The Maker Movement: Lessons in Building Community, Word-Of-Mouth Growth and Product Design

The online maker movement has been growing for years, but the last 12 months has felt exponential. For the first time people who love using products can become the ones making them. The community is expanding to include people without any technical background, and these people can’t wait to experiment with their newfound power.

Startups can learn from these makers about the power of building an engaged community, using that community to accelerate growth, and how a beautiful product experience can lead to a cult-like following.

The Maker Community

Indie Makers demonstrate the power of building a community around niche interests in society today. People no longer congregate at church or in local associations, they come together online with people from all over the world and bond over their niche interests.

The podcast Startups For the Rest of Us launched in 2011, and since then communities like Indie Hackers and Product Hunt have been bringing makers together. The maker movement has its own celebrities (Pieter Levels, Rob Walling) and its unique set of beliefs (bootstrapping over VC, anti-hustle culture).

Makers come together both in person and online — in person at celebrated events like MicroConf, local Indie Hackers meetups, and even meetups dedicated to the love of your favourite maker tools (Notion has accidentally built a cult ). Online, Product Hunt is bringing makers together through projects like #MakersFestival, and niche groups like WomenMake and No Code help all makers feel included.

So what’s changed in the last 12 months…

Software has been getting easier to build for years, but recently several startups reached the holy grail — enabling people with no coding ability whatsoever to build complete applications by themselves.

The beautiful user experience of products like Notion, Airtable, Coda and Glide can teach startups of all sizes how delightful design & intuitive user flows can lead to rapid adoption and the creation of entirely new markets.

These products have enabled everyone from soccer mums to dentists to build their own apps for the first time, unlocking a world where the market for your software-building product is everyone. Enthusiastic people with a good idea don’t need to find a technical cofounder for their niche product anymore, they can do it themselves.

Using the community to power growth

By building individual followings within the maker community, solopreneurs are making a living providing tools to their followers, and teaching them how to do it themselves. Pieter Levels is the quintessential example of this — he’s now making close to $1m a year on products serving the community after breaking onto the maker scene in 2016 by building 12 projects in 12 months while travelling around the world. Ben Tossell is just starting his journey with Makerpad and has already hit $13k/month by helping makers create apps using no-code tools like Carrd, Airtable and Zapier. The godfather of solopreneurs, Rob Walling, is trying to fund the next generation of makers through Tiny Seed.

The founders of no-code tools also understand the potential of using the maker community to help build their businesses. Coda, which makes docs as powerful as apps, uses multiple tactics to harness maker enthusiasm and grow its user base.

Coda users have profiles, earn badges, and are able to share their templates with the Coda community. This user-generated content makes Coda more valuable to new and existing users and exploits human psychology to make users feel more connected to the success of the product by investing in it.

In a stroke of genius, Coda has tapped into the Product Hunt community (their target audience) by partnering on #MakersFestival, where makers compete with each other to create products using Coda.

By combining an engaged community with a flexible and intuitive product, Coda is able to drive organic product-led growth.

How products create cults

While Coda uses the maker community to accelerate growth, Notion is relying solely on its exceptional product experience to drive word-of-mouth adoption… and it’s working.

Notion is one of those products that you get curious about, download, and one month later you don’t know how you ever lived without it. You feel an intense yearning to tell everyone you know about it so they can experience the same joy.

The desktop and mobile apps are both unbelievably fast, and wonderfully intuitive to use. Within minutes you feel like you know exactly what to do to tailor your workspace to your specific needs. They’ve thought through every user flow in minute detail and it shows. When you read interviews with Notion’s founders it all makes sense — design, user experience and quick iteration is at the core of everything they do.

Their maniacal focus on product design and the resulting delightful user experience has organically created a passionate community of promoters who spread the word about Notion through both hushed conversations and publicised local meetups.

What happens next?

The maker movement has built a strong, inclusive and rapidly growing community that is enabling curious people with no technical experience to get a taste of what maker culture is all about.

The power of that community in driving adoption of new products is a lesson in how associating your brand with the identity of a movement can lead to organic growth.

And by focussing intently on user experience, products like Coda, Notion and Airtable convert that initial adoption to an engaged user base by enabling makers to get started with building quickly. Solopreneurs earn a living teaching others how to stitch together these products to build ever more complex apps without using code.

And it feels like it’s just getting started. Expect an explosion of niche products built by bootstrapping makers over the next few years. Team schedule apps for your football team, artist portfolios and marketplaces for local caterers.

Software is no long reserved for developers, its open to all, and I’m personally excited to see the creative outcomes that follow.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +439,678 people.

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