Four years ago, I moved to Israel on a whim and started doing freelance development work. Pretty soon, I met the founders of Moolta, a young startup, and joined them as a web developer.
The same week I started working at Moolta, Sagi Shrieber, my partner at Hacking UI, joined as a designer. Moolta eventually pivoted to becoming TapDog and after a year or so, we were acquired by SimilarWeb.
While working at Moolta, Sagi had a popular local blog called Pixel Perfect. It was in Hebrew, targeting designers, and it was very unique back then because there weren't many blogs about design/UI/UX, especially in Hebrew.
When SimilarWeb acquired us, we had a month before joining them. I offered Sagi to take advantage of this “month off” and turn his blog into one that would reach a wider, global audience. He agreed and during that month, we worked on building Hacking UI. We started by focusing on the relationship between the designer and the FE developer and how it can be improved.
In Pixel Perfect, Sagi would send out a newsletter containing a list of resources about design and productivity hacks, and we wanted to continue to do so with Hacking UI.
We Wanted to Start with a Bang and Build Something that People Needed
Our main goal at the time was to build a community. A major problem back then for designers (all using Photoshop, unlike Sketch today), was that exporting svg files from Photoshop was basically impossible. It had to be done manually, going back and forth between Photoshop and Illustrator, 2 heavy tools, and that was a real pain.
Therefore, I worked on writing a Photoshop script that would automatically export the svg files, and we packaged it as a downloadable zip. We then debated whether to charge money for it - either on Hacking UI or a designated website. We finally decided that this could get us great traction and since we were more focused on getting the audience for Hacking UI, we decided to give it away for free and simply collect emails before download.
It was the best decision we made. The script has been downloaded over 50K times and until today it still brings us great organic traffic.
Getting all these emails, we started sending a weekly newsletter that includes design, development and productivity hacks resources. I think it’s very important to be consistent and we’ve never since missed a week of delivering great content to our community.
Automate to Scale
Creating this weekly email took time, both to curate the resources and to design the newsletter itself (as we’re all about design, it had to look great).
I started by manually putting the HTML for each link, "tweet this" button, category etc. After about 15 issues, I felt I can’t spend so much time on doing this so I built a script using Google Apps scripting language to auto-generate the HTML, allowing me to insert the data faster.
The Side Project Accelerator
In the past 3 years, we've worked on building a community around Hacking UI through the newsletter, podcasts and products we released along the way. The Side Project Accelerator is something we launched recently and one that I am very proud of. It is a unique program where we teach people how to build their personal brand, grow an audience and launch their side projects. After we were successful at turning our side project, Hacking UI, into a business we wanted to do anything in our power to help other people do the same. I feel that it is also a strong testament to the community that we built that people believe in the value we can bring them and are willing to not only pay a fairly high tuition price, but also actively participate and work hard throughout our program.
The idea to launch it came after we began to make a significant amount of money with Hacking UI and started to think about leaving our jobs at SimilarWeb, which we did.
To me, it was the ultimate side project success - from working on growing a community and Hacking UI, to actually leaving our jobs to focus on this full time.
The Goal is more than Getting the User’s Email
One of the biggest marketing mistakes I see startups make is not doing content marketing correctly and not providing real, thought-leading content. Also, I see many hide behind a brand. That's also a mistake - people need to relate to a brand and see a face behind it. Think of companies that are killing it in marketing like Buffer, Intercom, Basecamp, Invision. You know the people behind each of these products.
One of the tools in my list below of marketing tools I use religiously is Mailchimp. It is hands down the most important tool for us. You may probably know it as an email marketing tool but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much automation and customization you can do with it. Most startups don't have a budget to buy Marketo or other marketing SaaS products so Mailchimp is a great solution that gets the job done (and then some). There is a crazy world of stuff you can do with it and I found it to be tremendously helpful to our content marketing.
The Core Difficulty is Creating Quality Content - Now, Make it Worth it
It takes time to think about good content and create a valuable post. Today, I spend maybe 30-40% of the time writing the post and the other 60-70% editing it, creating images and content upgrades such as repurposing, automation sequences, segmenting people based on the post and more. Mailchimp provides you with some information like where people who signed up are from, but we boosted it with scripts we wrote that collect information like referral, number of times visited the site and more. Mailchimp then stores it all on the user profile page. There are endless things you can do with Mailchimp, especially when you're a startup on a budget.
We try hard to repurpose our content to squeeze as much value out of it as we can. One channel that works well for repurposing our content is the podcast. We wanted to interview design leaders to learn more about management, team structure and design processes ourselves. So we reached out to leaders of large companies and decided to record the interviews. Most of them are very busy people and it was hard to schedule the interview, we made tremendous efforts for that. So once we did that, we try to use the content in various ways not just the podcast itself.
We started by writing a post, promoting it and that's it. But you can increase your user retention and userbase by offering people additional value after they’ve read the post, a PDF with a deeper breakdown of the post, for example. Content upgrades are the best way we found for email signups, much better than popups.
Hacking UI today has 3 directions for growth: 1) the core business, the Hacking UI community. We have a long way to grow. 2) building a Hacking brand. We launched Hacking Revenue and we want to launch more websites with a similar template and take amazing thought leaders who are specialists in that subject to stand behind each of them. 3) create products for our audience like the accelerator, courses and more
Tools I Use Religiously for my Marketing Work:
- MailChimp, it’s the core of everything we do
- MC4WP Premium WP plugin, let’s you set up “content upgrades” on blog posts
- Buffer, API especially
- Google Sheets (I create spreadsheets of marketing links / content I want to share and write scripts to convert them to HTML)
Who I Follow:
I try to follow authors, bloggers, and podcast hosts who are either speaking about building audiences and growing communities, or have just built amazing communities of their own. These are a few of my favorites lately.
- Pat Flynn - The Smart Passive Income podcast is my favorite podcast. 30 minute episodes that are packed with marketing and community building gems
- Tim Ferriss - author of The 4 Hour Workweek, one of the most influential books I’ve read. Has an amazing podcast as well
- Paul Jarvis - All around genius when it comes to organic marketing, email marketing and community building. Has an amazing course about very advanced usage of MailChimp
- Jeffrey Zeldman - Comes from the web design and development world, and has done an incredible job blogging, organizing events and building a community. Founder of A List Apart, An Event Apart, and a hundred other projects. All around great guy to follow.
- John Lee Dumas - host of the amazing Eonfire podcast
- Jason Fried and DHH - co-founders of Basecamp, authors of a few awesome books and some of the absolute best bloggers and content marketers in the business. Their Medium publication is a must read
- Sagi Shrieber - My co-founder and partner in Hacking UI, but he’d be on this list regardless. This guy has taught me so much about building an online community and how to be genuine in marketing your business.
- Hacking Revenue - founded by two marketing and growth geniuses (and good friends), Alon Porat and Noam Schwartz
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