Growing an email newsletter to 16k+ subs & validating your startup idea

Growing an email newsletter to 16k+ subs & validating your startup idea

Dan Shipper was big productivity nerd. After his company Firefly was acquired he spent a couple of years angel investing before he began to think about creating something in the ever-expanding software productivity space.

However, he first needed to understand the space better. So in August 2019 Dan set out to speak to people who have a similar passion for productivity and learn more about how they approach productivity and how they created their own personal productivity systems.

Unlike most user interview strategies Dan decided to publicly publish his interviews and insight. To do this Dan created a newsletter called ‘Super Organizers’ on Substack. Specifically, Dan wanted to understand how people organize their lives in order to do their best work.

Dan then began promoting it through his social channels and started to grow his newsletter audience.

superorganizers substack

And it get’s even better. Later, Dan decided to see if anyone would be interested in paying for his content through Substacks paywall feature. Turns out they did. He now has 1,500+ paying subscribers and growing.

This strategy allowed him to build an early audience of other productivity enthusiasts whilst also understanding the productivity space better before considering creating a software product.

In a recent webinar Dan mentioned he isn't currently considering working on a productivity software product but instead is looking to continue to build on the success of his newsletter.

So why am i interested in this approach?

Quite simply because it’s a fantastic strategy to both learn more about your target audience whilst also building an early audience in the process. You need to do your research to understand your target audience so you could consider publishing your findings in the process through content and build an early audience in the process.

It might sound simple but in my experience most people don’t take this approach in the early stages of customer and problem discovery. Instead, they tend to jump straight into ideating a solution without spending enough time understanding the problem and their target audience. They typically spend 90% of their time in the early stages creating their product and perhaps the remaining 10% on growth and speaking to potential users. It shouldn't be something you do post launch - these are critical pre-launch tasks.

It’s extremely important to be mindful of the ratio of time you spend throughout the lifecycle of your product as it evolves. Perhaps consider something like 40% of your time spend on product, 30% customer discovery and 30% audience building. This ratio should evolve when you launch, during a growth phase etc.

Finally, it's also worth mentioning, without having started with this approach Dan might have jumped right into scoping the software product and spending a lot of time and money without this investigative approach which ultimately lead him to doubling down on his newsletter.

💡 Quick tip: Dan mentioned 'climbing the ladder of influence' from each interview he had with prominent productivity influencers allowed him to reach a larger audience and the more subscribers the better quality interview candidates the more traffic you get, the more newsletter signups.

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