The Liberators In 2020; A Metrics-Based Retrospective
Now that we’ve turned the ship around, how is that actually working out for us?
In September 2020 we made a drastic decision to turn the ship around for our company, The Liberators. Because of changing ambitions, and urged on by Covid-19, we shifted away from paid training and workshops to product development and community-based work — all with the aim of unleashing more (Scrum) teams all over the world.
A lot happened since then. In this post, we look back on what this means for our company. Because we have collected data from a wide range of metrics since the start of The Liberators, we decided to go metric-first, and use a What, So What, Now What to make sense of this data together. This post features some metrics and our conclusions to date.
What has been keeping us busy?
Since we turned the ship around, we’ve completed 15 week-long sprints. The majority of these Sprints featured a single Sprint Goal.
- We spun-off the global Liberators Network into a growing global network of local User Groups where Scrum practitioners give and get help. Each user group is hosted by two or more local Liberators. Our efforts to date have been to support the growth of this network, to prepare meetups together, and to provide the connective tissue between otherwise isolated local groups. Our network currently spans 4.500 members in 11 local user groups, and we expect another 10 user groups to start in September.
- We vastly improved and extended the Scrum Team Survey. Our aim with this free tool is to support Scrum Teams in their continuous improvement loop, specifically with (more) objective data, personalized feedback, and recommendations for how to improve. We’ve added more detailed feedback and recommendations for teams, connected the survey to the library of content we already have, and added a feature where teams can invite stakeholders to participate, which opens up new perspectives on the team. Over 3.600 teams have already participated (and over 7.500 individuals).
- We invested heavily in our community of supporters on Patreon, where people who appreciate our mission can support and join us to achieve it. We post multiple messages and updates there a week, to announce new features, gather feedback, and share our personal lessons learned. There is also a private Discord-server where experienced Scrum practitioners give and get help, start initiatives together and just hang out. We are exceptionally proud of the 430 patrons we have at the time of writing — an amazing number.
- We released our book, the Zombie Scrum Survival Guide, together with a physical first-aid kit filled with helpful materials. We poured all our creativity, experience, strategies, and insights into a single book that gives you what you need to start recovering from Zombie Scrum. We’ve sold hundreds of books through our webshop, and we’re awaiting sales figures from Pearson for the other channels.
- We created over 20 free and premium do-it-yourself workshops, strings of Liberating Structures for a variety of purposes, and smaller experiments to undertake with your team. All this material is tried-and-tested by ourselves, contains a step-by-step explanation, and is something you can use without the need of external experts. These have been downloaded over 6.000 times now. Plus, we translated most of our existing exercises into virtual versions to support all those virtual teams out there.
- We managed to published one new blog post, and record a new podcast episode almost on weekly basis. We’ve shared many of our personal experiences with Scrum and Liberating Structures, and how we run our company The Liberators. We also joined other meetups, podcasts, conferences, webinars, and in-company sessions where we could.
What do our metrics say?
Are people joining our mission?
Our mission is to unleash (Scrum) teams all over the world. And while we know that many people agree with, and are on, this mission too, we are only as effective as the number of people we can reach. Below are the number of people “following” us on the various platforms where we are active:
Our observations and interpretations are that:
- We see growth in the number of followers on all platforms. For example, 125% more subscribers on our newsletter, 54% growth of readers on Medium, 130% growth in the members for our meetups, a 639% increase in plays for our podcast (or 39.000 plays), and 111% growth of followers on YouTube.
- We’ve seen a huge uptake in orders in our webshop around November, mostly due to our book and a number of digital downloads that we added since September.
- While the number of followers on various platforms is some indicator of the value of our content, it tells you only so much. However, we’ve also seen a growth from 12 to 424 patrons in only 12 months.
Are we creating value?
If our work is valuable to the people who follow us, we expect to see people use more of it over time. For example, someone may initially sign-up for a newsletter and then take the Scrum Team Survey, join as a patron and buy something from our shop. So we categorize our customers into three buckets; fans (A), followers (B), and intrigued (C). As an indicator of value, we hope to see people move from C to B and eventually to A. So what do our metrics show:
Our observations and interpretations are that:
- From people that engage with our products, content, and meetups, 9.5% returns very frequently (fans), 30% return every now and then (followers), and 61% return once or twice (intrigued).
- The percentage of people who use our material very frequently has increased by 188%. This is also reflected in the absolute numbers, which show a 477% growth in the size of this group. Furthermore, we can see a growth of 176% in the relative size of the group of people that use our content either frequently or occasionally, compared to only once or twice. As an indirect indicator of value, it seems that people get enough value out of our work to increase their use of, and engagement with, it.
- Recently, we’ve seen a huge bump in people who use our products frequently. This coincides with the start of the Liberators Network User Groups, the release of our book, and the release of updates to the Zombie Scrum Survey.
What is the most valuable?
We consider our supporters on Patreon to be our stakeholders. They invest money in our work and get benefits in return. We recently started asking patrons in a more structured manner what made them join and, by inference, is the most valuable to them:
From the data we collected so far, we discovered that:
- Our mission is by far the most compelling reason why people join, followed by our regular content (podcast, blog posts), the community of patrons and our meetups, and to develop the various tools we offer. To us, this confirms that we’re on the track in terms of our purpose.
- This data seems to clarify why people move from “intrigued” to “follower”, and from “follower” to “fan”: a clear and appealing mission. It's nice to see this confirmed again. On a more personal level, we also see a huge amount of energy and interaction within this community of Patrons. The level of engagement is very high.
Is our company sustainable?
A lot of our work is free. For example, our blog posts, podcast episodes, and the Scrum Team Survey are free. Many of the downloads in our webshop are free too. Our meetups in The Liberators Network are technically free, although we added a 1 dollar/month to (successfully) combat huge no-show rates (over 80%). Although we’d love to give everything away for free, we have to make money somewhere. Otherwise, our work isn’t sustainable, and we have to either find another job or pivot our strategy.
At the moment, we have two primary sources of funding; our webshop and our supporters on Patreon. Aside from that, we don’t offer virtual workshops or training, although we may do so in Q4 when the situation around Covid-19 allows it again, and when we need the funding.
The revenue is reduced by our costs. Our monthly operating costs (hosting, licenses, accountants, etc) are 750 euros. Our costs also include a bare minimum of what we need to generate to cover at least our personal bills (mortgage, insurance & such things). Obviously, we are currently investing in the growth of The Liberators, so we accept to remain below this minimum for a while and work from our personal reserves. But eventually, as those reserves run out (as they will do), we will have to change our strategy or stop when it seems unlikely that we can reach that point.
Our observations are that:
- The funding from our patrons grew from 375 euro per month at the start of 2020 to 1.800,- euro per month. This is an amazing amount, especially when you consider that each contribution comes from a private individual, and is not paid by an employer or a corporation. We should note that because we accepted annual subscriptions between September and November, these months include many one-time payments for an entire year.
- The funding through our webshop grew from 800 euros per month at the start of 2020 to about 2.000 euros per month. This concerns net profit, so minus all costs for material, shipping, etc. We experienced a huge spike in sales between September, November, and December due to the release of our book (thanks to everyone who purchase their book from our shop). Since then, it has returned to a bit above what we had before those months.
- The funding from Patreon alone allows us to cover our operational costs, and about 15% of the base minimum we personally need. Together with the funding from Shopify, we cover around 40% of the bare minimum we need. There is still a significant gap, which means that we’re currently operating on reserves.
- At the moment, our strategy does not appear to be sustainable. Although we have reserves, we can probably make due for another 6 months. In order to “break-even” with our bare minimum, we would need to reach 1.250 patrons against the same funding from our webshop. Or we have to increase the funding coming in through our webshop fivefold. Or hopefully both. With the current growth in mind, this would take about a year. The goods news is that we are seeing growth in all the areas that matter. So its a bit of a race against the clock :)
There were also some other experiments and lessons we took from 2020:
- The “Pay what it’s worth”-model isn’t sustainable for digital content. We experimented with a “Pay what it’s worth”-model for our digital content. A consistent pattern here was that regular customers (not patrons) would download everything we offered, and then select “It’s worth 0 dollars to me” (with the other options being 1, 5, or 8 dollars). Only 8% of the customers paid anything at all, usually a single dollar. Since this model was neither motivating nor sustainable for us, we now offer the basic experiments for free and the do-it-yourself workshops for a small price (between 2 and 5 euro). In a single month, the revenue from this new model has already outpaced the revenue through from six months under our “Pay what it’s worth”-model. We have also seen an uptake in patrons — since patrons (starting from 5usd/month) receive all our digital content for free.
- A clear goal is helpful. In what is really a “Doh!”-moment, time and time again we discovered how much more motivating a clear goal is. This concerns both the goals for individual Sprints, as well as a larger Product Goal to move towards. The few times we had Sprints without a clear goal, motivation suffered. And it was hard to celebrate all those small and unrelated bits at the end.
The road ahead
In this post, we shared the progress of The Liberators since the “shift” we made last year. We are humbled and proud of the support we’ve received from the community, and optimistic about what lies ahead. We’re seeing growth in all the areas that are important to our mission. At the same time, we are not yet able to derive a sustainable income from it. Thankfully, our metrics confirm there is great potential as our indicators are moving in the right direction. All we need now is some entrepreneurial creativity to bolster the income streams we have.
If you’ve read all the way to here, and you like our work and aren’t a supporter yet, would you consider becoming one too? It really would mean the world to us. You can find more at patreon.com/liberators. Alternatively, you can also order from our webshop (like our book). We hope that together with your support, we can continue to deliver valuable blog posts, podcast episodes, meetups, helpful tools, and inspiring designs and experiments for your team gatherings.