How to Build a $500k/yr Business in 3 Years With Dru Riley

If you prefer, you can listen to this deep dive here.

Can you imagine being able to build a business that brings in over $500k in less than 3 years?

And do that with around 60k subscribers?

That’s exactly what Dru Riley has done with Trends.vc.

Dru publishes reports each week (now bi-weekly) focused on one trend or movement he’s thinking about.

Some examples of the topics he covers are no-code businesses, the Freemium business model, or “curation as a service.”

He goes deep with his research and puts it all together in a concise 1,000-word report.

Each report includes sections on:

  • Why it matters
  • The problem that trend solves
  • The solution
  • The big players in the industry (both tools and people effectively using this trend)
  • His predictions
  • The opportunities to take advantage of this trend
  • The risks associated
  • Key lessons on implementing this quickly
  • Hot takes on the demand and future of it
  • “Haters” – which is kind of like the limiting beliefs people have around that topic
  • Links to dive deeper into the topic

The reports are extensive, without being overwhelming for someone to read and understand.

You can get these reports for free each week, with the option to upgrade and get even more information to help with the implementation of these ideas.

I will say, doing this research was extremely challenging because the content is so good that I kept going down my own rabbit holes on totally unrelated topics.

How Trends.VC Makes Money

There are 2 main ways that Trends.vc makes money at this point.

1. Trends Pro

Trends Pro takes those free reports to a whole different level. He includes much more research and detailed methods on how you can implement these trends into your business.

You also get access to Masterminds and Daily stand-ups, as well as weekly “Founder intros” and being able to chat with others about the latest reports.

An annual Trends Pro membership is $299/year (I got Dru to give you a $50 discount if you use GROWTHINREVERSE at checkout).

He’s pretty closed about the exact number of students, and it’s been “1000+” for over a year, but I’d venture to conservatively guess that it’s probably closer to 1,500.

Trends Pro Essentials

Dru recently started selling some of his top reports as a bundle without having to pay for the full Trends Pro membership.

2. Sponsorships

At first, Dru didn’t incorporate sponsors into his business because he didn’t want to have to cater to other people’s interests. He wanted to only focus on Trends Pro members.

But in February of 2022, he changed this. He said that at that point, 2% of Trends Pro members were subsidizing the free reports for everyone else.

He wanted to change that.

Here is the email he sent out about taking on sponsors:

Now he does accept sponsors for $1,500 per campaign.

You can see his sponsor sheet here.


The Growth Timeline of Trends.vc

Let’s talk numbers. I scoured Twitter, Indie Hackers, and tons of podcasts to come up with these numbers.

Trends.vc started off pretty steady, and then as you can see, there are two big bumps in subscriber counts. Both of which came from launching on Product Hunt.

I’ll share some of the tips Dru has given about launching on Product Hunt later. The rest of the growth came from some of these growth levers he’s used.

The 4 Growth Levers of Trends.vc

There are 4 things that Dru Riley is incredible at, and why I think his community is so strong.

🧪 1. Optimizing and experimenting. Dru said he spent 2-3 months testing just the opt-in page on the website. And of course, I found screenshots of a bunch of the tests he ran and included them below.

🤝 2. Communities and masterminds. He quit lurking in communities and started putting himself out there. Masterminds are hands down one of the reasons his growth curve happened so quickly.

🏋️‍♀️ 3. Comfort Challenges. Dru is someone who is always pushing himself. Instead of letting fear take over, he makes sure he does a daily dose of something that helps him grow.

🥊 4. Working under constraints. Dru limits each Trends report to be less than 1,000 words. When you see how much research he’s done, it’s mind-blowing that he can pull this off with every report.

Let’s break down each one of those and see why they worked.

1. Optimizing and Experimenting 🧪

Dru has tested quite a few things in the business, first with monetization. He tried selling one-off reports on Gumroad, and then he tested a subscription because people asked for it. And that failed at first, but now we know it’s a huge success.

But the most extensive thing he tested (from what I can tell) is the homepage. And it makes sense, aside from the content quality, which is already epic, it’s the one thing that can immediately impact the business in drastic ways.

Dru ended up testing the homepage for trends.vc for months.

And he did it because Dan Ni posted on Indie Hackers that he was seeing a 40% opt-in rate on their page.

I think it was this post:

indiehackers.com

This was posted on April 22, 2020. It would be another month or so before he went hard on testing this page. But that interaction clearly stuck with him and made him want to improve the page.

In a podcast interview with Jay Clouse, Dru said he was shocked to hear that number. Kind of insinuating that his conversion rate must have been quite a bit lower.

And then he said he tested the page enough that it got to a point where it now converts between 45-60%.

So of course, I had to go back and find all of these iterations to see just how much he actually tested.

As I was going back through the archives, I started laughing, because it’s just so obvious how deadset he was on fixing this issue.

As he should be right? When you run a newsletter, you have to capitalize on every opportunity to get people who find you to sign up.

But, it just struck me as this moment where he was like “I’m gonna win this game.”

The Trends.vc Homepage Testing Saga

I took screenshots of all the changes I found for you. It’s quite interesting to see what must have worked and what didn’t.

As someone who has been running paid ads for years, landing pages are fascinating to me.

I put them together into a slideshow for you.

  • May 4, 2020
    This was the starting point.
    Focused and to the point – the only thing you can do it sign up. Not a bad starting place.

It’s so cool to see all of these iterations, isn’t it?

I imagine that all of this testing more than doubled his conversion rate, I’d venture to guess it was 3x better, so I’d call it worth it.

To get the same amount of benefits, he’d have to drive double (or triple) the traffic, which is not as easy. But that is the power of testing and experimenting with all parts of your business.

2. Communities & Masterminds 🤝

We all know you can’t go anywhere alone. But the level of community Dru has built with his peers is on another level.

Like Anne-Laure Le Cunff, he was very active on Indie Hackers before launching Trends.vc and posted there regularly during the first few years of running the business.

He was learning from others, and helping people out as well with feedback or ideas to make their products better.

To an extent, he was also building in public by sharing wins and his latest reports as well.

But the big catalyst for growth started when he attended some in-person Indie Hackers events, which led him to be part of a mastermind called Zero to One Makers.

The mastermind started as a group of 6-7 makers who were all building their own projects. But they’d give each other feedback and share each other’s products with their own audiences.

Having this network when he initially launched Trends.vc helped him grow to 7,000 subscribers in just a few months.

And then when he went on to launch on Product Hunt, those initial subscribers along with his mastermind group sharing the launch helped get it to Product of the Day.

But as an introvert, he said it wasn’t easy. This leads us to the next growth lever: comfort challenges.

3. Comfort Challenges 🏋️‍♀️

It’s pretty common knowledge that pushing yourself to do uncomfortable things can help us grow and overcome fears and hesitations.

As you get used to the things that used to be hard, things that seemed impossible just a few months prior seem to unlock.

But few of us actually choose to flex this muscle repeatedly.

Not this guy, Dru commits to doing one “comfort challenge” per day. He mentions 3 different types of comfort challenges:

  • Mental – learning to play chess
  • Physical – going for a longer run than you’ve been able to before
  • Social – reaching out to someone you admire

Now, this might seem impossible to stick with, but, the way he tracks them is super clever.

He allows himself to roll over any extra challenges he’s completed. So if you’re having an extra “courageous” day, you can do 5 comfort challenges, and then skip the next few days.

I love this framework for thinking about it because most of us will inevitably miss a day of something here or there.

These challenges don’t have to be extravagant, it can be something as simple as sending off a cold email to someone you want to interview that is well above your weight class.

Here’s Dru talking about when he stopped lurking around communities and started putting himself out there:

Going to the Indie Hackers event that night was a comfort challenge, I may have presented at that same event that was a comfort challenge. And then asking to join this group was another comfort challenge.

And I see this idea of a comfort challenge as doing things that are new and or uncomfortable. And these are sort of like asymmetric bets. That seems scary, but could have a ton of upside, like you just said, and I think this was one of those that had a lot of upside.

Dru Riley on Creator Science

Instead of letting fear take over, he pushes himself to do something that helps him grow.

4. Working Under (Self-Imposed) Constraints 🥊

Each of the reports takes him LOTS of time to research.

He mentioned on the Creator Lab podcast that his most recent report at that point included 172 podcasts.

That’s a mind-boggling amount of data and insights to sift through when doing research for one report. Let alone in a week’s time.

👉 So how does he get through all of it?

He listens at 3x speed, often while walking or doing other things, and if the first few minutes of a podcast aren’t going to be “high signal”, he skips the rest of it.

After a while, you can just tell which are going to be good and which aren’t.

On top of all those podcasts, he incorporates YouTube videos, books, and other research methods.

It’s a full immersion process.

He said after all that is digested, he ends up with around 15,000 words of notes.

But Dru limits each Trends report to be less than 1,000 words.

It’s kind of mind-blowing that he can take that much information and distill it into something so digestible.

The More Tactical Stuff

While those are the main growth levers he continuously uses to grow and build a more robust business, here are some of the tactics he’s implemented along the way.

Product Hunt Launch(es)

The first Product Hunt launch took him from 7k subscribers to 25k!

…in a matter of days.

Having early support was one of the things he said helped most.

Anne-Laure Le Conff also waited until she had a few thousand email subscribers to go live on Product Hunt.

Dru then launched a second time on Product Hunt for Trends.vc 2.0. This is a common thing that when you add more features and such you can launch a second version.

While it wasn’t the staggering success of the first time, he still added 5k+ subscribers in a few days. I’d take that!

It’s not a coincidence that his community and the trust he’s built with his audience were a huge reason he has a huge uptick in subscribers.

Twitter Threads

While his Twitter following is still pretty “low” compared to someone like Nathan Baugh, Dru attributes a lot of his early wins to Twitter.

Every week he would post a Twitter thread about each report and tagged every company or person he mentioned. Here’s an example (full thread here):

Part of one of his threads on Online Courses

He attributes this to a lot of his early subscribers. And it makes sense since he’s tagging everyone involved.

People (and brands) love being tagged in stuff like this, especially when it’s talking about how they’re doing something well in regard to that trend.

It’s no wonder that even his earlier threads had dozens of retweets.

🗺️ How You Can Use Some of Dru’s Methods

You probably already have a few ideas flying around in your head, but if not, here are some takeaways I’ve gotten from this.

Incorporate Constraints

Constraints are a great way to improve your work.

Dru keeps each report under 1,000 words, and he used to give himself only a week, although now they publish twice a month instead.

Is there a way you can make your work shorter, or get it done in less time?

  • Word count or length
  • Time-based – how long you spend on something

“Our urgency matches the amount of time that we have.”

Dru Riley on the Indie Hackers podcast

Challenge Your Comfort

Getting out of your typical “box” is a great way to enhance your creativity, meet amazing people, and learn new things.

While you don’t have to start with 30 comfort challenges a month, could you try and do one per week?

Dru tracks these and his other habits using the “Streaks” app.

Stop Lurking and Meet New People

Along the same lines with comfort challenges, start engaging with more people in the communities you’re a part of.

I was this way for years until recently, and it’s already paying off. It makes me mad that I waited so long but it is what it is.

If you’re not part of any, try engaging with people in your industry/niche on Twitter. You can comment on their posts, share their work, or even DM them and let them know how much you enjoyed their latest X, Y, or Z.

Building in public is a great way to do this if you’re getting started with a new project as well.

⏰ Wait to Launch on Product Hunt

If you’re planning on promoting what you’re building on Product Hunt, or your newsletter/community, wait until you have a few thousand subscribers.

Having that built-in momentum of people who have already tested your product and stuck around using it is going to help catapult your launch.

If you launch too soon and don’t have enough initial support, you’re probably not going to get the results Dru has gotten. And even if you do, those results are probably not typical.

Quality and Community

At the end of the day, it comes down to building a quality product or newsletter, getting feedback from your community, and helping them along the way.

When your communities are engaged and invested in your work, they’re going to share it. And it creates a flywheel effect.

Dru really doesn’t have to promote his stuff as much because the community loves it so much that they do the referring and promoting for him.

While marketing is never done, having a community like that makes it a lot easier to keep growing sustainably.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – don’t sleep on building relationships.

Also, if you end up signing up for Trends Pro, you can save $50 on the first year with code GROWTHINREVERSE. Thanks for offering that to my readers, Dru!

chenell basilio

Chenell Basilio

Chenell is the head writer and reverse engineer at Growth In Reverse. She spends her days researching newsletters, audience growth, and generally figuring out how to help others create better content.

She has an almost useless Bachelor's Degree in Geography, enjoys running, listening to podcasts, and eating guacamole. 🥑

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