Growth Lessons
May 17, 2020

How a simple email newsletter became a $350k-a-year side-hustle in just 20 months

Summary

Indulging in my love of newsletter businesses again 😀

This is a great story of a newsletter that seemed to come out of nowhere with a 100K+ audience and making approx $1000 per day in sponsorships.

TLDR is a curated tech, science and code newsletter (think Hacker News type content) and gets sent out every weekday.

On this episode of Growth Lessons the creator / curator, Dan, talks about his motivation for starting the email, how he grew it to a massive audience in a short time frame, and plenty of advice for other newsletter writers.

Lessons learned

  • Dan was already spending time reading Hacker News, sub Reddits and similar sites so started to compile into a newsletter. It started to gain traction so was motivated to keep going.
  • One of the hard things as a bootstrap founder is “you can just quit at any time and there’s no one holding you accountable”.
  • It’s important to keep up the growth momentum to keep yourself motivated.
  • He started with Reddit and Quora ads - Most people talk about Facebook and Google but with Reddit and Quora, a lot of companies don’t want to use them so there’s less competition and the ads are cheap.
  • If you’re more strapped for cash than you are for time, you get a lot of bang for your buck. On Quora you can pick specific questions to target, eg ‘what’s the best tech newsletter for developers’ and it cost him $2 a month for 5 leads so very efficient. That was instrumental in getting the first few thousand users and after that people would link to him and word of mouth started.
  • There are 2 types of growth strategies for a newsletter: 1)percentage terms like word of mouth, cross promotions with similar sized newsletters.OR 2) linear growth strategies like purchasing paid ads and posting in forums where you’ll get a set number of people per dollar.
  • In the beginning you want to look at linear strategies because word of mouth won’t help that much with lower numbers of subscribers. Paid ads have you grow linearly and once you hit critical mass you can then go over to more exponential growth models.
  • People always talk about exponential growth when it’s in the steep part of the trajectory but at the beginning it’s flat so if you can do linear at the beginning you’ll come out way ahead.
  • Realized the business was going somewhere when his first sponsors reached out to him.
  • Problem with subscriber lists at this scale - he has to take care not to be political in what he shares. People jump all over it.
  • If you're a visionary, create stuff. If you're mediocre, curate stuff - there are lots of people with similar tastes to you.
  • Optimize your landing page - keep it simple and focused on the one action you want a visitor to take: sign up.
  • Also offer sign up via twitter, google or other - he gets 50% of mobile traffic taking these options (typing out email addresses on mobile is no fun)
  • The newsletter is still a side project and only takes an hour per day 🤯
  • Charging $10 CPM for sponsorship: why so low? Because Pieter Levels (Nomad list) says you should sell it at a low price until you either run out of supply or verify demand and then start raising it till people stop buying. So he’ll progressively raise it.

I recently came across Dan on Twitter and reached out to him for an interview. He was super friendly and open with his advice.

The crazy thing is, if a startup had grown as quickly as Dan's newsletter, you'd be reading about it everywhere. But he's built a 350 thousand dollar side hustle almost completely under the radar.

He talks about how he got started, the realities of sending an email to 100,000 people every day, the power of being mediocre, and gives some fantastic advice for growing a newsletter business.

I hope you enjoy it.