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This Week In React #87: Special Edition - Story & 2021 retrospective

This Week In React #87: Special Edition - Story & 2021 retrospective
By Sébastien Lorber • Issue #87 • View online
Hello dear reader, and happy new year! 🎉
I take this opportunity to send you a more personal special edition. I’ll send this kind of newsletter every now and then, probably quarterly 🤔?
For this first one, we will talk about the origins of this newsletter and do a 2021 retrospective.
It is one of my “indie hacking” projects, that I probably take a bit too seriously 😂. I’m trying to build this project with you, in public, transparently, so don’t hesitate to give me your opinion. You can reply directly to this email: I reply back to everyone 😉
As you will see, this project takes me a lot of time, and only brought me 4050€ since the very beginning from sponsoring. It is not profitable activity, but I’m pretty sure to reach sustainability given enough time.
If you want to help me achieve my goals, the best Christmas gift you can do is to recommend this newsletter around you. This has a real impact: sometimes a single Twitter testimonial can lead to a dozens of new subscribers!

My background
Let’s tell you my story and why I created this newsletter 😉 skip this section if you are in a hurry 😏.
Before 2014, I was a Scala/Java developer, and I hated JavaScript 😂 and I was suspicious toward those using Node.js.
In my startup, I was a backend Scala developer. In 2013, our frontend developers struggled to maintain our Backbone frontend. I got involved and tried to help. At the end of 2013, we concluded it was better to rewrite everything. We hesitated between AngularJS and React. As Scala developers with a functional programming background, we choose React.
Fast forward, I’m now using React every day since January 2014 😱. This was not simple at the beginning: there were no state manager, no context (at least not officially 😏). In 2014, I created a state manager Atom-React: it was like Redux, but a worst version 😂 Still, I was proud to have time-travel debugging before Redux (video).
Early 2017, I became a freelancer. I started to help a friend (CTO of a startup) that needed a mobile app: a good opportunity to learn React-Native. I also joined a French freelance collective Alqemist and we shipped a few nice React & React-Native projects together.
Soon, I started to look for high value consulting gigs, and I figured out it was not so easy to sell. Despite my experience and my open-source contributions, nobody knew me in France. I’m rather discreet, I don’t often attend conferences or meetups: I had to find something that suits me to work on my personal branding.
In 2019, I started to produce content: I commented the React news each morning on LinkedIn, in French, to build a local audience. LinkedIn is often late on news compared to Twitter and there’s always something interesting to comment. This worked pretty well and I started to receive consulting opportunities.
I launched the French newsletter in February 2020 (1st edition 🇫🇷). Thanks to LinkedIn, I started with 500 subscribers.
I had a plan, but something unexpected happened 🤪. This tweet led me to work for Facebook on Docusaurus, as a contractor. It’s not often that you have the opportunity to be paid to work on a popular open-source project (and Facebook looks good on my CV right? 😏). This collaboration was supposed to last a few months, but ultimately will last much longer.
I stopped my consulting activity, but decided to keep the newsletter and try to make it a self-sufficient project. Having a local audience could remain useful someday.
At the end of 2020, I started converting my newsletter to Twitter threads (1st edition), to develop an international audience. I received a lot of positive testimonials and decided to keep doing these threads.
This newsletter in 2021
Vision
My value proposition remains unchanged: saving time for professional React developers who are already familiar with React and need to stay up to date.
I try to differentiate myself from my big American competitors with more relevant comments, a better understanding of the React ecosystem, highlighting trends and weak signals.
I probably don’t make it easy for myself: I prefer to have a smaller but very qualified audience.
Stats
Beginning of 2021:
  • ReactHebdo: 1357 subscribers
  • ThisWeekInReact: 0 subscribers
  • Twitter: 4246 followers
End of 2021:
  • ReactHebdo: 2352 subscribers (+995)
  • ThisWeekInReact: 1945 subscribers (+1945)
  • Twitter: 12571 followers (+8325)
My analysis:
  • The newsletter in French is growing slowly (+20/week)
  • The newsletter in English started well (1st edition end of Octobre 2021 with 1000 subscribers), and is growing much faster (+100/week)
  • My Twitter account exploded (+160/week)
I also started a LinkedIn newsletter (🇫🇷) : 5500 subscribers in 2 weeks 🤪 incredible my entire network has been invited, but I think there is a lot of noise: duplicate subscribers, my family, recruiters … LinkedIn does not give any information on this audience: we are stuck on their platform.
Format
The format has changed a bit:
I don’t know if it’s really better than before? 🤷‍♂️ Don’t hesitate to tell me what you think.
I would love to put more images, but Gmail often truncates longer emails, so I can’t put a lot of images and text at the same time.
I also want to include some evergreen articles instead of just commenting the news, but not sure how yet.
Organization
At the beginning, I did my curation work on the fly and on weekends, and I wrote the newsletter + the twitter thread on Mondays.
In the end, I decided to devote myself seriously to this project, with a hard limit of 2 days per week.
I now concentrate all my curation on a single day to avoid being distracted on the other days. I subscribe to lots of other newsletters, and I use Twitter filters (I created a Twitter list with interesting accounts). It’s a bit chaotic, but it works.
Usual planning:
  • Monday 9h-13h: superficial curation, scanning many articles, saving things that seem interesting to Pocket
  • Monday 14h-19h: adding the most interesting links to the newsletter draft, reading articles more carefully, writing notes and draft comments
  • Tuesday 9h-13h: writing the final version in French
  • Tuesday 14h-16h: creating the thread Twitter and images
  • Tuesday 16h-17h: last review + English translation
  • Tuesday 17h: send the 2 newsletters and the Twitter thread
  • Tuesday 17-19h: promotional activity, marketing
It doesn’t look like that, but this newsletter takes a lot of time 😅 and it therefore has a direct impact on my freelance turnover. That’s why I’m trying to make this activity sustainable.
Note that it includes curation and reading time, on which I’m very easily distracted and I tend to follow non-React rabbit holes 😂
In my opinion, 2 days is way too much: I spend a lot of time on tiny details that you probably don’t even care about. I also feel guilty if I miss any interesting link. I need to apply Pareto’s law better and try to reduce this time to 1 day per week (like it was in the beginning).
Sponsoring & ROI
The French newsletter already accepts job and product sponsors.
I have a preference for job offers: a good offer is relevant content for my audience. The typical case: a startup that recruits a React-Native dev pays € 400 to have an ad for 4 editions. This may sound like a lot, but it’s quite similar to the rates charged by my big US competitors.
This French newsletter brought me 4050€ HT in 2021.
Do the maths and you will probably understand that this activity is not profitable at all 😅 but I have more and more sponsorship requests, and I also intend to accept sponsors for the English version. In the short term my MRR should go above 1000 € / month.
My newsletter led to 2 successful recruitments of 2 React-Native developers via sponsorship (budget of 800 € HT). This reassures me about the viability of the project, and the ability to convince new sponsors!
This newsletter in 2022
I have received a lot of positive feedback on this newsletter, and I think the “product” is appealing to the target audience.
I intend to continue to invest myself in this newsletter 2 days a week. I am convinced that I can make this project sustainable.
My goal is to continue to grow the 2 newsletters, attract quality sponsors and reach 20k turnover before the end of 2022.
I will have to move up a gear, redouble my efforts on marketing and improve significantly on the acquisition of new subscribers.
I would also like to offer a recruitment service specializing in React (probably only in France). I’m assuming that a candidate will prefer to talk to me rather than some average headhunter who doesn’t know anything about React, so why not give it a try? The only problem: it’s an activity that takes a lot of time 😅.
Other projects
I will continue to work on Docusaurus in 2022, it will be a good subject for a next special edition 😉. My 2022 planning is therefore already quite busy.
I have a few other projects, which are not progressing much due to lack of time.
Why not create a course or training? Honestly, I don’t really know about what? I know a lot of things, but not always in depth. Maybe about Expo, or cross-platform?
ThreadMotion.com is another side-project: it permits to convert Twitter threads to videos thanks to Remotion. I still didn’t release a MVP, as I figured out I really want to use 3D to make the videos look much better. That’s why I’m currently learning React-Three-Fiber. Even if this project fails, I still see so many opportunities for Remotion + 3D.
I just finished How to Take Smart Notes and I plan to invest in a “second brain” 😂 that should help me write better content in the future.
Music
Totally unrelated: let’s finish in music!
I have been a fan of electronic music for 20 years (especially deep, progressive house, techno …). For this premiere we will stay soft, we will wait a bit for the bunker music 😉.
A good opportunity to introduce you some French artists that are really nice to see live:
Happy new year and see you very soon 👋
Did you enjoy this issue?
Sébastien Lorber

📨 For React devs ⚛️ I filter out the noise 🔊 You save time ⏱️

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