Side Hustle Diaries: Rebel Book Club

Ben Saul-Garner
Nov 11, 2018 · 6 min read

It’s been a hot minute (ok… 3 years) since I’ve blogged. Previous posts on here have led to some very cool opportunities and opened up conversations with some really interesting people. SO, fast forward to now and it feels like a good time to jump back in!

A ‘side hustle’ if you aren’t up to speed on startup buzzwords is basically something you can do outside of your ‘main hustle’ (a full time job for most people) to bring in a secondary income/explore something you’re interested in. Apparently half of millennials have one.

My side hustle Rebel Book Club was born in Bali when Ben Keene and I couldn’t find a book club that felt like a good fit for us. We wanted to finish more non-fiction books and extract real tangible value from what we read. 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.

A few emails later, I ended up meeting Ryan for a coffee whilst he was over in London and he kindly joined our meet via Skype from The States for a private Q&A after we read his book in August 16'.

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 leave it to Bezos and the pro’s.

Living that packing life.

Enter Albert. Ben and I were both working hard on other businesses and Albert was just what we needed, he was already a popular member within RBC and stepped up to head up all things related to member happiness —ultimately he kept things running behind the scenes and in true side hustle fashion was also managing to work full time, play a key role within a charity and churn out ultra marathons all over the world — the guy is a beast and we will always be grateful for his support. On a good month, we’d meet twice as a team — once for breakfast round the corner from Alberts office and again on the last Tuesday of each month at our meetup. We were getting stronger but things were still a little reactive rather than proactive and last minute by nature. In hindsight, we probably missed some opportunities to double down and grow faster but we always managed to keep things on track by keeping the basics consistent.

We got asked to speak for TEDx again and Dojo blogged about us out of the blue which supercharged applications that month.

Pretending not to be nervous

In January 2018 we had 159 paying members, so £2385 monthly recurring revenue.

In May, we celebrated our third birthday with our usual recipe of forward thinking conversation and cocktails, plus some cake, obviously.

Rich (the cocktail god) and BK prepping for our 3rd birthday

In August, I went for a pint with Ben Keene before our meetup and he told me (pending final sign off from his lovely wife Suze) that he was planning to move to Koh Lanta in Thailand with his three kids. We have a history of fairly crazy adventures so this conversation wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary but it did throw up a potential challenge — how would we split responsibilities if he was on an island in a different timezone on the other side of the world?!

Fortunately, it’s worked in our favour so far — having a co-founder working remotely actually means we speak more often with more clarity on our roles (I’m getting used to waking up to a barrage of awesome Whatsapps!) and he’s carved out more time than ever before to put into RBC which is having a big impact already.

As of today, we have exactly 350 paying members, so £5,250 MRR. We are growing quickly but our churn rate is a little higher than we’d like and our insights suggest this is predominantly down to people not always being able to make the meetups. So, challenge #1 is how do we give members enough value and ROI on their £15 that they are delighted with our service even if they can’t make the meetup? Feedback and ideas very much welcomed!

We’ve conquered 44 books across a diverse set of themes, created 44 amazing custom cocktails and collectively read over 2.5 million pages so far. We’ve piloted RBC in Oxford and will be launching Bristol in December as we join forces with marketing guru Seth Godin on his new book.

Challenge #2 is how do we scale things beyond London? There is no reason why we can’t have hundreds or thousands more people reading the same book at the same time across different cities and even countries. How do we make this stack up commercially without requiring a huge amount of time and admin?

Challenge #3 is how do we remain the market leader in this space as we grow? There have been a few imitations and there will no doubt be more. How do we keep what makes us special now? What else can we do better as a brand?

We know why we exist and we have a good steer on what our community wants but we would honestly love to hear from anyone who has any thoughts or feedback on the above challenges.

In 2019 our little side hustle is going to be a lot of fun and we’re going to share more to help others do the same. The growing #openstartup movement is really interesting — props to the likes of Nomadlist who share all of their business data with full transparency, would you be interested to see ours?

Thanks for reading,


ps. I promise not to leave it another 3 years.

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