Humans of New York DECODED: getting millions of supporters without spending millions

3 min read
November 10, 2016

Yep, it can be done.

A portrait pops up on one of your social media feeds. It’s usually a close up or a whole body shot, incredibly sharp, unposed, and it feels strangely intimate.

There is also an accompanying story or quote the person featured told the photographer that plays into that feeling of familiarity.

You can tell right away that it’s a Humans of New York post.

And they are really hard to miss since the project has amassed close to 18 million Facebook followers, more than 6 million Instagram followers and a community of supporters all across the globe.

Talk about traction!

humans of new york decoced

So HONY is basically… a Tumblr?

That kind of popularity must come with quite some price tag, right?

HONY’s really a new-media type of narrative: Short, easily consumable in the age of social media, personal, and everyone can find something they relate to.

What do you think turned out to be the best way to display such content?

Unlike the 9GAG web app we decoded, it was not a gigantic content site. Turns out, HONY is just a custom HTML theme—on Tumblr. It’s customized through and through, we have to give it that, but still just a dressed up Tumblr blog.

But let’s decode that anyway — here’s what it would take to make a custom theme akin to that of HONY:

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Well, that would hardly break your bank, wouldn’t it?

Cost of an app: Nothing, if you have tech-savvy fans

The HONY blog also has its mobile versions, but that’s where the story gets an interesting twist: The apps were not in fact commissioned by the blog’s author.

Both the iOS and Android apps have been made by HONY enthusiasts from all over the world to show their support for the project.

But let’s say you don’t have millions of loving fans who are more than willing to devote their time and coding skills to widen your reach. The apps are simple, straightforward and feature a stream of photos from the blog—that is hardly a problem to recreate.

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It’s not always about the software — or the budget

Unlike other startups we’ve decoded, like 9GAG, or Vine or Tinder, HONY is not a giant technological undertaking. Startups often focus on the specs and forget that the ideas that live and scale are the ones that resonate with people.

You could rebuild everything in 40 days, and with less than 20K.

Everything except the content, and that’s what matters here.

The lesson here is that if you have an idea that you really believe people will love, and you don’t have a few hundred thousand budget everyone brags with these days, go for it.

Find someone who will help you use what you have to make the best possible MVP and give it a try. You just might surprise yourself.

Written by

Mario Zderic

Co-founder and CTO

Mario makes every project run smoothly. A firm believer that people are DECODE’s most vital resource, he naturally grew into the role of People Operations Manager. Now, his encyclopaedic knowledge of every DECODEr’s role, and his expertise in all things tech, powers him to manage his huge range of responsibilities as COO. Part developer, and seemingly part therapist, Mario is always calm under pressure, which helps to maintain the office’s stress-free vibe. In fact, sitting and thinking is his main hobby. What’s more Zen than that?

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