YC and serve 400+ writers. AMA!

Hey Indie Hackers –

I’m Stew. I co-founded Foster last year with my long-time friend Dan Hunt.

We’re both lifelong writers and wanted to build something that served people like us.

Most people who write work in isolation, which makes it difficult to do good work. I learned this firsthand, writing on my blog without any editorial or collaborative support for the first couple of years (spoiler: nearly everything I wrote flopped).

So we built a community with a central purpose: provide world-class editorial and collaborative support for online writers through a mix of peer and professional editing.

We started off as a tiny Slack group with a dozen writers – now we’re 400+ writers strong and generating over $200K in ARR. Y Combinator backed us earlier this year and provided us the resources to build a dedicated platform for collaborative writing.

AMA about writing, editing, and community-building!

  1. 2

    First of all congratulations on your success.

    I have 3 questions:

    1. How did you grow your userbase after the first initial users (you might have gotten through the network)?

    2. Which is the most successful user acquisition channel for Foster?

    3. How do you see the impact of AI tools (GPT-3) on the writing industry in general?

    1. 1

      Thanks!

      1. The primary tactic we used early on was hosting live Zoom events with well-known online writers. They'd invite their audience to attend. After the event, we'd send out a follow-up email to everybody who RSVP'ed with a link to the recording and more info on Foster.

      2. Word of mouth and content have been our biggest growth channels. My personal Twitter account is still a meaningful growth channel for us, which continues to surprise me.

      3. In the context of long-form writing, I think GPT-3 will be most helpful in solving the blank page problem. It will serve as an idea generation machine that will let writers spend more time editing and refining work.

  2. 2

    Congrats Stew on all the progress. Of the 400 writers, where did most people learn about Foster? Knowing what you know now, what would be your top 3 acquisition strategies for getting to your first 1,000 users?

    1. 1

      The primary acquisition strategy we used early on was hosting live Zoom events with well-known online writers. Most of the people we hosted would invite their audience to attend. After the event, we'd send out a follow-up email to everybody who RSVP'ed with a link to the recording and more info on Foster.

      We probably benefited from the COVID bump – I'm not certain this would work as well now.

      Other than that, word of mouth and content have been our biggest growth channels. We've experimented with lots of different content types – the ones that tend to perform best 1) solve a very practical problem and 2) include insights from a wide-range of contributors (example).

      1. 1

        Stew - thanks for the thoughtful comment. Community builders often get so wrapped up in the technology, features, and process of building their community that it can create tunnelvision.

        This is a good reminder that community building is about building community first.

  3. 1

    Firstly, Congratulations Stew, and Kudos to you and the entire team.
    I have a few questions for you,
    What advice would you give to a layman trying to build a user-generated content platform?
    To be very specific, it's the next Quora/Medium but for a specific niche.

    How should we go about onboarding writers(Users)?
    How should we onboard readers?
    How do we market the platform?

    Thanks

    1. 1

      I'll do my best to offer some advice that's hopefully generalizable:

      1. Create a distinct purpose for your product. Think hard about the specific reason that somebody would need to use you – it's bad if you have more than a couple reasons IMO.
      2. Do things that don't scale. We still interview every single person that joins Foster. We also host an onboarding event to get them clear on how to get the most of their membership. It helps drive substantially more engagement and stronger retention.
      3. Design viral content loops. This wasn't possible for us initially, but it is now that we have an actual product.
      1. 1

        This may not be relevant for your use case, but I'd add one more:

        1. Have an admissions process. You can't just pay to join Foster, you have to apply. We review everybody's writing and invite in anybody who seems promising. We reject the majority of people who apply (often because they don't write regularly), which helps to keep the internal bar high.
  4. 1

    Stew, congrats on all your success so far! 😃

    I would love to know:

    • When did you decide to move from Slack to your own plataform?
    • Did you charge anything from the users when using Slack for your community? If not, how did you approach them to transitioning to a plataform where they would need to pay?
    • Did you have growth since you started the community on Slack?

    I really appreciate!

    Thanks!

    1. 1

      Thanks, @llimabr!

      • After our first 4 months of continuous growth, we realized that we'd eventually need to move off of Slack. It took us a few months to build the product and we did a hard switch-over once we had just around 350 writers in the Slack group.
      • Yep. With the exception of our first ~20 members, who joined for free to seed the group, everybody has paid to join – regardless of if they joined on Slack or the new product. Our pricing has stayed the same since migrating from Slack to our product.
      • We've had consistent month-over-month growth both while operating the community on Slack and now operating it on our own product.
      1. 1

        Amazing! All the best for you guys! Thank you!!

  5. 1

    What was the MVP for the community and what was the first product?

    1. 1

      @DylanS beat me to it :)

      The MVP for the community was a Slack group.

      The first product incorporated the best of what worked in our Slack group. It's engineered for our specific use case, which is helping writers and editors collaborate on ideas and drafts. We still use the Slack group for the misc. community activities we facilitate.

    2. 1

      MVP was the Slack group I think

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