How Anne-Laure built a buzzing community on top of her popular newsletter "Maker Mind"

"I am the founder of Ness Labs, a mindful productivity school for knowledge workers who want to make the most of their mind. Every week, I write neuroscience-based articles about creativity, mental health, and metacognition that are published in my newsletter Maker Mind."

ORIGIN STORY:

What was the origin story behind Ness Labs and Maker Mind?

Ness Labs started as my own personal laboratory, where I could learn and experiment with anything I felt curious about. When I learned how to code, I used Ness Labs as a platform to launch a browser extension. When I was learning about self-publishing, I used it to launch an ebook.

During my neuroscience studies, I discovered something called the Generation Effect, which shows that we understand and remember things better if we create our own version of the content. So, instead of taking passive notes, it’s much more beneficial to rephrase, perform extra research, and connect the dots in your own way.

In order to build consistency with this helpful habit, I started Maker Mind, a weekly newsletter where I share original articles based on what I learn about neuroscience in my studies and elsewhere. A year later, I didn’t expect to have more than 15,000 subscribers.

How would you describe Ness Labs to folks who may have never heard about it?

I would say Ness Labs is a place for curious minds to connect together and learn how the brain works so they can be their most creative and most productive. It’s no surprise Ness Labs’ audience is mostly made up of knowledge workers: their brain is their most important tool. The same way an athlete cannot afford to get hurt, a knowledge worker needs to take care of their mind; to be mindful of their productivity habits; and if possible to avoid burning out. Ness Labs offers content, community, and coaching to such people.

Who did you share your early version with to validate your idea?

With everyone! I always work in public. I post screenshots on Twitter, ask for feedback, and I’m part of several groups of makers where I can get inspiration from others.


THOUGHTS ON BUILDING AN AUDIENCE:

Did you have an existing audience before Ness Labs?

Yes, I had a few thousand followers on Twitter.

What specific moves have helped you build an audience for Ness Labs?

Twitter has been instrumental in building an audience for Ness Labs. I always share my content there, I engage with the community, I ask questions. I have learned so much thanks to Twitter, and a big part of my traffic comes from there.

How did you maintain a tight feedback loop with your audience?

15,000 people have my email address, and they do reply to my newsletter. My DMs are open on Twitter. Just by letting it be known that I appreciate feedback, I get lots of constructive messages.

What specific tactics/strategies have helped you in turning a newsletter audience into a global community of Ness Labs?

It’s important not to just broadcast to your audience. We now have an online forum where people can discuss articles and start their own conversations, as well as virtual meetups which are a great opportunity for people to have real-time conversations. Another way we help people connect is Mind Match, a matching service for Ness Labs members to grab a 1:1 virtual coffee.

Was building an audience for your newsletter any different than for your community? What were some noticeable differences if any?

I don’t consider these two separate audiences. It’s the same audience at different levels of engagement. Some people may like a tweet, others may subscribe to the newsletter, and yet others may join the private community—but ultimately, they’re all part of the same audience.



THOUGHTS ON BUILDING IN PUBLIC:

When and where did you first discover the superpower of building in public?

I had my first blog when I was a teenager. It also had an online forum, and I was sharing all of my process in public—albeit with a much, much smaller audience. So it’s not something I suddenly discovered, I just always enjoyed working this way.

What makes it effective in your view?

Many people wait until they think their product is “perfect” before launching is. The reality is: a product will never be perfect. The sooner one starts sharing their work with the world, the sooner they can get feedback from actual target users.

What was the first project you have built in public?

My very first blog. It’s not online anymore, but I was very transparent in the way I was building it, and I was involving my readers in many decisions regarding the content and design.

What were some surprising lessons for you from that experience?

Feedback is incredibly precious, but people are more willing to share their honest thoughts than you would think—you just need to give them the space.

Who are some of your favorite builders in public?

James Clear is incredibly transparent in the way he is building his business. He is the one who inspired me to start writing an annual review. Andy Matuschak is also a great public builder: he created a public notebook for his raw thoughts, which led many other creators to do the same, including myself.


THOUGHTS ON DOWNSIDE:

If you were to argue for the downside of building in public, what would it be?

It can sometimes be anxiety-inducing to put your work into the world before you feel it is ready, but it becomes easier over time. And, of course, I would probably not recommend it for industries where intellectual property is crucial.

How do you stay on top of all the notifications/DMs/emails when you have a public persona?

I don’t try to stay on top of all my inboxes. I’m pretty clear with people that they should not expect a quick reply. I like slow, asynchronous communication. In my current line of work, it’s pretty rare for something to be truly urgent.

A potential risk lot of founders and creators run into when they build in public is people copying/cloning their work? How do you handle that? What are some ways to go about it?

Except if you work in an industry where IP equals money, ideas don’t really matter. It’s all about the execution. So I don’t waste my mental energy worrying about people copying my work. Most of the time, people will lack the consistency, passion, or dedication to turn the idea into a business. And if they do work hard enough, there is room for everyone.


THOUGHTS ON BUILDING PERMANENT ASSETS:

Building content archives or info products are all the rage now. Have you built any courses or e-books before? Are you planning to again?

I’m currently working on a course. It’s a lot of work but I think it will be a helpful resource for my readers who are interested in shifting from a collector mindset to a creator mindset. I also have a library of ebooks based on my articles, so people can read them on Kindle or when they’re offline.


THOUGHTS ON FUTURE:

What goals do you have for the future?

My goal is for Ness Labs to be the best mindful productivity school, bringing together curious minds from all around the world, and helping them fully realise their creative potential. In terms of execution, this vision could take many forms, and I don’t have an exact plan. That’s the joy of working in public: I can experiment, learn, and adjust my strategies as I go.


THOUGHTS ON DECISIONS:

What's the most important decision you've taken in the last 18 months?

Launching the Ness Labs membership was probably the biggest decision I made for the business in the last 18 months. It has allowed me to build a stable revenue stream so I can focus on what I do best: writing and engaging with the community. 


CLOSING THOUGHTS:

Do you have an ask for the Build In Public community?

If you are interested in mindful productivity, consider subscribing to the newsletter or joining the Ness Labs community!

How can people reach you on the Internet?

The best place is probably Twitter.


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