Dive into how creators can curate and scale online communities as a key monetisation and engagement lever with Abhishek the chief curator of the Remote Indian Community. Abhishek is the creator of the RemoteIndian project - A vibrant community of more than 1400 members in India, some of whom are working at Doist, Gumroad, Gitlab, Prisma etc. This community enables Indian professionals to help each other navigate, balance and grow in a remote career.
Insights from the episode can be translated in context of a specific show, target audience and value to be provided.
The idea of normalising remote work in India came after Abhishek found a lot of joy working remotely as a Ruby on Rails developer in 2016. But he also realised that loneliness and lack of information is a big problem in remote work and he thought it would be more fun to solve these unique challenges as a group.
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Remote Indian - https://remoteindian.com/
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[00:00:00] Abhishek: [00:00:00] I was always curious about this question, that, okay what is a good life
[00:00:04] the interesting part is now I actually feel heard and I feel understood. And that's the great part about, , building a community you're scratching your itch, but then you also realize there are so many other, , human needs, which are being fulfilled.
[00:00:20] The biggest of which is, , being connected with each other
[00:00:23] I wanted to. Take this microphone that I had, and give it now to the community you don't want to be a place where you're the only person holding the microphone.
[00:00:32] I want to keep it as open and accessible they might, feel that social debt of sorts to support the community
[00:00:38] Naga S: [00:00:38] H ey Abhishek hello and welcome to the passionate people podcast.
[00:00:41]Abhishek: [00:00:41] Hey Naga, It's my pleasure to be here.
[00:00:43]Naga S: [00:00:43] Abhishek in the current season. We're talking about creators and how they're monetizing in the context of COVID and in, in the spectrum of monetization. I believe that community creation is a very important aspect that a lot of creators either miss out on, or don't think about it in the right way.
[00:01:00]The reason I'm excited to be talking to you is because you have successfully, , conceptualized an idea for a community and scaled it to over a thousand members. So I'm really, really looking forward to our conversation.
[00:01:13]Abhishek: [00:01:13] Thanks. Thanks for having me, man.
[00:01:15] Naga S: [00:01:15] Super. So I think a good place to start would be just to give our listeners a background of who you are and also some background on remote Indian and we'll take it from there.
[00:01:24] Abhishek: [00:01:24] I'm a computer science grad passed out in 2010 and started off working in an MNC. This was quite a while back.
[00:01:34]I knew that, , this was something which I was always curious about this question, that, okay what is a good life and somewhere,the feeling was that going to an office job and, not having any say in where you could, , work from. I, I felt that wasn't right.
[00:01:54] And obviously I am a guy who likes to pursue my curiosities or [00:02:00] pursue my questions very seriously. So, that's how, this whole journey started. It took awhile, but after three years, I really decided that I needed to shift paths, learn Ruby on rails, on my own followed a bunch of people on Twitter and.
[00:02:16]Saw that, , they were developers like me who were making remote , work for them. And I knew that this was something better than what I had so that's how I started off with my remote journey and in August, 2017, I was working out of a coworking space in a tropical Island called Colandra.
[00:02:43] This is in Thailand. And I was, feeling really blessed and this was not the first time that I had this overwhelming feeling of joy. I had, , spent two years of working remote till then, but My fear was that this joy could be short-lived. I wanted to build some resilience into this, this joy.
[00:03:04]So one example that I, would like to give is what happens , if my client goes away or if I lose my job. when I used to speak to my friends their answers weren't, , very helpful. they would say that you could reach out to recruiters or you could, , LinkedIn is a platform that you could use, but then I knew that, the journey that I was on, it would not work out for me.
[00:03:28] And. That's where, , the idea of remote Indian started it was just a, way to build some resilience into this remote working career of sorts. And I thought that if I could be connected to folks who were working in similar companies that way, if they had any open opportunity in the company, chances were that I could have, , first dibs on it.
[00:03:51]So, yeah, but over the past three years of running the community, I started this in August, 2017. So I've been doing this for [00:04:00] more than three years now. The interesting part is now I actually feel heard and I feel understood. And that's the great part about, , building a community you're scratching your itch, but then you also realize there are so many other, , human needs, which are being fulfilled.
[00:04:17] The biggest of which is, , being connected with each other. That's pretty much, , my story now and we have grown to more than thousand members, obviously Covid had some role to play there. And as you can see, a lot of people have now started working remotely and let's see, I think I'm quite excited to see where, we can go with this
[00:04:41]Naga S: [00:04:41] Are you also continuing your remote job currently or taking care of the community? a full-time gig?
[00:04:47] Abhishek: [00:04:47] I was working till the end of last year. I felt that. Remote Indian was something which could be my life's work. And I had this financial runway of sorts. Like I had some savings, which I could, take a leap of faith here by, trying to see if remote Indian can be sustainable and.
[00:05:08]Yeah, I think this was the year where I, I hadn't planned that, things were like there would be a pandemic and all of these uncertainties would come about, but I'm happy to say that this has also been a great learning experience for me. Like just focusing only on one thing, which is remote Indian, I think helped me to clarify a lot of ideas.
[00:05:31]Naga S: [00:05:31] You mentioned about having a financial runway that allowed you to take the jump. Can you elaborate a little bit in terms of how you thought about it? How long this runway span and why that linked gave you the comfort?
[00:05:45]Abhishek: [00:05:45] Definitely. I am from a very , normal family.
[00:05:48] In my family, nobody understands what I do for a living. So in order to have that Let's say sanity, I would say like just having a a [00:06:00] safety net of sorts.
[00:06:01] I think that gives you a lot of , confidence to teach, to do whatever you want to do. So I didn't want to, I have that thought behind my head that, Hey, I'm actually, , I don't have money to pay my bills and things like that. So I had saved around one year of , my living expenses.
[00:06:19] And that's, that's how I kind of reasoned about it. That if I can get to these nimble number, which was, , $500 MRR, I think that was my minimum viable income. So I thought if I could raise that number by the end of end of 2020, then. I can, look at doing this more seriously. Otherwise the idea was to go back to a remote job and do this as a side project of sorts.
[00:06:46]Naga S: [00:06:46] And are you close to that number right now?
[00:06:50]Abhishek: [00:06:50] Yeah. I just crossed that number, 10 days back. So yeah, quite excited to finally it is that milestone and it might seem like a very small number, but for, for me, who has been trying to figure this out and make this sustainable, I think this was a very big win for me.
[00:07:10]Naga S: [00:07:10] , can you walk us through the process that you went about in terms of scaling remote Indian from. , from this, you essentially right to where it is today, how did you think about the values that the community stood for and what were some of your thoughts at the start and how, how are you thinking about the same thing?
[00:07:30]Abhishek: [00:07:30] As I mentioned right at the start, it was just about. Building my own network of sorts. Like I was kind of building my own LinkedIn rather than using LinkedIn as a platform. I was kind of, , under the impression that I needed to do this, my own way. But over this period of time, as I've, started to enjoy
[00:07:53]This idea of building a community, the three things that have worked for me, one of the first things [00:08:00] was having some rituals. So the examples that I like to share your is we have. These zoom calls every Saturday wherein I would either invite a guest and we could talk about a very unique challenge.
[00:08:17] So that was one of the things that, , build that habit, around which, the community could be built. The second example for a ritual would be the weekly newsletter that I send out. That was again, helpful that. I, was resurfacing the most valuable conversations happening in the, in the community because a lot of people wouldn't, , necessarily check Slack every week. So for them, this newsletter was a way to kind of, catch up with what things are going on. So these rituals were very important. I think every community needs to have some rituals which can hold the community together.
[00:08:53]Then the second thing, which I would like to mention is that I. Highlighted the folks whose, whose behavior I wanted to promote in the community. There were some people who have been very integral, pillars in this community and just giving them a voice or acknowledging their behavior.
[00:09:14]I think it gives you that That freedom or license to, , also feel that, okay, you're part of this and that's something , which has, , helped me a lot. So every time somebody has sent a pull request or every time somebody has collaborated with me on a particular project, I have, made it a very clear intention of, giving them a shout out or maybe sending them an Amazon voucher or something to, , make sure that this is, , what I would like.
[00:09:42] I don't want to be the lone Wolf here. And third it's a thing, which is important to me is that , being very authentic, I did not want to do something which felt uncomfortable to me. I knew for sure that if this was [00:10:00] going to be sustainable, then I cannot, , be trying to be something which I'm not someday, that facade will go away.
[00:10:08] And that's where I knew that I did not want to be very outgoing. I was comfortable in one-to-one conversations. So that's the medium which I chose and. I felt that helped me to, sustain because we go, sometimes you won't get burnt out. Right. If you're trying to do something, which is very different from what you are.
[00:10:28] These are the key ways. I've, tried to make this work.
[00:10:32]Naga S: [00:10:32] Ritual that helps keep the community together. Incentivizing good behavior. And staying true to your authentic self. Like these are the things that have worked for you. Can you also share some of the things that you tried that did not work.
[00:10:44]Abhishek: [00:10:44] I used to think in that solution mindset, I would learn something new. There will be some no-code platform maybe, which I came across and I thought that, Hey, why can't they use this to , build a member directory of things like that.
[00:10:57]But later on, these things wouldn't work out and that's, that's something which, which I realize. Second, I would say was the idea of having these body goals. The intention was to, connect people within the community, but I realized that it was a very passive way of doing it in the sense that people had to take the responsibility of Making sure that they can book a calendar reaching out to the other person, things like that.
[00:11:27] So I would say generally, things that have worked out where I have been very active and. The places where things haven't worked out wherein I have tried to, , scale too early, like I've tried to build a product Institute a system even before, qualifying that there is a problem.
[00:11:46] So I think that's a great learning on this. Yeah.
[00:11:50] Naga S: [00:11:51] That makes sense. So, in terms of your journey, right? If I'm, if I'm drawing a parallel to what a creator does versus what you do, typically creators [00:12:00] go. Through this creating content, distributing content, creating a community around the content.
[00:12:06] However, I think your journey is unique in the sense that you created the community and then you're creating content that caters to the community, whether it's the weekly newsletter, whether it is, how do you keep the community engaged by having these regions?
[00:12:20]Abhishek: [00:12:20] As of now, I think that's the, system that I'm following wherein I'm using whatever content is being created in, Slack to create my newsletter . But I would say that these different stages earlier I used to write a newsletter where the content would be.
[00:12:36] Fully created by me. So initially I will, for any community to work out, you need to have a, and number of people, again can be a number between hundred and two 50, depending on, , how the early adopters are. So in, in my case, I started off with a newsletter wherein I, I used to just.
[00:12:59]Write down my experiences and talk about the challenges that I faced or, the thoughts that I had, over a period of time, I think, it became a little narcissistic and I realized I would burn out doing this and that's where the shift happened when I wanted to. Take this microphone that I had, and I wanted to give it now to the community and, , I wanted them to ask, , but again, there's a time and place for this. I would say we can keep switching between content and community. You don't want to be a place where you're the only person holding the microphone.
[00:13:34] And. You also want to make sure that maybe, , the community feels that they also have a voice and they are being heard. Does that make sense?
[00:13:43] Naga S: [00:13:43] Yeah, absolutely. It makes a lot of sense, because like you said, when you're making a lot of the content yourself, right.
[00:13:49]You're trying to bring about certain insights. You're trying to bring about so many things that may be there, or you could be imagining them. What you're doing is you're Meta curating the newsletter, right. From content that's already [00:14:00] there, that the community has already made that I'm sure makes people feel heard and , feel like they're recognized.
[00:14:06] I remember one of those weeks where I was one of the top contributors and I was like, Hey, it made me feel nice. Seeing your name, they're feeling recognized and I'm sure that, , it's going in the right direction because I definitely felt good being there.
[00:14:18] That's something that I've specifically noticed in remote Indian, I've been a part of communities in the past where all of the communities have always been focused on themselves. It's all about taking, however, remote Indian is a first place where people were so willing to give. And that is something that really in my mind set it apart from all of the other communities that have been a part of in the past,
[00:14:41] they're so willing to answer a question to hop on a call really support each other. So what, what was it that you did apart from, having the ritual , incentivizing the good behaviors? Was there anything else that you did in order for the community to.
[00:14:54] Always be in this pay it paid forward kind of mindset.
[00:14:56]Abhishek: [00:14:56] I'm not sure what has worked to be honest, but I genuinely feel, , one of the good things which I did was having these lenghty phone conversations with some of the members the early members and stopped doing it because now there are so many people. Earlier, I used to just ping them , on Slack and just start a conversation.
[00:15:19] And then I would call them up. And in fact those were the places where it solidified the first pillars of the community. A community cannot stand only on, the shoulder of, one person.
[00:15:34]So people embody that spirit and. Then over a period of time. They transferred that same spirit with, with other members. And that's how spirit has been carried forward.
[00:15:48] Naga S: [00:15:49] In a lot of ways, it really just seems like a startup, right? Because your first few hires decide a lot about the way the culture of the organization is shaped. And it seems like it's similar in [00:16:00] community building as well, because what you've essentially done is that you've set the tone.
[00:16:03] You've set the context, you've set the values that you hold dear. And you've made sure that the , earlier adopters of the community are able to follow that. I know that those are the efforts that are now paying off as the community scales
[00:16:16] Abhishek: [00:16:17] In my case, I would say that there have been very, lucky breaks which have happened. And I'm, I'm grateful that, , I've come across people like you who have come into the community at the right moment and, share your knowledge.
[00:16:32] And that's how things have evolved.
[00:16:33] Naga S: [00:16:33] Well, one of the other things that I also wanted to get a thought, is what are the things that people should keep in mind when they're growing their community, maybe from like the first few members to the first 50 or a hundred.
[00:16:45] And then how does that evolve over time? Because I'm sure that, two years down the line, your priorities are different than from where you started and they're going to be different. , as you grow,
[00:16:54] how do you see that transition? And what are the, different things that, you focused on till now? And what will you be focusing on in the future?
[00:17:00] Abhishek: [00:17:00] I think, , the, the most important thing for any person who is doing this from scratch would be to. The a hundred or two 50 people, that's the magic number, which of sorts where in the community actually feels like a community. Nobody wants to hang out in a ghost town. Right? .
[00:17:17] Great part about building your own thing. You can make a lot of mistakes and just say that you learn from them. So if I had to do it again, I would definitely, , focus more on distribution. I would say if you are creating value, I think an example would help you in remote Indians case.
[00:17:35]One of the things that, could have been done or, , like it was done to some degree was curation of knowledge. There's so much content being thrown around on the internet about remote work. So if I had to really get my first hundred or, get the attention of first a hundred to two 50 people, I would spend some time creating value.
[00:17:57]Curating this content. I think that's the [00:18:00] easiest way to spark, a conversation of sorts. And once you have those number of people, I think then the, the question is that if you , sometimes an audience makes sense. You can just, , keep it as a, as a newsletter of sorts.
[00:18:15] The important question is that do you feel the value of the project going to increase. If you activate all these nodes, there are two 50 people now in your newsletter and let's say, , you give everybody a voice now, if they feel that, okay, now we also can participate in this process of creation. That's the way to go about it. I did it to some degree, but it took a really long time for me.
[00:18:37] I think it took me almost two years to get to 250 members. So that's something which I would, say is one of the key learning points, getting to your first 250 members very quickly. , you can use Twitter, Instagram, , any of the places where folks are already hanging.
[00:18:52]How things have changed. I feel that there's, there's this constant dance between being very personal. Having these phone conversations with specific members, so you have to keep that element also there, but at the same time, you have to also think about scale.
[00:19:09]So there's this constant, dance that any community manager has to do you don't necessarily want to, take that personal element away, but at the same time, just to make sure that more people can find value, you have to start thinking in those elements. So that could mean instituting some systems that could mean, identifying people who can run the community on your behalf, you don't necessarily need to be the only one who moderates the community.
[00:19:38]. You want to identify other leaders as well. Iterations are the only way to, , figure it out what works and what doesn't and feel if you can do these small experiments.
[00:19:49]That helped me a lot. I would maybe ship a small product and see whether it resonates with the community or not. Do these zoom calls almost on a, weekly basis. At the [00:20:00] end of the day it's it's consistency. How consistent you are, how persistent you are with this.
[00:20:04] Naga S: [00:20:05] You said it's about bringing value to the community. And initially you brought value to the community by curating content around remote work. And right now I see value being driven to the community by the numerous remote work opportunities that get posted on the sander, the ability to interact with experts and get that clarified, which could.
[00:20:25]In most other circumstances would be paid advice, and people are only giving advice because it's that important in community. Now, the community members are deriving value. You've got a critical mass of 250 people or a thousand people. How should. Community managers think about monetizing because in the start you mentioned that you've hit kind of a target milestone of $500 of MRR.
[00:20:49] It is an interesting way of putting it, but how did you think about monetization and, any thoughts in terms of how community managers should think about value and how that value can be translated into monetary contribution for the community manager, especially for folks who want to do this for time, like you.
[00:21:07]Abhishek: [00:21:07] This is definitely the thing that I've struggled the most. I've seen many people run, paid communities where. They would just have a paywall of sorts that if you want to join the Slack community, you have to pay this membership fee. I wasn't sure that, I could do that because I don't have that pedigree
[00:21:27]so that's one of the things that I realized, and I also, read this book called gift economy. And there's the other, another one, which is big magic. So the big, I guess, learning that I've gotten, , from, from reading these two books is that creativity shouldn't be responsible for paying my bills.
[00:21:51]So now what I'm trying to do is using a donation based business model, and there are a couple of products which are, my favorites. One [00:22:00] is Wikipedia and the other is Khan Academy. I think those two products have shown the way
[00:22:06]I am experimenting with this similar kind of model because for different people, will find different utility out of it. Right. And secondly, I want to keep it as open and accessible. For some members, they might not have the means right now, but they could use the community to improve their financial situation later on.
[00:22:28] They might, feel that social debt of sorts to support the community. That's the thesis of sorts. And recently I came across this Version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs for a creator. This was shared by Le Jin. If she's the one who coined, the term Passion Economy.
[00:22:47] So what she says is that the first level is the fulfillment that you get from creating. That's where somebody has to start from. You cannot start from monetization, for any creative project. So one has to, Have that fulfillment, that should be the number one reason for creating anything.
[00:23:02]then you go on and build an audience or a community. And the third level is, which is basically, Nirvana. So it's, this is monetization. If we can crack that bit. I think you have reached the top level and it's definitely, a blessing, if you can get paid
[00:23:20] Still a long way to go, man. I feel this is, this is just a start. People are figuring out different ways and models and not one way can necessarily, be considered the golden standard of sorts. So for me, I'm, going with this idea of the gift economy, I'm trying to put out work, I'm trying to, share as much knowledge , make as many connections as possible.
[00:23:46] The thesis is that people will find enough value to become patrons. And that's what has, happened. I now have more than 40 patrons who are, supporting me. So there's no fixed amount that you have to pay it's depending on what they feel, the [00:24:00] value that you're getting.
[00:24:00] It's a very interesting kind of a model. And I I would like to, double down on this.
[00:24:05]Naga S: [00:24:05] As we wrap up our episode for people who are listening in where can they join the Remote Indian community and get to see and experience the magic that you do that. And also , any closing thoughts.
[00:24:17]Abhishek: [00:24:17] I think people can go to the website, remote indian.com.
[00:24:21]That's the main landing page for the community. And once they sign up there, they will receive an invite to the Slack group. That's essentially the home of the remote Indian community right now. Closing thoughts would be that we are kind of living in an Renaissance era of sorts where, this is a Renaissance era for creators, and I'm quite excited to see, , the possibilities that more and more platforms are being built.
[00:24:50] It's essentially becoming easier to do this as a full-time thing. So I am quite curious and excited to, see how the world, the, passionate economy or the creator economy evolves
[00:25:06] Naga S: [00:25:06] fantastic. I think you've shared some really great insights, basic things in terms of hiding that creators are curating. The first community need to keep in mind and also, , a lot of good input in terms of what worked for you and what didn't.
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