Humans of New York DECODED: Getting Millions of Supporters Without Spending Millions

Mario Žderić

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!

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?

Decoding the apps, browsing HONY, it’s all in a day’s work.
9GAG DECODED: How Much Does It Cost to Build a Meme Empire?

9GAG, the central place where you go for your daily fix of memes and comedy relief when life gets tough or commutes grow long.

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:

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.

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.