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Year In Review. A story of one publication

An unnecessary thorough review of 2021 in the life of 1 publication.

Anna Grigoryan
Anna Grigoryan
9 min read
year in review, community weekly, community, online community, anna grigoryan community

Note from the writer:

This Year In Review turned out longer then I expected, so you also have the option to listen to this episode in audio version as well.

Community Weekly started as a response to the burnout I experienced in 2020. At the time the project was called Community Finder, which was basically a list of communities that people could discover and join.

When Community Finder started to get some traction I had this “amazing” idea in my head “this thing should grow fast, and now!”

So in addition to Community Finder, I also started a podcast, a newsletter and published a new article a week. All by myself. And as you might imagine this is where burnout entered the chat.

As a response to that I made some radical changes. I stopped the Community Finder project, I stopped the podcast, and I only started to write the newsletter, and quickly changed it to Community Weekly.

That is how the publication originated.

The one when I had a success

At the time, in March 2021, I had only 300 subscribers, and I knew that I needed to grow. I did not want to rely on some “accidental virality” or some exhausting marketing and growth strategy.

The decision was made to launch on Product Hunt.

I still don’t know if it’s a good place to launch creative projects. But I think if you don’t care about the outcome (as in the place in their ranking) and just want to get a lot of eyeballs on your project, it's a good place to go.

Starting stats: had 300 subscribers and I was active in a handful of communities.

My decision process was:

  • I’ll be chill about the launch.
  • I’ll not be messaging a lot of people to just get an upvote.
  • I’ll build in public by doing my launch preparation on Twitter.
  • I will not tie the success to the number of new subscribers or what place I get.

I had Product Hunt launches before, and usually those were days full of anxiety and stress, but this one was very different.

I think the only piece of media that does justice to the process is this interview with my friends from Communities Show.

The day was super relaxed. I did exactly how I planned: just posted about the launch on several communities, sent it to some of my close friends and twitter.

With that I managed to get to #3 on Product Hunt and increase the subscribers count to 900.

*queue in the applause*

I think with Product Hunt it really depends on when you launch and who else is launching that day, and who hunts you.

However this was the boost I needed to continue my work.

The one when I add the “Buy” button

Coming out of the high of Product Hunt launch, I was toying with the idea of monetization.

Communities and newsletters are actually hard to monetize.

Social media will make it seem like it’s so easy, just turn on the “monetization” switch.

However, the decision making process behind that one for me specifically in May 2021 was very confusing.

I knew all the obstacles:

  • That only 10% of subscribers convert.
  • That paid newsletter meant a lot of different content and more content than usual.
  • I did research on Substack to see what are the most mentioned benefits and saw that community is one of them.

I’ve been doing freelance software engineering for the past 4 years and in that world I had a strict rule, no free work.

And here I am doing a lot of free work in hopes that someone would pay me someday.

The timing felt right when I got a lot of “coffee”-s from a chunk of my subscribers.

And I thought if people are donating money then maybe they also will be open to become paid subscribers.

That’s how I decided to pull the switch.

At the time I wanted to go with a quarterly subscription ($30 / 3 months), and honestly I would do this now too, if Ghost had that option. But Ghost has only monthly and yearly subscriptions, so I went with it.

I launched it, and no one upgraded.

*queue in the “oh”-s*

No one mentions these parts.

There are many posts on social media about how many people upgraded the same day. And when I got my first paying subscriber I sure went to update my social media with that screenshot from Stripe.

But this moment was really hard for me. Obviously no one is entitled to sign-ups however, it felt hard, as a creator.

Soon I started to get paying members. The interesting thing in all of this is the new paying members I got were all new subscribers.

If you start with free, doing the U turn feels more like drawing circles.  

I think the single most important thing anyone should take from this is: add the “Buy” button immediately.

Now wherever I start a new thing, I just turn on the subscription. With the lowest tier possible but I do it.

No pressure of thinking about monetization in the future, and people who want to support you will know how to do it directly.

The one with a lot of confusion

I added the paid version. Now what?

I always had a lot of visions for my paid subscription.

I wanted to do:

  • Industry research.
  • Interviews with creators and founders.
  • Market breakdowns.
  • Monthly member-only magazine with all the things I found interesting in a specific niche. For example I wanted to do “Social Audio”.
  • Notion resources.
  • Curated resources.
  • Audio versions of the articles.

If you’re not exhausted after reading this, maybe you’re my ideal member.

I tried to do most of these things, and here are my findings:

  • Industry/market research takes at least 20 hours to properly research, digest and write. After each of those I got a member, however I also got exhausted so my publishing rate of these posts was 1 per month, if any.
  • Audio versions of the articles were not an interesting thing for my audience.
  • Member–only magazine took more logistics and resources then I initially anticipated.
  • Interviews with founders is what I lean on heavily now, and what will stay in the future.

Even though I had a steady subscription plan, every new paywalled post felt like launching something new each month, and it felt really tiring.

And here’s my confessional part: because I was doing a lot of things I up until recently was not able to deliver my promises in the benefits package on time. Which kind of sucks.

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The one where I talk to investors

September - October 2021.

I started to think about the future of Community Weekly, and how far I can go with the existing revenue.

While I had the publication subscriptions, I also was doing consultations for companies here and there.

As you can tell from my experiments, I wanted to do a lot of big things. They required time and resources I was not sure I could dedicate without knowing the results.

I was not thinking about taking investments right now, however I wanted to build relationships with people. Understand how things are working for media companies and publications.

While I was proudly talking about my achievements with investors, I saw that they were unimportant to them.

I was not a huge startup with a lot of fast traction. I was not “blowing up”.

I always maintained that even though investors want companies with huge traction and fast growth strategies, I would be able to find a good fit with the right person.

Of course talking to 5 investors doesn’t mean I talked to all of them, but I was quite discouraged at this stage.

Seemed like everything I had just did not matter. This might also have correlated with the pressure to deliver value to paying members that was not working out.

The one where I found the solution (potentially?)

To talk about this section we need to go back to the beginning of the year.

As I mentioned I stopped doing my podcast. At the time I joined my friend's podcast Communities Show. It was a perfect fit, I was just showing up and doing what I like the most, talk on the internet.

In general, I think anyone who wants to start a podcast needs to have an experience of being a co-host. It helps you build up confidence, and learn what you like and don’t like to do.

With the gained confidence as a co-host I decided to potentially revive my podcast.

But what would I talk about? Doing interviews with community creators seemed redundant. Everyone in the community space is doing that. As a creator it is hard to compete with so much free content available.

Also staying only focused on community made me trapped in the specific themes around that topic. About which I think I already said everything I wanted to say.

I have this firm belief that we influence the media around us, and also the media around us is influenced by us. I follow a lot of creators, big and small, and I admire them for different reasons.

And by following all of them I saw this trajectory of suffering for X amount of years, then suddenly growing massively.

But why do creators need to suffer for years?

There’s a thing I get fired up every time: the fact that we don’t care about small creators. The platforms, the interviewers, the investors are not interested until some business-sense-acceptable threshold is passed.

Which usually means the creator needs to have $10,000/MRR and millions of followers on social media platforms.

For every creator that “made it” in the mainstream media, there are 10, 20, 50 creators who gave up, did not have support, and were not heard.

What could be a better way to support them with spreading their work and stories?

That’s how the podcast Notifications turned on was born.

The one where I have a plan

Around December 2021 I had this bittersweet realization:

Writing alone will not help me to grow Community Weekly. I’m not that case of accidental virality or overnight success.

But the good news is I’m not alone. Most creators just do the best they can every day to be closer to their future as full time creators. Everyone’s story is uniquely theirs.

And if with our projects we can’t improve the environment around us, what is the point?

This might seem like a lot will change for Community Weekly, but on the front-end, nothing will change.

There’s still 1 free email and 1 paid email a week. There’s still my curated links and original content.

However, there’s a new trajectory which is putting the people in the creator economy first rather than the processes or the tools.

Will there be a creator platform born out of this - yes, most likely.

Will this stay as a publication - yes, of course.

Every creator builds a community in one way or another, every community has it’s story no matter the size.

The goal is to help as many creators to tell their stories, and give them support that they need.

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