Learn from our community entrepreneurs! In this interview, Monica Lent shares the story of building and growing Monica Lent, located in Berlin, Berlin, Germany
I’m a software developer and former engineering manager based in Berlin, Germany but originally from the United States. Most people I talk to aren’t confident about where I’m from, because my accent has gotten pretty weird by now!
About 8 years ago, I moved to Europe for a research job at the NLP chair in Leipzig, Germany. After getting tired of academia, I transitioned to working for a high-growth fintech startup in Berlin. Spent 5 years there, moved up the ranks, and finally, quit to go full-time on my products.
These days I’ve got two main gigs (I mean that literally, they could both be full-time jobs and together take up well over 40 hours per week).
But the one I’m here to talk about today is called Blogging for Devs. It’s an email course, newsletter, and paid community that helps developers grow their blogs without having to be “famous” on social media through excellent writing and SEO.
Today, the community is about 350 members strong, with about 250 of those paid. It recently surpassed $2K in MRR, over $25,000 in revenue, and 7,500+ newsletter subscribers.
Honestly, I never wanted to build a product for developers before. Nor did I ever plan to become a “creator”, but here’s how it happened.
Back in 2019, I started my first SaaS product: Affilimate, an affiliate dashboard for content publishers. It was born out of my experience building my travel blog, growing it to about $5K monthly revenue, and getting frustrated trying to keep track of my affiliate income and which strategies were driving conversions on my website.
Especially as a developer, I knew there had to be an automated solution.
So I launched the product alongside my partner Gernot, and together we recruited about 70 test users. They were in the travel niche, just like me. Start with what you know, right?
Well, you can imagine what happened in 2020.
In a matter of weeks, we went from landing our biggest customer and having our first $2K revenue month to everyone asking to pause their subscriptions. Suddenly my projects were earning under $500 per month in profit, and I had to lean on my savings.
After taking some time off to grieve my failing business (and playing a lot of Animal Crossing) I decided to try something new.
I launched Blogging for Devs as a free email course in May 2020.
It grew to over 1,200 subscribers in under two weeks. Eventually was voted #1 Product of the Day on Product Hunt. And when I launched the paid community 6 months later, net $10K in its first 6 weeks of being open for registration.
What made this experience different is I started with a distribution plan from the beginning: a Twitter audience I’d built over years of blogging and conference speaking.
My biggest lesson was how important it is to build distribution for your product. And that, in fact, without a reliable distribution channel, it’s almost irrelevant how good the product is in the first place.
So far, I’ve gotten incredibly lucky with Blogging for Devs. But that’s mostly because I made all the classic, first-time founder mistakes with my first product, Affilimate:
- No distribution plan beyond “build it and they’ll tell their friends”
- Not diversifying the customer base
- Having a time-sensitive marketing plan that relied solely on SEO (which has a timeline of its own, especially in a competitive niche like affiliate marketing).
Thankfully, I was able to do the opposite of many of these mistakes with Blogging for Devs and it had a positive result.
And I’ve managed to turn around most of those with my SaaS, too, and things look wildly different than they did a year ago. Some things just take time :)
The main thing I’ve done to grow Blogging for Devs is building word-of-mouth growth into the product.
For example, right after someone confirms their email address for the free course, I ask them to share the course on Twitter. I do the same after the person has completed the challenge. This ensures there’s always a steady stream of people publicizing the product for me.
Another funny side effect is that by helping developers blog, they often end up writing about my site: this results in backlinks and more people talking about the newsletter in public spaces where developers hang out.
These days, visitors from Twitter subscribe at a rate of 20-30% on the newsletter homepage. Even higher when the recommendation to join comes from someone else who’s respected as a tech blogger (sometimes over 60% opt-in rate!).
So it’s by far the most effective way for me to grow the email list.
One thing that hasn’t panned out yet is using my rankings of the top developer blogs to get subscribers through organic traffic.
I still need to experiment with what kind of email opt-in formats are going to appeal to developers when visiting these rankings, without annoying them too much. As you might know, developers are sensitive to popups and impervious to most lead magnets. So it takes a lot for a random dev online to surrender their email address.
In terms of revenue growth, the email course acts like a funnel for people to join the community.
Students get the fundamentals they need to act, and the option to join the community and work on their blogs with a group of peers in two final emails at the end of the course. One announcement email, one with FAQs.
I can’t say they are perfectly optimized, but it’s the main way people hear about the community and eventually join us as paying members.
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