In our first issue of Scaling Communities we interview Charlie Ward; the founder of Weekend Club.
What was the origin story behind Weekend Club?
I ran a meet-up for Indie Hackers in London (called IndieBeers) each month. After a while people started asking me to setup a Saturday event where we'd hack on our projects together, and Weekend Club was born (originally in a co-working space, long live Ministry of Startups). After COVID hit in March 2020, we pivoted remote, and a year or so later, here we are!
Originally it was purely a space for bootstrappers to meet, work on their projects together and have fun. Now I'd say it's more than that - it's a community to help people escape their day jobs, become independent and make an arduous journey much easier by supporting each other.
How would you describe Weekend Club to folks who've not heard of it before?
We're on a mission to make the bootstrapper journey easier by connecting founders to share knowledge, support each other and enjoy the ride.
At a more granular level, that means we're a remote co-working space (on Slack, Zoom and Notion). Our regular events include stand-ups, office hours, retrospectives and educational sessions throughout the week to help founders make friends, stay accountable and learn from each other.
This also includes Saturdays (on Americas and EMEA time), which is probably what we're best known for. I think we're still the only remote community running weekly, all-day Saturday co-working sessions.
We also offer 100+ software discounts on things like Stripe, Savvycal, Notion and more. One of our members told me he makes a profit on Weekend Club every year from this 😆 But don't listen to me, our members (aka 'Weekenders') tell it better than I ever could here.
When did you realise it was time to start thinking more intentionally about scale?
At the point we became a remote community, I realised I'd only really done this in-person before. So my first thought wasn't about growth, it was 'how do we create an experience people tell others about?' The first 6 months were about putting ourselves in a position to grow later, because first we needed to be:
Driving organic word of mouth
Retaining members at a high rate
Adopting processes that would let us grow smoothly
It was a long journey, but we eventually reached this point.
How are you approaching the process of making Weekend Club more scalable?
There are probably two main philosophies I have here, which are kind of at odds with each other:
Have a margin of safety: This is more of a concept from investing, but I believe a margin of safety (aka redundancy) is important for a reliable, smoothly running community. This means, assume that a host will get sick, or you will forget to follow up with potential free trialists, or something similar. Build redundancy into your system.
Do (some) things that don't scale: This is a famous Paul Graham aphorism, but I think there are some things that shouldn't be automated, and certainly not until later. The biggest tradeoff with scalable systems is they tend to be less personal, and therefore less memorable. So while it's less efficient for me to offer a 1:1 onboarding call with each new member, or to send a handwritten note in the welcome pack, I think these touches pay off dramatically in the long run, as most people don't bother.
What are the most value unlocking initiatives or strategies you have implemented to scale your community so far?
These were the biggest potential points of failure, and what we did to unlock being able to scale:
Introducing members: To combat this, we integrated a members directory into our onboarding flow, plus one of our members built a cheaper Donut competitor on Slack called Catchup.
Onboarding people to start a free trial: Another bottleneck was me emailing and following up with people who signed up. So I setup a flow where Mailchimp would send new emails to reply.io (via Tray.io), then it would start a drip email sequence to gather info on potential free trialists - when they wanted to start and what project they were working on. The reason we never let people straight into the Slack is to ensure people were working on an actual project first.
Increasing Saturday session availability: We realised early that having 2 sessions per month meant people often couldn't make it, so we started recruiting members to run more events (we now run 2x per week on Americas and EMEA time). Shoutout to our awesome hosts James McKinven, Abhishek Kumar and Dan Isaza!
Running stand-ups with larger groups: Our stand-ups started getting chaotic, as there would be 15+ people on it. I got the idea from doing the On Deck Community Builders Fellowship to put people into self-managed breakout rooms (of 3-4 people) to run them themselves. We call it 'Squads' - and it's made things so much more scalable (and a better experience too).
How do you intend to maintain Weekend Club's secret sauce at scale?
Be willing to let Weekend Club evolve. Every 6 months this community has looked dramatically different since its inception, due to feedback, experiments and a shifting landscape (e.g. going in and out of a global pandemic)! I expect this to continue pretty much forever.
Give ownership to our members. We've already got 3 amazing hosts and a bunch of awesome member led events lined up - harnessing the creativity, leadership and enthusiasm of your community means you can provide great experiences at a far greater scale than on your own.
Allow the creation of sub-communities. It seems like a rite of passage that every sufficiently large community becomes decentralised into multiple smaller ones that make up the whole. Case in point: Reddit and its Subreddits. If Weekend Club grew large enough, we may need to follow a similar playbook.
What tools have helped your community the most up to this point and which do you anticipate using to help you scale?
Slack for where our main community is housed, although if we get big enough we may need to shift to something like Discord due to the 10k messaging limit on the free plan.
Zoom for running events and meetups, especially for its reliability and breakout rooms feature. The lack of good breakout rooms on other products is a show stopper for me, it allows you to run much more scalable sessions.
Checkout Pagefor making customisable checkout pages and accepting payments without code. Plugs straight into Stripe.
SavvyCal for booking 1:1 meetings in more efficiently.
Mailchimp for sign-up forms and keeping a mailing list you can engage later on.
Notion for community info, FAQs, member directory, resources etc.
Tray.io for no-code automations (although some may already use Zapier).
Catchup for 1:1 automated Slack introductions, cheaper than Donut (built by a Weekender - Stefan Brach).
Peersfor creating member posting streaks within Slack (built by a Weekender - Ghyslain Gaillard).
Simple Poll for scalable polls in Slack (built by a Weekender - Wilhelm Klopp).
Woolfie for playing werewolf within Slack 🐺 (built by a Weekender - Rhoda Esquivel).
What unscalable things do you still do?
These are the main things I still do myself:
Welcome packs: These is mainly some stickers, a coaster and a handwritten note from yours truly! Realistically not everyone is too bothered by these things, but some people really appreciate the personal touch.
Onboarding calls: Every new sign-up at least gets the offer of an onboarding call. This is mainly to understand their needs and give them a tour of the Slack, Notion etc, plus answer any questions they may have.
Talking to members: I sometimes chat to 20-30 different members per day. I know at a certain size this might become more difficult, but I think it's really important to keep real interactions and conversations going. Plus I love doing it anyway.
Key takeaway you'd want other community builders to take from this interview?
Scalability is important, but not everything should be scaled. Also pick a few key parts of the experience that you can make super personal and memorable.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources around scaling that you'd recommend?
Thinking In Systems: after you have around 30 active members, you realise you probably need some kind of systems in place. This book will give you a primer on how to think about these things. The bigger you grow, the more important this is.
Get Together: this for me is The Bible of community building. Short, simple but highly impactful, and all about getting the basics right. There's a great section at the end called 'Create More Leaders', which you'll need to provide the experience at scale.
First Round Acquisition Playbook: When you boil it down, there are 3x main ways to grow: ads (Facebook, Google etc), content (SEO, YouTube, podcasts) and virality (word of mouth, referrals). This is just as true for communities, and while all can be viable strategies, if you're not getting any organic word of mouth, there's probably something you need to fix before you fire up Google AdWords. I often suggest to first get organic referrals, then worry about your growth strategy. It's more efficient to focus on this first. (Note - communities that grow too fast tend to deteriorate, be careful).
These two aren't so much about scaling, but I think they're important anyway:
The Power of Moments: There's a surprising amount of science in how people think about and remember experiences (hint: the start and end matter A LOT). Even if you don't apply this to your community, it's pretty fascinating anyway.
How To Win Friends and Influence People: One of the most critical parts of good community building is starting with conversations (h/t to Rosie Sherry here). To communicate well with people and make them feel good about themselves, this book is probably the best possible start.
What would happen to Weekend Club if you won the lottery? (in this hypothetical scenario, rightly or wrongly, we're assuming that you'd stop working on Weekend Club)
Great question! I might be cheating here, but I think I'd actually continue working on it, but just do a bunch of stuff I don't have the resources to do. Like hire a giant bouncy castle and fly all our members in.
But if for whatever reason I couldn't still work on it, I like to think it'd continue. But I'd need to do a bit of work to ensure that was the case first! I'd likely hand it over to an existing host/member, perhaps turning it into some kind of DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Community), which I think could be pretty fascinating. The key would be creating some kind of incentive structure that made it work. The $WEEKEND token has a nice ring to it.