Founding a tech startup can be isolating. For many founders, it’s a journey filled with canceled plans and sleepless nights in front of the computer trying to improve a product or service.
Charlie Ward created his startup and entrepreneur social community, Ramen Club, to make the solopreneur journey more successful, fun, and less lonely. He started it as a small, beers-with-friends meetup to help himself mentally tackle his own founder journey.
While Charlie had little experience when he started his social club, he believes his enthusiasm for community fueled its growth more than experience ever could. Over five years, he grew the meetup events in size and frequency, winning corporate sponsors like Ahrefs, and spun off a business catered to founder events.
Finally, in 2019, Charlie’s friends and fellow group members asked him to arrange a twice-a-month coworking meeting. After organizing a small, 20-person event, Charlie polled his attendees. Many were willing to pay for the experience, so he added a small subscription fee and gradually grew the business. After weathering Covid lockdowns, Charlie renamed his group to Ramen Club, increased meetups to twice per week, and steadily increased prices.
Today, Ramen Club is a profitable $60,000 ARR community with monthly dues, a Slack channel, and other tools for bootstrapped founders looking for connections. London’s best and brightest solopreneurs attend, such as previous Bootstrappers founder Andy Cloke of Data Fetcher. Many of the club’s resident founders credit its support for helping them reach early profitability.
Read on to learn how Ramen Club’s formula for winning the hearts and dollars of founders helped Charlie clinch prime London coworking spaces at bargain prices.
Indie Hackers, IndieBeers
Charlie has always kept one foot in the corporate world and one in startups. After graduating in 2010, he spent much of the following decade running ecommerce businesses selling flamingo floats and kids’ yoga mats. When he wasn’t building startups, Charlie worked at a handful of notable marketing agencies in the city. Other ventures included a popup fried chicken stand (he was chief poultry architect) and coworking spaces.
In 2017, Charlie became deeply involved in the chatrooms for Indie Hackers in London, believing his city to be one of the best locations for bootstrapped entrepreneurs to meet each other: “I think our bootstrapped scene is one of the best in the world. There’s no other capital city like it in terms of event frequency.”
Charlie loved connecting with other startup founders online and wanted to do it in real life. He created a group called IndieBeers on Meetup.com where London-based tech founders could grab a pint and talk about their projects every week.
London founders, particularly solopreneurs, were eager to get out of their home offices and meet each other IRL. IndieBeers became one of the hottest tech events in the city, attracting sponsorship deals from businesses like SEO megacompany, Ahrefs. In 2018, Charlie quit his job, and in 2020, acquired another bootstrapping events company called Indie London. He turned Indie London into a parent company for IndieBeers and other social events for founders across the UK. It has since grown to 900 members.
While founders loved talking about their journeys at the pub, they also wanted to build startups together. “People said, ‘Hey Charlie, we love the beers, but we want to co-work.’”
How to Set Up a Coworking Event
In 2019, Charlie set a small goal of 20 email signups for a coworking event. He then created a landing page on Carrd with a Mailchimp signup form and shared it with 150 IndieBeers newsletter subscribers and Twitter followers. He also handed out business cards at the next IndieBeers event and reached out to some of his Indie Hacker friends.
“If you don’t have a network relevant to your product type, I recommend a degree of scrappiness early on – manually recruiting people where necessary.”
“If you don’t have a network relevant to your product type, I recommend a degree of scrappiness early on – manually recruiting people where necessary,” says Charlie. “This helps you understand at a deeper level who finds it most interesting and what kind of messaging works best. It will help you market at a greater scale later.”
Charlie’s outreach yielded thirty email signups. Twenty signups attended the test event at a local coworking space, which included a 10 AM standup, a 1 PM lunch, and a 5 PM project-sharing session. It was more than enough to validate interest.
After the test meeting, Charlie emailed each attendee to ask how they felt about the event and how much they’d be willing to pay to meet once a month. He received eighteen responses and knew then that he could turn these in-person meetups into a profitable business.
Charlie added a Stripe payment integration for membership and took $500 after just one month. He named the monthly event Weekend Club.
Things bloomed from there. Charlie used his position as owner and manager of Indie London and its 1,000-member roster to attract many of his next members through tactical promotions. He also sponsored the Indie Bites podcast to spread the word to local members.
When COVID-19 came crashing in during 2020, it seemed like social isolation might destroy the club. But during lockdowns, the club continued over Zoom and a dedicated Slack channel where founders could share tips and tools. Members were more than willing to continue paying for the online community as a social network during the lockdown.
“We never intended to be an online community, but we had to become one,” Charlie says. “The Slack group was an afterthought, and we had to decide quickly because we didn’t know how long lockdowns would last. It all worked out, but it was very uncertain.”
In the summer of 2021, the UK started opening up again but Weekend Club remained grounded. All of its events were still on Slack and Zoom, but members were eager to meet up in real life again. Charlie spoke with them about what they wanted to see in the club and responded by creating more meetings and opportunities to network. As work piled up, Charlie hired members to help part-time, a practice he still uses today.
And after London reopened, Charlie unlocked a new source of revenue: office spaces. In 2022, London experienced its highest office vacancy rates in 15 years¹. Charlie began contacting vacant buildings to host events in exchange for marketing their spaces. This allowed Ramen Club to access some of the swankiest downtown real estate at bargain prices.
In May of 2022, Charlie changed the name from Weekend Club to Ramen Club, referring to “ramen profitability”, or the minimum recurring revenue required to live off a startup. Then he launched the community on Product Hunt and grew the group by thirty percent almost overnight.
Today, Charlie has a lot to be proud of. After three years of operation, Ramen Club counts 120 members and makes about $60,000 ARR with events twice per week. He classifies the group today as mostly online, with members around the world helping each other build startups. However, he thinks the in-person aspect is just as important.
Providing Value to Founders
Charlie pegs Ramen Club’s success to the value it provides founders: an eager and active network of peers and mentors ready to give and receive advice.
“With community building, it’s all about having a clear idea of who your members are and what your community is for.”
He believes that many online communities, particularly those made by brands, constantly get community-building wrong because they lack enthusiasm or understanding of their mission.
“Brand communities can fail when a brand makes a community as a means to an end, such as for retention,” he says. “They’ll hire a part-time community manager who doesn’t know the space and it never really takes off. With community building, it’s all about clarifying who your members are and what your community is for. For us, people come together to improve their businesses and make friends.”
Charlie also thinks the location and group rituals are nearly as important as their intent.
“Event creators need to understand the space for their community, whether a bar or an office. Think about what things and spaces will help you fulfill your purpose. Rituals are like features for communities. Our ritual for IndieBeers is once-a-month pub meetups.”
The biggest danger of running a community? Charlie believes it’s founder burnout.
“I have seen community builders bite off more than they can chew, and one day they just stop forever. They overestimate their time and energy to run the community and its related events, and overcommit. It’s a lot of work to run regular live events with speakers and drinks, for example.”
A Bigger Bowl
While Charlie spent much of his time post-pandemic growing the online arm of Ramen Club, he’s eager to increase in-person events for his remote members.
“A big part of our future service goal is to increase our in-person part. I think both Zoom and in-person have purposes. I also think rural areas need that online connection. Even so, people still need human connection too. We’re not running towards the metaverse, we’re running the other way.”
“With enough enthusiasm, you can overcome a lack of experience.”
If he could go back and do it again, Charlie says he’d have learned search engine optimization (SEO) much sooner. “If I’d started three years ago we’d be much further ahead right now.”
Charlie credits his community-building skills to a willingness to learn and passion for his industry over natural talent.
“I think I have a degree of natural ability in community building, but what helped early on was my genuine interest in the space and people attending. I’m pretty obsessed with the mission of Indie Hackers and gaining independence through the things we create. With enough enthusiasm, you can overcome a lack of experience.”
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