Anne-Laure Le Cunff is the founder of Ness Labs, which applies neuroscience research to productivity and creativity. In addition to writing articles and running a growing community, Anne-Laure also writes a newsletter subscribed to by over 25,000 “mindful makers”.
In this conversation, we talk about building up a newsletter audience from zero. Anne-Laure tells us why newsletters grow differently from other platforms, like YouTube channels, and why you shouldn’t get discouraged when your subscriber numbers hit a plateau—often, if you just keep writing and sending great emails, the next wave of growth is right around the corner.
We discuss the difference between Twitter and SEO as channels for gaining new subscribers, and the importance of saying “no” to all the things your business shouldn’t focus on right now.
Anne-Laure also explains why she’s not pursuing brand awareness for her newsletter, and why she’s focused on maintaining the contract with her readers first and foremost.
Links & Resources
- Chris Guillebeau
- Tropical MBA Podcast
- Product Hunt
- Hacker News
- Quick Chat with Anne-Laure Le Cunff of Ness Labs – The Indie Hackers Podcast
- SparkLoop & ConvertKit
- The Nathan Barry Show e017: David Perell – Mastering Twitter to Grow Your Newsletter and Make Money – Nathan Barry
- Website: Ness Labs – Make the most of your mind
- Twitter: @anthilemoon
- Subscribe to Anne-Laure’s Newsletter
In this episode of Art of Newsletters, I’m joined by Anne-Laure, talks about her journey from a product marketer at Google to running a very popular fast-growing newsletter. We talk about how she’s earning a living her fresh products and so much more. So let’s dive in. Anne-Laure, thanks for joining me today.
Thanks for having me, Nathan.
So I would love to start with just why you started a newsletter. You’ve got a newsletter that’s quite popular now, you know, you’re, well-respected in, all of our friend groups and all of that got a course that came out a ton of things. But going back to the beginning when you’re like, all right, I’m going to create a MailChimp account.
When I get going, like, what was the impetus behind that?
Initially that was more of a personal challenge. I went back to university a couple of years ago to study neuroscience and I wanted to have a forcing mechanism to write about it. And I’m someone who actually feels quite uncomfortable with disappointing people.
So publicly committing to sending a weekly newsletter about the topics I was studying at school was a way to force myself. To keep on doing it. I didn’t want people to be like, where’s the newsletter. I should say she would have it. Right. So that’s like, that’s where I was just, I just told people, Hey, every Thursday you can expect an email about when you were a science for me.
Yeah. So were you able to hit the every Thursday? Did you stay on that?
Actually pretty much. So I only missed three newsletters. In one year, two of them were planned. The other one is when was when I lost my grandmother and that was on the day I was supposed to send a newsletter. And what’s crazy is that I almost went like, okay, I don’t want to think about it.
I’m going to keep on writing. And then I was like, that’s like, no, that’s not healthy. Are you doing stuff? Writing? This is okay. And, the two other times, I actually announced it in the, the edition before, because I read it out about mental health and balance and mindful mindfulness. And this is part of it too, knowing when it’s better to just skip one newsletter so you can stick to it over the long run.
Rather than burning out because you’re trying to be overly sustainable to a point where you’re hurting your own mental health. So I did skip a few ones, but I’m okay with it. I think what’s more important is to be able to stick with it over the long run.
Yeah, I think that makes perfect sense. And I like your point about being intentional about it and saying.
I’m not missing a newsletter, I’m taking a break. And I think that’s something that, Paul Jarvis has done really well where, you know, he’s had his newsletter going for many, many years, and then he’ll say like, okay, I’m taking December off or I’m taking the summer off, you know, something like that. And it’s just, a good way to give yourself that break so that you can, you know, have the consistency and then, you know, readers know what to expect.
We are consistent with newsletters, so that. Readers can check in and know, you know, really consistently what to pay attention to. I remember one of the, the first people that I followed is Chris Guillebeau. he wrote the a hundred dollars startup and a bunch of other great books. And he would post every Monday and every Thursday at like 10:00 AM or 9:00 AM on the dot.
And I, for whatever reason, I wasn’t on his email list. I don’t know why. But I would actually just be like, Oh, it’s Monday at 10. Like, and I would go and like, look for the poster. And if it was there on nursery day, it would go read it. And it’s just interesting how like, well, you can get trained to, you know, go to the place where the good content is.
If the creator sticks to the schedule.
Absolutely. And you see that in lots of areas of content creation, right? Some of the most successful YouTubers are also following a pretty strict schedule where they tell people they’re very similar to what you just mentioned. Two videos a week one on Monday at this time one on Thursday at this time, same for newsletters, same for blogs in general, any kind of.
And they’re very worried. The person is trying to build an audience. You need to have some sort of contract with your audience where you tell them, Hey, you’re giving me your email address. You’re giving me access to the most intimate part of the internet for you. You’re giving me that that’s precious in exchange what I’m giving youthe contract is going to be—is that you’re going to receive. One or two newsletters a week from me on these days and I’m not going to break that contract. So I think it’s quite important to be consistent if you want to build that loyalty with your audience.
Yeah. It reminds me of, one other podcasts that I listened to a lot, called the tropical MBA.
And I’m even realizing that in there, like sign-off for the show, they say, we’ll see you next Thursday morning at 8:00 AM Eastern standard time. And. Like it doesn’t even matter. Like I’m not looking for the podcast at that. Like, I’ll play it the next time I’m in the car driving somewhere. I’m on a run, but it, it has that like, you know, at this exact time you will get it.
And it’s just interesting how prominently they put it into their show.
Absolutely. And that I agree with you that it doesn’t mean that people are going to wait that 8:00 AM on the dots to see it. But if every week when they checked and it was the day after, or it was one hour later, or the fact that they can trust that when they’re on the next run or the next drive and that this content is going to get there means that they’re going to keep on trusting you.
And they’re going to keep on checking, but if they check in three times in the row, It’s not there, then they’re just going to find someone else’s content to consume instead.
Yeah. That makes sense. What was the first milestone, for your newsletter that you felt like was substantial where you’re like, okay, this is an actual thing.
This is working. Let’s keep
to me. It was probably when I reached about 2000 subscribers was when I had this moment where I was like, that’s. An audience. They are, I don’t know, 2000 people in real life. So I felt like 2000 people, there are people in there I’ve never met in person who are not my close friends who are not my mom.
So this is in the audience basically. So yeah, 2000 subscribers was when I started looking at it as something that could grow and that could become a more serious part of my life.
What was like most impactful for getting those 2000 subscribers. And how long did it take?
I got there in a couple of months and as much as I’m a big advocate for consistency, the truth is that if you look at my growth curve—and it’s the same with lots of my friends who run really big newsletters—there were spikes where something happens and sometimes it’s something you control.
in my case, for example, I launched my newsletter on product Hunt And I got a thousand subscribers just from that, which felt insane at the time because, you know, you just kind of double your newsletter in one day. And then there are others that I didn’t control. Like one of my articles going viral on Hacker News and insane.
You get quite a few subscribers. So, it’s, It’s a mix of things that I control like launches and stuff like this, and a mix of stuff. I didn’t control. The one thing though, that was really important was just to keep on posting every week. Right. And to make sure that I didn’t wait for people to find my content, I would write the content publish the newsletter.
And then I would promote the newsletter on Twitter and different places, etc And while I couldn’t control which editions of the newsletter would go viral, by making sure that I would keep on doing this consistently, I was just increasing the chances one of them would be picked up by someone and shared with a bigger audience.
Yeah. That makes sense. When, if someone was considering launching on product hunt, what are the, some of the things that. You know, you think would make that go well, like one thing that I can think of right away is you have very specific focus for your newsletter. It’s, it’s unique and engaging rather than just being like, Oh, these are Nathan’s musings on whatever, if I’m a random percent approximate, I don’t care about that.
so I’d love to hear your take on like what you think would work. Well there.
Few things. The first one is that it’s called product con. So I think this is what you were saying by, it needs to have a focus. And this is, you know, I mean, you, you nailed it. This is exactly that it needs to feel like a product.
So I would really work on the landing page and try and think about it as a product. What’s your value proposition? what are you offering here? What is the service, the product, who is it for? Who’s the audience? What are they going to get out of it, et cetera, et cetera. What are the features, which in the case of the newsletter, you can describe what the frequency is going to be the length.
Is it something that’s going to take two, three minutes every time to read so quick bites or are you offering more long form contents that people can read on their commutes? For instance, So features audience value proposition, et cetera, I’m really presenting it. Like a product has really been France.
The second thing is that because of the way production works, you need your product to be quite popular in the first couple of hours when you’re posting it. So I really recommend waiting until you have about a Keystone, a thousand or 2000 subscribers. With a good chunk of them who are fans of your work, because then when you launch on product hunt and you can’t ask it’s against the rules to ask for a votes.
So you don’t do that. If your audience is big enough and your content has been valuable enough to them, you don’t need to do that. People are going to come and comment on your post on product condensate. I’ve been reading this newsletter for two months. It has been very useful for me. This is what I learned.
I really recommend signing up, et cetera. This is the most powerful thing that can happen when you’re not the one selling your newsletter anymore. It’s members of your audience who are doing it for you. They become ambassadors. So for that to happen, if you only have a hundred subscribers and half of them only are opening it.
So wait until you have an audience and make it look like an actual product.
Yeah, that makes sense. Cause I think so many people, say like, Oh, it’s just a newsletter and they treat it too casually and exactly how you position. It really matters because if you think about it, I’m trying to think of an example right now, but, there are a lot of almost like software companies or a lot of real products that under the hood are just a newsletter and it’s just in the, in the packaging and positioning.
And how you talk about it. That you’re delivering that value. And so that really matters. And going back to the contract idea that you mentioned earlier, you know, if you’re spelling out, this is what you’re going to receive on average is going to take five minutes to read, or, you know, like these are Epic long form essays, research driven.
And if you’re spelling that out on the product page, then, you know, people will understand what they’re signing up for. There’s a lot clearer expectations. So that makes a lot of sense.
And I just want to add that the other advantage of making it very clear is that you’re also making it easier for your audience to share with people who may also appreciate the newsletter.
If it’s not clear. Even if they enjoy your newsletter, but they’re really struggling to articulate to a friend why they like it, right. It’s very hard for them to share and making the effort as a reader to share the newsletter with someone else is already a lot of work. So you want to make it as easy as possible for them.
And you should tell them, this is what it is. Here are three bullet points that explain what the newsletter is about and why it’s so good, then they can just. Either copy and paste this or reformulated a little bit if they want to, but at least it’s clear. So you’re not on me making it easier for yourself to grow your audience bank directly acquiring it.
You’re also making it easy for yourself to grow your audience by increasing word of mouth by making it cure what it is about.
Yeah. So I think that, that, you know, one or two sentence description is really important, for a newsletter or any product. What’s, what’s the description that you have now for your newsletter.
Like if I, if I asked what what’s your newsletter about? And then maybe how has that evolved over time? Or has it always been the same?
The current one is a neuroscience-based content for knowledge workers. and the very earliest one, which didn’t work well was make the most of your mind. I’m in really good and catchy, but I think lots of people were like, okay, cool.
What is this thing? So now it doesn’t sound as catchy, I think, but it actually works better because people are like, Oh, this is the content I’m getting, and this is the audience. Am I part of this audience or not? Do I think this content could be valuable or not. So, yeah, it’s, it, it took me a while to switch because I really liked like the sound of the first one, but sometimes you have to be able to fall out of love with your own ideas and to pivot.
So that’s what I did for the technique. Yeah.
Yeah. Well, it’s this balance between clear versus clever and you started with clever and then later went to like, okay, let’s just be clear and direct and descriptive. And I think that makes sense. so the SIFO where the newsletter is that now you’ve, you’ve scaled it up quite a lot.
What are some of the current numbers?
I’m at 24,000 subscribers now and yeah, I’m still at, around in between 45 and 55% open rates on the, the subject line that I’m using a lot. The, the one that had the highest open rates in. And forever with was productivity porn. And the second one was idea sex.
And now I’m thinking, is it the pattern here? Should I just talk about sex more? Is that where they say that sex sells? Right. So it really depends. Sometimes I have more boring subject science and so it goes a little bit more, sometimes higher and, yeah, that’s, I don’t have other numbers in mind right now.
Those are the two main ones. I look at how many new subscribers and what the open rate is like.
Yeah, I think that’s a good number to pay attention to because if you become too fixed to get too fixated on one or the other than, you know, like. It’s actually not that difficult to grow a really large newsletter that no one pays any attention to.
You know, and then, if you’re only focused on open rate, then you’ll probably end up with this really small group. And so I like to talk about engaged subscribers as the metric to optimize for, and that’s just, you know, open rate times total this size. And then if you can grow that over time, then you’re doing really well.
Yeah. One number I used to look at negatively before was the number of unsubscribers at the beginning, every time someone would unsubscribe, I would feel so hurt because I was like, are you breaking up with me Why are you doing this to me? And now I realized. Two things. from a human standpoint, this is good that they’re breaking up with me.
It means I’m not bringing them the value they expected they were going to have, so it’s good. We’re not wasting our time anymore. Staying in a relationship. No one wants to be in on the business side of things two Most email service providers charge based on your number of subscribers,
Actually Actually I Should thank them for unsubscribing. So I’m not paying for someone who’s not going to read my emails. I’ve become actually quite positive about people unsubscribing where I’m like, this is great. we can both move on and I’m not going to have to pick up the bill. So that’s great.
Yeah. You don’t want to be paying for dinner for someone that’s no longer invested in the relationship. So, what are some of the things that are driving growth now? on the, on the subscriber side, like what’s working to you bring in the most subscribers,
my, the main one is still Twitter. and. It may stay like this for a while, even though my fastest-growing acquisition channel is search engines I’m very excited about that actually, because Twitter works great for me in terms of acquiring new subscribers, but it is definitely correlated to how active I am on the platform. And I’ve never actually run the numbers, but intuitively speaking, looking at my analytics in Twitter and my analytics in my newsletter, there’s definitely some sort of correlation going on here where the more I tweet, the more people sign up to the newsletter, which is great because you can just tweet more and you get more subscribers, but it’s not sustainable.
And there are times where actually you want to take a break from Twitter. my newsletter definitely suffers from that in terms of growth. So that’s quite interesting. Whereas for, with SEO and search engines I’m literally acquiring subscribers in my sleep I can go to bed. And then, you know, if an article I posted is actually doing a great job at answering the question people are wondering about, then I get a bunch of new subscribers.
And I really like that. I like SEO because I can reach people that are Way outside of my personal circle with Twitter, it’s one or two, maybe three degrees removed from me, but there’s still a connection somewhere. Whereas with SEO, I can have access to people who probably don’t even have a Twitter account have never heard about any of the people in my circle.
And who just need help with a specific question and then I help them. And if they start browsing the website and the previous editions of the newsletter they’re like great. I’m going to sign up because I want to hear more from this person,
right? Oh, that’s so interesting. I love that. You’re making the correlation between.
The active work versus the passive work or like which one is the treadmill? which, you know, we’re actually big fans of treadmills. Like you can use them to get really fit. but, and then, which is the system or the flight. Oh, that’s working for you. And so, yeah, cause for me, it’s the same thing with Twitter.
my Twitter audience and my newsletter really grow when I invest the time into it. And so I guess in that way, it’s good. Right. If you pour the time into it, you, you do really get returns from it. But then when you want to take a break, it’s like a cool, well, we’ll be here when you need it, but also you don’t get anything in the meantime, whereas with search, you know?
Yeah. There’s these subscribers and this traffic that just keeps coming. what are some of the things that you’ve done? to optimize for search. Is that something that you’ve learned a lot about yourself or that you’ve contracted out to someone or is it that you just focus on great content and let everything else take care of itself?
so I want to preface this by saying I’m not an SEO expert, everything I’ve learned on my own. I have, I’ve never worked with a contractor on this because I’ve been focusing. I used to work at Google before, and I knew some people who worked on the team, looking at the search engine. And even though.
They never gave me any secrets because that’s way too precious to be shared like this. So they never gave me any of the particulars, but definitely there’s been a trend in the past few years where Google is focusing on the quality of the content, rather than at structural bits of the article that you’re publishing.
So in the past you could probably improve your SEO a lot by just saying, okay, I need to have a meta description and these tags and these things, et cetera. But now the they’re using machine learning much more. You really need to think to put yourself in the shoes of someone who needs help with a particular question in kind of thing.
Okay. And there are tools of to that help you look at that, like a RAF, et cetera, but. It’s more about putting yourself in the shoes of the person looking up something and like, how would they ask that question? How would they phrase it? And if I was the one looking up this question, what would I find helpful?
And what’s interesting is that for some questions, actually, I want to read a quick one paragraph answer. I just want something really quick. Right. And for others, I need something that’s more in that. So it’s also changed the way I’ve been looking at it, where in the past, I always thought I needed to write.
Really long articles to give value to people. And I feel really comfort. I have articles that are 300 words and they’re doing really great because they’re the only one answering that particular question. So it’s like long tail content. The way I’ve been going about it is just experimenting, reading about it, looking at my own data rather than looking at it.
Kind of like blanket statements, types of tutorials telling you what to do. I’m just looking at my data and looking at what are the articles are performing best and trying to figure out what works well. And I’m using a couple of plugins on WordPress as well. They’re just flagging when I’m making. A massive mistake in an article where I’m trying to rank for a keyword and I’m linking on those keywords to another website.
So I’m giving them all of my juice basically. So a couple of plugging and helping with this, but it’s mostly trial and error.
Yeah. That makes sense. So SEO is a big factor. what are some of the things that you’ve tried? Have you done any partnerships with the people who are running newsletters or cross posts or anything like that?
I’ve done these. And so I have definitely tried exchanging links and newsletters with other people. It hasn’t worked pretty well for me. I know that some people swear by that say that’s amazing. I kind of suspect that it may work for maybe smaller newsletters where it’s like, Hey, like everyone is so committed to you that they’re just going to go and sign up to whatever you say.
for, for bigger newsletters, like me, it’s really hard to find another newsletter that is hitting exactly what I’m offering to my audience. Right. And so I think one of the reasons why I didn’t work really well was because. The newsletter I linked, you were only half relevant to my audience and it was the same for them.
They linked to me and was kind of like half event. So yeah, for me, it hasn’t worked when you, well, exchanging links like this.
Yeah, that makes sense. I think that probably someone who has a really broad topic, like if you’re talking to startup growth, then maybe there’s 10 others on startup growth or writing or some of these things.
but yeah, you might be a lot better off. Like promoting a single article or something like that. You know, I I’ve definitely done like, cause I haven’t done it recently, but years ago to grow my newsletter, I would do things like write a guest post, for another newsletter or a blog. And that would, I guess it would usually drive more awareness and an engagement than it would necessarily newsletter subscribers or like as directly.
And so it worked, but it wasn’t like, Oh, I did this thing and here’s another thousand newsletter subscribers instantly.
I think what you’re saying is very interesting because I, in the PA in a past life, I used to work in marketing and I think most people have heard of the concept of the funnel, right.
Awareness and then conversion and then loyalty. And I think for a newsletter, especially when you’re at the early stages, you know, even if someone has 20,000 or 30,000 subscribers—most people I know who are in this range there’s still one person running the newsletter. They don’t have a team. It’s not like morning brew or whatever.
The hustle, massive newsletters with millions of subscribers. I would say that for most people up to 50,000 people, you’re still writing the content yourself, et cetera, in. Maybe to me working on pure brand awareness at the beginning of the journey, may be a bit of a waste of time because—it’s notorious in marketing.
That brand awareness is what costs the most time and money to put together and is also the hardest to measure in terms of success. And at the beginning of your journey, when you run a newsletter, It’s probably more important to focus on stuff you can measure and improve, and that has a direct impact on your numbers.
And once you become wildly successful and you have hundreds of thousands of subscribers and you have extra money where you can start experimenting with more brand awareness stuff. Yes. It’s not that brand awareness is bad. It’s more about figuring out when you’re kind of stretched at the beginning. What are the places where you should invest your time and your energy that.
are having a direct impact.
Yeah. And what’s returning money. So it’s trying to talk about, you know, monetization and actually earning money from the newsletter. There’s a ton of different ways to do it. whether it’s, you know, sponsorships selling digital products, memberships, you know, paid newsletters are really popular.
Now I’d love to hear what, what you’re doing now. And, and Y you know, out of all of the options you chose, what, what you’re doing.
So I first experimented with paid. EBooks that I was selling on the website and the newsletter was just a way to drive people to that. And I made it a little bit of money, but really not enough to pay the rent.
And I very quickly felt like either. And I know you’ve been, you’ve had some very successful eBooks for yourself, so. Either I would create a new book and make it the product I would be focusing on and give it all of the love and the, the, the energy time, et cetera, that it would need to be a successful launch, but just running a newsletter and saying in the newsletter here’s my ebook was probably not a great way to go about it.
So there’s probably better ways to do it by, but that didn’t work for me. What’s worked really well for me. And what I’m still doing is running a membership community. Next to the news letter and the content of the newsletter is free. I know that some people do paid newsletters, but for me, the newsletter has been such an amazing way to attract people to the website and to start nurturing them that I don’t want to close down this acquisition channel by putting it behind a people.
So I want to keep the music for free. And this way, people who just need to read my content, they’re still getting value and this is great. But for the subset of people who want more, they don’t want to just read the content. They want to talk about it. They want to make suggestions. They want to ask questions.
They want to ask, how can I apply what I read into my life and how are other people doing it? And how can I improve my own systems for all of these people who are. You know, probably like th at the time, it’s about 5% of the people who are subscribed to my free newsletter for those 5%, I’m offering more.
And again, I’m just one person running everything. So I’m giving them extra value. And I’m saying, do you want to pay for that extra value? And the ones who want you, they can vary the part of the community. So that’s my model right now with the free newsletter and the paid community.
Yeah. So I love what you’re saying about not wanting to cut off the acquisition channel.
Cause that’s like, that’s the biggest challenge that I’ve had with paid newsletters or what content you put behind a paywall, because if you write something incredible, you’re like, Oh, this should go to my page like this, this is worth paying for, but then you’re like, But I need that. I need that piece of content and to go attract new subscribers and it should be free because this could actually pick up another 500 or another thousand subscribers, maybe just from the single article.
And so you’re always in this tension between the best work that I put out, where should it go? And the conclusion that I came to is, well, I should do, I need to create more of my best work. And then that started to turn into like, okay, I’m actually not that prolific writer. I’m not, I don’t have the ability to create incredible work for two different, two different channels.
So how do you think about, or like, what do you deliver to people in the paid community? that isn’t for the newsletter.
First and in the community in itself, that’s why for at first I launched with just the community features. So they have access to an online forum where they can talk about the articles.
They have access to week fees, zoom, meetups, altogether. When you pick a topic that’s been covered in the newsletter and we actually talk about it, We also have we invite experts where we do with them and they can tell us how we had one with Paul Jarvis, actually recent vivre. He came and talked about how he runs his newsletter.
So the 80% of it is the community in and off itself. Recently I’ve started adding more exclusive content. And the way I do it is that I make them PDF reports. About something that I know the community is interested about. So one that we did a few months ago was cognitive biases and entrepreneurship. And another one I did last month was tools for thought and personal knowledge management PDFs are useless for SEO in any case.
So there would be no point in just putting it on my website. So I optimize the page itself where people can build it for SEO. I tweet about it. So people know that this is available, but then only members of the community can download the full thing. And that’s been really helpful because first it’s been really good as an acquisition channel.
Some people are like, I don’t have time for another community, but I’m going to read this report. So I’m just going to go with this. And the current members of the community they’re super happy because I never told them that they would be getting this. It’s like just a surprise saying, Hey, you’re a member.
Thank you for being here. Here’s some extra content for you and it makes them, I think, but like they want to stay for longer because getting extra content. Yeah.
That makes sense. And then you also probably don’t have the same, Burden on yourself of like, Oh shoot, what’s the, what’s the Epic PDF that I’m going to come out with this month because you sold them on the community and the connection and these other things that don’t take nearly as much of your time.
And then you’re just delivering value over the top with a PDF, you know, a great report when you, you know, are inspired or have the energy.
Exactly. And that’s probably one of the most important things in general. We talked about consistency earlier. But not creating artificial consistency where you can stick with it is also still plants.
And that’s why, what I love about having the paid community is that what I tell them is that here’s a community. We’re going to do stuff together, the exact stuff I didn’t commit to anything. So I’m someone that we can get bored pretty easily. I’m never bored with the community because I can wake up one Monday and say, Ooh.
What if we do a series of coworking sessions this week, let’s do that. Like, I feel lazy and I’m procrastinating this week. You want to come and all jump on the zoom call and let’s work together. Amy would like pull drivers that was planned a week before. And that was again, if you go on our landing page for the membership, I’m not saying you’re going to get that.
It just happened. So I think finding the right balance between saying I’m offering you a community and we’re just going to do cool stuff together and I’m going to be here and you can engage with me the exact details, like just common. Find out. Obviously the landing page is a bit more detailed than this, but have her comment on stuff.
And for the newsletter is the same. I’m not necessarily committing to an exact format or to what exactly people are going to get. What I committed to. And that’s the contract is it’s every Thursday and these are the general topics I’m going to be talking about. And that’s what I can promise you. And I’m not, I’m never going to break that promise, but then if I feel a bit, yeah, like playing with the format or trying something new one week, I feel comfortable doing this because I’m not breaking the contract.
Yeah, that makes sense. can you share some of the numbers from the pay community? And I know you shared them on Twitter and you’re very public with that, but I’d love to give people that context.
I’m, I met for 200 members, paid members, I think now. And, In terms of, Jimmy can’t remember, I think that the monkey recurring revenue is around 6,000.
Okay. Yeah. Cause you’re at $50 a year for the community membership. 50
to $50 a year. Yeah. But some of it, I have two pricing. I have a $5 a month and $50 a year. So that’s why the numbers have been all over the place. And I’ve made so far. I launched back in March, made about $65,000 with the community.
Oh, that’s awesome.
So one thing that I wanted to touch on, cause you have a course that you, you launched the firm created from collector to creator, and I thought it was really interesting that that is. that’s not a separate thing it looks at and correct me if I’m wrong. It looks to be, you know, a new acquisition channel for the, for the community, because it’s all one payment it’s still the $50 a year.
yeah. Talk about that.
Yeah. So two parts for this first, as I mentioned earlier, I really liked the idea of saying through the community join, and then you’re just going to get a lot of good stuff and you. You have to do it. You can’t tell people they’re going to do that. I’m good stuff. And there’s no good stuff.
So that’s the first part, surprising people like this becomes a way of them wanting to stay because they’re like what what’s coming next. There’s always good stuff going on. The second part is yes. And the acquisition channels, for sure, because some people and I’ve had so many people tell me I’ve been on the verge on the fence of joining.
For the past few months, but I wasn’t sure exactly if it was for me. And now this is this time bound thing where it’s like, Hey, it starts on this date. It finishes on this one. So if you want to join, you have to do it. Now. You’re going to miss this thing versus something that’s always there. And people just keep on pushing back from the time they actually.
Do it, so that’s another thing. The third one is just logistical. It’s so much easier for me to manage everything as a community and say, Hey people, that’s the community. Everything is happening there. And when you have so many different channels to manage between Twitter, between the newsletter, you know, I’m part of several telegram groups.
Obviously I have 24,000 people who have my email address. So I also get a lot of emails that I need to reply to. And having every, everything in the circle community is a great way for me to not have more channels than I can handle. And I can just log in there, replay to everyone, make sure that I’m present and that I’m here to answer their questions.
So, yeah, there’s also a massive logistical aspect to it.
I think there’s a lot of really good points in there, but the simplicity for you to manage as a creator is so important. I’ve watched a lot of friends and convert customers and other people over say like the last seven or eight years. One is like get to a good amount of success and get to the point where they’re earning, you know, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars from what they’ve created.
And then they, you know, release higher price products and they layer on more products and they’re cross selling to this other thing. And not only does their email marketing get really confusing and complicated, especially as you’re like looking back like three years ago. Why did I. Why did I create that tag?
I don’t actually even know what that was for, but then also your, just your schedule and like mental space gets so crowded. Cause you’re saying, okay, what is for this community? And what’s for that. And hold on, did I promise updates for this product?
Or was that just thing should this, you know, and so you end up with this really complicated, overwhelming, you know, thing to maintain.
And so what you’re doing is basically saying. When I’m inspired to create something new, I can go, whether it be a PDF, a, a zoom call with a friend on a particular topic, or, you know, a full new course, I can create that I’m going to promote it like a full lunch. So it gets all this attention out in the market, like, okay.
And Laura just came out with this great course, you should pay attention to it. But then I get to fulfill it just through the same thing that I was always doing and have that simplicity, and then just drive more sales there. So I think it’s brilliant because you’re finding this balance between, you know, driving more revenue and keeping your life simple.
I love that you’re saying this because I’ve seen so many of my friends quit their corporate job because the state, they wanted more freedom and they ended up creating this new monster of a bus for themselves. Where the committed to so much that I genuinely think that their life today as an independent creator is actually more stressful than it was when they were an employee.
And I really don’t think it has to be this way, and I’m not worried for them because I know that this is part of the learning process and they’re probably going to figure it out and, and, you know, change their processes and simplify them. But. I think most independent creators have had to go through this space.
And myself included, obviously, like I didn’t just wake up and figure it out in one go. I’ve had weeks where I felt like this was too much work and this is why I’m being very mindful of my time time now. But there’s always this tension between being able to, to do whatever you want to do, because you’re technically your own boss.
But also learning that it’s not because you technically can do whatever you want to do, that you should try to do all the things you need to make choices. And you need to remember that there are only a certain number of hours in the day. And one of the big reasons you probably left your corporate job was to have some freedom and to feel less stressed.
So it’s important to keep that in mind. I think.
Yeah, that’s good. And it was listen to, your India hackers podcast episode. And you talked about burnout on there, and how, like that’s such an important thing to be mindful of and be aware of. because yeah, like I am my own boss and it turns out I can be a terrible boss, you know, especially if I’m also the only employee.
are there any other things that you’ve done in either systems and processes or things you’ve committed to, or, or deliberately said no to. To maintain that level of freedom. yeah, as you’ve gotten the audience?
One of the things that have helped me so much, and I felt so uncomfortable doing it at the beginning is that I added to my website into my newsletter form too.
Paid for my time. If people want to talk to me, they can book there for one hour and we have a zoom call together. But as my audience has grown, I’ve had more and more people reaching out to pick my brains, which just gets my opinion on their product or on their newsletter. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy doing it that you love doing it.
This is great. I love connecting with people. As I said, we only to have a certain number of hours in the day. So the number of days in the week and. At some point, I found myself in all of those calls with people from all around the world, which very quickly went from exciting to overwhelming. So now I have this form where people reach out to me.
I’m like, yeah, I’m very happy to talk. you can sign up here. And if you want you, if you’re willing to pay for an hour of my time, I’d be more than happy to review whatever you want to review together. So that’s been a great way to protect my time. And that’s also been a source of revenue, which is great.
And yeah, that’s like the only thing I can think about right now, I think that the main, the main rule that I’m trying to have is to try to say no more often. I’ve been asked for example, by so many people, I generally get two, three people asking me every week. When are you launching your podcast? And I know it’s ironic because we’re currently recording for us together, but I have no plans of launching a podcast right now.
I don’t have time. I don’t have the energy. I don’t think this is what I would be doing best. I’m great at writing. I don’t think I’m that good at interviewing people kind of like talking and stuff like that. So. No, I’m not going to do it and it’s not big. I could technically do it, but I’m not going to do it.
And as an independent creator or a solo founder, this is the most important thing saying no more often than you’re saying yes and always asking yourself, am I saying yes, because this is what everyone seems to be doing, or am I saying yes, because it’s the right thing for my own content business, the paid newsletters you talked about earlier, for example, if, for me it’s a great example.
I feel like everyone and their mother and their dog are launching paid newsletters right now. I’m not saying they’re good or bad. They’re just a tool. And a communication channel they’re completely neutral. But as such you need to ask yourself, is it the right thing for me and for my business, is it really what I should be doing?
Or am I doing it because it’s the latest trend and it was the same for podcasts last year. And it’s probably going to be the same for something else next year. So saying no, and always asking yourself, why am I doing this? And is it the right thing to do. That’s the most important thing
Yeah, I, that makes so much sense. And having that awareness, really matters because. I mean, I always think of the Richard Branson quote, opportunities are like buses. There’s always another one coming. And as a founder, you know, as a creator, you can look at that and you’re like, Oh, this would be amazing.
Oh, that’s working. You know, I heard on a podcast that, you know, paid newsletters are incredibly good or that sort of thing. So let me jump on it and always. you know, hop on all of these buses and instead you can sit back and go, okay, that is great. I’m really happy that that’s working so well for that creator.
That’s not me, or that will be me after I do this thing that I’ve already committed to and I’m going to protect my time. I’m going to protect my energy and, you know, follow through on this one thing. That’s something that I’ve given, a lot of advice to people. Who are starting multiple newsletters, which to me is, is a little bit crazy, but one newsletter is enough work, but I think you see how, how fun it is.
And, you know, the growth is like, Oh, let me start another newsletter on this topic. And I always try to encourage people to bring it back and like pour all of that energy into this one thing, right? Like if you have 5,000 subscribers today, then if you, if you stick with it and pour energy into it, then you’ll get to the 25,000 subscribers.
And. I think the other thing that people miss with newsletters is the ceiling is incredibly high. Like Tim Ferriss, James clear Ryan holiday, Gretchen Rubin, they’re all in the like, say, well, I guess I threw a couple of people in there who are the 300, 400,000 subscriber range, but most of that group is in the million subscriber or more range as individual creators.
And so that’s the crazy thing with the newsletters. If you keep with it for a long time, Then like, like, I wouldn’t be surprised if you and I are talking, you know, I don’t know, two, three, four years from now. And you’re like, yeah, I have 200,000 subscribers on the newsletter and this is what results from it.
If you stay really, really consistent,
it’s a great point is there’s no ceiling or the ceiling is very high as you say, but. The growth can be very inconsistent and compared to platforms like YouTube, where there’s an algorithm that is going to keep on bringing people through your content. So lots of people on YouTube, for example, they see exponential growth.
If they manage to stick with it for, let’s say one year, a year and a half, and they do one or two videos a week for that time. And the content is good, obviously like you can never. I mean, I don’t know about YouTube because there’s backpack I’m doing really, really well, but you have good content, then you’re consistent.
The algorithm is going to help you and help here and use our growth, your sorry, your YouTube channel grow. Whereas with a newsletter you don’t have such a mechanism that you need to get to quite high numbers before this starts having some sort of a feedback loop. I know you’re working with for example.
So I’m going to change in the future, but up until now, there was no viral element to build into the newsletter because of this. I think lots of people get discouraged whenever there’s two weeks or three weeks or one month where the growth seems to be kind of, flat and that’s when they fall prey to the shiny-toys syndrome and they’re like let’s launch a second newsletter or let’s start a podcast or let’s do something else.
Whereas what I have found in my very short amount of time of experience in my one year, and some months with my newsletter, Is that if I managed to keep going during those couple of weeks where it felt quite slow, then it would pick back up again because of an edition that did particularly well. lots of my friends, they have this staircase type of growth also with their newsletter where you can see spikes when something happens.
But these spiked spikes happen only because they stick with it. So, yeah, I think you do need. More persistence and patience with the newsletter than you would with other types of platforms.
Well, I think you bring up a really important point that there’s no built in distribution or, discovery platform for newsletters.
It just doesn’t exist. Whereas on Instagram, Tech-Talk YouTube, even search right for blogs. That it’s there and, and you can grow an audience from it. And so that is a huge negative for newsletters. If that is not built in, on the flip side, the big positive is that all the distribution channels are available to you.
And this is like a double-edged sword where on one hand, they’re all available to you. And so you can grow in all of these ways in, in a way that like, say if I’m going all in on YouTube, It’s I’m pretty much doing YouTube’s algorithm. Like I’m not also going to use Twitter to grow my YouTube channel to the same extent, because the, the value of each subscriber isn’t nearly as high on YouTube as, as it is sound newsletter.
so you have this, like with the newsletter, you can use any channel, but also which one do you focus on? And that’s where I was. I’m really encouraging people to like, It’s sort of a hub and spoke model. And so you have the hub, which is your newsletter. And then instead of saying like, here’s the 10 spokes that we could be doing, you actually just choose two and start with that.
And it sounds like for you, you’ve chosen a search and Twitter, and those are the two. And then when you’re focused just on two, like it’s a lot easier. It’s not as overwhelming as trying to be like, let me pull subscribers from YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, search and everything else. Does that sound accurate?
Yeah, absolutely. I think you can have more channels in the future once. It’s exactly what you saying earlier about. It’s not that I’m never going through these things that I’m going to do them once. I nailed the first few channels, most big newsletters that are also doing YouTube, who are also doing all sorts of different platforms and channels.
There’s a team. Behind the, the newsletter, like the face of the newsletter, you could get Tim Ferriss. If you look at James clear, she looked at all of these very successful people with their newsletters who are doing podcasts and lots of different things. Did you start doing all of these things in their first year, they only started doing it once they had the payment energy and people to help them do it.
So I a hundred percent agree with you, I think at the beginning. And at least once it’s just you and you haven’t figured out your channels, two is great. It already takes a lot of work to get to channels rights. So get this to right. Once that’s the case, you’ll also know a lot more about your audience.
And where else it makes sense to reach them. Whereas at the beginning, you may not even know, you may be investing a lot of times in five different channels and three of them are actually useless for you. So, yeah, I agree with you start with two channels. And once you get your way later in your journey, why not explore it more channels, but you’ll be much better equipped to do it.
Yeah. One, going back to the point you made about product hunt early on. As you pursue this new channel or new growth opportunity, having the momentum and subscribers already makes a big difference. So like in the same way that you’re saying, you know, get 500 or a thousand or more subscribers before you go on product hunt, because they’ll help you get momentum in that distribution and discovery algorithm.
it’s the same thing. Let’s say, if we’re like, okay, we’re now ready to do YouTube. Then you show up there and you bring your 25,000 friends with you and they like watch your videos. And then the YouTube algorithm says like, Oh, Wow. People are coming from outside, YouTube watching this, sticking around, subscribing, you know, getting more, watch time on it.
You too let’s this must be a really good video. Let’s promote it. And the same thing is true of let’s say later, you know, you decided to write a book and release it on Amazon. Well then instead of like, hoping for readers there and like begging every reader to give you a view, it said, you just come in and say, Hey, all of you, will you please buy this and write a five star review.
Thank you very much. And then magically you’re like, Oh, how how’d I get 500, five star reviews, you know, within a week. And it’s just because you like leveraged their stairsteps, you know, one platform into the next.
Exactly. Yeah. The network effects of your audience can be incredibly powerful if you’re using it wisely.
I would say because it’s the same with everything you mentioned. Like if among them launching YouTube and then I’m fighting, I’m asking them to write reviews on Amazon and you always need to keep a balance in terms of value you’re delivering and value. You’re asking from your audience. Right. So just, you know, focusing on one or two things at the same time is also a really good way to not confuse them and to get the most out of the help.
They’re very willing to give you a, you need to be clear as to what you’re trying to achieve and not ask too much either.
Yeah, that makes sense. one of the last things that I want to dive in on back in the monetization topic is. You’ve gone with, a very low price point of the $5 a month, $50 a year.
what are your thoughts on that versus say that the very opposite end of things, you know, like David Perell was, the, the guest before and he’s got his, Write of Passage, course, and he’s charging thousands of dollars for that. what’s your thinking on choosing one end of the spectrum versus the other.
I would need to ask David exactly how he got to 2000, but the first I think most creators I know around me, they didn’t start with 2000 straightaway. Right? Most of them, they start at a way lower price point and most of the ones that are, or today around the 2000 price point, they’ve been running their course for a little while.
They’ve had a few cohorts and they raised the price every time because there’s more and more value in the course. And it makes sense to raise your price when there’s more value. So. First, I think it’s a full secret to meet you say cure here’s 2015. So 15 for me is my very, very first course. and in terms of just your general question about price point, two things first, I think, can you think about, are you delivering something that’s useful for work or that’s more personal because then your audience is going to be a little bit different.
And I know that lots of people, if it’s something they can use for work, they can expense it. So the friction is a bit lower. They can tell their boss, Hey, I’m going to take this writing course, because obviously you want me to be a better writer and. Manager is going to say, okay, I’ll cover half of the price or I’ll just pay for it.
Whereas for people in my community were like, Hey, I want to take care of my mental health. I want to feel more creative. These are very valuable things on the personal level, but they’re harder to sell to your bus. So they’re paying with your personal card. So that’s one thing to take in mind. The second one is what are you going to Denver?
And if you charge 2000, you need to have. Incredible levels of support for the community and, you know, David and Tiago, they have a team of several people working with them. They have extra sessions, they have all of this incredible content. And so it makes change. It makes sense to charge 2000 because you’re almost positioning yourself against.
The cost of a course in elite university that wouldn’t have the teaching assistant access to the labs and all of this material and the library, et cetera. So, yeah. Okay. 2000. That’s nothing compared to what it would be paying for an Elliot university, whereas in my case and what I’m telling people, very honestly, as I curious this community, and I’m going to give you live workshops together and it’s just me and it’s very new.
And there are going to be technical hiccups. And the reason why charging solo for this first version is because I’ve really want your feedback, help me build this become co-creators of the course. So that’s why I’m charging at this price point. And I’ve also made it very clear with people that the second cohort is going to be more expensive.
The third one is going to be more expensive and then may get to a price point that is similar to what they visit sharing is charging at some point. But I’m not there yet. So that’s how I’m thinking about pricing.
Yeah, I think that’s so good. And that’s exactly what I wanted to, to focus on because when you start at the level that you did, and I love the way that you like, you even position it as a founding member, right.
If someone comes in, they’re getting in early, they’re getting rewarded for that. They’re helping shape this with you. And you’re being very direct and upfront about where you are on your journey as a, as a course creator, you know, and everything else. And so you’re not saying like you’re not coming in and charging a ton of money for something where, you know, you might not be a hundred percent confident that that level of value is there because to your point earlier on freedom, like that completely messes up, You know, the whole freedom equation for you.
Cause then you’d be constantly stressed about it. I would be constantly stressed about am I providing this level of value, but if I charge a low enough amount, then I’m like, Oh, I’m providing 10 X that value easily. And then as I add to it, I, you know, you also have the, the urgency in that side of things.
So like, okay. You know, founder membership is, you know, doubling to a hundred dollars a year now and get in before that happens. Or, you know, when you get to step it up with the value and, you know, not only are the early fans even more invested in and think you’re great, but then, you know, you get to have launches all the way.
Yeah, exactly. And I just, I really liked the idea of co-creating a community with the members versus just me broadcasting stuff. So, you know, I’ve already got lots of feedback on the first session of the course that I did yesterday, and I don’t think people would be so comfortable sharing this feedback if I didn’t insist so much on the fact that I really wanted it at the end of the first session, I told people.
Did you enjoy this? If you did, the best thing you can do is take the time, like right back to me telling me what you liked, what you didn’t like, what could be better, et cetera. And when they launched the second cohort, I’m also hoping that because they participated in the first one and they co-created the second one with me, they’ll probably also feel more comfortable sharing it with other people saying, Hey, I took part in the first one and I know the second one is going to be even better because I helped making it better,
right? Yeah. That’s so good. Well, I think that’s all the time that we have. Thanks for, thanks for sharing everything. Where should people go to sign up for the newsletter and join the community?
So for the newsletter, they can go to nesslabs.com/newsletter. And, there’s going to be a link in there for the course.
So that’s probably the easiest way to go about it.
That sounds good. Well, it’s been really fun to watch you, you know, take off on Twitter and with your newsletter over the last a year or so. And I’m just excited to see where you take it.
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. That was a fun conversation.