My community for founders who make revenue, High Signal, is now one year old! I figured it would be good to do a 1 year summary of how it's gone so far. Online communities are notoriously hard so the fact I've made one which is a) good and b) profitable, is nice!
The problem with most online communities for entrepreneurs
There are of course lots of online communities for entrepreneurs already so why make another one? Well firstly, I was annoyed that most groups descend into spam. The groups usually aren't moderated well so everyone just posts links to their startup and then leaves. This is particularly true for free groups – of course it's nice that things like Twitter are free for everyone but if you want a tighter community the best thing you can have is a paywall.
Paywalls keep out low-quality posts and people that don't actually want to be part of a community but just want to use your group as a marketing channel. I've made it clear that High Signal is a small group – it's not big enough to be a good marketing channel and it's for getting to know people better and helping each other.
Also, I require people to have at least $500 in monthly revenue. Most members make thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month. This means members can be sure the advice they get from others is top quality.
There is no point in inexperienced founders helping other inexperienced founders. This is the blind leading the blind. I've seen it lots in founder communities. Often you have no idea who is giving you feedback. It could be someone who has never made a dollar online giving you advice just because they are confident. In High Signal you only get advice from founders who make money.
Setting up the group
I know all the cool kids use Discord but I much prefer Telegram for communities. As the goal is to have a small, close-knit group, Telegram is sufficient. (I agree something like Slack is best if you have 1000+ people). We use Telegram for specific questions throughout the week or for posting interesting tips or articles we've seen.
Then we have a weekly Zoom call every Thursday. I originally chose this day sort of by accident – our first member Phil could only do the call on this day because it was his one day off! Now I look forward to every Thursday as this is the day I catch up with my founder friends. Lastly, it's a small thing but I really love the name High Signal!
Reduce isolation from WFH
The main reason I started up High Signal was being lonely working from home as a solo founder. When you are a solo entrepreneur you don't have a team. This can have advantages as you can move super fast. But it also means that there is a risk of isolation. It's easy to take for granted being in a team, even if it's just occasional small-talk in an office. When you are working on your own you don't have anyone to bounce ideas off or talk through problems with.
Now I have a mastermind every Thursday where I can share the ups and downs of founder life. It makes entrepreneur life way more fun having people to talk to every week. The best part is that it's a private group so people can be 100% transparent.
Don't believe everything you see on Twitter- there are people who post amazing revenue figures who are really stressed out their mind and living really unhealthy lives. It's great to hear how people are really doing beyond the bravado of social media.
Chatting to the same founders every week or so for a year inevitably strengthens bonds between us. Of course people don't have to make every call and some people only join a couple of times a month.
But you still get to know people way better during close-knit calls on Zoom rather than just following them on Twitter. There are lots of founders in the group I consider friends now as we've shared more of our lives than on the internet.
I've also been inspired by the success of lots of founders in the group. I've seen first hand how people like Tom, the co-founder of TweetHunter, has reached $1m ARR in a single year!
It's cool seeing Val grow his online card business Thankbox to $30k MRR and Ronan make a success from his German online learning meetups. I'm also impressed by the website traffic Phil from 4dayWeek has been able to achieve through SEO in a short time. It's awesome the variety of businesses in the group and these founders push me to be better myself.
More value for founders
Unfortunately some online communities for founders quickly become stale. I've added an awesome feature where we have a monthly AMA over Zoom with a top founder. Members ask them questions directly and I've been told this adds a lot of value to the group.
Past guests include Arvid Kahl, Alex West, Tom from EmailOctopus, Alex from Veed and Kyle Gawley. It's also a real treat for me to meet these founders and get to ask them questions in private. All the High Signal members have a chance to ask something of these founders.
More reliable revenue
The business model of High Signal is way better than other projects I've done. Members of the community get a week's free trial and then pay monthly. So I finally have MRR! It's way better to have predictable revenue every month and of course with a subscription you don't have to keep on selling people.
Compared to my usual business method of selling newsletter and blog post sponsorships, this is a lot easier. Sell once, keep the community quality high and members keep on paying.
Some of my High Signal members also pay annually which is even better! This means I have much better cash flow. You should always charge annually if possible. Of course, you need to earn people's trust first of all. You are unlikely to be able to sell annual plans straight away.
Adding a newsletter
I originally added a newsletter with the idea of drawing more people towards the community. I send 5 bootstrapper news stories every Friday and people really love it! In actual fact, it's sort of become a product in it's own right. It's been pretty easy to sell newsletter ad spots for this newsletter as it goes to founders who have budgets to spend.
Having a valuable audience means I can sell more sponsorship slots. I also made a decision to only spots by the month. It's too much work to sell ads by the week. It's the start of August now and ad spots are now sold out until the end of October! So the ad spots combined with the community membership means I've been able to monetize High Signal quickly, which was always the goal.
My community isn't the biggest but having a small group of founders who all make money is vastly more valuable than a group with a thousand wantrepreneurs who just spam the group with Product Hunt links. It's clear as well than paid communities are viable as other groups exist already.
Thanks to all my members and newsletter subscribers who have made the past year so much fun! And a big thanks as well to my newsletter sponsors who have helped fund High Signal. Here's to another great year!
May 2023 update: The community is now free but invite-only.