Win Friends Online While You Sleep
A “Friendcatcher” is something you offer for free, that helps you catch friends in your sleep.
Because it is passive, it is an asset. Just like a Dreamcatcher can be hung over your bed once and catches bad dreams for you through the night, a “Friendcatcher” (one word, not hyphenated) catches friends for you for the rest of your career.
The concept comes from Patrick McKenzie, who in turn says it came from his mom. As loud and well known as he is, this concept doesn’t seem widely known, and that is a pity. I first heard of it at Microconf, and it’s unintentionally informed my most successful online projects so far.
Friendcatching for Dummies
In the words of Patrick’s mom:
Patrick, you should learn to cook. Don’t learn to cook because you want to eat food - learn to cook because if you learn to cook you will have an excuse for the rest of your life to bring people over to your house.
No one who knows how to cook will ever lack for friends.
Patrick’s mom wasn’t talking about content strategy, or customer research, but she might as well have been.
Platform Before Product.
Build the things that will allow you to engage an audience and improve it over time. Included in this: Friendcatchers. Friendcatchers are small, contained lists, essays or apps that solve resonant (emotional, relevant), tractable, underserved problems.
The ideal Friendcatcher is (thanks to Christian Genco and the Microconf video):
- Tractable: Solvable within the blogpost, guide, cheatsheet, or mini-app form factor you have picked.
- Resonant: People say “F*** yeah this is what I need!” when they see your thing. Pay attention to pain.
- Underserved: 101 guides are overdone. Do the 201 guide. Cover intersections of technologies.
Basically: “Fill holes in the Internet”.
What a Friendcatcher does for you
(This is swyx talking) A Friendcatcher performs these functions:
- Solves someone’s problem. Some indications:
- Reader’s Google journey stops at you.
- Reader repeatedly returns to refer to your thing.
- Reader tells you.
- Establishes your expertise and association with the problem
- Makes the reader look smart/funny/informed when they share your thing
- It is “Retweetable” - doesn’t contain miscellaneous/unrelated junk, is timeless
- Gives the reader a benefit, which you can cash in on in future
- Does its job without your involvement after creation
- This is Leverage, a form of Productize Yourself
“Learn in Public” Friendcatchers
A “Learn in Public” Friendcatcher also invites readers to ask about things you don’t answer, and to correct things you got wrong. This is open source, collaborative knowledge.
In terms of Learning Gears, Friendcatchers are produced by Connectors, not Explorers. You know something others don’t, and build the resources that Explorers will find that serve as landmarks and maps for their journey.
Creating a good Friendcatcher is great, because it is something you can pour resources into continually refining and making better, and continues working even if you step away. This makes a lot more mileage out of your daily efforts than other forms of content, for example things that are news related or a less ambitious talk.
Examples of Friendcatchers
Includes some of mine. Note I wasn’t consciously going for “friendcatchers”
- Patrick’s Salary Negotiation blogpost wins him 500k friends/year
- Guide to broad, tightly scoped problem - the one people will use for years
- Calculator which replaces Excel. “Presenting a useful bit of math in a format that can be used by people who can’t code is unreasonably effective. There’s no calculation too trivial!”
- Kissmetrics free tool helps them get business
- Definitive curated list of resources. not listicles. Plant a flag on the internet of a definitive list of everything great and outstanding in this field
- The “Nugget”
- Steve Schoger’s 🔥 Tweets https://twitter.com/i/events/994601867987619840
- Patrick in 2010: Blogging is also a friendcatcher, sometimes even literally for me. It gets you opportunities you would not have if you did not blog. I am here at a SEO-skeptical company getting paid handsomely to make them scads because I blogged.
- 2022 Addition: Friendcatchers on HN
- He has been talking about this for 11 years: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&query=friendcatchers&sort=byPopularity&type=comment
- 2014: https://training.kalzumeus.com/newsletters/archive/content-marketing-strategy
- Fog Creek and Basecamp (formerly known as 37signals) both were extraordinarily successful with using writing as a friendcatcher both for their philosophies of the world and, secondarily, for their paid products. Many SaaS companies have cottoned onto the fact that writing (and podcasting, and making videos, and the like) is often less expensive than leasing traffic from Google on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, many make mistakes in tactics and strategies which blunt the good that writing can do for their audience and their business.
- 2016: https://businessofsoftware.org/2016/07/hiring-at-scale-patrick-mckenzie-starfighter-bos-usa-2015/
- Slides: https://www.slideshare.net/marklittlewood/bos2015-patrick-mckenzie-patio11-ceo-starfighter-hiring-at-scale
- Who here sells to developers in some capacity? So lots of the folks. Here is a great offer I received from Keen IO the other day. They said, hey, we notice you’re getting started on Keen IO recently. It’s an API which shows analytic stuff and he said, we notice you’re not quite up and running in production with Keen yet. Would you like to pair programme with one of us? We’ll help you implement it in your, in your product and get it up and running in production.
- 2017: https://twitter.com/patio11/status/850576942982086657
- I’m strongly bullish on creating friendcatchers that spread. I question the wisdom of doing it for other people’s companies.
- 2018: https://twitter.com/patio11/status/968993368108777478
- There is substantial value in free “friendcatchers” which one uses as marketing for never-free offerings. Note that you do have to be intentional about how you turn attention for the friendcatcher into sales leads.
- 2018: https://microconf.gen.co/patrick-mckenzie/
- Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtmUJye7t4c&list=WL&index=5&t=4s
- : If you know how to cook (a friend-catcher from Patrick’s mom), you’ll never lack for friends. If you build something that solves problems for people, you’ll never lack people to talk to who have problems.
- The ideal friend-catcher
- Great forms of friend-catchers
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