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How My Paid Community Made $5K in Its First Week

Hey community builders 👋 @rosiesherry encouraged me to re-post an article from my blog here. I hope you enjoy it or find something to take away.

Originally posted: https://monicalent.com/paid-community-launch/

Editorial note: We're now at $6.9K revenue and 91 paid members, but this post is a focused breakdown of the first week.

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How My Paid Community Made $5K in its First Week (And How I'll Grow It From Here)

Who's got two thumbs and shipped her first of 12 startups in 12 months on schedule? That's right, this girl.

In its first week, the Blogging for Devs Community reached $5K in revenue through a combination of lifetime deals, subscriptions, and my first ever Bitcoin transaction (thanks, Nico!).

A profitable first week isn't what makes this a success in my book.

I'm thrilled at all the cool members who decided to join. Exactly as I'd hoped, each person adds something unique and interesting to the community, and I'm really excited to see where it goes.

So, welcome to my first monthly retrospective.

In this post I'll be sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the first week of my paid community launch and reveal what I'm shipping in November.

Below you'll discover charts, graphs, screenshots, strategy, reflections, and my master plan for growing Blogging for Devs through viral, generated content 🔮

I promise, it's good.

How I launched a paid community in one month

First question: Did I really?

Before talking about what I've been up to in October, it's important to
get on the same page about this:

Even though I began charging to join the community this month, the community itself was launched as a sort of "closed beta" back in July.

The newsletter that helped me connect with first 100 free members (and most of the paid members — more on that later) was launched in May.

You know what they say about overnight success.

Anyway, here's what and how I launched in a month.

Blogging for Devs Pro Community

Blogging for Devs Community is a paid community for developers, makers, engineering managers, and technical founders to grow their blogs through feedback, collaboration, and continuous learning.

We have accountability groups, virtual events and workshops, members-only resources and original content, and most importantly — super kind and knowledgeable members.

For the first 250 people to join, it costs $12/month, $96/year, or $180 once.

The discussions are powered by Circle and rocking a custom theme I hacked together through highly specific CSS selectors and
vanilla JavaScript.

Vanilla JavaScript

And they say you only need to know React these days 😝

It integrates with the Gatsby website through a custom OAuth provider, which uses Firebase for authentication. It's all serverless and cloud native and such.

In October, I built Events, a member RSS feed, signup, payment, the landing page, onboarding, profiles, welcome email sequence, and a lean batch of starter content. I designed everything myself in Figma. For more granular detail on building the product, you can see the day-to-day in my twitter thread.

Enough about tech, let's talk launch.

Blogging for Devs Community

Success metrics: Why you won't find an overall conversion rate in this report

My real goal for the community was to get great people in, and not to overly optimize for converting anyone with a pulse.

That's why my biggest launch fear wasn't that no one would sign up.

It was that people I don't like would sign up. Spammers, self-promoters, attention-seekers, jerks. Thankfully it hasn't been the case and everyone is awesome so far 🤞

I try to scare those types away with a prominent Code of Conduct and an "Is this right for you?" checklist.

Community Checklist

That's why I have no idea what my "conversion rate" for the community is and I don't actually care.

I do pay attention to the opt-in rate for my free newsletter, though, so don't take this as, "Girl doesn't care about metrics."

I care about metrics, just not on the community landing page.

The reason is, joining a community is a long-term thing. Something like this often takes time and multiple exposures for people to make the decision — it was the same for me and Rosieland and Trends.

The more interesting question is this:

What I can I learn about the members who did sign up, so I can find more people like them?

With that, it's chart time 👯‍♀️

So, where did the paid community members come from?

Were paying members wooed by my slick landing page, or convinced by
a carefully crafted tweet?

Turns out, probably not.

Blogging for Devs Community Member Attribution

Most new members were already subscribed to my free weekly newsletter about blogging for developers, which is about 4,000 subscribers strong.

Every Friday for nearly six months, I've been sending out original content about
blogging, SEO, going viral, attracting an audience, and a splash of motivational moments. It takes me an entire day to write.

Out of 69 new paying members in the first week, only three were
unattributable
at least one of three sources:

  1. Waitlister
  2. Newsletter Subscriber
  3. Twitter Follower

Blogging for Devs Paid Community Launch Channels

Newsletter backstory: I started the newsletter in May, and it's since grown to over 4,000 subscribers. If you want to know how, check out the writeups I've done here and here

Many people had multiple touch points: subscriber and on the waitlist, or followed me on twitter and subscriber to the newsletter.

However, only 31% of new members follow me on Twitter. I'm not offended, to the contrary — I prefer it.

Now I know that if I want to grow the community, the best thing I can do
is have more of the right people join the newsletter first.

That's why my goal is to grow the newsletter, and trust that the community
will eventually benefit from the best subscribers joining up.

Let's take a dip into revenue for a second.

How much and where did revenue come from?

As I said in the tweet where I collected ideas for this article, the $5K revenue is not MRR (monthly recurring revenue).

MRR for the Blogging for Devs Community is just $516 according to Stripe.

Editor's note: This is now around $600 since writing.

So where did the first week's $5K in revenue come from?

Blogging for Devs Community Revenue

Someone on Twitter recently asked me if I have any "thought leadership"
to spare on the topic of lifetime pricing.

I don't.

Guess what, I'm neither optimizing for conversion nor LTV 🙃

Offering a lifetime price at a lower cost than 2 years as a member is
really just a way for me to say "Thank you" to people who are in it for the long haul.

I see it as a mutual commitment.

Is this sustainable yet?

You might see $5K in a week and think it sounds like a lot of money. If only one
could extrapolate that to $20k/mo, then I'd be set.

But of course, it's not the whole picture:

  • Taxes and healthcare are super expensive here in Germany
  • I already spend over $300/mo on SaaS tools to run the community
  • Only $500 currently recurs monthly, assuming zero growth/churn

Still, I have a very long way to go before the community is sustainable.

That's why my November startup is a side project to scale reach of the newsletter, which should in turn drive the growth of the community.

I think marketers would call this a "funnel".

Blogging for Devs Community Funnel

I think about it a little more like concentric circles approaching a core.

My next task is to expand the outermost ring with the kind of people who are
likely to join and enjoy the newsletter.

My master plan for growing Blogging for Devs beyond Twitter and word of mouth

Channels die. Or at least, they become exhausted.

Although people still write me emails saying they've been following for
years, and just found out I have a newsletter — most of that is probably in the past.

People who know me, know about Blogging for Devs.

I really don't want to spend all day on Twitter "growing my social media presence". I'd rather be building cool shit and helping other people build cool shit, too. Let people find me through that.

Right now, word of mouth is what grows the newsletter.

Random mentions and links. I find out through welcome emails or through
stalking my backlink reports from time to time.

Newsletter replies

I do reply to everyone who emails me, but I was running a bit behind
after spending the prior week following the US election 🙈

On average, I gain about 5-10 subscribers per day.

A prominent mention on Twitter, Indie Hackers, or the success of a subscriber's
blog post can push than number over 100.

The problem? Today, word of mouth isn't sufficient to grow the newsletter quickly enough to reach sustainability in the near term.

Ironically, I'm also a blogger with no spare time to grow it writing a ton of individual blog posts 😅

So how can I grow my newsletter about blogging, without blogging myself,
and without relying on Twitter for all my traffic?

Here comes the master plan. I hope it works.

How I'll build traffic to Blogging for Devs (while writing virtually no blog posts)

I have a theory. Well, I have a few theories.

The first one is this: Developers want to discover blogs written by other developers. Reading company engineering blogs is fine, but quality content from their peers or individuals they admire is far more interesting.

Most places to discover developer content feature individual articles. Hacker
News, Reddit, and Twitter all fundamentally work this way.

But what's more interesting is the person behind the blog. Their personality, what makes them unique, inspiring, and worth following in their own right.

To back this up, I present Exhibit A.

Apart from the fact that asking for any kind of recommendation on Twitter is a
one-way ticket to pandemonium, you can tell from the replies that
people feel strongly about the topic. 400+ responses.

When I build something, I like that the topic evokes a response like this.

It means people care.

Extension of the theory (this time with less evidence): Many people who read
amazing tech blogs also aspire to create one themselves.

Ergo, if I create a place for people to discover the best developer blogs,
there's a good chance people who show up will like my newsletter, too.

So here's my plan.

Blogging for Devs Trends

What I'm launching in November

My plan is to crowdsource recommendations for the best tech blogs across a
number of tech stacks, written by individual developers.

With this seed data, I'll generate "Top 50" lists of the best technical blogs
across a variety of topics, designed to help people discover amazing authors
and attract people to the newsletter.

Which blogs are best will be curated by me for quality, then ranked by engagement on Twitter, favoring unique mentions and word-of-mouth recommendations by other developers.

Blogging for Devs Trends Preview

Editorial note: I realize "Trends" is a bit overdone, but I'm hoping it'll still be a fresh take for an audience of developers.

In turn, these each of my lists will rank for relevant keywords in Google, driving
search traffic to the website every month.

Search Volume

For example, my page about the best "JavaScript blogs" will hopefully show up first for that search term, and provide genuinely great recommendations of individual developers who write about JavaScript.

Blog Rankings Listicle Preview

As my final trick, I'll try to make it go viral.

I'm going to launch it on Hacker News at the end of the month, and will continue to tailor the features, design, and copy around that audience.

I plan to add things I hope developers there will see and think, "That's cool."

For example: realtime data updates, data visualizations, tasteful SVG animations, and the ability to filter and sort the data.

If I succeed, the avalanche of backlinks it receives by being on the front page of Hacker News will help it rank higher and faster in Google.

Referring domains

What happens when you hit the front page of Hacker News

If I can't make Hacker News love it (or at least, upvote it), I'll probably still rank. It might take a few months, though.

And since the content is generated, I can easily scale out into the longtail
for more niche technologies.

If it sounds smart, it is. I also didn't come up with it. I was originally inspired by Detailed.com's blog rankings but there are a lot of places out there doing generated content for SEO.

It's just, most of them have terrible recommendations and look ugly (looking at you Feedspot). That's why I'm hoping I can outrank all of them, provided I can get sufficient links.

In case you're wondering, "How's this going to make any money?"

It's not. The goals are backlinks and traffic.

Wrapping it up: What I learned launching a paid community (so far)

You made it to the end. Welcome to the bottom of the page!

As a reward, here's a handy graphic with the main things I learned launching a paid community earlier this month:

Paid Community Launch Learnings

In a nutshell, this would be it:

  1. Start with a newsletter, they are like proto-communities.
  2. Connect with individuals first through welcome emails.
  3. Qualify your waitlist and invite the best fits first.
  4. Cold signups may not work for an early stage paid community.
  5. Money can be an effective filter for motivation.
  6. Imperfection arises when people are involved. Embrace it!

That's a wrap on my first month of shipping a product every thirty days.

This month, I'm going to be creating a Technical SEO Workshop for the community, trying to reach 100 paid members (+9 from Nov 25th, 3 weeks post-launch), and last but not least -- go viral on Hacker News.

Want to watch me try to do all of this in the remaining week of November?
Or fail in a wildly public fashion?

You can follow as it unfolds live on Twitter @monicalent 😁

What did you think of the community launch and my ideas for this month?

Let me know by replying on Twitter (and wishing me luck!)

https://twitter.com/monicalent/status/1331611153420726274

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I'm still a newbie community builder but if there are any questions I can answer or something else I can share that would be helpful, let me know!

  1. 3

    Loved this, Monica! Congrats on the achievement. You've clearly built yourself as a credible authority in your space and your readers / members trust what you have to say. Keep it up!

    1. 1

      Thanks for the encouragement Janel (also on Twitter haha). Appreciate it!

  2. 2

    Love this! I love fellow Circle.so Community Founders! Great Work! We should collaborate on some other not well known monetization ideas.

  3. 1

    Hey Monica, I just found this post of yours and I just want to say - 1) congrats on the amazing things you're building & 2) thank you so much for sharing so much wisdom here! I don't think I've read anything close to this quality level on IH so far, so deep and so honest! Thank you.

    Have a lot to learn from you and will continue to follow your journey :)

    1. 1

      Hey Kevon! Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you enjoyed reading the post :) Looking to do a 1 year update in June!

  4. 1

    So great, amazing. I have a question, how do you collect the content that you are going to share? You use the blogs and articles that have been most useful for you?.

  5. 1

    Do you plan to integrate a reward plan for the most active members? Maybe it could be great to create a local currency for the people who answer the most questions or the people who make the best contributions. They could use this currency to pay for their subscription or something. It could be a way to motivate the community and generate a continuous activity in it that does not depend solely on you

    1. 1

      Hey there, I don't know, I think when you start incentivizing people to do things they're already happy to do otherwise, it can be demotivating.

      What I'm trying to do is set up a reciprocal feedback system so people are motivated to take the time to give feedback because they also know they'll get good feedback on their work. I also obviously invest a ton of time in answering member questions and providing individual advice and resources.

      Ultimately, the community also has to be financially sustainable (it costs me hundreds of dollars per month to run, not to mention that I'll be paying people to do workshops and interviews, and the MRR is still like...$600). So in terms of monthly income, it's barely break even and I do spend most of my week on it!

      1. 1

        obviously not now, but it is inherent to stagnation throughout the community if a series of specialists is formed who contribute more than people with a lower level of knowledge. In this aspect, this can cause these "experts" to become unmotivated and leave the community, which would cause the community to gradually disintegrate. Do you not think that this could happen in your community?

  6. 1

    Who's got two thumbs and shipped her first of 12 startups in 12 months on schedule?
    That's right, this girl.

    Succession ftw!

  7. 1

    Well done on the £5k and sign-ups. Your updates are useful for those of us (still!) planning a community.

    I already spend over $300/mo on SaaS tools to run the community

    Sounds pricey. Would be useful to know where the major expenses lie (you have disclosed Circle) and whether these tools really are required to attract paying members.

    That's a wrap on my first month of shipping a product every thirty days. This month, I'm going to be creating a Technical SEO Workshop

    Sounds like a lot of your time will now be devoted to activities other than the original BloggingforDevs community. How will you balance the content requirements of that community with your other projects? Some paying BfD members could think they are being short-changed as they watch you develop other projects instead.

    Perhaps an easier way of building a funnel would be to get your BfD members to link to your site every time they publish a blog. You should get lots of traffic if members have followed your advice and are now getting lots of traffic themselves. And you could link back to their sites to showcase examples of great BfD work.

    1. 1

      Hey there! Glad you find the updates useful.

      Re: expenses, I use Zoom Pro + Webinars, Vimeo Pro for video hosting, and ConvertKit. That doesn't count expenses I use for multiple projects, like my $99/mo Ahrefs subscription, Adobe Creative Suite, and more. I recently calculated and I have like $500+ in monthly expenses for all my projects. It is high but the only redundancy I eliminated recently was Zapier and Calendly.

      To be clear, the Technical SEO Workshop is for the community. It's not one of my monthly startups :) That alone is probably a $50 or more value.

      Actually I worked on this article as part of one of our accountability groups, so people in the community have seen it and given me feedback. So far people are pretty excited about my next project, I shared it internally before publishing this blog post.

      Re: continuing to launch, what will happen is that running the community (just like running my SaaS) constrains how ambitious my monthly projects can be. Which is totally fine -- just have to get leaner.

      Thanks for reading!

      1. 1

        To be clear, the Technical SEO Workshop is for the community. It's not one of my monthly startups :) That alone is probably a $50 or more value.

        Actually I worked on this article as part of one of our accountability groups, so people in the community have seen it and given me feedback. So far people are pretty excited about my next project, I shared it internally before publishing this blog post.

        Ah, ok, if you have the blessing of your paid members then go for it!

  8. 1

    Excellent post, congrats on the launch!
    I'm super curious about the crowdsourcing recommendations strategy, would love to learn how that goes!

    I see a lot of websites only curating blog posts, but you're going to have a list of blogs, topics and authors, which is pretty interesting.

    1. 2

      Thanks Thiago! I posted it in the community actually, you can go check out the live version in the "Share Your Stuff" space :) Feel free to submit your blog, too.

  9. 1

    "Going viral on Hackernews" - goal accomplished 3 hours ago :))

    Btw, it's an interesting flow. People from the community came from the newsletter. People from the newsletter came from Twitter. Curious if you have any articles/case studies on where your Twitter followers came from?

    1. 1

      Haha I didn't submit it myself so that was a surprise. Only saw it once there were some referrals from HN and thought...."Crap" 😂

      Re: Twitter, I can tell you anecdotally:

      • Conference speaking
      • Some viral tweets
      • Some viral blog posts
      • Support from friends who'll RT your stuff (who i met or who learned I exist through the prior 3 methods)

      That's basically it.

  10. 1

    Congratulations. Well written. To the point. 👏👏

    1. 2

      Thanks for taking the time to read it :)

  11. 1

    Amazing Monica 👏👏
    Great write-up and really motivating. Good to see that you have a found a succesful recipe for gaining trust and get them to signup afterwards.

    1. 1

      Thanks! I don't really see it as "get them to sign up" per se but if people are a fit, they see the opportunity at the right time. Thanks for reading!

  12. 1

    Great article Monica and wish you the best! If you don't mind me asking, what's the tool you are using in your google search image of "javascript blogs"?

    1. 1

      Thanks Vamsi! The tool is called Keywords Everywhere: https://keywordseverywhere.com

  13. 1

    how much did it cost to design and develop the site ...??? if you don't mind me asking

    1. 1

      Hey there! Not sure what you mean? I'm a developer so I designed and coded it myself :)

      1. 1

        I think the question is about the design part. Even in this post, you've got some charts and graphic art.

        1. 2

          Oh, yeah could be. I think it's mentioned in the post but I designed everything myself in Figma.

          1. 1

            Your really good designer...it looks really good...how long did it take..I mean the whole thing...design+dev

  14. 1

    Congratulations on your success Monica. I remember seeing this the other day when going through the 12 Startups in 12 Months group. Looking forward to seeing what you create next.

    1. 1

      Thanks for taking a look Benjamin, appreciate the encouragement :)

  15. 1

    Congrats Monica 👏 and thanks for sharing with us!

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading Dinakar :)

  16. 0

    Kudos on a good, accurate title. It could so easily have been:

    "How to make $5k in your first week"
    "6 things to do to to have a successful community"

    Or some other tripe like that.

    Excellent story, congrats 👏

    1. 1

      Thanks Mick! Yeah I definitely don't think I can give anyone advice on this topic (I've been doing it for like...a few months).

      Just sharing what's worked for me and let people take the pieces that resonate. As always, YMMV.

      Glad you liked the post, appreciate you reading, it's a long one!

  17. 1

    This comment was deleted 7 months ago.

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