GE Ep 86: How BiggerPockets Grew To Be A Raving Community Of 256,000 Members With 5 Million Visits A Month With Joshua Dorkin

joshua dorkinHi everyone, today we’re talking to Joshua Dorkin, the entrepreneur and real estate investor behind BiggerPockets, an online social network for real estate investors and a podcast that has more than 41,000 listens per episode.

Josh has put a lot of work into growing this thriving community, and his insight on what it takes to build an authentic, self-sufficient community online is definitely worth listening to.

Jack-of-all-Trades Turned Real Estate Investor

Throughout his career, Josh was in the entertainment business, worked as a stock trader, and even taught high school before his brother suggested him to look into real estate investing.

A highschool teacher at the time, Josh studied to get his real estate license, bought some property, but very quickly realized that having a license didn’t make him an expert enough to do well, and he needed more advice.

He saw there were a lot of sites out there  ready and willing to offer him advice, but they weren’t authentic… his bullshit detector went off almost immediately.

After getting fed up with the late-night TV get-rich-quick guys, he decided to start his own online community as a way to help himself. He soon realized though, that BiggerPockets was helping more people than just him, and that he could use the website and the community to help democratize the space of real estate investing.

In the last 10 years, they’ve had tens of millions of people come through their community, and today they’re sitting at 256,000 community members.

Using a Community to Generate Revenue

Typically, real estate niche sites make money by promoting courses, boot camps, and making affiliate sales for high-cost mentoring programs.

But Josh wanted BiggerPockets to be different, so he decided to take a different monetization route, involving:

  • Advertising
    • While BiggerPockets uses advertising as a form of monetization, Josh says they heavily filter the ad requests that come in to only provide value to their users. In fact, he says, they turn away more advertising offers than they accept.
  • Partnerships
    • BiggerPockets have a few select business-based partnerships that bring in revenue.
  • Paid Membership
    • BiggerPockets is completely free to join, but they sell upgraded memberships similar to a LinkedIn model: if you want to have better searches to narrow people down, you need to get a paid account. The same goes if you want to market or solicit anything in the forums – you’ve got to pay for the privilege to do that.
    • On top of that, they’ve developed a suite of calculators to help people figure out if any particular investment is a good deal. Some are free to everyone, but others are only accessible through paid accounts.
  • Publishing Company
    • They launched the publishing side of their business in 2013, and they’ve got 3 physical books on sale, which have netted over 30,000 copies sold. They’re so good, they’re regularly on the top 10 charts of Amazon for real estate books.

How Does One Person Handle a Community, a Podcast & a Publishing Company?

At first, Joshua says BiggerPockets was only run by him while he was teaching high school, and he really didn’t sleep much during that time.

He reached his breaking point, and hired a consultant to help him analyze what he had going on, where the opportunity was, and how to take advantage of it. The consultant helped him figure out the type of people he needed to bring on as team members.

This was two years ago, and now there’s a little over 12 people on the team, and they’re currently hiring for three more positions.

The Hell of Building a Community

“Managing a community is hell,” said Josh, plain and simple.

In fact, he often advises people who say they want to build an online community to focus their energies elsewhere – it really is that hard.

In the early days, he says he had to slave away until he reached the tipping point of being able to ask an active member to be a community moderator and the community became somewhat self-policing.

He even had to be the one asking the questions and getting other people to come answer them that weren’t spammers. It was a tedious job.

Eventually though, the people involved in the community began to realize that BiggerPockets was truly vested in their success, so they in turn became vested in the site as a valuable resource and were self-policing the trolls and spammers.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

In the last 30 days, BiggerPockets has received 783,000 unique visitors and around 5 million page views.

They have 256,000 members with 1.56 million forum posts, and get anywhere from 1,600 to 2,000 new forum posts per day, with thousands of private messages going back and forth.

Each podcast episode averages between 41,000 and 42,000 listens, and they add around 100 new blog posts every single month.

Getting Syndicated on Big-Name Sites

BiggerPockets has content syndicated on AOL Real Estate, Business Insider, Realtor.com, Huffington Post, and Daily Finance.

There’s no glamorous secret to it, Josh says it’s just a bunch of banging on doors to show editors how you can serve their audience to provide valuable content they don’t already have.

Cornerstone Content: Ultimate Guides

After seeing the incredible guides put together by Moz and Neil Patel, BiggerPockets got inspired to create equally helpful guides for their own vertical.

They started with The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Real Estate Investing, which is an eight-chapter book to give people the practical knowledge they need to get started.

They’ve also created similar guides for people going more in-depth in different real estate investing verticals, like wholesaling, flipping, and screening tenants.

By creating such valuable content (along with their heavy blog posting schedule and the podcast), BiggerPockets attracts both newbie investors who are interested in starting a real estate investment portfolio, along with people who have been in the business for a long time and are simply looking for ways to improve what they’re already doing.

How to Get Started in Real Estate: Supplemental Income

Since a lot of listeners of this show are tech-based entrepreneurs and marketers who are really busy with their heads down, focused on their own jobs, real estate investment for supplemental income might be the way to go.

Rather than investing your money in the stock market to get a 6% to 8% return, Josh points out that with real estate, especially if you act as a private lender to a successful investor, you can often get a 12% to 15% return on your money.

At the end of the day though, he thinks buying and holding a piece of property is the way to go. For him, it represents a way to build long-term wealth and a portfolio because rental properties tend to produce a reliable cash flow, even if it does take time and might mean partnering with other people.

The Most Common Mistakes of New Investors

According to Josh, the biggest mistake new or casual investors make is not knowing how to evaluate a deal… which is something that can destroy and bankrupt you.

This was why they build their different calculators – so investors could make sure they were getting in on a good deal, and not one that only seemed good on the surface.

“Don’t ever bank on appreciation,” he adds.

One Big Struggle in Growing BiggerPockets

His first big struggle, he says, was having the balls to hire the important hires that he needed to make.

But now that he’s done those, his biggest struggle is still hiring.

He says it can be hard to find candidates who are both skillfully qualified for the job and are mentally aligned with your business at the same time.

“If they don’t buy into what I’m doing, I don’t want to hire them,” he says.

Must-Read Books

He mentions that a lot of people who come into the real estate world like The 4 Hour Workweek, and he likes the advice in it about systemization.

Another book, though, is Brandscaping, which is about unleashing the power of partnerships.

The book even recommends different types of unorthodox, out-of-the-box partnerships you can use to make yourself relevant to lots of different people.

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