Venture capitalist Li Jin left Andreessen Horowitz to start her own firm, Atelier Ventures. She started Atelier to fund a specific vision of the world: a world in which people are able to do what they love for a living and to have a more fulfilling and purposeful life.
In addition to being an investor, Li is a prolific writer and podcaster, producing not only a newsletter but also writing articles for major publications.
Find out whether you should really be writing content every week, or whether your effort is better spent on longer-form, epic articles. Should you be publishing in your newsletter, or in publications like Harvard Business Review?
Li and Nathan don’t just talk about content, they also get deep into business models for your newsletter business, with Li sharing her perspective as the founder of a venture fund. Don’t miss Li’s unique combination of deep investment knowledge and artistic creativity!
Links & Resources
- Andreessen Horowitz – Software Is Eating the World
- LiveJournal: Discover global communities of bloggers who share your unique passions and interests.
- The Nathan Barry Show 028: Packy McCormick – How Much Are 30,000 Subscribers Worth?
- Harvard Business Review – Ideas and Advice for Leaders
- The Nathan Barry Show 023: Tiago Forte – Building a Second Brain & Lessons From a $1M/yr Newsletter
- The Nathan Barry Show 017: David Perell – Mastering Twitter to Grow Your Newsletter and Make Money
Li Jin’s Links
- Newsletter: Li’s Newsletter
- Website: Atelier Ventures
- Podcast: Means of Creation
- Twitter: @ljin18
- LinkedIn: Li Jin
Li Jin: [00:00:00]
What are your goals and what is the content that you’re creating and why are people subscribed and reading it? The business model needs to fit what your content is, who the audience is, who the creator is, what the platform is. All of those things need to be aligned. Direct user monetization is totally in vogue in the form of donations, ad hoc payments, subscription payments.
It’s always charging the user for something.
Today’s episode is with venture capitalist Li Jin. So Li was at Andreessen Horowitz, and then she recently left to start her own firm, Atelier Ventures. We talked about a lot of things that I find interesting, like business models for your newsletter, for example, should you monetize through a paid newsletter sponsorships or what she does through running a venture fund?
We get into whether you should write content, you know, consistently every week, or should you publish it once a quarter and put out these incredible long form posts we get into writing about, or excuse me, writing for publications like Harvard Business Review versus your own newsletter. There’s so much good stuff in here.
So I’ll just get out of the way and we’ll dive right in.
Li, welcome to the show.
Li Jin: [00:01:14]
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me, Nathan.
Okay. So I want to dive in and just immediately talk about revenue models, all of that, because you have this tweet that I just loved, that it was like dying, laughing when I saw it. And the gist of it is I have a paid newsletter. It’s my monthly LP update. You were talking about how either those business models is everything else.
And I imagine saying like me, why don’t you launch a paid newsletter? So could you talk through how you think about, you know, your business and what you meant with that week?
Li Jin: [00:01:50]
Yes. So I joke that my LP update, which I send out quarterly as a email is basically my paid newsletter. And I think it’s, it’s basically a riff on the joke that we used to make about a16z, which is the firm that I used to work at the VC firm that I used to work at. We used to joke that it was a media company that monetized through venture capital because a 16, Z as a firm is so prolific in creating content.
They have a podcast, actually, a network of podcasts, the blog. they have a series of different clubhouse shows now as well. they just do a ton of different media and content creation activities. And so people used to joke like, Oh, this is actually a media company that happens to monetize through venture capital.
And I think of myself now as kind of a miniature version of that, where I’m a solo. Content creator. and I monetize through venture capital. Like that is my revenue model. I have a venture capital fund that I raised last year, called . And that is, you know, my day job. That’s where I spend the majority of my time.
And then the content that I put out into the world, It’s free. It’s, it’s mostly free for founders to consume. It’s really designed to help them build companies, and to guide them and their strategies. And I don’t monetize the content at all. And the way that I monetize the content is through investing in the best companies that come as a result of the content creation.
So, yeah, that was, that was the Genesis behind, the tweet. And so the LV newsletter, I mean, the LPs are like the investors in the fund and that’s how I monetize it.
Yep. That makes sense. And I think once you have this attention, Then there’s so many ways that you can monetize it. I was talking with Trey, remember who wasn’t a past episode. we were talking about how people have alluded to Nike being like they’re just an ad agency who happens to realize that the best model to monetize is through, you know, shoe and apparel sales, but really their core strength is advertising and marketing.
And so I think there’s plenty of examples of people who have, like, the. Have this audience and then an unconventional way of earning a living.
Li Jin: [00:04:09]
Yeah, precisely. And I think to build on that. Like there’s a lot of examples of newsletter writers who do a similar thing where they’re operating a syndicate. Like I think Packy who you’ve had on the show has a syndicate that he invests in deals through. there’s other newsletter writers. I know that angel and fast Lenny Rachitsky is a very active angel investor too.
So yeah, a lot of them are sort of blending different business models because newsletters are such a great vehicle to, to build an audience. To get reader attention, to communicate your thoughts into the world and kind of mind-meld with a lot of really interesting folks. And then the best way to monetize that might not be through a straight up subscription or pay.
Well, it might be having upside in the businesses that they built. and I think. Content creators are having that realization too in the broader content creation ecosystem beyond just newsletters. So now I’m seeing content creators from the Tech-Talk Instagram, YouTube worlds, getting into investing angel, investing into startups, because that is a way that they can monetize the brands and the attention that they’ve built and also diversify themselves beyond just being a single content creator.
Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s wild when you see it. Like, I think. You know, a lot of people in the, the acting movie world have, are doing it now, but like Ashton Kutcher was pretty early with startup investing and, you know, he’s taking this money and fame and attention that he has and putting it into to startups.
And you know, now it feels like everyone’s got, you know, some sort of started that they’re involved in or a liquor brand or something else where they’re basically saying, saying like, yes, in addition to. Getting paid millions of dollars to show up in this movie or to sponsor this brand on TED talk or, you know, like do a sponsored spot for the brand new talk.
You know, why don’t I have equity? And I’m curious where you see that going. Do you think that trend is just going to continue?
Li Jin: [00:06:15]
Yeah, I think in any crowded market with a plethora of different options that folks can choose from brand is going to matter brand as a differentiator matters. and so. Like venture capital is no different from that. There’s so much capital available right now for founders. Founders probably get like a ton of inbound offers to give them capital.
And so founders are now in a position of being able to choose, like who do I actually want to accept capital from? and I think I first heard this from first round capital. one of the partners there said like something like. venture capital is a product that you buy with your company’s equity.
And so yes, as a founder, you’re choosing which product to buy with your equity, your equity is worth something you can purchase like a venture capital investor to work with through that equity. And so, the implication for VCs is like, how do I, how do we make our product the most attractive product and how do we distinguish ourselves and be the, the venture capital provider of choice for founders.
And this was actually one of the driving factors behind me announcing my fund a couple of weeks ago on product hunt was tapping into this ethos of actually investors are products. We are building products. We have to provide differentiated value to founders just as they are trying to build differentiated startups, to compete in a crowded landscape of different software.
So I think content creators, getting into investing is just another it’s emblematic of this. It’s like, how do, how do we differentiate our capital from all the other capital that’s available out there? And especially in the consumer world when consumer attention is now so scarce and spread so thin across so many different options, having.
Captive consumer attention and having distribution into consumers, it’s such a huge leg-up for any consumer company and content creators represent that they represent so much built-in distribution power into, tons of different consumers. And so I hear from founders all the time, like they want to bring in content creators into the round, and they sometimes have specific criteria of like content creators who have a big following among, you know, Gen Z on TikTok or, um, moms on TikTok if they’re selling some sort of children’s education products.
So they’re identifying like who are the end consumers I’m trying to reach and what are the con who are the content creators that can help me reach those, those people.
And are they in those cases they’re taking, It’s not a straight advisor deal in that case. Right. It’s there, it’s still taking investment from the influencer or from the fine and then saying, but really the money is just the table stakes. Now it’s like to differentiate, what else are you going to provide as far as access to the audience or whatever else is that right?
Li Jin: [00:09:21]
Yeah, the way that it’s structured is, it, it, there’s no like, one single way that it’s structured. It can be sometimes just an advisory agreement, that we’re all used to, or it could be a combination of advisory. Plus like investment to the company and with dollars. or sometimes it’s just, you know, a normal equity investment into the company.
I think founders usually for, that the Creek is an investor into the business because then they have more skin in the game. but you’re right. That like, it’s more about having access to their distribution and their brand than the actual dollar amount itself.
That makes sense. Were you always thinking about, like as you left a16z starting your own fund, or as you started a new newsletter and all of those things, did you pursue kind of all that rate, like the whole range of options for how you could monetize.
Li Jin: [00:10:16] the, the plan was always to start a fund. So I knew that going in. I mean, again, I guess, going out that was always the plan and, Aye. But in tandem to that, I also kept creating content, which was an activity that I had been doing when I was at a16z. And even before, like I I’ve always been very active in writing online and writing publicly.
A lot of people don’t know this, but I kept a food blog throughout college, where I would Chronicle like all of the meals and things that I would cook. and before that I was blogging about like my everyday life. Very boring, in high school and in middle school. So I’ve always been a very prolific writer.
And so, as I’ve been on this journey of, building my own fund and, and getting started investing, I’ve just continued to create content and primarily written content because that is the format that I feel most comfortable in.
Yeah, that makes sense. I think a lot of people, you know, you have this like overnight success type of story, and then you dig back and it’s like, yes, but I’ve been creating content consistently for. I don’t know, a decade or two.
Li Jin: [00:11:39]
Yeah, I I’ve been writing Daily. Like I first started writing Daily. I remember this moment. Very clearly. I moved to the US when I was six years old from Beijing. And before that, I didn’t know English. So I learned English in first grade through ESL classes, and I happened to win a diary, a physical diary.
It was a Lisa Frank diary, like multicolored, rainbows, plus dolphins on the cover. I won that at an afterschool bingo game in the first grade at the same time that I was learning English. And I started writing in this diary every single day. as a six year old and throughout my childhood, I just went through so many different physical diaries, like I wrote consistently every day and then the internet happened and I went onto the blogging platforms.
But yeah, writing has like been a consistent daily habit for over 20 years.
Yeah, that’s wild. What was the first blogging platform that you went on to was that LiveJournal or my space?
Li Jin: [00:12:43]
I think it was Zynga.
Yeah, I didn’t, I published on LiveJournal, but
Li Jin: [00:12:49]
I was on LiveJournal to you. LiveJournal was great. LiveJournal was what I used in high school. It was where all the cool kids were.
yeah. I’m trying to think what happened to LiveJournal. I actually hadn’t thought about LiveJournal before this moment. Didn’t.
Li Jin: [00:13:03]
I, you know, I tried to dig up my old LiveJournal and all of my old things, and I think it’s been deleted like after some period of inactivity, I think they just deleted everything. So it can’t find it so that like, it represents years of memories, which I’m quite sad about. So I think there’s still value in keeping a physical diary.
If you want to remember your life.
I think there’s things that on one hand like that I’ve published on LiveJournal that I would love to have. But I’m also very thankful that the broader internet is
Li Jin: [00:13:37]
Right. Yes. It, it was very like it’s, it’s doc’s proof basically because they deleted everything on our behalf.
Well, maybe taking a step back. I think there’s a lot of people who have built a newsletter in are trying to decide. The best way to monetize it. and haven’t thought about investing, or maybe they’re thinking about like, Oh, maybe they like me right now. Right? Because of my Content, I get asked to invest in a few things.
And so I do a little bit of angel investing, but I’m curious what advice you have for someone who is now going, Oh, I have 10, 20, 30,000 people on an email list. they’re starting to be this deal flow. You know, is starting a syndicate or maybe even becoming a full-time investor of direction with resilience.
Li Jin: [00:14:32]
so I think you really have to consider, like, what are, what are your goals and what is the content that you’re creating and why are people subscribed and reading it? Like, I think the business model needs to fit all of those things. So I talk about the concept of like, business model fit, like the business model needs to fit, like what your content is, who the audience is, who the creator is, what the platform is, all of those things need to be aligned.
So I think right now is a moment in which like, Direct user monetization is totally in vogue and every platform is introducing new direct user monetization features, typically in the form of like donations, ad hoc payments, subscription payments. but it’s always charging the user for something. And I, I actually don’t think that that fits every writer.
There are actually lots of different business models that you could play with and experiment depending on who your audience is and what the content type is. like I think Packy is very successful doing sponsorships and like if he moved to subscriptions like that would block access for a lot of people that he’s able to reach.
Right now through sponsorships. I think there can even be like new business models that get invented that we haven’t even seen yet. That could be really well aligned with writers. so for instance, there’s a platform called mirror, mirror.xyz. Is the name like a reflection mirror. and it’s a crypto blogging platform.
So they’re built on crypto rails and you, so you can program all sorts of different new business models that previously hadn’t existed. So recently there was a really interesting experiment that a blogger, named John Palmer ran where he actually crowdfunded his, his essay, his upcoming essay. And so, people were able to.
Place bids and crowdfund his essay. And he ended up raising $13,000, but the people who were crowdfunding it didn’t just do it. So out of altruism, they did. So in exchange for tokens that they could then trade and that represented ownership in the essay itself. Which is really interesting. so that’s like a new business model that gets unlocked by crypto, which previously hadn’t existed.
So, so I’m interested to see more of these experiments happen in the future that aren’t, you know, one size fits all because I think the subscription business model is really great for writers who are writing consistently, who are delivering consistent kind of constant value to their audience, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
Yeah, that that makes sense. And like, in this case, if you were to. Not publish for a few weeks. That would be entirely. That would be totally fine because your business model isn’t dependent on that extent or like continuous value.
Li Jin: [00:17:24]
Exactly. Yeah. I think the issue right now is like, For writers who write a really high quality piece, maybe two or three times a year. There’s no good viable way for them to monetize that. Like, they can’t really justify a subscription. Maybe they couldn’t collect donations, but like that just depends on people feeling very generous and charitable.
And so the only good way to monetize that kind of cadence of writing right now is like through investing, I think, through being a venture investor, But yeah, like I think that type of writing also deserves a good business model.
Makes sense. I think the biggest point for someone listening in is that there’s the business models that you see at face value of like sponsorships, or, you know, paid subscription access probably are the two most common. And then it’s also like, and there’s so many more possibilities and I’m always the most fascinated by the businesses where you’re like, wait, I know they make money, but how do they make money?
And when you really think about it often there’s some other, you know, side thing, like for example, I know the people over at link fire and they provide these like little landing pages when for artists, you know, so Taylor Swift comes out with her new single here’s a single page that has all of the links right.
To. iTunes, Spotify, et cetera. You know, they’re used by all the major labels and you go to their site and they make money through subscriptions. You’ve paid 15, $20 a month to use their service, but they actually make a lot of money through the affiliate revenue from iTunes and Spotify, and for all that for driving the traffic.
And so, you know, just really encouraging people to dig under the surface a little bit and, and at least consider some of the less obvious business models.
Li Jin: [00:19:15]
I think that, well, I want to shift gears a little bit. There’s, an article that you wrote, titled the creator economy needs a middle-class I’m curious one, let’s start on the research side. That is like a, a there’s like quick blog posts that you can write. You know, you have an idea, you write it out, you fire it off.
And sometimes they really resonate. Other times they don’t, And, you know, maybe it’s like three hours or five or 10 hours that goes into that. this post is the opposite of that. And I’m curious, what is your research process look like? How do you go about writing a substantial piece like that?
Li Jin: [00:19:56]
Yeah, I would definitely say like, all of the writing that I have published is not of that sort it’s of the like a hundred hours went into this, or like, that’s why I only published like four times a year. it’s because I work on each piece for like two, three months. So, yeah, a lot of research goes into these things.
There’s a lot of time I speak to a ton of people. I have a ton of people read them, critique them, offer different angles and perspectives. and so, yeah, I, it takes a really long time. It’s like writing a thesis in school. how this one came together was. So I had written a piece like a year and a half ago called the passion economy and the future of work when I was still working at Andreessen Horowitz.
It’s a blog post that was. I think pretty widely read and a lot of founders, were really positive about it. But one of the critiques that I got in the aftermath of the publishing that piece was, this is great. And like so optimistic and like very positive. And we really want to have this come true, but it feels like, it feels like this is only a viable, viable path for so few people like.
There’s only so few people who can even make a living this way and who can participate and be successful in the passion economy. like, is this too optimistic? Was there feedback? And that question has been like in my mind ever since then, like, because as an investor, I want to back things that touch millions of people like that can, you know, transform society and how we work, not just enable a thousand people or 10,000 people in order.
To to monetize. so I’ve always been really interested in like, how do we actually unlock the ability for many, many more people, like tens of millions, hundreds of millions, of people to be able to participate in the passionate economy and to be able to do what they love for a living. So the piece was inspired by that.
And, in order to write this, I had to go very broad initially and like study, how did the middle-class come about in the real world? Like I looked at. The history of this country and like how, we got started in the trends around inequality in the middle class, in all developing countries and, and.
Developed countries, Europe, the US et cetera. I looked at like policies. I researched specific policies that we had passed in order to encourage the growth of the middle class. And that contributed to like rising wages in the middle of the 20th century. I looked at unionization, deregulation, the trends like since the 1970s and the shareholder revolution, like so much research went into this.
And it was very like concisely summarized in the end piece and piece really focused on the crater economy. And how does the crater economy, support and middle, but yeah, there was, there was a ton of background research that went into it and it was informed by stuff in the broader world as well.
Lot of questions about that, the first one is what’s the reason. That you take the approach of say like for flagship pieces of content a year versus maybe some of the more traditional advice of like publish super consistently, you know, every Monday at 10:00 AM or something like that.
Li Jin: [00:23:28] I mean, I kind of do that because I use Twitter. And so Twitter is like my kind of ongoing, I Write tweet storms. And like, these are just my quick thoughts. It’s nothing like super groundbreaking, but it’s like interesting and thought provoking. And like, I’ll just publish that on Twitter. for my long form pieces.
I don’t know, that’s just kind of the bar that I hold myself to. And like, I think things are more evergreen when they go really deep and when they are extremely cohesive and pull in so many different strings and like just give rise to so many more questions and lines of thinking. and that’s the type of style that I think.
I, I prefer to write in, and I feel good about my content when I publish it. there’s a lot of like stuff that I don’t publish that never sees the light of day. That is perhaps of the sort that like I could quickly publish if I wanted to be more frequent in my writing. But I just don’t think that they’re groundbreaking enough.
Like my bar is kind of like, does this get people to see the world in a completely different way? You can’t do that so often, like it’s hard to do that regularly, every single all week. but that’s kind of just the bar that I’ve given myself as a writer, because I want my pieces to have longevity. I want it to be like, every time I’m in someone’s inbox, they feel like they must like clear their calendar and feed this thing.
And in order to. Maintain that relationship with my audience. Everything has to be really good.
Yeah. I definitely, I have a few pieces that I’ve written that. Are sort of that those flagship pieces of content, like for me, it’d be the ladders of wealth creation and then the billion dollar creator where, you know, they really, they come together over a long period of time. It’s usually like it started 18 months ago with a conversation with a friend that kind of sparked something and then it sort of iterates from there.
But I can’t get any consistency towards those ideas, you know, it’s definitely when they come in and they, you know, I shaped them for a long time. So I’m curious. Do you maintain a list of like these ideas that might turn into something or what’s, what’s sort of the notes process on that side?
Li Jin: [00:25:50]
I do the notes process is really disorganized. So it exists like in my brain, I have a list in my brain of things that I’d like to write. Sometimes that list gets dumped into Evernote, but not really consistently. sometimes I’ll think of something like really late at night when I’m not in front of my computer.
I’ll just like, jot it down in my phone or like text myself. so the ideas are kind of scattered around, but they’re there, they’re there somewhere. And. Sometimes I catalyzed by either like an external thing or something internal that I read. and that just inspires me so much. I feel like, okay, now is the time to take that idea into like, actually.
Build a piece around it and, and, and write it out, that there’s like way more ideas that I have that never turned into one of those flagship pieces and only a small percentage of them actually get written out. I actually think like for everyone, who’s saying like there’s too much writing in the world, like there’s too many newsletters.
I actually think there’s like way more ideas that should be written out that currently aren’t just because writers don’t really have the time to do it.
What I love that of the. The bar that you’re setting for one of these flagship pieces being like you should finish reading it and your worldview should be different, or you should at least have all of these questions about your current worldview.
Li Jin: [00:27:15]
Yeah, it changes someone’s life.
What do you think about, you know, where are you published these pieces? Right. Because a lot of people would say has to be on my site. I need the, The search rankings, the backlinks and all of that. And you’re going like, no, I’m going to publish it on the Harvard Business Review.
Li Jin: [00:27:41]
Yeah. I, I, I’ve been sort of like, I’ve evolved in my thinking around this. well, so firstly, like when I was still working at Andreessen, everything had to go on their blog. So, I published on their blog and so a lot of my older pieces are still at dot com. since then I’ve been utilizing my own newsletter, my Substack newsletter as mine primary channel. and I like that because I think the ethos of having like access to your readership and being able to reach them directly without any sort of intermediary, I think that’s great. especially since like the way that I typically reach people is through Twitter and through this algorithm, like that feels a little shaky and unsteady.
And so if I can collect people’s emails, that’s awesome. and then. HBR HBR came about in like the most random of ways, honestly. I hadn’t been intending to publish it at HBR. I was intending to just go through my newsletter as normal. And then at the last minute, basically when the piece was already done, I sent it to an HBR editor that I knew, and I was like, Hey, what do you think of this?
And, and his response was, this is great. I would love to publish it. So can you hold your newsletter? and, and I, I basically, I was like, okay, like, let’s test this out. Cause I think HBR, like HBR is one of those publications that I would be willing to bend on my, like, Collect user emails rule. Like they have huge distribution, they have way more page views than my newsletter gets.
And so I thought it was, it was a worthwhile experiment to run. And so, yeah, I gave them that piece. I also publish it in my newsletter that same day as well. but I I’ve been driving traffic to the HBR version and, you know, the response to, to that has been so interesting, because. When people read the piece in HBR, I think they just immediately viewed it as more legitimate than when I published in my own newsletter.
People were like, Yeah. People were like, Oh, this piece must be so good. It’s an HBR. And I was like, have you read any of my past writing? Are you saying it’s not good? Like, cause it’s, it’s the same bar as I always have had for myself. It’s just that this one happened to get picked up by HBR. It’s like, my, all of my writing is like best, but like for some reason, because it’s an HBR, I think a lot of people just viewed it differently, which has been absolutely fascinating.
And it kind of throws a wrench in the whole creator economy, narrative, right? Because we’re all about institutions over individuals and how like a personal brand is so much more powerful than like an institutional brand. But I firsthand experience that when I’m affiliated with this like powerful institution of Harvard Business Review people to take me more seriously, or at least there is a segment of people who took me more seriously.
Well, I think it’s what you’re talking. I think about brand being the most important thing. And, you know, HBR has this brand, you even, you walked through the airport and it’s like, HBR has top reads all of this stuff. And so we know that the content is going to be really high quality and, and the packaging does matter, right?
The packaging of the being an HBR versus, being on your blog or a newsletter Substack, like. And you’re just immediately in that of that caliber. And so it’s interesting. I’m curious if you think more authors are going to be pushing them to publish their content, you know, there, the Atlantic, you know, some of these other like publications that sort of have an increased amount of credibility
Li Jin: [00:31:32]
I think they should. I think they should. Just as we kind of diversify our different revenue, streams and business models as creators, I think we should also diversify where we publish content. in order to expand our reach. It’s, it’s sort of like the idea of, Content collabs that we do with other creators.
Like how do we leverage each other’s audiences in order to grow? I think, writers can accomplish the same by. Distributing elsewhere and tapping into an established publications audience. so I think if there is a publication that writers really admire that they think. Could be, harnessed for audience growth, where that publication probably has a large base of users who would also be interested in your writing.
I think it’s definitely worthwhile to do that. I don’t think it needs to be done constantly and like exclusively. I don’t really believe in doing anything like all like the same all the time. but I think here and there, like writers can choose to leverage other platforms for growth.
What were some of the results that you got from it? Was there anything unexpected or,
Li Jin: [00:32:46]
So the one unexpected thing was like people who I thought already really liked my writing were like, wow, this is so good. Like.
That was one thing. like my brand, although I thought it was like already a legitimate, it was clearly not as legit as HBR’s Franz. I, yeah, I did get incremental new subscribers from it because my, my publication was linked at the bottom. I think it also, it, it was an interesting experiment for them.
Cause I think their reader base is not as Silicon Valley centric as probably our information diet. Like we are reading all these blogs and like all of these sub stocks constantly and thinking about like the creator economy, I think a lot of their readers probably saw it and thought like, what is a creator?
Like what is, what is the CR what is the greater economy? so I’m not entirely sure if like, My target audience mapped to theirs. there were definitely some comments of like, this is so abstract and like out there, and like first we need to define what a creator is. so that was really interesting.
Cause I think. I think HBR is one of those publications that has such a broad reach across the planet. Like there’s middle managers in Europe and in the middle East who are reading HBR and might not be as like deep in this particular particular topic. Whereas our motion as newsletter writers is to go really deep and to be really aligned with this particular niche and not write for the public audience, but to write for like our specific single target audience.
So going to, A more general readership target, targeted publication. it kind of taught me that I am kind of like inhabiting this little bubble.
Well, one thing I was just thinking about is that you kind of have two different, demographics that you’re serving right. On one hand, you have the, the companies that you want to invest in, right? So if they’re reading your newsletter and someone’s thinking about, okay, I’m ready to raise then.
They’re already a fan of you. And so your, your capital to come in has a significant advantage over any other VC fund, but then you have the other side of, you need to go raise from LPs. And so I’m wondering if being in a place like the Harvard Business Review or something else, or other places you might put your Content might actually help attract, new LPs.
Li Jin: [00:35:24]
What’s really interesting is that I’ve found that to not be true, like LPs don’t go on Twitter by and large, and they don’t read some stock newsletters that are written by practitioners by and large. And so. It was, it was really interesting, honestly, in a ton of my conversations with traditional LPs, they didn’t know where to create our whys.
They didn’t know what the passionate economy was. They like never visited, you know, the blog, the a16z blog, like all of these concepts they had never heard of. And like, they. Never saw my Twitter. Like they, they might not even have a Twitter account. and so they’re, they’re kind of like inhabiting their own ecosystem and I’m not entirely sure, like what I need to write or like what topics I need to cover to reach them.
I would say like among founders, like the stuff that I write does have an audience and like is widely read, but the LP stuff, like the Content has given me no advance.
That’s interesting. Cause like I have this ideal that maybe it would give an advantage, but
Li Jin: [00:36:32]
I would love that, but that’s not the case.
And raised from LPs, is it, you know, just a lot of introductions and meetings and that’s the whole thing,
Li Jin: [00:36:43]
It’s a lot of relationships, introductions, warm instructions, getting your LPs to introduce each more LPs. It’s such a, yeah, it’s a really fascinating like opaque worlds. None of them publicize themselves. You don’t know who they are, how much they invest, what they’re interested in. They’re not like on Twitter broadcasting that they’re actively investing.
They’re very private about it a lot of times. so it’s yeah, it, it, it’s, it’s a whole separate universe. It’s actually really, really fascinating.
Yeah, well, I’ve been at, this is going back to the side of running a venture fund, but what have been some of the hardest aspects of it?
Li Jin: [00:37:21]
It’s not, you know, VCs, don’t just kick back and, you know, like Write random pieces and live an easy life. It’s actually challenging.
Li Jin: [00:37:34]
Yeah, the, the thing pieces are definitely part of, but that is done like middle of the nights and weekends and on Christmas day, like that’s when I do my writing. And then during the day, it’s like a ton of pitch meetings, founders meeting with portfolio companies. It’s, it’s just this constant onslaught of like everything that you need to do constantly.
No everything about it, husband. Like a really interesting exercise and I’ve, I’ve been going through it for the first time of year, because this is my first fund. Like I used to work at a firm that had 200 people. And so I didn’t have exposure to all of the different elements of running a VC fund. I didn’t, I didn’t use to have to fundraise.
I never had to talk to LPs. I never had to, there were like teams internally that. Supported portfolio companies after the investment team decided to invest. And so that was also less a part of my job before and now I have to do literally everything. so yeah, everything has been challenging. Like fundraising was challenging.
Keeping on top of all of the deal flow has, is, is like immensely. This huge, it’s a huge time commitment. then making time to support your portfolio companies. Is this other big, like. Pocket of, where we spend our time and then, and then just like a company as well. We never stopped thinking about fundraising and like the future fundraises, I thought it was like, you raised the fund.
You could just like, go deploy the fund. And then someday in the future, distantly, like you you’re like, Oh, I have to raise another fund. I’ll go do that. But it never ends actually. It’s just like having a startup, like we it’s like you close fund one. Then at that time, a ton of people are like, Oh, you have a fund.
Like, let me invest in you. And then you have to like, keep them warm. So the second fund, and then like you close that. And then the third fund, like you never stopped thinking about that side, which is, yeah, it takes up a ton of like mental resources. In addition to like the core Day job of deciding where to put capital.
Yeah. So for anyone listening in who is currently a founder has been considering being a VC regresses. In fact, not greener.
Li Jin: [00:39:53]
Well, I think the grass, I don’t know, the grass may be a little bit greener because if you’re able to raise the fund, you have like this built in revenue stream for the next 10 years, which is nice. and you don’t have to deal with like, All of the, like the scale of the people issues that you have to deal with is not the same as like scaling a huge organization.
But it’s definitely not a walk in the park.
Yeah. I believe that, I mean, just a little bit of, we were talking a little bit before we started recording a little bit of angel investing that I’ve done thinking about like eight or nine, investments. And even then I’ve been like mediating things between founders and stuff like that. And there’s just wherever you turn in, in the wonderful world of business there’s issues to deal.
Li Jin: [00:40:41]
Yeah, exactly. There’s, there’s no easy jobs unless you’ve like inherited something. I think.
Another interesting thing that you’ve been doing, that I’d love to talk about is your course on building for the creator economy. what, what sparks, why to create the course and, and hasn’t been going so far.
Li Jin: [00:41:00]
Yeah, absolutely. So the backstory is. Well, two things. One is like, I’ve been asked to write a book, create a course, like do more Content by basically everyone. Everyone is constantly asking me to like, write more, publish more like synthesize my thoughts more. And I’ve always been kind of pushing back on that, like, I don’t have the time to write a book right now or teach a course or like, you know, build more content.
But like I knew that the demand was there. And then coupled with that, I invested, end of last year into a new platform that Goggin Biani and West cow co-founded it still does not yet have a name named TBD, so we shall call it. And what’s this new company. So I invested in going in with this new company, which is a platform to help experts.
Builds and offer cohort-based courses. And so, when I was chatting with them about the company and the idea and the fundraise and everything, we were brainstorming about how it could be really good for me to be one of their initial instructors. And, you know, there’s this initial instructor batch on their platform actually has all sorts from their cap table.
Like me, Lenny saw hell pump, we’re all investors in this company. And so. It’s kind of like where we’re, co-creating the platform with them and, you know, flagging issues as they come and really, helping them to realize like here are the opportunities to build better products. and so that was how the course came about.
It was the combination of both, this platform making it much easier for me and taking a lot of work off my plate in terms of the logistics and everything behind the scenes of. Creating this course. plus the fact that like I knew that there was market pool for it, and the creator economy is such a huge area of interest right now.
But I felt like there wasn’t a really good cohesive, sequenced, like package of information that was all like very carefully curated and packaged together into something really useful for founders. So I decided to build it myself.
It’s, it’s been fun to see all the cohort based courses come together and, and, you know, Yeah, it was basically on his name is terrible. He’s been on the podcast before Tiago Forte, Tiago done with, Building a Second Brain. And, it’s just amazing to see in David Perell as well, right. With the two of them together with Write of Passage. it’s been amazing to see the different business model and it’d be like, So much more effective than even everyone was doing three years ago or five years ago of like, here’s all the videos you go through it, you know, maybe it’s a $300 price point, but most people drop off or something.
And so in this case, you’re seeing a thousand dollar price point or 2000, or I think I just have one that somebody launched it, you know, it’s a $5,000 for the course and it’s starting to really feel like, Oh, this is an in-depth. Uh, it’s like a serious college class, you know, where
Li Jin: [00:44:17]
Everybody else and, and everything.
Li Jin: [00:44:20]
And I think people are, it’s really interesting. The variation in prices, right? Because a newsletter is basically priced at. A hundred dollars per year, roughly that’s probably the average price point of a newsletter, like $10 a month, a hundred per year. The typical CBC is priced at like a thousand dollars.
So 10 times the yearly revenue that you’re getting from a newsletter subscriber. And so over the course of a year, are you communicating just as much content as the course provides? Probably. And so what does that Delta, what does that 10 X Delta representing? I think it’s representing. Accountability, like accountability of actually getting through the content rather than just getting access to the content and not going through it.
I think it’s community, of like light like-minded peers who are going through the content in the course with you, who also enhance the learning experience. And then I think it’s the direct line of access to the expert, the course instructor who’s. Whose brain that you’re tapping into in a very direct way, versus like having, like reading a newsletter by them, it just feels a little bit more, impersonal and less direct. And so I think that’s what the GAP in prices represent, but it is really interesting to see. Especially firsthand now that I have this course, and I’ve also been, co-writing a paid newsletter with the guys at the, everything, every bundle, just to see like the huge chasm in price points, like there’s.
Just huge variance in price points and how profitable each activity is. And, yeah, I think we’ll see more people start to have our cohort based courses. And I, I hope that like more creators realize that this is an option. I would caveat that it is like a ton of work to create a cohort based course.
Like I’ve probably put. A hundred hours into the content development for this thing. Like, I didn’t have a Christmas last year because I was building out slides and doing research for this. so it, it is a lot of work, but it’s pretty high ROI.
Yeah. Well, I like what you said about. Making 10 X the, I guess it’d be the ARPU, the average revenue per user, you know, a thousand dollar course versus a a hundred dollars a year subscription because one of them, you have to show up 52 times a year with high quality Content. And then the other one, you have to do a whole ton of prep work.
But you can. You know, you can reuse that you can run the course multiple times a year or multiple years. and then you probably like, as you’re in the middle of this now, you know, you’re, you’re dedicated. It probably is your primary life. in addition to it’s your other full-time job as you
Li Jin: [00:47:15]
Yeah. Yeah. When you run the course, that basically is all consuming of your life and in the weeks leading up to it, it’s pretty intense as well. Whereas I think writing a piece of content, you kind of do it on your own schedule. If you get busy, it’s like, Oh, I’ll just do it next weekend. I’ll write it next weekend.
You can’t like delay the chorus because it’s on everyone’s calendar and there’s a start date to it. And that. You know, you’ve accepted student’s payment, you have to deliver the course. And so there, there’s also accountability for the instructor to, to create all of the content in a way that doesn’t really exist for a passive subscription.
right. How’d you think about the price point on it? What did you debate price that you settled on?
Li Jin: [00:47:58]
1250. Yes. It’s 1250. I, it was determined in conjunction with, Gargan and Wess company team. They should really find a name. And I think, it was, I mean, it felt premium. Cause I think all of the other courses that they’ve run so far were less than that. but like it felt fair because, For a few reasons. One is like, there’s a ton of original content that I haven’t talked about written about. Like it’s, it’s brand new from my brain.
Like these are students who are accessing it for the first time out of like any people on earth. So that’s pretty special. secondly I think it has real business value to people like it, it, the Content has the ability to really shape company strategies and to like inform the products that they’re working on at the time.
And that they’re building. And so what is the ROI, if you’re able to make a better business decision than you were before, like that’s really high ROI. so the price point ultimately felt fair to us. I was a little bit nervous about it. Like, are people willing to pay this much, especially since I’m already pretty prolific in terms of, podcasting and writing and to my surprise, it was like wildly, wildly oversubscribed.
And honestly, I think we could have probably charged more, but I don’t, you know, I don’t want to go too high, especially for the founders that I’m targeting. I think there’s also opportunity to like better price discriminate in the course world. Like for founders, I would love to offer a discount or have them be sponsored or something versus for investors and VCs who want to take my course, like I want to Jack up the price because they could probably pay anything.
That’s interesting. If, if, if you said, you know, the price for the course is $2,500. but if you’re an early stage founder, you know, apply here, we want to make sure that you’re serious. You’re all of that. but apply here and you can take it for a thousand dollars or something like that.
Li Jin: [00:50:04]
And that’s what schools do. That’s what universities do through financial aid, through need-based financial aid is they perfectly price discriminate every single student based on their capacity to pay. We just don’t think of it that way.
Right. Oh, that’s fascinating. How does the course fit into the rest of your business model of, you know, how do you think about how it intersects with the investing and everything else?
Li Jin: [00:50:28]
Yeah. I think if it has like, hopefully a really great way for me to build relationships at scale, with a bunch of really high quality founders and to tangibly provide value to them, such that I become their investor of choice. So it definitely has that intersection with my day job. but beyond that at a broader level, beyond just the relationships that I’m forming with my students who represent a ton of early stage founders, I think it also has been this amazing opportunity for me to crystallize my thinking and to put down a lot of thoughts that have been swirling in my mind, but like we’re kind of disorganized honestly, and, and weren’t structured in any sort of cohesive way and it helps me.
Crystallize and sharpen my own thinking such that I’m able to better like guide my existing portfolio companies or better able to offer value to the companies that pitch me.
I like that. Okay. Last question. On the, on the course side, you had the application side, right? When someone, they can’t just come and buy it, you have to go
Li Jin: [00:51:27]
Correct. There was an application process.
How did that play out? And what was the reasoning behind it?
Li Jin: [00:51:31]
So the application process was because we wanted to cap the course. We want it to cap the course at a number that felt kind of still intimate and it wouldn’t be like, 10,000 students in the course live learning from me. so it ended up, so right now the course is 150 students. So we reached like the hard cap, and we got way more than 150 applications.
And so we had to unfortunately turn people away and. You know, tell them to stay tuned for the second cohort. timing TVG. So the reason why there was an application is because for a cohort based course, you need to have constraints on capacity because like people are paying for your attention and your time and access to you.
And that access can’t be scaled, infinitely.
That makes sense. I imagine it would also play a role in conversion rates as well, because as someone fills out an application, they’re probably getting more invested and then there’s, there’s next between that. And when they actually have to pay, and then there’s also this feeling of like, Oh, you got accepted in.
Okay, now I should
Li Jin: [00:52:41]
Pay and right. There’s the accountability side of it. Okay. Now I should follow it through and actually make it happen.
Li Jin: [00:52:47]
It was, yeah, there was such interesting things that happened that I learned throughout this application process. One is, well, the application was actually kind of involved. Like they had to put in a lot of information. And so I thought like, Okay, well, we’ll probably get really high conversion off the application.
Like if you went through this form, this type form, like you’re probably in, but that wasn’t the case. Not everyone actually confirmed after the application. So there was a bit of drop-off like, I think every time you add a step there’s drop-off, and then, what was the other thing I was going to say?
The other thing was like, every time there was a milestone or a checkpoint to get through, like the application from application to like. Conversion or acceptance to conversion. Like people shared those moments on social people, screenshotted their emails. And they were like, I got accepted into this course and I was like, this is mind-boggling that like, you’re basically tweeting about like paying a content creator.
And like, and, and like celebrating that, like usually people don’t celebrate giving a content creator money for something like that’s pretty rare, or like it’s even rare that people tweet about like buying a product. But like for this course, I don’t know. It, it it’s like college admissions people. It is a milestone.
And so it became a milestone. Like we created a milestone for people and it continues to this day because the course is happening right now. People are tweeting about like just finished workshop one. And it was, you know, it was awesome here. All of the things that I learned, like everything has become like a milestone and it’s, it’s honestly incredible to see.
Yeah, that’s amazing. Well, we should leave it there. I love the chat for a long time, but where should people go to follow you and learn more about the fund and subscribe to your newsletter?
Li Jin: [00:54:39]
Yeah. So the fund website is atelierventures.co. My personal newsletter is li.substack.com. People can also follow me on Twitter, that’s probably my most active content sharing channel. I’m @ljin18 on Twitter and yeah, I think that’s about it. Thanks so much for doing this.
All right, thanks. I’ll see you later.
Li Jin: [00:55:01]
All right. Take care.