Channing Allen

The man, the legend, it’s Channing Allen! Today we get straight into the eyebrow raising details of bootstrapping one of the best startup communities online from scratch. We throw back the conversation to episode 7 where we talk about community building and how the Allen brothers chose to host their tribe on a platform of their own. If you are interested in online business you have to listen to this!

Episode resources:


Joe Howard: Hey, welcome back WordPress people to the WPMRR WordPress podcast. I’m Joe.
Channing Allen: And I’m Sauron.
Joe Howard: And you’re listening the WordPress business podcast. We have the all seeing eye on the podcast this week. Sauron, wow. What’s going on this week.
Channing Allen: Hello, I’m Channing Allen. I help to run Indie Hackers with my brother Courtland. And if you haven’t heard of us, we’re just a community of entrepreneurs typically in the self funded sort of smaller space and we kind of combine a community of entrepreneurs with a publication, where we interview entrepreneurs like Joe himself and other people who are kind of doing their own thing and just get them to give very transparent stories and tell everything about what’s going on in their worlds.
Joe Howard: Yeah. Yeah, Channing, I thought the pick of Sauron was a very good one for you, because when I think about you and your brother and the startup ecosystem, I think, “Man, these guys really,” … so, you guys also run your own podcast through Indie Hacker-
Channing Allen: Right.
Joe Howard: … so, you’ve talked to hundreds if not thousands, if not tens of thousands of bootstrap businesses. So, in terms of the all seeing eye, I mean, you guys have a ton of … you see everything, into every little corner. So, yeah man, it’s good to have you on. We’ve been kind of talking for a little while now. I think we first met at MicroConf. I think we first met, but maybe I had done like an Indie Hackers interview before that and then we got to meet there. Is that what happened?
Channing Allen: Yeah, I think we did the interview a number of months before. I felt like I knew you already, but I e-knew you, and we hit it off instantly at MicroConf and we’ve had plenty of conversations since. So, this is familiar territory probably for both of us.
Joe Howard: Yeah, man, I remember at MicroConf … so, you know at most conferences you go, you’ll have … some are more diverse than others. But I remember at MicroConf, it being a pretty diverse crowd. But I remember … I think I was having lunch the first day or something and I saw the back of your head and I was like, “That looks like Channing. I bet that’s Channing.” Because I was like, okay, it’s of a certain complexion and color [inaudible 00:02:28] and then it was you and then we kind of started talking.
Joe Howard: I actually don’t know if I ever told you this, but I remember we were kind of having our conversation kind of in the hallway before the afternoon talks were starting and the rest of some people on the Stripe team came over to us and introduced themselves, everyone was very friendly. But I remember being like, oh, I’m talking with Channing. I kind of want to continue this conversation. And I was very respectfully like, “Hey, everybody, nice to meet you guys.” And then I kind of … we kind of continued our conversation and then the afternoon session started and one of the Stripe people who had come up and introduced themselves very politely went up on stage and was just this super brilliant guy. And I was like, “Oh, that was Patrick Collison, founder of Stripe.” Like, okay. Cool, I should have maybe known that before I kind of turned it back to Channing, but I’m glad we got to finish our conversation anyway. But that was just like a funny thing that happened the MicroConf, that I was like, “Oh, you should always know who you’re talking to because you never really know who it is.”
Channing Allen: Yeah, just my new boss. It’s okay.
Joe Howard: Yeah, totally. And we actually, also we were just talking off air, you got to talk about the pods because I had a funny story to add too. But tell us about the pods you [crosstalk 00:03:35]-
Channing Allen: Okay. Yeah, so, before we hopped on Joe noticed, you noticed that I had these little black sleeves on my AirPods and I revealed that they are … I mean, they probably were $8 on Amazon, just little stickers that I wrap around my AirPods because in fact, I have two pairs because these fell in the toilet or in some way they got wet and were totally dysfunctional for a few days. I didn’t throw them away just out of luck, and when the new ones came, these ones started working again. So, I figured why don’t I connect these ones to my … sync these ones up with my computer and have my new ones synced to my phone. And then, now I have to have these little sleeves to distinguish them. So, it’s not me trying to be cool. It’s just me trying to be less clumsy than I tend to be.
Joe Howard: Too late, you’re already too cool. But the reason I thought that was funny is because I similarly have two pairs of AirPods. I’m holding up … people are just listening right now, but I’m holding up my two cases. The reason I have two is because I had a single pair and then I came home one day and I just couldn’t find the … I could find the case, but I couldn’t find the pods and I was like, “Where are they?” Like everyone loses them, I can’t be the person to lose them. Like, how did I do this? And then, I thought like, oh my dog’s been kind of chewing stuff a little bit recently, Marvin. You know, I was like, “Did he maybe eat the AirPods or something?” I didn’t really know.
Joe Howard: And then I was walking him, I think either later that day or the next day and I found some like kind of white plastic-y something in his … you know, when he … when you walk the dog, he does his business. I was kind of checking it out just to see if it was the case and I found a little white shard and I was like, “Marvin, come on. Really? I just had the AirPods lying around.” So, I bought these new AirPods. And then, the next day after that, after I had two pairs, I reached into my pocket of just some sweatpants I had taken off and both my AirPods originally, were just in there. So, I similarly have two pairs of AirPods-
Channing Allen: Okay, so million dollar question. Did you ever get to the bottom of the mysterious white plastic in the stool?
Joe Howard: No, I did not. We still, to this day … I guess the answer to that is just dogs are going to be dogs. So, who knows. But he gave me a nice little fake out there.
Channing Allen: Okay.
Joe Howard: But hey, dude, cool. Thank you for hopping on the podcast. I’m excited to have you on. As you know, this is kind of a WordPress podcast, as the name suggests. The WP in the name. And I’ve always been a fan of the WordPress community. I really love the people who I work with on the day to day basis who do WordPress things, whether it’s agency owners or freelancers, or people who do products.
Joe Howard: But that being said, I found another similarly awesome community in the Indie Hackers community. And I think it’s something that could bring a lot of value to people in the WordPress space who … a lot of driven business owners, people who want to do big things. This is an awesome space for people. So, why don’t you brag a little bit about the Indie Hackers community? What do you guys have going on over there?
Channing Allen: Well, yeah. Another thing we, I think, commonly talk about is just the fact that Indie Hackers is a very kind of eclectic community and it’s very pluralistic in where you get people in. So, you have plenty of WordPress developers there or WordPress shop owners there. You have a lot of Shopify shop owners there. You have people who just build their own native applications, right?
Channing Allen: The theme, I think that most defines people who are in the Indie Hackers community is that however they come to own their website that’s doing whatever their website is doing, they just then want to get advice or see examples of people who then turn that into something that is able to make money. And there are just a million ways you can do that. You know, there are a million ways that you can do things like try to get more exposure or promote your website or whatever it is.
Channing Allen: So yeah, I mean, we have probably a very similar vibe to a lot of the WordPress community. It’s probably a little bit more general on our end, but a very strong cohort of WordPress developers.
Joe Howard: Yeah, I remember at … because we met at MicroConf, which is kind of a conference for a lot of bootstrapped businesses. A lot of whom, I believe, overlap in the Indie Hackers community. Like, I would be very surprised if 80% of the people who attend MicroConf weren’t at least aware of the Indie Hackers community. I think that in terms of the positive energy you give to people, I think that I’ve gotten an immense amount of value out of just being a part of the Indie Hackers community, whether I’m reading what other [inaudible 00:08:16] posts that people have written, or have interacted with other Indie Hackers, it’s been super valuable for me.
Joe Howard: I’m very much, like I try to keep my email minimal. Like, I unsubscribed from a lot of shit, you know? I’m just like, no, I don’t want. No, I don’t want that. I have to say, the Indie Hackers email I get every day is one I truly do look forward to getting and reading and seeing what people are posting about because it’s all just … it adds so much value to me. So, everyday I’m like, “When’s the Indie Hacker … is the Indie Hackers email in my inbox yet?” And then it comes, it’s like, boom, okay. Now, I can go-
Channing Allen: Oh, well, thank you.
Joe Howard: … post something, I can go talk to some people. And it’s all just very … it’s very interesting that there’s this whole ecosystem of people out there who are building their own businesses. Like you said, whether it’s using WordPress or not, people are out there doing it and there’s a lot of value to be had not just for people who are doing WordPress specific stuff, but learning from people outside of that space as well.
Channing Allen: Yeah. Yeah, no, absolutely. So, I tend to put the newsletters together, but it’s funny, I can almost take no credit for the actual content of the newsletter because for the most part, it’s a crowdsourced list of the things that our community members have voted up in terms of forum threads, really popular questions, how do I think of an idea to put on this website that I want to create? How do I … you know, okay, now I’ve built my website and it’s online, how do I grow it to … how do I get it in front of people? How do I get someone to give me the first dollar that I earn from whatever it is that I’m selling in my site.
Channing Allen: So, I mean, when someone posts a valuable question, or someone gives some valuable advice, a lot of other people then come comment and share. And my job every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is just to look at the forum and look at the top 10 most popular whatever they are and copy and paste, essentially.
Joe Howard: Yeah, dude. I hear you. We did an earlier episode, episode seven of the WPMRR podcast is talking about how to build community in terms of your own audience. Should you use Slack, should you use Facebook Groups? Should you maybe use something native? It sounds like you guys kind of went the native route, which is very interesting. I think a lot of people … our podcast episode was actually kind of talking about Facebook versus Slack groups and it was kind of … those were really only our two options as I guess noobs in the community building space.
Joe Howard: But you guys kind of went and built your own thing, which I think in a lot of ways is a lot harder and it’s a lot higher of a … or it’s a much steeper of a mountain to climb I think. Do you remember back to the early days of Indie Hacker, what that looked like in terms of building community, because it honestly is so robust today. I think a lot of people probably forget that it wasn’t always like this and that you had to probably do a lot to get it to where it is today. So, what did early days at Indie Hackers look like?
Channing Allen: Well, yeah, so there actually are a lot of different ways to answer that question because there are a lot of different decisions and problems that had to be solved. So, I’ll try to touch really briefly on a few of them. First off is just the decision in the first place to do a native community as opposed to … like you said, Slack was around, there are Facebook Groups. And even as far as discussion boards, there’s like Discourse and Discuss, and all of these sort of … you just kind of plug and play sort of software.
Channing Allen: But one of the things that we noticed really early on and that has been sort of a driving way of thinking is control. Effectively, if you go to Facebook and look at many good headlines Facebook is making today, if you go to Facebook and you decide to host your community there or somewhere like that, then there’s a little bit of control that you don’t have. If they change their algorithm, if they decide that what they think that you’re pushing isn’t really good for whatever reason, or if … any number of things can happen.
Channing Allen: We happened to be able to build our own thing, so we decided, “Okay, well let’s see if we can sort of take it in our direction.” So, that’s that decision. Obviously extremely difficult to do in the beginning. Took a long time. But then, beyond just the technical decision, the actual nuts and bolts of getting this ghost town essentially, right? Because we started from … I think we did a couple of interviews, right? And those were basically viral blog posts, but we didn’t have a forum, we didn’t have a community. How do we get this thing to the place where it’s at today, where everyday people are coming and making posts and commenting and kind of doing the active, lively things, right?
Channing Allen: We had the chicken and egg problem. There’s a little bit of tactic that was involved. A few things that might raise some eyebrows, but I mean-
Joe Howard: I think the eyebrow raising stuff is a lot of time, the most interesting stuff to me. And I think listeners too, so yeah, if anything-
Channing Allen: Okay.
Joe Howard: Anything you can dive into there would be awesome.
Channing Allen: Yeah. So, I mean, we looked at the history of other forums that started from having no people and grew into these big sensations. We look at the history of Reddit and-
Joe Howard: Wow, cool.
Channing Allen: … communities like that. And we learned, well, what do they do? Reddit created a lot of accounts and they created a lot of fake conversations and like they would … they envisioned the kinds of threads and conversations that they wanted ultimately to see and they imagined the kinds of comments that they wanted those to get with the kinds of tones and the kind of etiquette and all the rest of it. And they did a lot of heavy lifting themselves.
Channing Allen: And we did the same thing but we fortunately, almost always had, even from the beginning, a few people who would actually come and have these conversations. Like, a few real people. And so, we just kind of created a little bit of noise and buzz around them. If someone came and they commented, we’d make sure that they got a response right away, right? Or if someone … the few people who were coming in the beginning seemed to have certain kinds of concerns that they were interested in, if there were people who were WordPress owners, or people that wanted to created WordPress companies and they didn’t know where to start. Well, we might create a thread that’s like, “Where do you start?” And, “Here’s where I’ve started,” you know? And just kind of keep the breadcrumbs there for people to continue to get value even though there wasn’t yet really a robust community.
Channing Allen: And sure enough, the actual human beings who were not us continued to rise in quantity and the amount of noise that we created to fake this appearance of conversation went down. And I think within month two or three, we were just actually having real conversations on our main accounts and spreading these and sharing the conversations with other people. And we were off to the races.
Joe Howard: I think this is a huge lesson for people trying to build communities, that you’re going to have to hustle I think a little bit at the beginning to get things started, to create that spark because you can’t have a fire unless you spark and you have a little … you blow a little oxygen in there yourself. A lot of what Kristy and I talked about, about building community in our earlier episode was about how we’re doing a lot of the posting and a lot of the trying to rev that engine to get it to even be any sort of fly wheel, so it continues to kind of power itself. But yeah, I think that’s … and the idea of kind of looking at what people had historically done successful in the past is also a good indicator of things you can use to fuel your own community building.
Joe Howard: All right. So, we’re at the point where we kind of have a little bit of momentum going. What does the growth of the community look like in terms of what do you guys consider good metrics in terms of where you want to see the community go in terms of growth? Is it like, number of users? Number of conversations? And actually, before you even answer that, I will say, like I’m on the website right now, the technical aspects that you guys have put into this community is far superior to any other native online community I’ve seen.
Joe Howard: I’m on my profile right now and it’s like … it’s not only like beautiful UX, but it’s technologically so awesome. I see all the people I’m following, I have my profile, my Twitter and email is right there. All of my … it hooks into my business’s Stripe account so that I have … I didn’t make … it’s not just me saying like, “I made this much money.” It’s very transparent. Like, here’s my Stripe account. Here’s a graph of how much I made over the last six months. Very, very cool. But I know I just had a little site note, I just had to add that little flavoring in there. I mean, if don’t have an account on Indie Hackers, like go create a free account right now.
Joe Howard: But yeah, okay. Growth. What does that look like for you guys? And what has it looked along the trajectory? Has it been kind of linear or started to be exponential? What does that kind of look like?
Channing Allen: Well, yeah. Let me actually take a step back to give context to what we care about. It’s a really important piece. So, we began and it was just … it was me and my brother. We were an independent company and we were trying to make revenue, right? Generate revenue from the company. I think we got to something like $7,000 a month or something like that, where we were making money mostly from ads and a few other sort of traditional revenue channels.
Channing Allen: And we then were acquired by Stripe, which is … Stripe is a payments processor and their north star for bringing us one was mostly just, “Hey listen, Stripe doesn’t really do a lot of marketing. It doesn’t really do a lot of sales.” Their sales team and their marketing team are relatively small. People who use them tend to like them, right? This isn’t just a … this isn’t a Stripe ad since I’m working for Stripe now. It’s just the way that it is.
Channing Allen: The biggest … one of the strategically most useful things for them is just for literally more people to create websites and create businesses from those websites because there’s a pretty good chance that those new people are going to funnel into being Stripe users. And I think that that’s one of the areas where their vision aligned with our vision at that time. And we were already growing a community at this point. We were already doing most of the things that we were doing. But before, our metric was pretty much just as many users as possible. Doesn’t really matter what they care about or what they talk about as long as they end up ultimately funneling down to something where they’re paying us money or they’re getting eyeballs on an ad supported site or page.
Channing Allen: But since we’ve come on with Stripe, it mostly really comes down at this point to the, I would say, density of useful conversations. It comes down to the frequently of novel conversations. It comes down to things like how many threads that appeal to the various people across the landscape of, “I’m trying to create a business that makes money.” So, in your case, you’ve got things really humming and you’re dealing with operations and you’re dealing with hiring the next generation of leaders at your company, your interest in the things that you’re working on, the problems that you’re solving are very different from someone who’s like, “Well, I think I want to sell this but I don’t really know how to create a website, so I’m starting out with WordPress.”
Channing Allen: And as long as we can have a forum and a landscape of conversation that ranges that interest space, pretty much at any given point in time, we consider things to be running pretty functionally. And we tend to have moved steadily in that direction, yeah.
Joe Howard: Yeah, super cool and interesting as a company that … so, with Indie Hacker being acquired by Stripe, I think a lot of people think about acquisitions and they think, “Okay, now they’ve gotten acquired, so they kind of have this fiduciary responsibility now to this acquiring company.” And I mean, obviously, let’s be real about this, at some point there was a financial thought into why the company or why Indie Hackers got acquired by Stripe, right?
Channing Allen: Sure.
Joe Howard: That’s not anything … I don’t think I’m stretching there. But I love the fact that the way to eventually funnel more people into Stripe and to help and continue to support that fiduciary responsibility of being owned by Stripe is in fact to simply try and find ways to add as much value as possible to as many people as possible. And that comes in the form of, “How can we create emails that get sent to Joe every week that he has to open, that he has to comment on, and that he has to read and learn from other people who are doing things?”
Joe Howard: The strength in that community will eventually lead more people to running more successful businesses and then they’ll just happen to need a payment system. And Stripe happens to be right there. And so, I like that idea because I think a lot of times people talk about the finance as a business and it’s like, well, you know, money shouldn’t be your sole driver and actually, I don’t think that money should be anyone’s sole driver either. But I think it’s the result of running a successful business. And so, it has to be part of the conversation of like, “What does that look like? How can we add so much value to people so that our business is financially successful as well?”
Joe Howard: And I think that’s a very interesting paradigm that you guys have with Stripe and something I really dig. In the WordPress space, there have been certain acquisitions that it feels like … it almost feels like people are becoming too big and they’re kind of acquiring for the wrong reasons to try and … I don’t know, it feels more on the financial side as opposed to the, “How can we really combine our forces to get this 1 + 1 = 3 effect.”
Channing Allen: Yeah. I mean, you really do have explicitly … I think the official terms are you have a financial acquisition, and then you have a strategic acquisition, right? The financial is like, either you’re just directly trying to merge your revenue streams or things like that, that are kind of straightforward. And then, even in the strategic space, I think that you often have somewhat more cynical strategic acquisitions, where it’s like, “Look, this company is kind of threatening us or they’re … this is kind of a one-horse town, it’s not big enough for the two of us, so let’s buy them out [crosstalk 00:22:38]-
Joe Howard: Join us or we’re going to stomp you out.
Channing Allen: … [crosstalk 00:22:40]. Yeah. But this is one of those rare examples that I can think of where it’s like, I mean, sheer, raw capitalistic strategy has led to this situation where it’s like, no, literally our two north stars at Indie Hackers, we say this every morning, and it’s in no way laced with cynicism or sort of strategy. I mean, it legitimately is to inspire as many people to create businesses that are successful as possible, and to educate as many people who have already gotten on that train to be as successful as possible. Like, that really is the only … those are the only two things that we really care about. So, it gives us a lot of latitude to do things that typically you go, “You’re a business? Like how is that helping you guys?”
Joe Howard: Yeah, totally.
Channing Allen: It’s a cool space to be in.
Joe Howard: So, I also have a quick followup question to part of the acquisition piece, were you guys around, still around $7,000 a month in terms of bringing in revenue when the acquisition went through? And what did that process look like? Had you been … because I find that most acquisitions, at least as someone who’s become a somewhat more experienced business owner, I guess more so than a couple of years ago, right? But I always think of … when I think of acquisitions, I think of a lot of people see it and they read the headline and it’s like this acquisition happened.
Joe Howard: But in reality, a lot of times it’s happened over the past year or so. You’ve started the relationship and you’ve started talking. And then, six months ago, it was like, “Well, wonder what this looks like?” And then after three months after that, you’re like, “Okay, maybe we can actually talk about the details.” And then maybe after another three months something goes through or something like that. But did you guys have connections with Stripe before this happened? Because it seems like a somewhat lower than I would expect a revenue … not even revenue, but just as like a … how old the company was, or how much [crosstalk 00:24:31]-
Channing Allen: Oh yeah, your intuition is not misguiding you.
Joe Howard: Yes, one thing.
Channing Allen: I think the word that my brother uses to refer to it is, “Why the hell did Stripe decide to buy this glorified blog?” We really were pretty much at that stage. I think we were probably seven, eight months old, if that-
Joe Howard: Yeah? Wow.
Channing Allen: … when Patrick Collison reached out to us. Like you said, I mean, we were right around 7, $8,000 a month. We did have somewhat a notable foothold in terms of reach. A lot of the kinds of channels that are relevant and have really visible platforms for developers and people in this sort of entrepreneur space, people had definitely heard about us.
Channing Allen: But yeah, in terms of just sort of a meat eating business fundamentals standpoint is concerned, we were tiny, right? And the process ultimately took I think about three months before any of the headlines were made. So there definitely was a process, but yeah. I mean, we had no prior connection. I think Patrick Collison, who you mentioned, he didn’t … he came up to us at MicroConf and ended up giving the speech. Brilliant, awesome, really, really-
Joe Howard: Super, super, super smart guy.
Channing Allen: … interesting guy.
Joe Howard: Everything he said on stage, I was like, “His brain moves like,” … because I kind of think my brain moves pretty fast, like I feel like I’m always thinking about something.
Channing Allen: Sure, yeah.
Joe Howard: When he was talking, you know there are some people that just are on stage and talking and you can tell their brain is just like on fire and they’re just going at a thousand miles an hour. So, that’s what I felt with him.
Channing Allen: Yeah. You know, he literally reached out to my brother. He sent him an email. The subject line of the email was, I think, “acquire indie hackers,” all lowercase. And you know, it was probably like a three sentence body of the email and it was just very straightforward, like, “Hey, if you’re interested in doing this, let’s have a conversation.” It was a total surprise to us, total shock-
Joe Howard: Do you remember if he had an account at Indie Hackers at that time?
Channing Allen: I don’t remember if he specifically had an account. I do remember that he was a fan of Indie Hackers-
Joe Howard: Cool.
Channing Allen: … he followed us, I think from the very beginning. And yeah, I mean, you mentioned it yourself, that you can just … you can tell just by seeing him talk, by talking to him, that he .. his brain moves at a million miles per hours and he was looking … it’s like if he’s playing chess, he’s looking six moves ahead. So, like even we were like, “How does this align strategically?” And he could lay out the case more beautifully than certainly we could at the time.
Joe Howard: Yeah, I feel like he’s one of those people where he’d explain it and you’d go, “Yep. Totally.”
Channing Allen: Exactly. Yeah, that does make sense.
Joe Howard: Dude. So cool. It’s very interesting to hear about acquisitions, especially that happen at an early stage like that. To me, that even more than I’m excited with what you guys have done, I’m really excited to see what this could potentially be. So, in my mind, it also seemed like a bet, not only even on Indie Hackers, but like on you and your brother, I think, that he saw what you guys were doing and so far-
Channing Allen: No pressure, right?
Joe Howard: … I think … yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, no pressure. But also, no pressure, no diamonds.
Channing Allen: There you go.
Joe Howard: But from what you guys have done even since that acquisition, I mean, I think it seems his thinking six moves ahead seems to have been correct since you guys have really blown up in the space.
Joe Howard: I guess, a question in terms of the technical aspect of the website because I really like … I just love the site. I mean, it is just … it’s beautiful and it’s so unique. I mean, I don’t see any other websites online that look like this. Are you part of the technical piece of this? Is that more Courtland? How do you guys balance that and tell us what is it built on? It doesn’t look like WordPress, so …
Channing Allen: It’s not in fact WordPress. Courtland is the 95% behind it. I develop and I’ve done a little bit of work, but we tend to split it up. Like, I mentioned earlier we are two parts. We have a community and kind of a community storefront. And then, we have a publication on the back, right? So, we’re constantly putting out content pieces, interviewing founders. We have a podcast, et cetera. And for the most part, I do the content and Courtland does things that have to do with the community and since it’s a site that’s built from the ground up, he’s the one that’s doing most of that.
Channing Allen: Notably, yeah, he’s also a designer and he’s a really good … he’s spent most of his 20s building his own startups and working in the startup space, so he’s got a lot of experience with design and development. As far as the actual tech, I think it’s written in … the front end is a framework called Ember.js. And we use things like firebase in the backend. I think we’re doing Amazon AWS for a lot of database concerns. So yeah, we’re not doing the WordPress thing, but that sort of a solution is actually tempting even for people like us that can build this stuff for usually the first iterations of things to get things out quickly and just see what flies once it’s live.
Joe Howard: Yeah, man. You know, WordPress, I obviously as a somewhat bias person, love WordPress and love using it, but I am also … very easily admit that it’s not the best solution for every problem you need to face, every digital problem. But I think WordPress … so, a lot of people in the WordPress space love WordPress not just because of the technical solution that it provides to people, but the fact that it is opensource, the fact that really the driving force behind WordPress in the opensource aspect is to democratize publishing. And people really like the fact that they can grab a WordPress install, put it up on their domain, and it is theirs. Like, they own the content on that website. They have ownership over it, which is coming back to what you were saying about if you launch a community on Facebook, like Facebook could shut down your group, you know? After-
Channing Allen: Right.
Joe Howard: And when it’s something that was really central to your community and you kind of have nothing can do about it. I mean, it’s happened before. It will happen again. So, the fact that you guys have the kind of technical ability to build something like this and not just that, but now you guys really own it. Like, this is yours, purely yours, is a cool piece of it too.
Joe Howard: I wanted to touch on Indie Hackers moving forward. What are your guys’ plans for I don’t know, I always … sometimes people ask me like, “What’s your five year plan?” And I’m like, “I don’t fucking know. Your guess is as good as mine I guess. Like, do some cool stuff?” You know, we have our north star and our mission we want to accomplish as well. We want to help WordPress eventually get to 51% of the web, you know? We really believe in opensource software. So, we have our guiding star and things like that as well. But-
Channing Allen: What is out now, just out of curiosity? I’ll turn the camera back around on you.
Joe Howard: Yeah. Yeah, 33% I want to say. It’s somewhere 32 to 33%. I think it’s not quite a third yet. Usually twice a year, at least over the past three or so years it’s gained about a percentage every year, which has been very interesting growth to see in terms of just the overall market share. It’s just under a third.
Joe Howard: But yeah, future Indie Hackers things you guys want to do? I feel you guys … there’s some new stuff coming out on the website all the time. I’m on right now, like you can go to the forums and stuff, there’s an awesome community section to see all these forums people … all sorts of conversations happening, interviews, podcasts. Man, there’s a more tab. You’ve got meetups, products, articles. You can contribute yourself. Like, so much cool stuff. You guys have any kind of big plans for … I guess let’s talk about 2019. What does that look like?
Channing Allen: 2019. Yeah, no, we are knee deep right now in a lot of new projects, initiatives. I always tend to like to start from the north star and then, everything that we do, and this is like if you read an Indie Hackers interview or if you spend any time in the forum, we’ll beat this over your head, certainly. But I mean, it’s big iterative experiment basically. So, I mean, we have our north star and that doesn’t change. Then we have just tons of constant experiments of trying new things and seeing what sticks. And we don’t tend to attach ourselves to anything until it starts to work.
Channing Allen: So, one of those things, one of those experiments that we began fairly rigorously and kind of dove into probably three or four months ago is the meetups; are the meetups that you just mentioned. Which is, I mean, we were almost entirely digital. We were just this online community, this forum. And actually, it was Patrick Collison’s idea. He was like, “Why don’t you guys just do meetups?” And we kind of threw our hands up and we’re like, “We’re just two people. We’re already kind of stretched too thin-
Joe Howard: Come on, Patrick. Yeah.
Channing Allen: You know, how do we … and I think he probably said global meetups. Like, “Why don’t you just look at,” … and you know, we’re like, “We can’t possibly do that.” And he was like, “Well, you have a community. Why don’t you just give them the infrastructure where they can just do it themselves,” right? Why don’t you leverage the co creation capacity that comes with any pretty tightly knit community. And so, we just kind of threw caution to the wind and we let … we just kind of appointed ambassadors. Anyone can become an ambassador. And people were chomping at the bit to do it. And it really is just, if you live in France, if you live in Spain, if you live in New York City or whatever it is, and you’re interested in meeting up with people that are like you in real life and just talking about your website, or talking about whatever your challenge, you can just volunteer and you can become one. Host a meetup.
Channing Allen: And we actually, usually link to Facebook events or wherever these …, or Event Brite, or something like that. And I mean, almost in week one, it just kind of blew up. It was just … you know, we were having meetups in places that literally don’t even have Stripe yet. Lagos, Nigeria, and just all across the world people are really eager to take it off line. So, that’s one initiative. And like I said, that was just a few months ago. It has been really successful. We haven’t had any crazy mishaps, which is one of the fears that you have when you don’t micromanage a new project that’s under your brand and name.
Channing Allen: But from a content perspective, we also have a few things that I couldn’t possibly be more excited about. And again, so I start from that north star, right? I said, our genuine mission is to inspire people and to educate people. Well, we’ve done the inspiration thing, I think indirectly a little bit by just hosting stories of people that aren’t necessarily the next Elon Musks, but are a WordPress person who’s like an every day, very relatable human who’s now making a totally workable income by him or herself. But we haven’t done any projects that are just purely about inspiration, purely about the like, “Hey, this is someone like you and here’s their story.” So, we’ve got this new series coming out called Indie Hackers Stories, which is just profile after profile of stories about entrepreneurs or up and coming entrepreneurs, which focuses on their lives; which focuses on who they are as people; which focuses on their struggles; which focuses on what’s going on in their world, what things catalyzed them to get started, what setbacks they’ve had, what things scare them at night. You know, just like the actual human story.
Channing Allen: To kind of counter, if you go onto almost platform that features the stories or the backgrounds of entrepreneurs, it seems like you’re just … you’re reading Marvel superheroes, right? I mean, there are no serious flaws ad everyone was kind of destined to become a tech billionaire from age five-
Joe Howard: I just willed it into existence and then it was and I’m amazing, yeah.
Channing Allen: … yeah, they just willed it into existence.
Joe Howard: Yeah, I’ve heard that story before.
Channing Allen: Right. But the truth is that they’re like you, right? And a lot of them … everyone’s unique, everyone’s got really great qualities and flaws and some people get lucky at times, some people learn from their mistakes. In any case, I think that showing a kind of more three dimensional depiction of what it’s actually like to be the person behind one of these organizations is … I mean, even for me, it’s really eye opening for me to read a lot of these stories and to hear these stories.
Channing Allen: so, that’s a project that we’re going to be jumping into. And then, you know it goes on and on. But we just hope to do the mission that we had from the beginning, right? Which is just to sort of get more people interested and signing up for WordPress, taking a site and figuring out what they can do and how perhaps they can use it to create a living for themselves. If 10% more people every year do that, then we’ve headed towards our north star.
Joe Howard: Dude, so cool. And that’s how WP Buffs started man, it was not … I’m not some magical entrepreneur that crazily did some … took this huge … you know, I was a guy who started a website and then it kind of, I figured it out along the way. And I think a lot of people who are bootstrap businesses will kind of tell you a very similar story. I’m not doing any rocket science here. I figured out along the way just like everyone else.
Joe Howard: I really love the fact that … I mean, you’ve said it a few times just here in this podcast, but everything you take is like from your north star, from your mission at Indie Hackers. And again, I’ve talked a little bit about minimalism in previous episodes, but I’m always kind of trying to keep my desk clutter off, so I don’t have the book in front of me right now. But it’s around here somewhere. Simon Sinek has written the book Start With Why. And he does a lot of talks around that. And I think that Indie Hackers embodies that very much.
Joe Howard: I love the experimenting and trying to keep everything lean and doubling down on what works and then tossing out what doesn’t work. But it’s all kind of powered by like, “Why are we doing this thing?” Oh, like we want to help entrepreneurs do great things. And that doesn’t just mean become billion dollar companies, it means do … create lives for themselves as well. And maybe you get the bonus of pumping a few people into Stripe and hopefully having Indie Hackers be a profitable company. And for you guys to be successful as well.
Joe Howard: But the fact that you guys are so focused on your customers and your users is really … it’s a cool thing to see. I don’t think you see it everywhere, but it’s nice. It’s a refreshing thing to see. I want to finish on another note, which is podcasts. So, obviously, we’re on a podcast right now. Whoa, this is kind of meta-
Channing Allen: We are.
Joe Howard: … people are listening in, people are probably also, if they’re enjoying this podcast or other WordPress business podcasts that you listen to, Indie Hackers podcast is super dope. I mean, I’m a regular listener as well. And Channing, you do the Indie Hackers podcast. I guess, just to finish off, have you had any guests that kind of stand out a little bit, or any that maybe you’ve done recently that have been pretty cool that people should tune into?
Channing Allen: Yeah. Well, actually my brother does the podcast, even though I tend to handle most of the other content.
Joe Howard: I meant that he does the podcast. We’ve talked about podcasts though, yes. You are right.
Channing Allen: Yeah, no worries. Yeah, no, honestly, every … and of course I have to say this, but I also believe it, everyone that we have on the podcast is … it’s always a really interesting, super useful conversation because they’re just entrepreneurs, right? And you know, you just hear about their lives, you hear about whatever they’ve gone through, and you get a dose of exactly what we just talked about, right? You get a dose of the real raw sort of unflattering often, story behind the front page or the centerfold that you normally would see of these people.
Channing Allen: And they also have a lot of insights because just like in any narrative fiction story or short story, all the mistakes and all the bumps and all the challenges you have to overcome end up giving you really, really great insights, right? It sticks with you and then that’s something that you can articulate. One of the people that I tend to actually recommend on our podcast is we have an episode about
Joe Howard: Yeah man, I think a ton … I agree that every episode on the podcast … like everyone I listen to, I learn different things from and it’s not … I know it’s hard to pick one, like, “This one’s the best,” because it just can’t be true. But I do … it’s almost every episode, I pick up on … it’s not even the whole episode, right? It’s like maybe one or two little things I hear and I’m like, “Oh, wow. They learned that. How can I apply that stuff I’m doing at WP Buffs? How am I thinking about things that I’m doing?” And it’s very … these little light bulb moments are just the reason I tune in.
Channing Allen: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. The one that I would recommend is, it’s with Bryce Roberts of And it’s actually perhaps a kind of odd pick because the majority of the people that we interview are actual founders of companies and not only are they … they tend to be founders of companies, but we ourselves, because we tend to feature bootstrap companies and tend to sort of represent bootstrapped companies and self funded companies. You know, a venture capitalist of all types of people and all types of companies is not the one that you would expect to really stand out among our podcast episodes.
Channing Allen: But Is actually a venture capitalist firm that gives a lot of emphasis to companies that are actually seeking revenue, right? As opposed to just grow as big as possible, become the next Facebook, and we’ll figure all that stuff out later on. And I just … frankly, I just really, really like Bryce. I really think that’s he’s … the episode is just … I mean, he waxes philosophical and kind of grandiose and the way that he talks about like, there was this paradigm shift, right? You know, Silicon Valley, which is where all the sort of the storied tech companies and the tech news and the tech marketing tends to come from. Well, there’s this grand narrative and then underneath that, is a strong and growing current of people who have WordPress businesses that don’t have the next sexy big thing. But from a small business and from an individual perspective, they have a story that’s really worth sharing, right?
Channing Allen: I mean, it’s someone’s who’s pulling their own weight. It’s someone that’s sort of freed themselves from the 9:00 to 5:00 grind. I mean, these are stories that are really useful and are worth being heard. And Bryce articulates far better than I can how the rise of WordPress, and sort of the growth of a company like Indie Hackers, and the venture capitalist firms like his are all sort of the Davids that are trying to struggle against this Goliath of big tech growth marketing. So, I would probably recommend that episode over just about any others for getting started because he, in a way, indirectly, describes the vision that we kind of see.
Joe Howard: Yeah, very cool. I just found the episode. Bryce Roberts, I’m going to go ahead and give that one a listen because I don’t think I’ve listened to that one before.
Channing Allen: It’s a good one.
Joe Howard: Cool, man. I think that is an excellent place to finish off for today. I think there’s this big Silicon Valley, trying to reach a billion dollar company, and then there’s the rest of us. And I think that being part of the rest of us is just fine and building a business that helps us to live our best lives is an admirable mission in itself, as well as the mission things like you guys have to help others do the same thing.
Joe Howard: Dude, appreciate you hopping on. This has been real. And been very cool. Tell people where they can find you online, your brother online, Indie Hackers online. Where should they go to check out all this stuff?
Channing Allen: Yeah. Well, Indie Hackers to start, it’s just I won’t spell it. I think that even if you Google it and you misspell it-
Joe Howard: Go Google it. You’ll find it.
Channing Allen: … you’ll probably get to the site. And yeah, if you care to hear the ramblings of me or my brother, I think Twitter is probably the best place to find us. I am just @channingallen and my brother Courtland Shelby Allen, so he’s csallen on Twitter as well. But otherwise, yeah, just honestly if you’re here listening to the podcast, I think you have a lot of good direction and you’re probably already doing the right things.
Joe Howard: Yes, agreed. The first step is just to be in tune with the other people who are doing something similar and trying to listen in on conversations. So, I agree. Cool. Check out I’m really not just saying this because you’re on the podcast, like it’s been super helpful for me as an entrepreneur, like learning about thing like I would never have learned about what customer lifetime value is and what my churn rate and my subscription business should be like, running a subscription business had it not been for people like you who’ve built this community and people over at MicroConf. This has taught me immensely how to build a business that’s powered my life, the life of 12 employees now at WP Buffs. I mean, it really is … it can make a huge different. So, if you’re listening right now, if you’re on your computer or around your computer, go and find … go on the website right now, create a free account. You’ll be blown away, literally, by the technology of the website and just the value you get from it.
Joe Howard: So, to finish, if you enjoyed hearing Channing on the podcast, if you’re like, “Man, this guy was insightful. He’s amazing. He’s doing this awesome stuff,” feel free to leave us a quick five-star review in the iTunes store. It does help us get found. So, if you haven’t already, you know, you could also take a couple of minutes to go ahead and do that. We will give you a little shout out on the show and everything.
Joe Howard: If you want to leave a question for us … well, first of all, if you have any questions for Channing, feel free to hit him up on Twitter. You can also just … he’s on Indie Hackers, right? Channing, you’re on Indie Hackers. Like, I interact with you a lot. Yeah, so, you can just go on the website and you can just @channingallen there with a comment. But hit him up on Twitter. If you have any questions for us at the show, feel free to email them in. We answer questions periodically on the show, so we would love to hear yours. Just I man that email inbox myself, so if you email there, you will find me directly. So, fun stuff. Channing, it has been real man. Thank you for hopping on. We’ll have to have you on a future episode as well. Maybe next year, or yeah, sometimes next year we’ll hop on and see if some of the experiments you’re doing this year paid off. All right, everybody, thanks for listening in. We will catch y’all next Tuesday.
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