“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.”
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.
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.