Community: the new business model for indie hackers The new business model of [charging for paid communities]( is sweeping through the world of indie hackers. ![DCoolican on Twitter: "2010: B

Community: the new business model for indie hackers

The new business model of charging for paid communities is sweeping through the world of indie hackers.

DCoolican on Twitter: "2010: Build an audience, monetize through ads. 2015: Build an audience, monetize through merch. 2020: Build an audience, monetize through community"

The golden age of paid communities

No, they aren't "new" in the sense that no one's ever built them before. Our very first founder interview featured Pieter Levels of Nomad List, a massively successful community for digital nomads. And our very own community manager Rosie Sherry scaled her own community to seven figures before we brought her on board.

But stories like Pieter's and Rosie's have always been rare and difficult to replicate. Hence Pieter's magnetism for mainstream press and Rosie's multiple appearances on Computer Weekly's long list for the most influential women in UK tech.

This is changing. Paid communities are becoming explosively popular, and an increasing number of indie hackers are growing them to profitability. The model simply "works" like never before. And it's ushering in a golden age for paid communities.

Ness Labs community

For all their differences, the three revenue-positive communities above have one thing in common: they're all just a few weeks to a few months old — as new to the scene as the pandemic.

One of the clearest signs of the momentum behind community products is the rise in new platforms to support them. In addition to some of the traditional players like Slack, reddit, Facebook Groups, and Discord, the last few years have brought a rise in community platforms that have all the bells and whistles needed to make a more "feature-complete" community product, like Mighty Networks, Circle, and MemberSpace.

And there are plenty more on the way:

So… what gives?

Passion and the Plague

Online communities have always been difficult to monetize because, more often than not, they target consumers, who are notoriously reluctant to spend money when they don't have to. Business customers, on the other hand, are much quicker to part with their cash as long as a good case can be made that a product will make them more money in the long run.

Enter the passion economy, which is now driving an increasing number of consumers to think (and spend) like businesses. Andreessen Horowitz partner Li Jin calls this the "enterprization of consumers."

Li Jin on Twitter: "New tools are emerging and focusing on consumers first. That's because consumers today aspire to become businesses tomorrow. I’ll dub this the "Enterprization of consumer."

She's talking here about all the site builders, marketplaces, and other consumer-focused platforms fueling the rise of e-commerce, no-code products, podcasting, paid newsletters, and more, by extending access to people who previously didn't have any options for expressing their creativity for a living.

The passion economy supports both sides of the paid community ecosystem: supply and demand. On the supply side, it empowers consumers to build their own online communities. And on the demand side, it emboldens many more potential members to see themselves as, in Li Jin's words, consumers today aspiring to become businesses tomorrow.

Now. Add to all of this the crushing effects of the coronavirus pandemic: the tens of millions of newly unemployed in the US alone; the hundreds of millions stuck at home due to lockdown. And suddenly you've got a lot more relationship-starved entrepreneurs to fill the membership ranks.

Behind the Scenes at Ness Labs

I caught up with Anne-Laure to gain some perspective on the strategies and numbers behind the burgeoning Ness Labs community.

Ness Labs revenue screenshot

First, the hard numbers. Here's what she told me about her revenue and membership:

Revenue is $9.6K since launch. Currently there are 300+ active members. I went from 0 to this in the past couple of months, and as you can see from the graphs it's pretty unpredictable on a day-to-day basis.

Anne-Laure quit her job at Google a few years ago to build a portfolio of products under the Ness Labs brand, like Teeny Breaks, a Chrome extension reminding people to take breaks at work, and Maker Mind, a weekly newsletter about mindful productivity.

So did she launch the paid community just for the hell of it? Or was she following a higher strategic vision?

The community is a cornerstone of my product strategy. I have always been more comfortable with audience-first products. The community is a way to learn from my audience, to receive feedback, and to co-create products that answer their needs. For example, I don't think my course announcement would have been so successful if I hadn't based the whole content on conversations I had with members of the community.

That last point about the co-creation of products? It might be the most potent insight of all, because it separates paid communities from every other product category seeing gains from the passion economy.

Communities don't just contribute to the co-creation of products by offering helpful discussion. The helpful discussion is itself a co-created product. After all, a paid community is, at least in part, a content product. But unlike a newsletter, or a blog, or a podcast, or a YouTube channel, community content is crowdsourced by the audience it serves, making it both uniquely scalable and, well, uniquely unique. (A community's culture, like a human fingerprint, is impossible to replicate. The moat is built-in.)

This is one of the central insights Courtland and I have leaned on to build and grow Indie Hackers as a team of — until recently — just two people. We've run every single product consideration through the following filter: "Can we crowdsource this through the community?" If the answer is no, we don't build it.

So in calling this a golden age of paid communities for indie hackers, I really mean to emphasize for indie hackers.

As if it to reinforce the idea, Anne-Laure sent me the following message as I was wrapping this story up:

Ness Labs revenue screenshot

You can discuss this news roundup with other indie hackers on the site.


—Channing (@channingallen)

Indie Hackers | Stripe | 510 Townsend St, San Francisco, California 94103 
You subscribed to the Indie Hackers Round Tables newsletter, which collects news and insights from other indie hackers. Click here to .

California is phasing out gas-powered cars, TikTok is trying to buy time, and Jack Ma is no longer Asia's wealthiest person

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The news you need to know September 23, 2020 Wednesday! (We're not going to lie. It was a long one over at SVC HQ. Hope yours was better than ours.) More tomorrow.:) Top News The Justice Department

list of ugly pitch decks

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Manufacturers are versatile. Scrambling for SMBs' cash. DH150. VIEW IN BROWSER CBINSIGHTS September 23, 2020 Hey, look at us, who would've thought? Hi there, CB Insights had some pretty bad

's top 10 new tools to grow your business by Product Club! 🎊

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Happy Reader! 👋 Here's 's top 10 new products to help you start and grow your business 🚀 Enjoy! PR Requests Get quoted by elite journalists when they write new articles 🎁 Sponsored 🆓 Free to

Growth Bite: Get on podcasts (and grow your audience) by pitching with personalized videos

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Being a guest on a podcast can work wonders for your business, but podcasters get pitched all the time. Cut through the noise and let them see what kind of guest you'll be by sending a short,

iOS 14 Icons, Upstreamer, Blogity,, and Merch38

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A minimalist icon pack for your iPhone apps BetaList BetaList Digest iOS 14 Icons A minimalist icon pack for your iPhone apps Upstreamer Add live, fun interaction to any video Smart links

Today's Digest: One hour saas update 13: Saving & Editing Podcasts

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Your Indie Hackers community digest for September 23rd ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Your business future

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Presented by: image I subscribe and LOVE learning about new topics taking off. Howdy, 🎥 Avoid THESE 10 mistakes when starting your business image The top 10 mistakes for new entrepreneurs I've seen

Founder Weekly - Issue 453

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

View this email in your browser Founder Weekly Welcome to issue 453 of Founder Weekly. Let's get straight to the links this week. General Discovery Assist by First Round Capital If you are a pre or

Top Milestones: $6000 of revenue, 4 months in

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Top milestones for the day from your fellow indie hackers. ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Makerpad Deep-Dive Series: The Community Creator

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Makerpad Deep-Dive Series The Community Creator How to run a low-cost membership community or creator business with Circle, Memberspace, Gumroad, Notion & View the deep-dive here → In this