Paid Communities: Rituals, 90–9–1 Rule, Community-as-a-Service

“People come for the content and stay for the community.”Stu McLaren

Get Full Access to Trends Pro

❓ What You’ll Learn

  • What is Community-as-a-Service?
  • What are market networks?
  • What are community-specific tools?
  • What are negative network effects?
  • What is the 90–9–1 rule?

💎 Why It Matters

A group of like-minded people can help you grow faster.

🔍 Problem

Free communities tend to be noisy without a barrier to entry.

💡 Solution

Paid communities use strategic friction to build high-signal environments.

🏁 Players

Paid Communities

  • Trends Pro • Community of successful founders discovering new markets and ideas
  • Rosieland • Everything about community building
  • 10xmanagers • Learn management and leadership
  • Empowering.Cloud • Community for Microsoft Teams industry professionals
  • Cloud Software Association • Association of cloud software vendors, resellers, distributors and platforms
  • Frauvis • Community of black women in tech 
  • The Futur • Courses, coaching and community for creative professionals

Paid Community Tools

  • Levellr • Build a thriving fan community on Discord or Telegram
  • MemberSpace • Turn any part of your website into members-only with just a few clicks
  • Ghost • Publish content, send newsletters & offer paid subscriptions to members
  • Pico • Build landing pages, grow your audience and get paid
  • Notion • All-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis and databases
  • Spiffy • Conversion-optimized checkouts and one-click upsells
  • Payhere • Payment links to help you collect payments online

Paid Community Platforms

  • Discord • Create invite-only channels for paid members
  • Tribe • Customizable community platform for businesses
  • Heights • Create a community of engaged learners with forums, gamification, automations and more
  • Orbit • Platform for building, growing and automating your community
  • Mighty Networks • Build courses, memberships and communities on iOS, Android and the web
  • Podia • Build websites, courses, digital products and paid communities

🔮 Predictions

  • We’ll see more Community-as-a-Service professionals. They will help you build, launch and monetize your paid community.
  • We’ll see more niche paid communities. They will cater to long-tail interests unaddressed by other communities.
    • NABJ is a community of black journalists.
    • Fulhamish is a community of fans of Fulham FC.
    • AAJA is a community of Asian-American journalists.
    • Refresh Miami is Miami’s tech and startup community.
    • SENT is a community of Catholic founders and executives.
    • International Gem Society is a community of gemstone professionals and enthusiasts.
    • TopMusicPro helps music teachers build music studios and grow their music teaching business.
    • Next Gen Men teaches positive masculinity, mental wellness, healthy relationships and gender equity among young boys.
  • We’ll see more market networks. They will combine marketplace and social network features. Such as branded profiles, product listings and direct connections.
    • Microns lets you connect with startup buyers and sellers.
    • HerHouse is a community of female hosts and solo travelers.
    • Foster connects writers and editors that contribute to text drafts.
    • Houzz connects homeowners and home designers with Houzz Pro.
    • SoleSavy connects members who want to buy, sell or trade sneakers.
    • Mylance is a community and a marketplace of tech and startup consultants.
    • MicroAcquire connects buyers with startup founders to discuss acquisitions.
    • Fishbrain is a community and marketplace for anglers who connect with each other and fishing brands.
    • Time Bank of the Rockies connects people and organizations who exchange resources and services for free.

☁️ Opportunities

  • Build rituals to help members stay productive and accountable.
  • Offer a clear benefit. Show how your community leads to specific outcomes.
  • Build community-specific tools. Share tools designed to solve members’ problems.

🏔️ Risks

  • Negative Network Effects • Engagement drops as niche communities grow without a way to efficiently sort contributions and content.
  • Key-Person Risk • If you are the sole source of value for the community, you may face burnout and/or the inability to sell the community as an asset.
  • Platform Risk • You are subject to the platform’s terms, outages and roadmap. Slack is a popular, but not an ideal choice for running paid communities.

🔑 Key Lessons

  • Build an audience to solve the chicken-and-egg problem. reached 20,000+ subscribers before Trends Tribe meetups were launched.
  • Show appreciation by highlighting active members. highlights contributors at the end of each report.
  • Online communities suffer from participation inequality. The 90–9–1 rule says that in most online communities, 90% of users lurk, 9% contribute a little and 1% create content. While this is a well-known phenomenon, it can look like your community is stagnant.

🔥 Hot Takes

  • Paid communities will let members review new applications. WIP is not paid, but it’s an invite-only community. If nobody knows you, WIP will share your application with existing members. They will decide if you can join the community.
  • We’ll see hyper-niche paid communities. MAP Community is a community of museum professionals who aim to build more inclusive and innovative museums.
  • Paid communities should use scarcity tactics. Use limited-time offers to tap into people’s fear of missing out. Sophia Amoruso made her paid community part of her Business Class cohort-based course which opens twice a year. You can join the waitlist to not miss it.

😠 Haters

“The 9091 rule has been challenged. It’s not accurate anymore.”
We said this rule applies to most online communities. Not all. Remember negative network effects. You can expect higher engagement in small communities and lower in big ones.

“Paid communities are exclusionary.”
So are cohort-based courses, paid newsletters and top universities. Great things cost money. It can be wise to join a paid community if you can’t find the value it gives anywhere else.

“I have a free community. Members won’t be happy if I lock it behind a paywall.”
You don’t have to lock everything. Freemium is a viable option if you don’t want to upset existing members.

“Most of your examples are online communities. How to get started with an offline paid community?”
While starting an online community is easier, you can apply most of the tactics to offline communities. Host offline events and masterminds. Vet members and run cohort-based courses. These are common among offline paid communities.

🔗 Links

  1. Which Paid Communities Do You Belong to? • The tweet behind this report.
  2. Paid Communities • Previous version of this report.
  3. How I Built a Paid Community to 1,000+ Members in 10 MonthsDru Riley talks about building and growing the Trends PRO community to 1,000+ paying members.

📁 Related Reports

🙏 Thanks

Thanks to Anderson Dadario, Josh Gain, Soma Mandal, Bernhard Friedrichs, Bradley Jacobs, Andreas Lohr, Fausto Sá Teles, Jean Lucas Lima, Tom Arbuthnot, Stewart Townsend, Shuyen Phoon, Yarty Kim, Byron Wilson, Gianni D’Alerta and Thomas Sorheim. We had a great time jamming on this report.

✏️ Emin researched and wrote this report. Dru researched and edited this report.

📈 What else?

Trends PRO #0107 — Paid Communities has more insights.

What you’ll get:

  • 33 Paid Communities (372% More)
  • 37 Paid Community Tools (429% More)
  • 35 Paid Community Platforms (484% More)
  • 10 Predictions (234% More)
  • 22 Opportunities (340% More)
  • 6 Risks (100% More)
  • 10 Key Lessons (234% More)
  • 11 Hot Takes (267% More)
  • 18 Links (500% More)

With Trends Pro you’ll learn:

  • (📈 Pro) What are social tokens?
  • (📈 Pro) What are NFT memberships?
  • (📈 Pro) What are professional communities?
  • (📈 Pro) What is integration risk?
  • (📈 Pro) What are member-owned communities?
  • (📈 Pro) What are community engagement strategies?
  • And much more…

Get Weekly Reports

Join 65,000+ founders and investors

    📈 Unlock Pro Reports, 1:1 Intros and Masterminds

    Become a Trends Pro Member and join 1,200+ founders enjoying…

    🧠 Founder Mastermind Groups • To share goals, progress and solve problems together, each group is made up of 6 members who meet for 1 hour each Monday.

    📈 100+ Trends Pro Reports • To make sense of new markets, ideas and business models, check out our research reports.

    💬 1:1 Founder Intros • Make new friends, share lessons and find ways to help each other. Keep life interesting by meeting new founders each week.

    🧍 Daily Standups • Stay productive and accountable with daily, async standups. Unlock access to 1:1 chats, masterminds and more by building standup streaks.

    💲 100k+ Startup Discounts • Get access to $100k+ in startup discounts on AWS, Twilio, Webflow, ClickUp and more.