Listen Up, IH! — Episode 8
“Love what you’re working on, stick it out through pivots and iterations.”
👆That’s Dru Riley’s Advice for Indie Hackers.
Dru is the founder of trends.vc – A one person newsletter that grew from 0 to $20K MRR in under a year.
These are weekly reports on the latest trends that entrepreneurs can capture and capitalize on. Every week Dru immersive himself in an upcoming trend and produces in-depth, high-quality research for his readers.
He appeared on the Indie Hackers podcast back in September 2020. Dru and Courtland talked about his journey, the growth of his newsletter, and the latest trends in new markets.
Dru’s Journey – A story of Parkinson’s Law
Dru Riley quit his job in 2017 with $250K saved up. That was runway good enough to last 3 years for him. He planned to travel the world, learn new skills and build an Indie business in this time.
He calls it his mini-retirement
His hiatus is the perfect example of Parkinson’s Law – the idea that work expands to fill the time available for it.
During the period, he travelled, learned Jiu-Jitsu, did some improv, but soon he found himself running out of money and time.
He had a bunch of projects here and there, but nothing substantial that could sustain him in the long term.
Dru’s personal site has 12 different projects listed – from a Twitter sentiment analysis tool, to a chrome extension, to B2B SaaS marketing playbook, finally a weekly newsletter with trend reports that help founders discover new markets and ideas.
He hit upon a “winning” project in the last 6 months of his 3 year runway. That happened when he got really serious and realized that he might have to go back to working a full time job soon.
A month before this podcast, in August 2020 Trends.vc made $24000, in March & April he had done $0 in revenue. That’s a serious turnaround!
There is a short blog post in his site titled – 3 Years. No Income, where he talks about not making any money for 37 months straight. His all time earnings report in March 2020 is $15 according to that blog post.
He calls it his big inflexion point —
Trends.vc – The Newsletter
His weekly newsletter is a deep dive analysis on a growing trend in the market. It follows a clear structure, he picks a trend and breaks it down into the following components:
The “haters” section is the most fun one — Dru anticipates what his critics are going to say about his analysis and gives solid responses to their questions.
Checkout the latest report, it’s about Productized Services.
The basic version of the report is free, and it’s insanely valuable content. But you can pay for the Pro version that includes exclusive insights, examples and even expert interviews.
The very first Trends report was about Cloud Kitchens, and it was a way for Dru to satisfy his own curiosity.
It was a topic he always wanted to dive deep into, having it in a report format that he could show to the world, gave him the perfect excuse to do his best research and put out his best content.
He even posted the initial ones on IndieHackers.com and got some great responses.
The Business Model
But he wasn’t able to figure out the business model immediately.
He tried making every alternate report paid. But nobody bought the paid ones.
He tried selling them individually, but soon people were asking how can they subscribe and pay for all of them in one go.
He asked around, took his friends’ advice and made half of each report paid.
That way, when someone liked a particular report and wanted more insights, they would pay and subscribe to it.
And that worked!
As of today, more than 35000 people subscribe to the newsletter!
Twitter – The Distribution Channel
He used Twitter to drive traffic to his reports.
He breaks down each report into a Twitter thread that his followers love. He does it every week, sometimes its a miss and doesn’t get much traction, but sometimes it works and his threads go viral.
He even gained 2000 subscribers in a week through Twitter!
Twitter threads are an underrated distribution strategy according to him.
Few lessons from the success of Trends.vc :
Why do people love it —
- People appreciate shorter content that adds value to their business.
- People don’t care about what you can do, they care about what you can do for them!
Why does Dru love it —
- It’s the sweet spot of what he enjoys, what he is good at and what other people need.
- He loves the independence and the sense of purpose that he gets from the newsletter
- Learning comes from when you teach to someone. If you can’t explain something simply you don’t understand it well enough yourself.
Couple of initial mistakes he made with trends.vc
- He didn’t collect emails right from day 1. He started doing that only after the initial 4 or 5 reports. Could have built an even better email list if he was doing it from the start
- He didn’t have a separate domain. He hosted trends on his personal site initially. When he moved it to a separate domain, it stood out as a brand separated from his personality and people started looking at it with more gravity.
His Secret to Being Prolific
Dru has worked on multiple projects in parallel, he researches and writes in large volumes. He is a prolific creator. His secret – Habits
He tracks his habits in the app called Habit List
He tries to build streaks over time, it helps in being consistent with the habits he cares about. He tracks his meditation practice, his reading, his hours of work.
He is a big proponent of Meditation, it helps him lower anxiety, gives perspective and not be reactive in conversations.
His most impactful habit is what he calls the Comfort Challenge.
As part of the comfort challenge, he has to do something new or something that takes him out of his comfort zone.
It is also a way for him to be forced out of a monotonous routine.
That’s where he learned jiu-jitsu and even tried out improv.
Trust – The only non-commodity
Dru touched on an important point about Trust. He said Trust is the only thing today that is non-commdotized.
He thinks with no-code and low-code tools even code has become a commodity. Anyone can spin up an app within days to do anything.
But no-one can build trust in a few days.
Even ideas can be commoditized, they can be copied. But trust can’t be copied.
True value comes from things that are scarce, and in the attention economy, trust is scarce.
Here trust means people knowing who you are , what are your values, people liking your style and personality — essentially your personal brand.
But it applies to corporate brands as well like Nike or Apple.
Someone can make a better shoe or phone than Nike or Apple, but they can’t gain the trust that these brands have built up over years.
His favorite trends
He writes about new trends every week, but in this episode he mentioned 3 of his favorite trends as follows:
- Startup Studios — A Startup studio is a company that builds companies. It specializes in early stage company building, some of which spin off and the studio keeps an equity stake.
- Paid Newsletters — Paid NLs solve the problem of incentives. Writers funded by advertisers are incentivized to be biased towards their sponsors. With paid NLs writers can focus on providing the maximum value to the reader.
- Cloud Kitchens — Cloud Kitchens are essentially delivery only restaurants. With improved logistics infrastructure it is becoming easier to provide value from cloud kitchens. Traditional restaurants will lose the delivery game unless they optimize.
His Secret to Hockey Stick Growth
The Product Hunt launch of trends.vc was phenomenal. It was product of the month for August 2020. It was also the biggest source of his growth.
But why did the launch work?
- Dru had plenty of stored goodwill — Over time he had built up enough social capital through his content that people were more than happy to support him when the product launched on PH. He was giving away so much value for free that he had build up a strong support base online.
- He launched late — Dru iterated on the product, improved it, already had a large email list, had social proof before he launched on PH. It wasn’t day 1, more like day 150. And that helped him put a more mature product on PH.More than the PH accolades, he loved the comments he got on the launch. People were thanking him because they had started successful businesses after reading his reports.
That’s what he advices for anyone starting out today – to focus on building audience first products.
Build trust with the audience before you have a product. Write a blog, build an email list, start a podcast. Have a personal brand.
Listen to the audience, get feedback, iterate over your audience. Have social capital, build goodwill and then launch the product.
Advice for Indie Hackers
Final words of advice for Indie Hackers👇
“I just say try to find something that you can stick with for a while. It matters, the market needs to have what you have to offer but I think that V0, version zero, never survives and you have to be willing to stick it out through pivots, through iterations. That’s hard to do if you don’t love what you’re working on.” — Dru Riley
“Love what you’re working on, stick it out through pivots and iterations.” — Courtland Allen
- Persisting Through Failures to Find a Winning Trend with Dru Riley of Trends.vc | Indie Hackers Podcast
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Thanks to Seth King for editing this post.