Monthly Archives: September 2020

📻 — Building a Paid Community Business for Less Than $1K per Year?

Hiya folks!

Today’s issue is an overview (and excavation of my personal notes) of an hour-long, all-star panel discussion that happened yesterday, hosted by the folks over at Makerpad.

They’ve done a deep-dive on how to build and operate a low-cost paid community and membership business for less than $1,000 a year.

Naturally, I had to learn more! The following are my personal notes.


The panelists were as follows:

These folks are directly partnered with Makerpad on the deep-dive, which you can find here and walks the reader through these steps:

  1. Setting up Super with Notion
  2. Integrating Circle with Super and Notion
  3. Integrating MemberSpace for Paid Communities
  4. Selling Digital Product via Gumroad

How does this work out to less than $1,000 per year to build and manage? Well, here’s the math:

  • Option 1: Using Notion, Memberspace, Circle, and Super will cost $0 for 7 days. Then it’s $864 per year (+4% of transactions) or $72 per mo.
  • Option 2: Use Gumroad, Circle, and Super will cost $0 for $14 days. Then it’s $636 per year + (3.5% & $0.30) of transactions or $53 per mo.

So, that’s how that math works.

A handsome group:

A Few Key Highlights:

  1. A common theme was the focus on building a product (and company) that first solved their own needs. They were “Customer Zero” for all intents and purposes.
  2. Customer-centricity is paramount; every feature must impact the user.
  3. Public roadmaps can be useful but need to be well-managed to not create false expectations and unwarranted customer confusion. Andrew, of Circle, has a public roadmap while Ward, of Super, doesn’t. Gumroad recently shared one as well.

🛑 — Begs the question for each community (and business) builder: Should you have a public roadmap? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Philip, of Gumroad, had a few choice words on building community first, product second:

Building an audience is hard, but, it’s clearly the right way to do things. You have to figure out a way to get in-front of people and they have to know that they are going to get a positive return on investment.

Philip Kiely

Ward had a different perspective, saying that he “still doesn’t pay attention to social media” — his team’s route was focusing on a “technology insight” and being part of existing communities. “Renting an audience” was an interesting way to talk about it but the strategy and tactic remains true: Join existing communities where your customers are and provide a ton of value.

There were a ton of topics that they covered in the hour including offline to online strategies, building “calm” communities, and a healthy discussion on simple vs complex tooling.

I was able to get a question in near the end:

What are a few things that you wish you had done earlier in your project / company’s formation? What mistakes can early-community builders avoid?

Here are their replies:

  • James: We’re just touching on the community part right now. We may not need to focus on community too early. Hard to say on my end. Also using Circle, 30 members or so.
  • Ward: We’re using Circle too and one thing is not having most folks join at the start, test-drive and adjust expectations until you open the floodgates. Get people in having real discussions so you can know what spaces aren’t working well, what content is landing or not.
  • Philip: We just hired a Head of Community and we’re spending more time in supporting our community at-large. We started on Indie Hackers with a new Gumroad Group recently as well.

As we closed the conversation down, Tom asked: What’s up for you next?

  • Andrew: We have a lot of folks who want live video inside Circle. Timeline is something that a lot of folks also want as well in Q4. And we have an iOS beta that is out for testing. Android testing and 4 new roles!
  • Philip: We’re focusing on affiliate improvements, recurring subscription management, and making sure more folks can make more money with Gumroad.
  • Ward: Integration with Notion is a big update that’s coming as well as improvements to our speed and infrastructure and making Memberspace better for more use-cases in our community.
  • James: Making notion a perfect tool for publishing. improving site generation, custom favicons, privacy features, and strategies to kick-start a growing movement towards “Notion-as-a-website” type of opportunities.

Final question: What’s missing from the #nocode space?

  • Andrew: A system to make sure that all my #nocode systems are working. An alert or notification system.
  • James: The more integrations, the less focus on design. We need more design-centric tools. Don’t forget to put an emphasis on style and brand!

Whew! That’s it.

As always, the greatest compliment you can give me is sharing our newsletter with others!

Special thanks to the dozen or so folks who are helping me test-drive the newsletter this week and give me feedback! Special thanks to Dale, Anna, and a handful of others who signed-up the other day!

📻 — Greed, Async, and a Questionable Tweet

Good morning!

I hope you’ve had your ☕, 🍵, perhaps a 🥯 or maybe you went hard and got some 🥚 and 🥓 and… 🥞? Whatever it was, I hope it was delicious and that you left just enough room for this issue!

As you know, Mondays are feature days while Fridays present your weekend deep-dives; T / W / Th will be much-smaller in size, a perfect, on-the-go portion to get your day started!

You should be in and out in less than 2 minutes, tops — I promise.

To infinity & community,


The Daily Stoic:

Nothing can satisfy greed, but even a small measure satisfies nature. So it is that the poverty of an exile brings no misfortune, for no place of exile is so barren as not to produce ample support for a person.

Seneca, On Consoluation to Helvia, 10.11b

When we become successful, we forget how strong we used to be. The reality is that our actual needs are much smaller than what we currently have or what we believe them to be.

On a personal note, stoicism has helped me manage and work with communities because communities are about relationships and relationships are really hard; all the time.

Community at the Center of Remote Work:

Dion’s got a longer-form post that captures some wonderful high-level thoughts on how community fits in today’s life and times. His reminder about how amazing the “gift” of async communication is something that many folks have yet to figure out:

The fact that we don’t realize the immense power that this (async collaboration) gives us to work with each other in a vast hive of parallel yet deeply connected flows of work is because it is still quite new. … Asynchronous collaboration has led to some of the most remarkable outcomes in fields such as open source software (now the dominant model for how software is created, no coincidence), pharmacology, hard sciences, social media such as YouTube (the most popular TV channel on Earth now, all asynchronously co-created by us), shared public information (see: Wikipedia and similar sites), crowdsourcing, and much more.

Dion Hinchcliffe

He’s also created some useful graphics that would be a good topic of conversation around your #watercooler or wherever your community buds hang out:

via Dion Hinchcliffe

The Daily WTF:

It’s not often that I see a tweet that I want to pop-off on, but, this one got me hot and bothered, for serious:

(╬ ಠ益ಠ)

He must be joking or, at the very least, sarcastic, right? If not, well… shit, he’s just plain wrong. How could one build something people actually want if you don’t know who those people are?

Thankfully, Rosie Sherry comes to the rescue (and gets the first-ever “🍣 Award” for yummy, bite-sized excellence:


Whew, close call. Have a great day folks!

As always, the greatest compliment you can give me is sharing our newsletter with others!

Special thanks to the dozen or so folks who are helping me test-drive the newsletter this week and give me feedback! Thanks to Alex, Brendan, Nolan, Josh, Mac, Martin, Harsha, Nathan, Josh, Casey, and a bunch of others for it — means a ton!

John Saddington

Good morning!

This is the very first issue of YEN.FM and I couldn’t be more excited to get this newsletter started! Mondays will kick the week off right with interviews from folks “in the trenches” — I’ve got interviews lined up with not only community “veterans” but also from leaders who do not typically get a lot of press — anyone that we all can learn from!

For starters, I thought I’d start with me, myself, and I! This should also provide a loosely-defined template for others.

🛑 — Want to get featured? We’ve got a form for that!

Name: John Saddington
Twitter: @yenFTW
URL: I updated the YEN.FM “About” page recently.

What’s your one-liner?

I’m a startup founder, husband, indie hacker, dad, software engineer, writer, and amateur filmmaker.

The moment you realized community was your jam:

My first real, authentic moments of early, digital community started back in the mid-1990’s with bbs, AOL Instant Messenger, and ICQ handles; I loved them all!

But, I knew that “community” was going to be a big part of my future (and career) was when I found myself spending hours with other professionals on Macromedia’s community-moderated actionscript forums — it was there that I learned how to communicate with other software professionals and was able to share what I knew with others around the world.

The best part was that I was barely a teenager and yet, through the power of the internet, non-obvious / anonymous usernames, and very sparse age-requirements, I was able to not only assist working adults with their paid professions but I had joined what I felt was an avant-garde of technologists who were pushing the very boundaries of digital communication and interactivity on the web. It was really heady times!

It was that moment that I realized that the internet was designed, uniquely and magically, for community and I’ve been hooked ever since!

The best thing you’ve seen (or experienced) recently:

Honestly, my wife and I obsess over musicals and the recent “High School Musical” reboot via Julie and the Phantoms is phenomenal! My wife and I literally are humming it around the house!

They are too cute.

Peter Thiel Question: What is one thing you believe to be true about community that very few people agree with you on?

For the longest time I felt like I was the only one telling people things like “Community before product” or “Slack is a fiscally-irresponsible community tool” or “Facebook is terrible for community” but I’m thankful that I’m hearing more and more folks bang these proverbial drums!

Now, something that I’ve said more recently that have raised more than a few eyebrows is my belief that the most important team members in any business of any size are the folks specifically tasked (via role and/or responsibility) with building and leading community.

Consequently, they will (should) be the highest-paid employees on staff.

Who should we feature next?

I’ve already got a few folks lined up for the next few weeks, but, I’m looking for more folks to feature! If you know of anyone, please send them here!

You can, of course, submit one for yourself!