BOOK CLUB CASE STUDY: £15,000 IN MONTHLY RECURRING REVENUE IN 57 MONTHS

“We’re really focused on just making the membership experience as good as possible by engaging people more around the themes and making it easy for them to connect with each other and explore their curiosities. We’re already seeing lots of spin-off groups: writers, entrepreneurs, stoics, brunch crew and more.”

Introduction

Gaggle Mail, the makers of your favourite group email tool, help people build better communities by giving them access to software tools that enhance member engagement. However, building strong communities isn’t accomplished through technology alone. A lot of creative thinking, planning, strategizing and socializing go on behind the scenes to help communities grow.

For this reason, Gaggle Mail is on a mission to bring you educational stories that are sure to inspire community leaders to build bigger and stronger groups.

Today, Gaggle Mail was fortunate enough to chat with the founders of Rebel Book Club about their experience scaling their club to over 850 paying members with Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) of over £15,000 / month in only 57 months. A wildly profitable book club. Imagine that!

Let’s jump into the interview below.

 

The Interview


Hello and thanks for chatting with
Gaggle Mail blog readers today about Rebel Book Club. Many of the users of our software manage their own book clubs, so I’m sure being able to plug into how you manage things over at Rebel will be a huge inspiration to them. Your club has been around now for over four years. Why don’t you kick things off by telling our readers a little bit more about your journey so far? 

We wanted to finish more non-fiction books and extract real tangible value from what we read. The Japanese call the pile of never-finished books on your bedside table: Tsundouku, and we were suffering under its curse! We thought it’d be cool to read the same book at the same time with other curious minds. We tested the idea pretty quickly and thought it had enough legs to charge a monthly £15 subscription fee which covers:

  • x 1 non-fiction book
  • x 1 inspiring meetup
  • x 1 custom cocktail inspired by the book, served at the meetup by our friends at Mix & Muddle

We launched in May 2015 and had 24 paying members, a number of whom I consider good friends now! Each month Ben & I put in a little time to keep things ticking over and the community grew organically month on month. A year later we had 104 paying members and enough leverage to reach out to some bigger authors… and actually get a response.

Amazing! Let’s talk more about your club and some of your early challenges. What were some of the main obstacles that you encountered in recruiting your first members, and how did you get past those first roadblocks?

In truth, we didn’t have the bandwidth to invest heaps of time into the project but we kept the formula simple and whilst it was small, we continued to grow month on month via word of mouth with zero marketing spend. After running a couple of workshops at festivals on ‘how to get maximum value from badass books’ we were asked to talk at a TEDx event.

Things were starting to feel pretty legit.

Our usual distribution channel was via Amazon vouchers giving members the freedom to redeem Kindle or Paperback versions of our monthly book but we were drawn to distributing physical books a few times — partly because we had enough scale to negotiate wholesale prices directly with publishers and partly because we thought a physical book turning up in a branded envelope could take the member experience to the next level. We learnt quickly that physical distribution for us was increasingly time-consuming and added a heap of customer service challenges if the book didn’t arrive as intended. Part of me still thinks one day we may revert back to this method and get it right but for now, we decided to leave it to Bezos and the pro’s.

On your website, I see that you try to keep RBC members as active and engaged as possible. You have weekly emails, monthly meetings, and you also provide networking events so members can get to know each other. How do you manage to stay abreast with everyone and everything? How challenging is it to keep members connected in five different cities?

We’re just starting to focus on that now.

So far London has been 80% of our membership (700 / 850) current subscribing members.

But we’re now linking up members more online and creating opportunities for ‘power hour’ mini meets IRL for members to do some in-person reading accountability.

850 members! First of all, congratulations! What engagement strategies have you found to be the most valuable so far in allowing you to reach this number? Do you perform A/B testing in terms of engaging people, and if so, how do you do it?

We’ve kept it super simple.

1. Regular updates, with the same monthly rhythm – 1 book, 1 meet, 1 cocktail.

2. We’ve made an effort to connect our members as much as possible and share what we’re all learning.

3. We’ve responded quickly to applications, new member signups and, as importantly, requests to cancel so people move-on feeling good about the RBC experience.

I noticed that you have a link on your website that lets people apply to contribute in setting up a Rebel Book Club in their city. How do you go about vetting the forms that come through here? What are the main factors that can improve the chances of a successful application?

We only reject those who don’t put effort into the 2 minute application. We want to know if they’re motivated to read more and are open to new books and ideas. If they have that mindset they’ll get a lot out of RBC.

It’s truly inspiring to know that your book club has grown to five different cities in just four years. You bring your members to meet with one another and travel to amazing places around the globe. How far do you want your club to go in terms of membership? What plans do you have in store for RBC in the next couple of years?

We’re really focused on just making the membership experience as good as possible by engaging people more around the themes and making it easy for them to connect with each other and explore their curiosities. We’re already seeing lots of spin-off groups: writers, entrepreneurs, stoics, brunch crew and more.

One of your writers mentioned in a blog that the RBC community has changed and isn’t as tight-knit as it was several years back. But they also said that micro-groups have formed and the intimacy and bond between members are still there. What steps do you take to motivate your members to continue supporting one another?

The reading accountability helps bring everyone back to the same page. Sorry! We’re all reading the same book at the same time, so that connects us. Beyond that it’s simply about giving members the opportunities to connect with each other as much as they’d like. This month, for example, we’re doing this.

In 2018, you recorded an MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) of £5,250 with approximately 350 paying members in your club. How long did it take for you to reach this amount? What does your MRR look like today?

We’re now at 850 members, MRR of around £15,000. Its taken 57 months but growth is going the right way!

We recently crowdfunded so that has helped, although the investment into marketing only started this week… see our stats here.

With so many individuals taking part in your club nowadays, how do you keep things under control? What system do you employ to help you in managing your membership?

So far, pretty calm. We’re fairly light touch – regular online comms + monthly meets.

Our new team, as of last week, includes part-time membership manager, cities & meetups manager and growth marketing. Exciting times!

The Rebel Book Club has been active in the last four years, and I assume you’ve seen your share of ups and downs. If you had the opportunity to sit down and give advice to someone planning to start a book club, what tips would you share with them to help their book club get started on the right foot?

1. Read the same book each month, prompts during the month to get it done.
2. Share your learnings/insights as you go.
3. Make it fun, varied and surprising.
4. Use simple no code tools to operate it.
5. It takes time, don’t expect it to grow quickly!

Thank you for taking the time to chat with Gaggle Mail today! The Rebel Book Club story is truly inspiring and I’m sure our readers will have taken many actionable insights away from this interview. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Rebel Book Club you can follow them on Twitter or head over to their website here.

 

Improved Message Archive

Being able to search your entire message archive has always been a key feature of Gaggle Mail which is why we’re delighted to have been able to spend some time over the last few months improving how it looks and how it works. We now allow you to select and view messages while still seeing your message list. We’ve also got rid of the paging of messages and just show all of them in a continuously scrolling list.

message-archive-with-side-panel

Being able to quickly click between messages and see entire message threads from one view really makes the message archive more interactive and helps you to quickly catch up with what’s going on. In the header for each message we also show you the key details from the delivery report (how many messages delivered/bounced etc) so, at a glance, you can see if your messages are getting through.

message-header-delivery-count

When viewing messages we show them cleaned up with all previous replies hidden so you can easily see what each person said. You can always switch to see a message in its original form by selecting “Show Raw Message”

message-options

We’re really pleased with these changes and think they further improve the utility of the messages archive. If you have any feedback on this or anything else on Gaggle Mail, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Facebook Groups Alternative

Facebook is a huge platform with lots of great products, one of which is Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups has been part of Facebook from almost the beginning and is used by clubs, companies and organisations to communicate, share documents, plan events in either open or closed groups.
 
Being part of Facebook means to use or participate in a Facebook Group you need to be “on” Facebook. With Facebook’s near ubiquity this isn’t such a big deal but more and more people are becoming aware of how companies such as Facebook use and share their data and so are looking for less intrusive alternatives.
 
Group email discussion lists, or listservs (as they’re sometimes known) are a great way for groups of people to communicate and share ideas. For a start, you don’t need to be part of a social network to participate – you just need an email address and everyone has one of those. Since it’s all done over email it’s very familiar too, you use whatever email program you prefer on whatever device you prefer.  Sharing files is simple too, just attach them to your email and send it to your group. Read and reply to message while you’re off-line? Sure, it’s email after all.
 
Getting started with group email couldn’t be simpler with Gaggle Mail. Get your group up and running in seconds, then add the people you want and start sending messages, it’s that easy.
 
Give Gaggle Mail a try with a 14-day free trial and enjoy simple, reliable group email communication which you and your group will love.

Zapier Integrations

We’ve just started to add Zapier integrations to Gaggle Mail.

Zapier allows you to connect different apps together to allow data to flow between them.  For example, you might want to add a new member to your group every time someone completes a Google Form or you might want to log something to AirTable every time someone sends a message via your group.  Zapier integrations can help will all of these things.

Our integrations are private at the moment but if you’d like an invite to use them please let us know.

Members Dashboard Refresh

We’ve recently made substantial changes to the Members area of the group dashboard. The main focus of these changes has been to improve the efficiency with how you can manage members in your group especially when you have multiple groups.

Group Email Member List

As you can see we’ve switched to a card based layout rather than rows, the main driver for this was to be able to show more members on screen. Each member card shows how many groups that member is in and whether they receive the daily digest, if they’re set to paused or if they are blocked.  You can also hover over the left-hand border of a member card to reveal options to either add or remove that member from the group.

Group email member

You can click “VIEW DETAILS” on a member’s card to slide out the member details panel when you can edit the member or delete them entirely. If the member is blocked we show details about this here as well. For linked groups, there’s a second tab within the member details view which shows which groups that person is a member of.

Member details panel

At the top of the member list, we show totals for the number of members in that group as well as how many of them receive the digest, are paused or blocked. You can also see the total number of members who are in the linked group. Clicking on any of these numbers will filter to member list to show just those members. You can also use the search bar at the top of the screen to search for members.

Groups member counts

Message Threading

We’re delighted to announce the availability of one of our most requested features – Gaggle Mail now supports message threading.

 

Group email message thread

 

When viewing messages on the Gaggle Mail website they can now appear grouped by thread. This new “Conversation view” can be switched on and off via a new settings button above the message list.

 

Message settings

 

With Conversation view enabled there are two ways to view a thread. Firstly, there’s the single message view, this is similar to the existing message view with the addition of some buttons in the popup title bar to navigate between messages within the thread.

 

Group email chat view
Viewing a message thread in “Chat View”

 

Also in the title bar is a button to toggle between the single message view and a new “Chat view”. Chat view opens the thread in one long view similar to a mobile chat application. In here, we strip away replies from messages and isolate each message for a much clearer view.

 

Daily Digest Improvements

We’ve also made these message viewing improvements available to Daily Digest users who can now choose to view their digests messages gathered together by thread and open thread then in Chat view. As with viewing the message archive, these options are controlled by the new settings button.

 

Daily Digest message thread
A digest message thread showing additional messages for that digest in blue.

 

Digests are now viewed from the members own membership details page which means they can go back and see previous digests. Also from their membership details page members can post a new message to the group to start new threads – as well as posting to an existing thread.

 

Gaggle Mail member view with digests
Members can now view old digests

 

As you can see, there are quite a few changes here that we’re really excited about.  However, if change isn’t your thing then simply switch off Conversation view and things will be back to how they were before. If you have any feedback on this or anything else with Gaggle Mail please let us know.

Email as a Social Network

At Gaggle Mail we see a wide variety of groups of all sizes discussing a wide variety of topics. Each group is comprised of a set of people who share a common interest and choose to use email to facilitate their discussion. They send messages, share pictures and make plans – just like on a social network.

Comparisons between email and social networks are nothing new. It’s obvious really – the parallels between refreshing your email and checking your Facebook news feed are pretty clear.

The thing with Facebook is that it was designed to BE a social network. Over many years of use by billions of people it’s been honed to optimise for “socialness”. Every interaction has been optimised to achieve a certain goal; improve engagement, encourage ‘likes’, make friends, be more social.

You are socialising within their system, by their measures. All their tricks and nudges to optimise for their metrics change your behaviour. Maybe they change you for the better; making you more social, connecting with more people but it’s not you, it’s you + them.

By comparison email is just message passing – it’s a post office. It won’t encourage you to post a message or pester a friend who hasn’t replied to your message. It won’t go looking for people like you to connect with.

As a result of this, socialising over email is much more organic, nobody is going to hold your hand and show you how to socialise. With email your group has to survive by it’s own merits alone – email isn’t going to step in and help.

Alternative To EmailDoDo

EmailDoDo has been around for years. Founded in 2007 they have been the cheap and cheerful group email option small group often turn too. With bright colours and 90’s bulletin board style interface their whimsical style appeals to many.

EmailDoDo logo

And they’re cheap too, prices start from a very low $5 per year. For a long time EmailDoDo had a completely free option too, they still do, but now they put adverts in the footer of all messages you send to generate revenue and cover their costs. In a time of privacy concerns and GDPR this seems a strange choice.

While EmailDoDo does offer polls and SMS as well as email their group email function is quite bare bones. There’s no message archive, no delivery tracking, limited multi-group support and no daily digest option.

For small groups which don’t need much from their group email system and can get over the privacy concerns this could be enough but if you need to be sure your messages get delivered and want a fully functional email discussion system you may want to look elsewhere.

Groups start on Gaggle Mail from just $2 per month and come with a complete set of group email discussion tools. Your privacy is assured also with no-ads and complete GDPR compliance. If you need to be sure your messages get delivered and want a beautifully simple and modern interface the try Gaggle Mail free for 14-days.

What is GDPR?

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a new EU directive coming in to force on 25th May 2018, it replaces the existing 1998 Data Protection act.

Much of GDPR could be considered just good ‘data hygiene’ which most companies should already be doing:

  • Only store what is required
  • Always ask for permission to store personal data
  • Remove data you no-longer have a reason to keep or are told to remove
  • Keep everything secure

However there’s a few points that need that warrant further discussion.  Here’s what you need to know.

 

Global Reach

Even though this is an EU regulation if a company is based outside the EU but has customers inside the EU then it has to comply with GDPR. This means basically everyone.

Explicit Consent

Whenever a company want to hold personal data about someone they have to explicitly request permission and not in any round-about or nefarious way.  They have to be up front and transparent about what they’ll hold and why they need it.

Right to Be Forgotten

This one is key for consumers, if you want your data deleted then if there’s not legitimate reason for a company to be holding your data then they have to delete it.  As with most of GDPR this is open to interpretation but a valid reason for someone to hold your data may be if you’ve entered into a contact with them.

Notification of a data breach

Data controllers will have to notify Data Protection Authorities within 72 hours of a breach.

Penalties and fines

It would be unusual for regulation like this to specify specific fines but the EU clearly want to show they mean business.  I quote “monetary penalties from 2% up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover, yet not less than 10 to 20 million Euro”.

 

Obviously this is just our take on what is a very complex issue, so it this impacts you or your business, do your own research using official sources and or qualified professionals.

 

Official EU Homepage for GDPR - https://www.eugdpr.org/
Symantec - https://www.symantec.com/en/uk/campaigns/data-privacy

Yahoo Groups Down Again? Here’s 7 Alternatives

Yahoo Groups is going through a rough time, users were unable to post new messages for most of last week and even though the service appears to have been restored there’s still lingering problems.

Even before Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo, Yahoo Groups was in maintenance mode with no new development being done in years – but now they’re struggling to keep the lights on.

So if you’re currently running a group on Yahoo Groups and looking to move on, here’s a few suggestions:

  • Gaggle Mail – A modern take on the traditional Listserv.  You get all the benefits of your own group email address with the ability to configure and customise how your group behaves all wrapped up in an easy to use, modern web interface that anyone can use.  As well as being much cheaper that having you own hosted Listserv there’s also none of the limitations about having to have a certain account to participate.
  • Google Groups – This is an obvious choice, its Google’s equivalent of Yahoo Groups with much the same functionality.  You have to bear in mind Google’s main business is advertising and they will be scanning your group’s messages in order the show ads.  There emailing into and out of the group isn’t as good as Yahoo’s and you and your members will need Google accounts to participate.
  • Facebook Groups – Given Facebook’s ubiquity it’s a popular choice.  If you’re happy living in Facebook’s closed platform and their advertising based model then there’s lots of functionality.  Photo sharing, file storage and event planning are all mature and user friendly features.
  • OnlineGroups.net – Think of this as a paid for Yahoo Groups replacement.  It has lots of the features of the free service but it comes with a substantial cost.  If you really need everything that Yahoo Groups does and don’t mind paying then this is one to look at.
  • LSoft Listserv – If you currently take advantage of Yahoo Group’s ability to post by email and receive posts via email then a Listserv could be what you need.  It’s a group email platform with no advertising that gives you the ability it run as you see fit.  You can either use a hosted service or host your own.  Hosting your own Listserv does require some technical knowledge but it is cheaper than using a hosted service.
  • Mail-list.com – For over 20 years Mail-list.com has been providing a group email discussion solution.  It has lots of features including message moderation and a searchable archive (at a price) but it is starting to show its age and can be expensive for larger groups.
  • FreeLists – For a completely free group email option there is FreeLists.  It’s been around for over 15 years and allows completely free group email discussions.  It has quite basic functionality with quite a rudimentary interface but you can do the basics – and it’s free!

 

There you have it, lots to choose from.  Yahoo Groups has had a good run but it looks like it’s time is coming to an end.  Group email has been around for many years and is a well proven solution for electronic group discussions.

There’s many different providers of Listserv or Listserv like solutions that are a good fit if you’re moving from Yahoo Groups.

If we’ve missed anything out or you have some feedback we’d love to hear it.