Growth January 15, 2021

What's new: Decentralization is changing how we reach customers


(from the latest issue of the Indie Hackers newsletter)

Channing here. How should tech platforms moderate their content?

That's the question we're all debating in the wake of Trump's boot from social media and Parler's boot from Amazon AWS.

One interesting proposal? Decentralize the role of content moderator. That is, leave it up to peer-to-peer social networks (rather than corporate executives) to draw the line of acceptable and unacceptable speech.

To say the least, I have my doubts this could ever work at scale.

But one form of decentralization is all but certain now: the diffusion of millions of users from a small handful of mainstream platforms. And this should matter to indie hackers who want to reach these newly decentralized users. But more on that below.

Here's what you'll find in this issue:

  • Decentralized acquisition channels are popping up in the current political climate. This presents new opportunities for founders.
  • WhatsApp's new terms are getting major backlash from users. Learn how Telegram and Signal are reaping the benefits.
  • Open-source software isn't known for making a profit. But Adam Wathan has grown Tailwind CSS, an open-source framework, to $2M. Here's how.

As always, you can submit a section for us to include in a future newsletter. —Channing

📊 Decentralization is the New Black


from the User Acquisition Channels newsletter by Darko G.

Want more paying users? Take a look at the acquisition channel opportunities I discovered this week:

  • Decentralization: Learn about a new set of websites that are getting 16M+ visitors per month
  • Web Stories: How a blog got 263,000 impressions from using this new Google feature
  • Instagram Engagement: A new format that Instagram prioritizes over traditional feed posts

New decentralized acquisition channels are springing up due to the political climate

Recent events have caused some people to consider abandoning platforms like Facebook or Twitter. After Reddit banned the "r/DonaldTrump" subreddit group, people just migrated to I did some research on this site and found that it has indeed become one of the top sites in the US in terms of traffic.

The takeaway: In the end, bans are meaningless. New platforms emerge from the ashes of others.

This current political climate is inspiring more decentralized acquisition channels as well. PeerTube, a P2P alternative to YouTube, has released version 3 of their product. People are actively asking about decentralized Twitter alternatives like Mastodon and Diaspora.

What this means for you: Mainstream news media probably won't cover these sites; I actually learned about TheDonald from a Hacker News comment. These new platforms are growing right now because of politics, but if they continue getting traction, they'll slowly start covering other topics as well. If conservatives comprise a percentage of your audience, you definitely want to keep an eye on this space. I'm actively scouting the web for new acquisition channel trends like these, and my subscribers will be among the first to find out about them.

Google Web Stories is a new promising channel

The history: Two months ago, Google announced that they're bringing Web Stories to the Discover section of the app, which reaches over 800 million people per month. Google "Discover" is the equivalent of Facebook News Feed, giving users useful content based on their behavior.

Two weeks ago: Andrea Volpini, CEO of WordLift, published a case study on how a published Web Story resulted in a 504.17% increase in traffic.

What this means for you: Andrea's published case study, along with her useful tips guide takes the guesswork out of it. Read this article and consider how you can add Web Stories to your website.

You should be using Instagram Reels for organic engagement

When Rachel Reichenbach asked Instagram why her engagement currently sucks, the team said:

Reels are the current cheat code to Instagram success right now. They are also one of the reasons why so many people saw their engagement tank this fall. This is because reels are currently boosted in the algorithm. Once the reels feature isn't so new a few months from now, it will likely be downgraded to normal weight.

Turns out, Instagram has a team solely dedicated to finding good Reels to promote. When a company announces a new acquisition channel (Instagram released Reels back in August), they give a temporary boost to companies that use it. We see that with Google Web Stories, and also here, with Instagram Reels.

What this means for you: Pay attention to new acquisition channels. Of course, the fundamentals are still important (see my Zero to Users research on this topic), but timing is crucial; some would argue it's the most important thing for startup success.

Discuss this story, or subscribe to User Acquisition Channels for more.

📰 In the News

covert art for In the News

😂 Pirate Bay's founder thinks Parler's inability to stay online is "embarrassing." See what other indie hackers are saying.

📈 Janel Loi passed $20k in three months from a Notion infoproduct. Get the play-by-play.

💬 Ask me anything: "500 sales. £40k revenue. 90% profit margin. On a PHYSICAL product."

🛠 Webflow, one of the most popular no-code tools, just raised $140M at a $2.1B valuation.

🤯 Eight Gumroad creators made over $1,000,000 in 2020. Get the full breakdown here.

🤺 TikTok just surged past Facebook in average monthly time spent per user.

🕵️‍♂️ Telegram and Signal are Thriving in the Backlash Against WhatsApp


from the Indie Alternatives newsletter by Bobby Burch

Share your data or leave.

That's the gist of WhatsApp's latest message to users who encounter its latest terms of service agreement. Once a user agrees, the popular messaging app is allowed to collect and share user data with its parent company, Facebook.

The move has spurred an exodus of users from WhatsApp, and has renewed the #DeleteFacebook and #DeleteWhatsApp campaigns on social media. It's also helped a pair of rapidly-growing messaging apps, Telegram and Signal, surge in popularity.

Controversy over WhatsApp's new terms

What happened: In early January, WhatsApp's two billion users began to see its new terms of service, stating that the company would be sharing user data with Facebook effective Feb. 8.

What's to come: Beginning Feb. 8, WhatsApp's user data collection includes:

  • Profile names
  • Profile picture
  • Interaction data
  • IP address
  • Users phone numbers
  • Users address books and contact phone numbers
  • A status message indicating when a user was last online
  • Diagnostic data collected from app logs

The fallout: Users aren't thrilled, mainly because WhatsApp's initial appeal was its secure, end-to-end encryption. Many see the new policy as a contradiction of everything the platform claimed to stand for. Since Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, the social media giant has slowly eroded the app's privacy-focused ethos.

Alternatives to WhatsApp

WhatsApp's two top competitors, Telegram and Signal, already had huge user bases before WhatsApp changed its terms of service. Now that Facebook plans to harvest and sell WhatsApp user data, both of the messaging apps are next in line to the throne.


With 400 million users and counting, Telegram is a cloud-based mobile and desktop messaging app focused on security and simplicity.

On Telegram, users can send messages, photos, videos, and files of any type. Users can also create groups for up to 200K people, or channels for broadcasting to unlimited audiences. Text, photo, and video messages sent on Telegram are heavily encrypted and can self-destruct. According to Sensor Tower, the company snagged at least 2.2 million new downloads in the last week.


With about 500 million users, Signal offers users end-to-end encryption powered by the open-source Signal Protocol. That means neither Signal — nor anyone else — can read your messages or track your calls. The nonprofit platform doesn't host ads, has no affiliate marketers, and claims to have "no creepy tracking" in its app.

Signal allows users to send texts, voice messages, photos, videos, GIFs and files for free. It also offers video chat and group chat functionality.

Elon Musk, a vocal critic of Facebook, was quick to admonish WhatsApp's duplicity and encourage followers to download Signal. Sensor Tower reports that, following that tweet, more than 100,000 people downloaded Signal from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. (Comically, Musk's tweet also led to a 1,110% stock growth of an unrelated company, Signal Advance.)

If you're weighing the pros and cons of WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram, check out this helpful comparison table.

What do you make of WhatsApp's new terms of service? Are you using alternative messaging apps? Share your thoughts below.

Discuss this story, or subscribe to Indie Alternatives for more.

🧠 Harry's Growth Tip

Cover Image: Harry's Growth Tip

from the Marketing Examples newsletter by Harry Dry

Your welcome email is an opportunity. Don't waste it. I encourage subscribers to:

  • Follow on social media
  • Read my best articles
  • Whitelist my address
  • Connect on LinkedIn

All whilst never being at all pushy.

Image of Harry's welcome email.

Go here for more short, sweet, practical marketing tips.

Subscribe to Marketing Examples for more.

📎 Monetizing Open Source: How TailwindCSS Grew a $2m+ Business

Cover Image

from the Small Tech Business series by Justin Chu

Tailwind CSS is an open-source CSS framework that was released in November 2017 by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger. Two years later they launched Tailwind UI, which generated over $2M in revenue. If you're looking for a master class on how to monetize an open-source project, look no further than Tailwind.

A new way to style your web

We can't discuss CSS frameworks without mentioning Bootstrap, a UI framework which made it considerably easier for developers to build a visually appealing website. Bootstrap was released in 2011 by Twitter and ranks in the top 10 of most "starred" repositories in Github.

Tailwind and Bootstrap can't be directly compared; Tailwind is a CSS utility library, while Bootstrap is more of a complete UI kit. This difference is key to Tailwind's success.

Bootstrap has a gentle learning curve, making it easier for a beginner to pick up and use. However, Bootstrap's simplicity is achieved at the expense of concept flexibility.

Tailwind, on the other hand, aims to change the way developers think about styling their web apps. Adam describes Tailwind's approach to CSS as "utility-first:"

The reason I call the approach I take to CSS utility-first is because I try to build everything I can out of utilities, and only extract repeating patterns as they emerge.

This utility-first approach pays off in the long-run because the patterns that should be shared are identified when they are needed, and are made with an explicit focus on being reusable. By contrast, Bootstrap's CSS classes are only reusable in very specific situations, and are difficult to extend.

Tailwind is already being used in over 100k Github repositories, an impressive number for a fairly new framework without any institutional backing. This dependent repository count, while not perfect, is one of the best metrics for showing Tailwind's growing popularity.

The advantage of building in public

Tailwind's journey

Tailwind's journey has not been straightforward. Adam and Steve's consistency in building, learning, and shipping products was key to their eventual success in launching a successful project. Openness and transparency also helped, as they were able to build an audience. This was a huge benefit during their early growth stages.

Building in public is by no means a prerequisite for success, but in certain situations, it can be too advantageous to pass up. For example:

  • A developer building an open-source tool for other developers
  • An author writing a book about self-publishing a book (e.g. Nathan Barry's Authority)
  • An online course about building an audience online (e.g. Daniel Vassallo's Everyone Can Build a Twitter Audience)

Also worth mentioning is the simultaneous success of Adam and Steve's book, Refactoring UI. This project leveraged Steve's expertise as a visual designer, and the audience for the book overlapped with Tailwind's audience.

Monetizing open source

Not only can a successful open-source monetization strategy lead to a successful business, but it can also make a project sustainable. It's not uncommon for open-source maintainers to burn out; once the novelty wears off, maintainers can be left with a pile of growing unpaid work.

There are many successful examples of monetized open-source projects:

The strategy for the recent launch of Tailwind UI, a component kit built with Tailwind CSS, is one of the first I have seen that involves building a separate (but related) product.

The assumption is that many users turn to Tailwind CSS to develop beautiful, elegant UIs for their web apps, and that a portion of those users would be willing to save themselves time and effort to purchase ready-made components that fit their common use cases.

The synergy between Tailwind CSS and Tailwind UI resembles a land and expand strategy. Their open-source framework is great at reaching a massive audience of developers, which becomes a funnel to land customers for their paid product. The quality of Tailwind CSS builds trusts and makes the upsell of Tailwind UI easier.

Tailwind's land and expand strategy

The fact that the open-source Tailwind CSS remains separate and fully intact is significant. The problem with the aforementioned enterprise license model is that the best, most useful features are hidden behind a paywall. These artificial walls cause friction to both the customer and the team developing the product.

Ultimately, I think Tailwind UI's one-time $250 price tag is a great starting point for a new product, but it will make less sense after a few years of continued development. It reminds me of the "lifetime access" licenses that companies like Tiiny Host have tried.

As more components and features are added to Tailwind UI, I think that a pricing model similar to JetBrain's subscription + perpetual fallback license model would ultimately be the most effective. It maintains the same perpetual ownership as the current model, and charges an annual fee to access the latest updates. This would allow Tailwind to be fairly compensated for the additional development and support of their product, while still maintaining the customer-friendly lifetime access.

Discuss this story, or subscribe to Small Tech Business for more.

🐦 The Tweetmaster's Pick

Cover image for Tweetmaster's Pick

by Tweetmaster Flex

Every day I post the tweets indie hackers share the most. Here's today's pick:

🏁 Enjoy This Newsletter?

Forward it to a friend, and let them know they can subscribe here.

Also, you can submit a section for us to include in a future newsletter.

Special thanks to Nathalie Zwimpfer for the illustrations, and to Darko G., Bobby Burch, Harry Dry, and Justin Chu for contributing posts to this issue. —Channing

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