Ghost: The open-source startup helping creators turn audiences into a business

Ghost is an open-source alternative to Substack for newsletter publishers. Creators are already making $2m a year on its platform.

March 31, 2021

With everyone and their mom jumping on the newsletter train, there’s been a dark horse that has bet on the creator economy for nearly a decade.

Ghost, which offers a suite of publishing tools for creators, vouches to help writers “turn your audience into a business.”

They’ve quietly scaled to $3m ARR, while enabling the creators on their platform to bring in $2.2m of their own. In a race with much bigger fish, Ghost has kept up through their unique business model (a nonprofit, open-source, fully remote company) that has been profitable since 2014.

The Hustle spoke with Ghost’s co-founder John O’Nolan after the company’s recent launch of Ghost 4.0:

Another publishing tool?

Prior to Ghost, O’Nolan worked as a web designer and developer. As he worked with the biggest fish, WordPress, he noticed that it was growing into a “platform for everything.”

He realized that there was space to build a tool for a single-use case: professional publishing.

Profitability in 11 months

Ghost didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. He learned from a business model that already existed in the WordPress ecosystem — a free open-source product — and managed hosting companies like WPEngine or GetFlywheel.

Their open-source product creates demand for hosting, while hosting funds the development of the product.

Ghost has scaled without paid ads or a sales team

O’Nolan says that marketing at Ghost is simple: focus on creating an excellent product, so that people end up sharing it for you.

They achieve this through: 1) thorough documentation; 2) tutorials; 3) a referral program.

The future of subscriptions

“I think subscription commerce is a sector that will be applicable to almost anything,” says O’Nolan. “Newsletters are a very hyped trendy bit, but I think longer term, we’re thinking about this as an agnostic technology layer that can really power all types of businesses.”

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