Reddit is one of my favorite places on the internet. It's like an early version of a metaverse, where people come together to create interconnected worlds, each with its own culture.
That interconnectedness is what makes Reddit great, but for the system to work, each community has to conform to the one-size-fits-all mold of a subreddit. One size fits all, but it doesn't fit anyone particularly well. That creates unbundling opportunities.
There are hundreds of wonderful startups waiting to be built using this simple strategy: create a product that serves the unmet needs of an individual subreddit.
A few months ago, I wrote an overview of unbundling Reddit. In this post, I want to lay out a step-by-step process for creating your own "unbundling of Reddit" business.
Reddit is a diamond mine of startup ideas, here's your pickaxe:
Step 1: Find a Subreddit 🔎
First things first, you need to find the perfect subreddit. Start by browsing redditlist.com to see rankings based on subscribers, 24 hour growth, and activity.
While you browse, look for a subreddit that meets these criteria:
It's growing fast.
Subreddits that have grown ~40% or more in the last 6 months are the most promising (https://frontpagemetrics.com has long-term growth stats).
It has a critical mass of subscribers.
It doesn't have to be millions of subscribers - anything over 50K is an opportunity to build a multi-million dollar business. Beyond that, focus on growth trajectory over current size. That's where the hidden gems are.
You have a competitive advantage there.
The perfect subreddit is one that you're especially well-suited for. For example, you could have expertise on the topic or existing connections in the community.
You're passionate about it.
It's important to be passionate about the topic you choose. You need to be able to connect with the community authentically. Besides, it's hard to beat the competition if you’re spending on time on something you aren’t obsessed about. Authenticity wins.
Step 1 Example
I'll be using r/fire as an example throughout this post. "Fire" stands for "financial independence/retire early”. It's a community of people focused on achieving financial freedom so that they can live life on their own terms.
Here's my evaluation:
It's growing fast. ✔️
It has doubled its subscribers in the last 7 months.
It has a critical mass of subscribers. ✔️
It has ~70K subscribers.
You have a competitive advantage there. ✔️
I have experience building some of the biggest financial communities on the internet.
You're passionate about it. ✔️
Financial literacy changes lives. It's like normal literacy - it unlocks the world! I wish I had known more about finance sooner.
Step 2: Join the Subreddit 🤗
Now that you've found the perfect subreddit, it's time to become one with the community. Immerse yourself like an anthropologist in an isolated jungle tribe. Learn their language and their rituals. Their memes are your memes now.
Aim to spend 1-2 hours everyday on the subreddit.
Take notice of which posts resonate with the community (pro-tip: some of the best posts have lots of comments but not a lot of upvotes). Ask questions you're interested in and answer questions when you have helpful knowledge. Share useful links.
The most important thing is to be authentic. Engage like a human - don't spam or use marketing speak. At this stage, you aren't looking to establish a brand or sell anything.
Your only job is to make genuine connections and learn from them.
Step 2 Example
The top posts on r/fire are success stories from people who have hit big milestones. Comment sections are usually quite active, with lots of members offering advice and motivation to each other.
I could interact with the community like this:
Post a question asking, "What will you do in your first year post-retirement?"
It would tap into the aspirational nature of r/fire and teach me about the members.
Answer questions about how to manage living costs in expensive cities.
I've learned some tricks for reducing my expenses over the years that could be helpful.
Share a link to Lambda School.
Many members of r/fire struggle to save because their jobs don't pay well. They might not know that it's possible to boost their earning potential without going to college.
Step 3: See What They Want 🔮
While you spend time in the community, always be thinking about what problems they face. Get used to viewing everything you read through the lens of motivation. Instead of focusing on an action a member took, focus on what motivated them to take that action.
Look for themes that emerge. Pay special attention to problems that your startup could make a real dent in.
Here are some useful questions to ask yourself:
What recommendations do they ask for?
Do they keep complaining about something specific?
If you were trying to achieve their goals, what would make it easier?
Whatever your hunches are, try to confirm them by talking with the community. Collect clues that support or refute your hunch until you feel confident in your understanding.
Step 3 Example
On r/fire, I've noticed that newcomers are overwhelmed by all the information. They don't know where to start. It's so common that asking, "How do I FI/RE?" has become a meme there.
I also see lots of posts from people feeling discouraged and looking for moral support. The flip side of this trend is that posts about reaching goals get a lot of traction.
Those patterns point me towards two needs: guidance on how to achieve financial goals, and motivation to reach them.
Step 4: Create a Closer Space for Communication ☕️
The subreddit format has low bandwidth for communication. Interactions are almost never real-time and rarely one-on-one. They can also be limited by the norms and rules of the subreddit.
Once you've gotten comfortable with the community, take your connection from dialup to fiber by creating your own gathering place. The goal here is to have more personal and direct interactions.
The best options are usually Discord servers, Slacks, Instagram pages, or Facebook Groups. You'll have to make a judgement call on which to use based on the demographics of your subreddit. Whichever you choose, curate it as much as possible for the community.
The trick: make it feel like their own special corner of the internet.
Once you've created your new space, use the subreddit to spread the word. Make a post about it, mention it in comments, invite people personally with private messages. Do NOT spam though.
Be like a gracious host inviting someone into your home, not a pushy salesman trying to hit quota.
Step 4 Example
For r/fire, I would go with Slack. It's a community focused on early retirement, business-oriented (so I'd do Slack > Discord).
I would create channels like #investing, #milestones, and #savingtips. I'd also create a #welcome channel with links to the best FI/RE resources.
To set the tone, I'd personally welcome each new member that joined.
Step 5: Build Something for Them 🧱
Now that you've gotten to know the community and can talk to members directly, you're finally ready to build something for them!
Figure out what to build
Figuring out a community's needs is the hardest part of knowing what to build, but you've already done that. Next, brainstorm ways you can help with the needs you uncovered. Try to think of the smallest thing you can build that will solve a problem for them.
You're still exploring, so think of this as setting up camp. You can start developing the city after you find out if the land is farmable.
Once an idea has come into focus, get building. (I won't get into how to build product in this guide, but here's an awesome overview by Michael Seibel if you're interested. Late Checkout also occasionally partners with leading brands to do this)
This is where the space you created becomes really valuable. Share what you're building and ask for feedback, then incorporate that feedback into the product. Repeat!
You can use the same strategy you did in Step 4 for spreading the word.
Step 5 Example
The biggest need I saw from r/fire members was a need for guidance on achieving their financial goals. There's lots of information out there, but it's overwhelming.
The idea I landed on to help with that is an "investment checklist".
The checklist would show users where to put their money, in what order, to minimize taxes and maximize interest as they build up their savings. It would be interactive - they could enter their monthly saving amount and other details, then see a projection of how they should progress.
Before I started building, I would ask the community if they thought the investment checklist would be useful and what features would make it great. Building is old, co-building is the future.
As I co-built, I would check in regularly to make sure I was still on the right path.
Step 6: Build on Top of What You Built 🏰
At this point, you have two very valuable resources: your space and your product. Those are the twin boosters that will get your spaceship to escape velocity.
You now have everything you need to build a big business.
To do that, find opportunities to build on top of your product. There should be no shortage. Ask yourself how it could evolve into a community or marketplace. Build in social components. Add on features to cover more of the community's problems.
Iterate, iterate, iterate.
It's also helpful to use your predecessors for inspiration. Try to reverse engineer how Discord evolved out of the League of Legends community, or how IndieHackers evolved out of the bootstrapping community.
If you pay close attention to the community, they'll show you the way.
Step 6 Example
For my example, I think the best play is to create a FI/RE knowledge hub.
I could build out other valuable tools and host them on the same site, like a savings calculator that tells you how much you need to save each month to hit your retirement goal by a certain year.
To monetize, I could create an online course for how to retire early. The tools would drive traffic to the site, where people would discover the course.
Since online courses are a great way to build community online, I could create an accompanying Slack for students.
From there, I could expand into podcasting and YouTube to grow the community, drive traffic to the website, and generate ad revenue.
Bonus: r/manga 🎁
I believe so strongly in the unbundling Reddit approach that Late Checkout does a weekly unbundling of Reddit scrum, where we pick a new subreddit to unbundle. It’s a fun, creative way to come up with startups ideas.
Click the unbundling image below to go to Slideshare
I hope this guide has been helpful. This guide is to get you thinking of the world of opportunities to unbundle Reddit. The next 18 months marks an incredible opportunity to be unbundling subreddits.
Good luck out there 💎⛏💎⛏💎
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Loved this piece. However the biggest hurdle I face is actually promoting the product without getting banned or downvoted to hell. Self promo is a huge no no on most communities so I’m curious how one could thoughtfully circumvent this barrier?
"Once you've created your new space, make a post about it, mention it in comments, invite people personally with private messages."
^ Any advice on how to do this in a subtle way, especially in the beginning when your new space has very few people?
Taking the FIRE example, something like this...?
"I created a Slack for us to chat more in real time with different channels for #investingtips #savingtips and more - url."