Redacted version of the shareholder letters Linh and David Smooke send to Hacker Noon 1.3k+ shareholders every quarter.
2021 May 14 (Q1 into Q2) Hacker Noon Shareholders Letter
💰First thing first: Hacker Noon Revenue in 2021 officially surpassed that of the entire 2020 (which was redacted). As of May 14, 2020, revenue is at ~redacted. Top navigation ad remains our most in-demand offering. Meanwhile, writing contests (live examples: Velo by Wix and FREE Ton) have been the fastest riser while newsletters, ad by tag, and branding publishing have been growing steadily too. And yes, for the first time since removing Medium.com’s software in July 2019, we make more money than we burn. Yes, we are profitable 🙌 and on track to be profitable by year end, too. Yalla.
🧑🏿🤝🧑🏿Team size doubles at the beginning of Q2. We did lots and lots of hiring in the second half of Q1 - with a focus on part-time elite talent. Overall, we grew from 11 people in Q1 2021 to 22 in Q2 2021. Everyone, us included, starts out as part time contractors at Hacker Noon and will be evaluated at the end of their trial on the possibility of a long term contract. The primary people expansion is for software development and editorial talent.
👀 Traffic-wise, we have been stable, 2021 Q1 had a 19% increase QoQ for users on site, and we published 2,396 stories. Our 12 month average or users on site is at 2.8M monthly visitors. Next up, we will focus more on improving the log in experience for readers, writers and brands, with the hope to not only drive traffic, but also increase time on site.
🔥 Notable progress:
- Live emoji reaction feed. This real-time feed is a part of our push to make our product more collaborative.
- Over 100+ Slogging posts published. We continue to iterate on the Slogging app, and will be rolling it out to the best companies and communities from our waitlist in Q2. AOL interview with more information.
- Iterations on the Writers story settings, most notably Meta Description box for better distribution/curation, and a preview story function so writers can see what any WIP story would look like live.
- Stabilized the App with loooooots of bug fixes.
- End of Story Page Revamp. Cleaned up recommended stories design and engine, the contributor call to action and niche marketing ad with a lighter weight component.
- Readers can now subscribe to specific tags by visiting any tag page and hit “subscribe” 💪 on any of the tagged pages.
- Continued development of Tech Company News Pages with about 1000 company pages (discover). These pages curate not only HackerNoon stories, but also the rest of the web to position us as an authoritative source for technology companies.
- Released the Free Internet Plugin (⛔ paywall). We built and open sourced a chrome extension to remove paywalled content from Google search results.
- New Footer! Tons more relevant information and an email collection form (visit any page).
- Devs FAQ on Stackoverflow to streamline new hires onboarding 💚
- NextJS Image Optimization implemented for faster image load time.
- Creation of the Tech Fellowship Program. The gaming fellowship went well and we are expanding the program to more verticals.
- New Help section! This near ending library addresses our communities most important issues, obstacles and opportunities.
😻 More Upcoming in 2021:
- New Reader, Writer and Brand Dashboards (in that order 😉). This will deepen our relationship with each user type, instead of bucketing everyone into one experience.
- A Massive Text Editor revamp (wysiwyg + grammarly + markdown) is coming along. A few kinks to iron out before releasing.
- Embeddable NFTs: ability to install NFTs in our stories by entering the contract number.
- More page performance projects.
- New podcast microsite and new weekly Planet Internet podcast. (please check out wherever you get your podcast. We are super proud of recent ones, such as this).
- Verified writers program ✅ Working to up our rate of publishing.
- Startups of the Year Vote with Noonies software. We will launch with 25k startup nominees across 3k+ cities .
- The Noonies! Our annual tech awards will be back in the summer.
- Homepage Iterations: will make the main page look and feel more alive and dynamic.
- Improved search/discovery experience, allowing for people, companies, tags and stories.
- Better Backups: Secret Publish API storing a second version of stories.
- Mobile App for Readers: working to get more mobile traffic!
- Account Management for Premium Brand Publishing Customers.
- Slogging into the Slack App Store - and beyond!
- A new Editor Dashboard and in-app workflow to match our evolving and expanding editorial team.
🥺 How can you help:
- Refer potential customers. Although we are booked up until July for limited inventories such as Billboard Top Nav, we’ve opened up new inventories such as Writing Competitions (see Velo), Tech Company News Page (see Heroku), Managed Account Brand Republishing Program (see this and this ), Podcast (See Couchbase), and our upcoming Startup of the Year Vote. Contact us or Utsav Jaiswal directly for referral.
- Use Hacker Noon! It’s a simple ask - but will help you test the core competencies of the platform, aka, to read, write and publish.
- If you have any referral on the following, let us know:
- Corporate therapy discount for our people
- General team-building toolkits
- Executive Management Training Coach for our VPs (and ourselves, honestly)
Be kind to yourself. Sometimes I think we still live in March 2020, groundhog day style. We told all of our interns and employees in India to take care of themselves (even if that means logging off) during this trying time - and want to extend the same to you.
All the best,
Four company history lessons, and a forward looking statement:
- 2018 was the year of possibilities.
- 2019 was the year of issues.
- 2020 was the year of opportunities.
- 2021 will be the year of iterations.
All in an effort to become the best place for technologists to read, write and publish. We’ve summarized Hacker Noon’s progress by revenue, growth, product, software expansion, and some final note.
Hacker Noon doubled revenue for the 3rd year in a row, concluding 2020 at ≈ redacted. This is a YoY increase of +102%. Revenue for Q4 was redacted. This represents QoQ growth of + 21% and YoY growth of + 68%. Here is a breakdown of our 2020 income with the top sources being Top Navigation, Grants, Brand-as-Author, Noonies, Newsletters, and Ad By Tag.
Ad by tag niche marketing launched in Q4 2020 and is now booked through Q2 21. It allows sponsors to place their content next to content with relevant tags.
We started 2021 with a company record, generating ≈ redacted revenue in January. That’s almost as much as the company made in 2017 and 2018 - combined (redacted). Much thanks to some of our new and bigger customers: Wix, LaunchDarkly, CouchbaseDB, ByBit, DeFi For You, Udacity, Particle, CryptoAdventure, Flatfile, and more. These things can ebb and flow, i.e. when deals close and how buyer optimism flows, but it’s good to see quality companies committing to working with Hacker Noon early in the year.
As top navigation and niche marketing inventory fills up, we’ll be putting more effort in publishing and republishing the corporate blog posts, press releases, and software updates of as many technology companies as possible. Later in the year, we’ll go to market with a subscription offering for brand publishing, dubbed Evergreen.
We averaged redacted visitors per month in 2020. Our top source of traffic, Google, finally started to rise again, after a steady half year decline that also hurt the company’s Alexa site ranking. This recent rise in Google traffic could be due to their algorithm changes, our infrastructure work, our edtiorial rules, our content quality, just dumb luck, or an executive at Google changing their mind about our site. We did see an 18% growth in unique pageviews from December to November and a 19% growth from Dec 2020 to January 2021.
Editorial team highlights:
- Part-time editors hired: We added three new editors to our team in 2020, and they bring extensive knowledge and experience in the AI, machine learning, cyber security, gaming, and non-profit sectors. Going to expand into more junior editors to improve our rate of publishing.
- Writing competition: Starting with Wix, brands will be able to reward the best performing stories on a Hacker Noon tag. This is exciting because it drives all our key metrics: words written, time reading and money made.
- Managed Accounts: We’ve experimented with commissioned content to increase yearly revenue from affiliate marketing sources and the early results are promising. We will be working with experts in the space to scale up these efforts this year.
Additionally, while we aspire to offer visitors a sh*t ton of value without logging in, deeper relationships with our visitors is something we want to aspire toward. We are seeing a trend of more logged in users on app.hackernoon.com. From July 2019 to October 2020, we averaged redacted logged in users per month. We introduced a new signup flow, and from November 2020 through January 2021, we are averaging ≈ redacted logged in users per month.
In Q4, we conducted two separate audits to review the process of software development projects. Vercel, the creators of NextJS, audited our codebase to help prioritize which projects and approaches will improve page performance. Additionally, I audited the quality of every function marked as shipped in 2020. The overall learning was that we should ship less new things and spend a higher percentage of our time improving what we do offer. Nevertheless, we did still ship some new things, and have some cool things coming up this year.
Content Management System projects shipped in 2020 Q4:
- New Signup Flow - This new flow has been performing much better. It includes login/signup in addition to email, and educates the visitor on our value to readers, writers, and brands.
- Tech Company News Pages - The first 913 pages are live and dynamically updating the curated story lists via Hacker Noon mentions and the Bing News API.
- Paid Expert Video Calls Beta - This is in partnership with Superpeer. We are exploring more ways to revenue share with the contributing writer.
Hacker Noon 2020 Q3: The Good, the Bad, and the Opportunities Ahead
The Good Q3
Strong quarter for Sales
We project to exceed our internal 2020 Sales OKR of redacted or 2x last year. As of today October 28th, 2020, we’ve clocked in over redacted in total revenue. With 2 months left to go in 2020, we are confident to meet our yearly redacted goal.
High Quality New Product
We’ve built a lot of quality software designed to move our three main metrics, aka Time Reading, Words Published, and Money Made.
Growth via Strategic Investment
30.3 stories published per day.
The Bad Q3
Spam attack, and the ensuing effect on Google Rankings
An individual or entity conducted a spam attack that stress-tested our onboarding flow, and forced the creation of spam prevention new functionality. There are now more steps in terms of new users earning functionality, and bad actors are much easier to catch now. Redacted
A company that shall remain nameless
We had a large customer renege on a deal (3rd largest in company history), and compromised on a smaller total amount.
2020 is a year like no other. Turnover has been very low, but there certainly has been external factors facing the team, and we’ve made efforts for Hacker Noon to be a good company to work for - even during a global pandemic.
The Opportunities Ahead Q4 and Beyond
The Slack blogging app. One command to curate your most marketable Slack discussions into Hacker Noon story drafts. Have been using it internally. Can read a couple posts here, and see a preview of Slogging.com in our slide deck.
Tech Company News Pages (beta)
Public facing pages for top 1000 tech companies. We are using the Bing News API to pull in stories around the web to put next business information and mentions in Hacker Noon stories.
Tech Brief, supscription + improved reader onboarding
Readers can sign up/in and subscribe to tag-specific newsletters, amongst other reader-friendly functions.
Paid Video Calls with Tech Experts
this in partnership with Superpeer. A preview of this marketplace is Experts.Hackernoon.com with the password redacted. It’s exciting to create new business opportunities to rev share with contributors.
Improved performance and speed
In talks with a number of experts and technology solutions to improve the performance of our site.
Internal Stats Level Up
We have an admin internal stats system, in addition to data being stored in Firebase, Vercel, Algolia and Google Analytics. Going into 2021, we are prioritizing some robust improvements to better understand our data.
We’ve passed total revenue of last year (redacted) within the first half of this year! In Q2 2020, Hacker Noon had it’s highest revenue quarter in company history (redacted), we built a lot of quality software (including Noonies 2.0), published a lot of great technology stories (some top ones), made it onto Wikipedia, increased the share price by 38% in our second round of financing (2020 Strategic Coil investment vs. 2019 StartEngine Equity crowdfunding round); but have seen a decline in Google traffic, and are actively working with Google and experts to rectify. We’ll dig into how our business is making adaptations for internet reading trends, but our overall strategy remains unchanged. Hacker Noon publishes insightful tech stories, makes useful software, and just is how hackers start their afternoons.
The Hacker Noon product team had a strong quarter. With our cleaner infrastructure detailed in our previous shareholder letter, we were able to accelerate our rate of deployment significantly, largely via automatically (as opposed to manually) deploying features, as well as adding one more part-time back-end developer to the team. We are so happy with the work of Richard Kubina, who’s a referral from our Full-Stack Developer Austin Pocus, that we made him a full time offer in Q3, which he accepted :-)
In 2020 Q2, here is list of what we released, and one sentence about each:
- The Noonies v2: our custom voting product at Noonies.Tech (voting opens on August 13th).
- Story Archives: all stories published on a date accessible by clicking any date under each story title (example)
- Tech Stories Tab Chrome Extension: Chrome is Hacker Noon readers’ most popular browser and by installing this extension (open sourced here), users can get the latest stories from Hacker Noon when opening a new tab.
- Sticky Story Headline: removing barrier to reading even further, this feature emphasizes the story title, author accreditation, and a less annoying, more reader friendly sticky ad (example, scroll down to see how design functions).
- Single Story Stats Page: easily accessible under each story title for writers & editors, this new stat page also includes a pixelated graph that showcases how well the story does over time compared to average peak performance (example).
- Backup System: It is a lot easier to move fast and break things if you can go back in time to restore how things work - now we can!
- Time Reading Created on Profile Page: this feature emphasizes the value created by each writer via hackernoon.com (time reading, one of our 3 core metrics) front & center on their profile (example)
- Coil Web Monetization Integration: any writer can now add meta tag to their profile to be streamed micropayments from Coil subscribers (2.6k users have done so)
- About Page: all you need to know about Hacker Noon in one page.
- Open Sourced Emojis: Hacker Noon’s pixelated designs are now open sourced on Github (here & here).
- Admin/Editor Improvement: we continue to improve our app, which manages hundreds of submissions per day (reject, improve, schedule or publish), on top of 22k+ tags, 12k+ writer profiles, sponsor payments for BAA, and content curation & distribution.
- Commenting Leaderboard: ranking all comments on Hacker Noon; however, as we are transitioning off Disqus commenting system, this is currently turned off.
- Increased Testing: Reliability, reliability, reliability - we’ve built more testing systems with Sentry, Hotjar, and more importantly, we’ve been writing end-to-end tests that simulate user behavior with Cypress.
Overall, each of these product developments help move at least one of our main core metrics: time reading, words published, or money made.
Profit and Loss
For better or for worse, we are getting closer to profitability despite a growing pandemic. Last quarter, while the US GDP shrank by 32.9%, Hacker Noon revenue grew by 121.96% QoQ. Redacted
Editorial & Traffic
This quarter, we published 3,593,068 words from Hacker Noon stories; which marks a + 7.3% YoY and + 5.6% QoQ increase. We averaged 30.9 stories published per day; representing a + 19.6 % YoY and +5.5% QoQ increase. Redacted.
Our long term strategy, however, is to diversify our traffic to come from different sources other than search, such as emails and social media, and overall, to significantly strengthen our relationship with our readers (think subscription emails, bookmarks, emoji reactions, smoother login, etc.). Redacted
Coil Strategic Investment, & Ensuing Investor Interest
Redacted, we offered Richard a full time position which he accepted. He’s the best developer Austin had worked with besides Dane, and has proven to be extremely agile, adaptable and thoughtful. His skillset compliments our current dev team perfectly.
Outlook & Q3 Sneak Peek
Q3 started off with a redacted grant from Mozilla. Our mentor for the Fix the Internet program is Rotten Tomatoes founding CEO Patrick Lee. For the 8 week sprint we are working on inline emoji reactions. The data schema is set up to be able to iterate at the character level, word level and paragraph level. We will be working hard to facilitate the exchange of value between reader and writer.
With millions of Covid19 cases worldwide, stock market volatility, and billions of people under stay at home orders, this pandemic creates threats and opportunities for humanity. With great gratitude, Hacker Noon keeps humming along. We’ve always been an entirely remote team, and we like our position as a digital source of knowledge in time when people are spending as much time as ever reading online. This quarter was strong and steady at 3.4M+ words published (+5% 2019 average), 4.5M+ monthly readers (+12% 2019 average) and redacted in revenue (+42% above 2019 quarterly average). We’ll dig into how our business is making adaptations for the pandemic, but our overall strategy remains unchanged. Hacker Noon publishes insightful stories, makes useful software, and just is how hackers start their afternoons.
We’re focused on making a better place for technologists to read, write and publish.
Our big release of the quarter was dubbed NextGreen: a redesign and re-architecture built with the NextJS framework on the story page, homepage, search page and tagged page. The story page is where the vast majority of our traffic lives, and while we’ve been testing the new design work live for the last three weeks on production, average time on page is up 14% on the story page. Almost as importantly, this new architecture streamlines deployment across our CDN, cloud functions and application, so future iterations can deploy significantly faster.
Ad by Tag
Ad placement relevancy to content
First couple Beta payings customers are live. Bugs worked out.
Optimizing the rate of publishing
Average stories published per day is 29. This helps kept the editors sane.
Scroll down to end of a story
Integrated Disqus and added our own custom emojis
More learnings about what social proof matters
Deeper Algolia Integration
Search anything on site
Rich media data for stories on all curation pages and filters on the search page
More value for curation decisions
Curated reading lists from Hacker Noon & around web
Iterate on last year’s custom voting app
site source code
Real time streaming payments from readers to writers to charities
Collaborative Editing V1
Unlisted draft links & in talks to white label markup.io
Logic to subscribe to tags and authors
We did run a beta experiment hosting annotations and inline comments on a blockchain, partnering with GUN decentralized peer to peer database. It is not ready to deploy to all users, so we are exploring multiple approaches to micro-content hosting and curation within our user facing experience. GUN is still providing page load performance insights. Curious about how text hosting evolves over time.
We also did experience some spammy visitors - so that was a fun cat and mouse game that resulted in more spam prevention implementations. Lots of free roblox codes. New users now earn writer functionality, like profile advertisements, after they spend time reading and writing. Spam management never ends, it’s part of running a large community, and now our system now has a bit more protection baked in.
In the long term, we have a lot of options to be a better place for technologists to read, write, and publish. Once Hacker Noon the site is a profitable growth machine, we could explore questions like, how is it possible to use our software to serve more of the internet? Additionally, we remain excited about the creation of token generated by time reading created. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. In the short term, our product team is iterating on how curation works (collections and reactions), improving the writer experience (text editor interactions and human editor interactions), and building out the reader account experience (subscriptions and recommendations). As our site is historically about 75% desktop and 25% mobile readership - and other many text content destinations (especially in tech) are closer to 50% desktop and 50% mobile - we are likely to move our attention to a mobile application later in the year. But we do operate with the product funnel approach.
We published 2,200 stories for the quarter. You can view the list of our best stories (3.37% of all stories) curated by editors here. We also have put gasoline on stories of the time, publishing 175 Coronavirus /Covid-19 stories (and rejecting about 350 more), besides our regular powerful topics, namely programming, python, and cryptocurrency stories.
Google News started picking up Hacker Noon stories in late February, mostly our cryptocurrency news. We’ll be monitoring this source, but it is a solid win for amplifying the publish button, as Google News has ≈630M+ users. Some of top recent mentions around the web are Mercedes Benz commercial, Wired, Forbes, book citations, Investor Place, Media Post, Cornell, Yale, International Business Times, Yahoo Finance, Bitcoin Exchange Guide, ZDNet, BizCommunity, NewsMax, Crypto Slate, Crypto Daily, Security Boulevard, Hacker Earth, Decrypt, UPenn Law School, Seeking Alpha, Value Walk, Dice, IFL Science, ProductHunt, Cointelegraph, Coindesk, Bitcoinist, Thrive Global, Bitcoin.com, GeekWire, and other places around the web.
We have further steered into the “ugly-highlighter-pixelated-terminal green” for our pixelated presence on incumbent social media platforms. We are creating and distributing more micro-content. In Q1 2020, not only did we continue to expand on current strong platforms such as on Facebook (where we gained a “verified” checkmark), Twitter (where we have not gained a verified checkmark), Youtube (where we post podcast episodes and software updates) or LinkedIn (where they say we have 200+ ‘employees’), Pinterest (with almost 400k monthly views exclusively from RSS repost), or Instagram (it’s very green); but also on younger platforms, such as Giphy (with 5.3M views across 80 GIFs), Minds (42k subscribers), and Unsplash (817k views and 2k downloads).
Our redacted in revenue was 42% higher than the average quarter in 2019, but a 6% decline from 2019 Q4, which was the highest in company history. Advertising is highly seasonal and even in growing businesses, Q1 is often less than Q4 of prior year. Top navigation continued to lead the way, brand as author overperformed, and we made a big move into ad placement by content relevancy with the beta launch of our ad by tag program.
At Hacker Noon, we’ve also been building better tech for the sponsorship experience. For the prospective & current customer, we’ve automated our internal brand as author publishing flow. For any lead that visits our sponsor page, we also introduced our own sales chatbot.
While the entire economy is subject to this global downturn, the effect of the bottom-line was not massive to ours: there was one delayed customer payment and a dozen or so leads dropping, citing budget constraints. However, we continue to benefit from increased marketing budgets from online education and knowledge based companies, such as our new customers Udacity and Udemy. Also, a lot of event marketing budgets have opened up, and how tech companies driving tech people to online events could grow. I think tech companies marketing budgets will not shrink like other industries’ budgets, but who knows? What we control is how we make a better sales machine.
Profit and Loss
In growing our team, we plan to continue what has worked, hire for part time project/s, with the plan to consider each person for full-time. Our next three roles this year are Head of Story Recruitment, Sales Representative, and T-shaped Backend Developer. Email us if you have a candidate in mind.
Don’t forget to wash your hands :-)
We ended the year with our highest quarterly revenue in company history while building some important product integrations (with Google Analytics, Algolia, Unsplash & GUN), and dark mode. Our Alexa ranking is at 3.5k worldwide, up from a 5.2k ranking before removing Medium, proving the overall success of the move into our own infrastructure. We also had a company wide year end review where 100% of the team answered “yes” to the question “are you happy?”
In 2019, Hacker Noon had 38M total site visitors, an increase of 35% from 2018 year over year. From Nov 2016 through early Dec 2019, Hacker Noon totaled ≈77M visitors.
We closed the year as a top 3.5k site in the world, which is up from worldwide Alexa ranking of 5.2k at the time of removing the Medium infrastructure from our site. From mid July (launch of our software) through December 2019, we published 4,523 stories, which is an average of 27 stories per day, and our library created 48+ years of time reading.
Internally, we have promoted Natasha Nel from Technology Editor to Managing Editor, and expanded the editorial team with the part-time hiring of top community commenter Arthur Tkachenko as Software Editor. Natasha’s voice and data driven approach will be important to scaling our brand voice and rate of publishing.
Our 2019 revenue (over redacted) increased by 73% year from 2018 year over year. The Top Navigation Billboard sponsorship accounted for the majority of our revenue at 55%, even though we could only start serving sponsors mid July after Hacker Noon 2.0 launched. The rest of our yearly revenue was made up of podcast sponsorships at 14% (which ends up breaking-even after expenses), brand as author program at 12%, newsletter sponsorships at 6%, The Noonies at 5%, and events/shirts/interest/other accounting for 8%.
In the less than five months of running the brand as author program and newsletter sponsorships, we totaled over 100 paying customers. For 2019 Q4 (pictured below), the ordered revenue by program breakdown was top navigation (64%), brand as author (18%), newsletters (14%), followed by interest and schwag sales for the rest (4%).
Our largest two customers for the year are Seen by Indeed and Heroku by Salesforce. We have a number of six digit sponsorship deals in our pipeline, and will be investing in scaling our sales programs in 2020. In 2019, some of our more notable customers also include Google Cloud, Codacy, Passbase, Stream, Kloudless, Nodle, Polyient Labs, Vettery, PubNub, Mabl, Radix, LogDNA, ByBit, SurrveySparrow, Snyk, Digital Ocean, and Kin.
We’ve done a lot of optimization work with our top navigation ad and expect to increase the revenue per day from this. Additionally, we plan to explore sponsorship packages by tags (i.e. placement by content relevancy) in 2020.
Q4 2019, we integrated with Unsplash, Algolia, Google Analytics, and the GUN blockchain. We also launched dark mode. The GUN integration is our first use of blockchain technology in the Hacker Noon publishing platform. Starting in Q1 2020, this open source decentralized database will power our annotations and inline commenting. For the first time, we will be putting some content on the blockchain. With this integration, users browsers can contribute storage and anyone can also run their own “miner” on their computer or a cloud, distributing some of our hosting costs to our readership.
For the full view of your year in product development, please read our CPO Dane Lyons’ Product Update 2019-2020. In summary, we now have the initial experience live for our core users: writers, readers, editors, sponsors and admins; and integrated with many great technologies like: Google Cloud, SlateJS, Algolia, Filestack, Unsplash, Google Analytics, Discourse, GUN, Twitter, and more.
Building a digital product is always a trade-off between inventing the wheel, re-inventing the wheel and figuring out a way to plug in an existing solution — all while making the thing feel like just one quality thing. We're getting there. Very excited to build more this year.
We will continue investing heavily in improving and iterating on the core product experience, reading and writing, while also launching more curation tools, such as annotations and collections, to drive account creation and micro contributions.
Profit & Loss
Outlook and how you can help
Our software and new infrastructure is live at HackerNoon.com :-) In the first month in our own system, we published 1.33M words, served 8.167M pageviews and honestly it feels awesome to control how the software actually works. Migrations are tough, don’t get me wrong, we took some bruises in the move. 2019 Q2 will most likely be our worst financial quarter of the year, but it’s a great milestone for putting our future in our own hands. As of July 15th, we are making sponsorship money every moment the site is live. Previously, we were building on our own land but using someone else's infrastructure. Now we have our own infrastructure on our own land. So much more to build. So much more work to be done. But the early returns show a strong foundation.
This move consumed our resources, so in this Hacker Noon quarterly shareholder letter,we wanted to provide more detail than a typical quarterly update, as well as take a longer term year to date view on the important company issues.
About the Move
The move was more challenging than anticipated, but most importantly we retained our site authority and SEO traffic in the move... and didn’t kill the company :-) For us, it had high stakes.
The team worked overtime (specifically Linh, Dane and Austin), lots of things broke, lots of things were fixed - it was an exciting sprint! It’s good to feel pressure, makes the work fun. We don’t have all the bells and whistles of our old content management, but it’s built from the feet up, it’s functioning, and it’s already served over 2M+ site visitors over the last month. Here’s our traffic 3 weeks before launch and 3 weeks after launch:
Also, check out this writeup in ReadWrite about the move: Hacker Noon Rips Out Medium’s Software, Replaces it With Their Own:
“In the world of tech blogging, there’s always a balance between distribution and control. If you publish on someone else’s platform, they can always change how the platform works. If you build your own site, it’s a lot of upfront work and the distribution starts at zero. Hacker Noon may be approaching a sweet spot, where contributing writers can gain more control of what their stories promote; while supplying editorial support and better distribution for every story. We’ll see.”
From July 15 - Aug 15 (first month in our own environment), we published 1,330,083 new words. In Q1 2019, we averaged 1,116,312 words published per month. Post launch, contributors are submitting more content to Hacker Noon editors than they were prelaunch.
Additionally we achieved 8,167,077 pageviews through the period on HackerNoon.com. So we successfully have people submitting more content to our new environment and traffic remains stable.
More encouraging are the early returns on why traffic is up. Page load times have been cut in half and page views per session have increased by 24%. We’re headed in the right direction, but there are gaps in our software we have to keep improving on. SEO traffic, referral traffic and social traffic are continuing to flow onto past stories previously published on HackerNoon.com.
Overall the site has been hovering between 4.7-5.4k Alexa range through Q2. We have lost a lot of links from Medium.com, which is a top 175 site in the world; we lived to tell the tale and make more money :-) We can now focus more on how to better our own distribution systems.
The story uploading, writing and editing process is now happening in our own software. Story submission volume has successfully moved over to the new story submission workflow, which starts and ends at hackernoon.com. In the first month in our own content management system, we’ve published 985 stories totalling 1,330,083 words.
In 2019 Q2, we moved two of our best performing part-time employees to full-time roles. Utsav Jaiswal, based in India, was promoted to Business Development Executive in addition to his role as Blockchain editor. Natasha Nel, based in Amsterdam, was also promoted to full-time Technology Staff Editor & Social Media Manager. I enjoy working with these talented people, and it’s an important step forward for increasing our rate of publishing. We are hiring more part-time editors.
We expanded our newsletter from just the Hacker Noon newsletter to the Blockchain Newsletter, the Software Development Newsletter, the Technology Startup Newsletter, and the Hacker Noon Newsletter. So far, the early returns have been encouraging with engagement (open & click through rates) up 50%+ when compared to the averages of our newsletter sent via Medium. We will still continue to republish these newsletters via the Medium newsletter functionality to inform and extract more of our subscribers.
We’ll be investing in the writer/editor experiences and interactions. Transparency in the editorial flow is a point of emphasis. Storm Farrell, who has served as the Software Development Editor for the last 4 months (while being the main engineer behind the Noonies), will be shifting his focus from editorial to software development work to improve the insights, communication and dashboard for all editors. We’ll continue to get smarter about prioritizing the relevant story to the right editor, and measuring what editorial work better yields story traction results. This will improve our content quality and keep more doors open for the future of our software (such as software licensing and/or expanding from Staff Editors to Community Editors).
“Startups occasionally make the mistake of treating a launch as a finish line moment even though the name literally and appropriately implies the opposite,” said Hacker Noon CPO Dane Lyons. We're proud of what we've accomplished in our MVP but our best work is ahead of us, stay tuned.”
Here’s a breakdown of what the product offers now (read more): press release
- For Writers: Story Editor, Writer Profile Page, Writer Dashboard and, Story Stats
- For Readers: Homepage, Tagged Pages, Story Page, Commenting, Newsletters,and Reading History.
- For Sponsors: Sitewide Billboard and Brand as Author.
We are a functioning and independent tech publishing platform :-)
My message to the team was “Take a deep breath. Improvement is greater than expansion.” We are moving from a product roadmap to a product funnel. For the rest of the year, we will be putting more emphasis on building for the reader (and then turning those readers into contributors). Smooth emoji reactions and slick annotations are two functionalities that we’ve started building and have not yet released. We also started building a much more robust stats page for writers, including past stories statistics, click counts on their calls to action, RSS traction, headline impression stats, and “around the web” mentions traffic. As we’ve retained and even improved on traffic to site, it is now time to show writers how all of their stories still get all the eyeballs they deserve, and then some 👀 👀 👀
In July, we launched The Noonies: the tech’s greenest awards, built to recognize the best and worst people and products of the internet. With an exclusive redacted sponsorship from Stream, there were over 55k votes cast for 457 nominees across 50 award categories. The campaign was a resounding success. See 2019’s Noonies winners. It was fun. Great to see the community make their cases for their favorite Noonie nominees. Overall, we're also excited that we got our feet wet in custom voting technology. We look forward to contributing more to how the internet curates, ranks and distributes content. Next year will be an even bigger and better Noonies next year.
The site has started making money again through sitewide billboard sponsorships and brand as author posts with Indeed being our largest customer to date (redacted contract).
About half of our sales so far came from Sitewide Top Nav Billboard (ad atop every single page of site). We presold redacted clicks at redacted CPC prior to launch. This low price was a sign of trust in our future with early pre-paid customers. Starting July 13, we started bringing back our bidding system, which works well for 1.0; as well as charging a premium for time-sensitive sponsorship campaigns. Our goal is to average redacted monthly revenue for Billboard Top Nav by January 2020.
Podcast Sponsorship: redacted
Brand-as-author comes in third so far this year but it’s only been live for a month. There are 30+ paying customers in the new environment, and that’s all from inbound leads. Brand as author is a very low entry point at $99 - $199 per post, depending on volume purchased (we now offer monthly and weekly subscription plans). However, the brands do the labor of producing the content and we have quality automated distribution systemsThe marginal cost to the company is only 10-30 minutes of editor time per post. This is strong unit economics. We’re learn how it scales - I’m bullish on it. Additional, unlike sponsorships on microsites, podcasts, events and even via sitewide billboard, brand as author is not limited or exclusive supply. Our ambitious goal is getting to 300+ brands publishing with credits on Hacker Noon, averaging redacted monthly revenue by March 2020. To achieve this, we will establish and accelerate our outbound sales campaigns to top corporate blogs, and better integrate the brand-as-author flow within our app, so brands can pay, track their stories, and consider other sponsorship options directly on our site. All brand as author customers are logged into our app to publish content and track content performance; all brand as author customers have land and expand potential for additional sponsorships down the line.
Other revenue channels include the Noonies Sponsorship (more below), event sponsorships, job ads, and newsletter sponsorships. All of these channels could grow. We haven’t even started down the potential roads of referral sales and on site merchase. From the success of the Noonies sponsorship, we can start thinking more about digital campaigns around the Hacker Noon brand, and even licensing the microsite’s software. Events could happen more often. Our one event in Q2 was in London and generated redacted. And, newsletter sponsorship should start growing weekly now we’ve moved from 1 weekly newsletter to 4 weekly newsletters. Overall we need to drive, systemize and grow (1) Billboard Top Nav sponsorships and (2) Brand-as-author revenue streams, and then if we want, (3) there’s the freedom to experiment resources on additional revenue streams.
Change is never easy, and we’ve spent the time and learned better processes to help our community through change. This quarter, we’ve built a help section and a firstname.lastname@example.org line. 97% of the library is in our new publishing system, we’ve worked with hundreds of contributing writers 1:1 to improve migration errors, and we’ve worked with a few dozen to redirect their story elsewhere. We only want to publish anyone who wants to be here. There are many aspects that we can improve when serving our community, but the team has quickly iterated on tech solutions (like the ability to edit 1.0 stories) and education materials through the transition. Support tickets have declined every week since the move. We are investing in on site solutions for contributing writers to control their content (such as changing handle & merging accounts), so that less customer support on the margin is needed.
Mistakes, Learnings… and Wins
- We did not test migrated content in enough ways pre launch. We have and will invest more in strong test and staging environments for any upcoming changes. But the truth is, dev environment is not the same as live. The team is stronger for having worked through these issues together.
- A former contractor sent empty green envelopes instead of green envelopes with stickers and a note to some shareholders and writers this quarter. It was supposed to be a moment of joy & celebration. We have to become better managers and are now putting more value on “attention to details” as traits of a good hire. Sometimes, mistakes happen. Apologies if you received an empty envelope from us.
- One incident of 9 hours of downtime due to a Firebase sync issue. Luckily, it was onour lowest traffic day of the week Saturday, and we used this as an opportunity to reset the timeframe of our grant with Google Cloud Platform. We will not be paying for hosting until July 2020 at the earliest.
… and Wins:
- The first usage of our own infrastructure :-)
- The overall clean look and feel of Hacker Noon 2.0. It’s like after a good shave.
- So far, we’ve had 9,488 Hacker Noon 2.0 contributor accounts created.
- Stronger social media presence on all fronts, particularly AMA series on community.hackernoon.com, Facebook memes engagement, Instagram posts frequency and stories, and Twitter impressions.
- The shareholders & writers that did receive the stickers (see IG stickers story)
- The Noonies served as social media mention aircover from the bumps of the move
Short to Mid Term Growth
Our goal is to be profitable (monthly) by Jan 2020. We think the path to redacted / month can be achieved primarily through sitewide bill boards and brand as author posts. Profitability gives optionality on how and when the company can scale what’s working, take on risk and invest resources.
Mid to Long Term Growth
The path to raising our floor as a company is clear, but how high can the ceiling be? I strongly think and believe we can become a profitable and sustainable company without a bold expansion to an uncharted territory. As our sponsorships are better integrated into the app and optimized, our revenue will rise. But if we’re talking moonshot directions measured in years and decades, my outlook is still (1) very bullish on an underlying cryptocurrency tied to contributor site value created, and (2) the licensing or in house usage of our new software to build more sites.
How can you help?
Thanks for thinking of us. Here are some ways you can help:
- Try out the app, and give us honest feedback (linh@Hackernoon.com, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or by posting in community).
- Share HackerNoon.com IRL and online. You are an important shareholder with a vested interest in our success. Community grows one interaction at a time.
- Introduce us to potential leads for:
- (1) Top Nav Billboard; lead qualification question: “does [your company] want to takeover every page of a great technology for a product launch, company announcement, or any other business initiative?
- and (2) Brand-as-author; lead qualification question: “does [your company] want to get more technologists reading their technology blog posts?” Let’s work together.
- Fill out your profile, your writer call to action, and submit a great tech story for publication. Quality tech stories can be as simple as a memory of your rare expertise.
Hacker Noon built a great team, successfully completed its crowdfunding, made a lot of software, launched a community forum which will also serve as the commenting system for 2.0, tightened its relationship with contributing writers, started its events series, sold over $100k in sponsorships, and we are very optimistic about our future.
The best way to help Hacker Noon grow, is to recommend that your network:
A startup’s success or failure is a function of its team. We have built a great remote team. Win, lose or draw, we're thrilled to spend my time with this talented and hard working group. We are up to 4 full-time and 10 part-time people. Full-time people are ourselves, CPO Dane Lyons and Fullstack Developer Austin Pocus.
On Jan 1, Dane Lyons joined fulltime as our Chief Product Officer. Previously he was part-time, and once upon a time, I (David) worked for his startup (Knowtify, which sold to Kissmetrics). He’s one of the best product minds we know, and is great at walking the line between the ideal solution and the solution that just gets the job done. Austin Pocus also joined as a fullstack developer after a part-time trial. Read more about his focus (or ask you own question) in his Hacker Noon AMA.
After 2 months, we did part ways with our first front end developer in January. He’s very talented and has a great work ethic, but he wasn’t the right fit for this role. On the part-time side of things, we have worked with people based in Cape Town, Kyiv, San Francisco, Durnham, New York City, Nottingham, Washington D.C., Gurgaon, Hangzhou City and Belgrade. Their skill sets are divided amongst Editorial, Frontend, Design, Admin, Social Media and Podcasting.
In our all hands on meeting in San Francisco, we determined our core metrics will be:
- Words published
- Time reading, and
- Profit rate.
We will discuss these numbers in Q1 in more detail below.
Sponsorships & Revenue
We have sold over $100k+ in sponsorships this quarter, despite still operating primarily on Medium’s infrastructure. This is primarily a mix of
for Hacker Noon 2.0,
, as well as some social media promotion & event sponsorships. We are open to selling top navigation sponsorships by CPC or timeframe reserved (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org). We firmly believe it will get a lot easier to sell sponsorships when it’s not preselling. As you can see from the graph below, we are still burning more money than we are making, but our goal is for sponsorships to account for enough revenue to make us profitable by late 2019.
Our approach is to serve the top of the market with our site wide top navigation billboard sponsorships and serve the lower end of the market with a small subscription brand as author fees. We have 200+ companies that have expressed interest in paying for brand as author posts. Linh built a micro-site to learn more about sponsoring Hacker Noon, available at https://sponsor.hackernoon.com/. You can get involved by referring your company or a company you think is making products worth using and employing people worth publishing. While we don’t have a formal referral program (yet), happy to offer some referral benefits! More details here.
We did not hit our goal to launch 2.0 in its entirety in March, but we did launch a very important component of it (see below). Our timeline was a little ambitious, and we decided to build additional infrastructure to better mobilize the community and protect us against uncertain market conditions.
- Discourse, the open source software we built the forum with, will also power our commenting system for Hacker Noon 2.0. An intuitive & powerful commenting system is a challenge faced by any Content Management System, and we are happy to integrate this smoothly with our community forum. It’s a step toward hosting more of the discussion around the story.
- In a time of transition, the value in mobilizing your community can not be underestimated. We’ve moved some of our most dedicated authors, editors, sponsors, and investors to have meaningful discussions on the forum.
- Last but not least, we now have 1,500+ Hacker Noon 2.0 accounts before the product is complete. This is possible because we invested in building SSO (single-sign-on) to authenticate users on multiple subdomains. This took longer than anticipated.
On the product front, we’ve made great progress on our core infrastructure and design. Here are some pieces of our upcoming publishing platform built in Q1:
- Homepage - Our homepage has and will go through many iterations. This is a version that explores quite a few new elements to consider. Here is another version we tested.
- Tag Page - A few options we’re working on for the tag page.
- Story Editor - Here is the initial prototype of our story editor built using SlateJS.
- Infrastructure - Austin Pocus gave a dev talk about how we’ll use Firebase to power 2.0. This will leverage our $100k grant from Google.
- Custom Emojis - We’ve started designing our own retro emoji set. We even had a little fun and created an emoji builder which we might eventually open up to the community to crowdsource future emojis.
- Sticky Bio Prototype - We’re exploring ways to promote our contributors and their stories. In this version, we attach a bio to the bottom of the screen. It is expandable to reveal more stories by the author. Another version of a sticky bio that would live in the left margin of a story.
- Emoji Giving Prototype - We believe claps and likes are too binary of a story reaction. This will enable readers to emotionally react, in context with very little effort. Here’s a Dev talk of how Dane has been iterating on this.
- Brand-as-Author Bio - We plan to distinguish brands from authors in 2.0. Here is a design that explores using blue for brands and green for authors.
- Side Bio Design - We don’t plan on launching 2.0 with a side bio, but here are a few designs we’ve considered.
Rate of Publishing and Traffic
In Q1 2019, Hacker Noon published 2,327 stories totaling 3,348,937 words published. This quarter, we revamped our submit a story workflow (January) and expanded our part-time editorial staff (February). The editors have raised the quality of our story submissions and tightened the relationships with our contributors. The learning from how the editors improve stories will be applied to our community editors later in the year. In Q1 2019, our time reading created was 40,174,853 minutes, aka 76 years, 5 months, 7 days, 32 minutes and 33 seconds. Worldwide, the average human lives 71.5 years, so we created more than a lifetime worth of reading this quarter.
In Q2, we will be opening up voting for the inaugural Hacker Noon awards, and through the rest of the year, we will be accelerating our content republishing partnerships and story recruitment marketing campaigns.
We formally completed our crowdfunding campaign on 3/4/2019. We are still in the process of disbursing funds from the campaign (89% of goal disbursed to date), and we were oversubscribed by $100k+. If you made an investment after we became fully subscribed, now is the time to check your email for that confirmation email as Start Engine has started to tap into the oversubscription pool of funds. We are not interested in more investment at this time, but may be in the future.
About Removing Medium from Hackernoon.com
We are yet another publisher that Medium has not treated well. Here’s the long version of our relationship developments this quarter. Oh, internet drama. The short of it is: our transition proposal was to move the old environment to a subdomain on HackerNoon.com, and open up HackerNoon.com for the new environment. This is a compromise for both parties that would, IMHO, serve the writers best. Medium tentatively agreed on this, then went radio silence on us.
Luckily, we have operated under the assumption that Medium’s words are not to be trusted. The team put significant work into gathering the rights of the stories that we already have the rights to. 15,000+ stories previously published on HackerNoon.com have opted into this Medium free agreement, and only 52 contributors total have explicitly opted out of this agreement.
While we will lose a lot of links from Medium.com in the transition, I think we are capable of taking the hit on the chin and weathering the storm. Also, the broken deal with Medium may be a blessing in disguise because under that subdomain agreement past stories would earn $0 per million+ pageview (no sponsors on those stories) and now with the majority of our library moving over to our new environment with sponsors on every page, our past library will generate significant revenue.
We had one event this quarter, #DevStories @ GitHub’s SF HQ, sponsored by PubNub. 120+ SF tech professionals attended to hear Hacker Noon contributing writers tell 5 minute dev stories. As part of our presentations, our team also demo-ed our software in production. Our short term goal is one very high quality event per quarter, but events could be a much larger marketing and revenue channel for the company in the more distant future. Our next event will be this May in London. We’ve already secured a venue sponsor, speakers, and a headline sponsor. We will be announcing this event in the upcoming weeks.
A Look Ahead to Q2 and Beyond
These next 6 months will be the true testament to Hacker Noon as a company: we will launch & operate in our own environment, serve our users without any middleman changing terms, and get back to selling sponsorships while they’re live. And while it is true that there’s a tremendous amount of work in front of us, we're optimistic about what we can and will do as a company. We ask you to be patient alongside us, and look forward to talking to you soon in our Q2 quarterly report.
Everything is here.
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