$6.8M ARR - Simple Blogging Tool

How Ghost reached $6.8M ARR with a simple blogging tool

$6.8M ARR - Simple Blogging Tool
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Ghost is simple blogging platform doing $6.3M ARR! - Simple blogging platform - Started with a Kickstarter campaign - Open source 🤯
This is their revenue chart -
notion image

Spiky Point of View

“Ghost is being made for love, not for profit.”
👆 That’s a line from Ghost’s founder - John O’Nolan’s intro video for its Kickstarter campaign from back in 2013.
John had a spiky point view - There should be a simple, open platforms that focuses solely on publishing and writing. To help creators and journalists publish their thoughts on the internet.
Not a platform that does everything in an average manner. Instead a platform that does 1 thing very well.
That’s how Ghost was started.
John had been designing and building sites on WordPress since 2005.
WordPress had started as a simple blogging platform for anyone to publish content. But within a few years it turned into a full-blown CMS platform.
By 2011-12 it was getting used more for marketing sites and brochures.
WP was no more focused on straightforward content publishing. (Its founder famously called WP the operating system of the web)
That frustrated John!
So on November 5th, 2012, John made a few mockups and published a blog post titled - WordPress is so much more than just a blogging platform.
This bit stands out -
notion image
That blog post was at the top of HackerNews and was discussed by almost every publication in the WordPress community.
Within a week it went viral and raked in 250,000 views.
In 3 months John was ready with a prototype.
30,000 people had signed up on the Ghost mailing list by then.
That’s when he launched the prototype on Kickstarter to raise funds for the project.

Stacking up against Substack

Ghost competes in a crowded market.
There are more blogging platforms today than ever before. Its competition includes old platforms like WordPress and recent ones like Substack.
To succeed as a bootstrapped business, Ghost’s strategy is to have a unique positioning and fight the competition by differentiation.
Ghost can’t compete with Substack on advertising and PR.
Substack is backed by powerful VC firms like a16z, so everything it does gets in the news.
But Ghost can compete on the value proposition it offers to the users.
It takes a 0% cut from its users’ revenue.
Ghost offers fixed-price plans based on features and audience size.
This means that creators can scale their business without their costs scaling proportionately.
Substack takes a 10% cut from its users’ revenue.
As newsletter revenue grows, Substack’s 10% fee can balloon up to thousands of dollars.
  • Substack follows a platform model, for writers to get discovered and monetise their content like YouTube or Spotify.
  • Ghost follows a typical SaaS model, acts as a tool for writers to publish their work and build a business on their own terms.
It's a fundamentally different value prop.

Growth Strategies

Let’s look at which strategies have worked well for Ghost over the years -

Audience First

Before building the full product, John had a viral blog post on HackerNews, 30,000 people on a mailing list, and a successful Kickstarter campaign.
He had validated the need for the product before building it.

Big Product Launches

Every time Ghost releases a new version, it makes a huge splash across podcasts, newsletters, and other platforms.
Which brings in new users.
Example: The last product hunt launch with Ghost 5.0 got more than 900 upvotes.
And Ghost was also the product of the day that day.

Product Led Growth

Creators that use Ghost can opt in to show a banner at the bottom of their emails that says - “published with Ghost”.
It acts as a word- of-mouth channel. (Similar to Tally and Carrd)

Referral Marketing

Ghost offers its customers a 30% referral commission for recommending it to other creators.
One of the biggest Ghost users is productivity YouTuber Ali Abdaal.
And he drops his Ghost affiliate link in almost every video he makes around writing, blogging or making websites.

Top Lessons

Top Lessons from Ghost -
  • Every idea needs a great story. Your ideal customer will not buy the product, they will buy your story. Idea + Execution + Story. Ghost has all 3 going for it.
  • Find your unique skew to the market/problem. Ghost solves the same problems as Substack. But it can hold its own because it attracts a very different kind of user. And has a unique value proposition.
  • Validate before you build too much. Build just enough to show it to potential users and validate the idea.
  • Get continuous user feedback. The Ghost team runs a private Discord community with its users. Where it can get immediate feedback from them about the product.
  • Use creative constraints - Ghost has benefited a lot from the unique constraints that John started with - “What if I can never sell this company?” Or “No more than 50 employees” or “Only focuses on publishing and journalism”

Further Reading -

Simple NoCode Stack

This is my simple yet powerful stack for running the Indie Masterminds community -
  • Zoom for the calls
  • Tally for onboarding
  • Luma for scheduling
  • Notion for resources
  • Plausible for analytics
  • Carrd for landing page
  • Slack for the community
  • ConvertKit for newsletter
  • LemonSqueezy for payments
It’s incredible how much you can achieve without ever having to write a single piece of code. It’s easier than ever to start your own business. What’s holding you back?
More in this tweet.

From the vault -

3 random post from the Superframeworks archives -

Useful links you don't want to miss -
Last week’s top link -

🤗 How can I help?

"You are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with"
Surround yourself with better people 🤷🏻
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Eternally Curious. Writing, Learning, Building in Public. Writing about Ideas + Inspiration + Insights for creators, solopreneurs and indie hackers | Simple tips and frameworks to help you build a sustainable solo business

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