How To Grow Your Startup With A Niche Newsletter
Here's how to grow faster
It’s becoming much more common for startups to use a newsletter as their early go-to-market strategy.
The problem is that founders are super busy and putting yourself on the hook to write a newsletter each week while balancing fundraising, hiring, and the search for PMF can quickly feel like a chore.
Even before that, how do you know if investing in a newsletter is a good idea for your startup?
Thankfully there’s a playbook for newsletters and I’ve adapted it specifically for founders 👇
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Using a Newsletter as a GTM Strategy
Should Your Startup Start a Newsletter?
Founders should NOT start a newsletter when they:
Don’t know who their target user is yet
Won’t have bandwidth to commit to writing it every week, or a team member who can
Have another early growth channel that’s working well (stay focused!)
Would have to compete directly with a massive and established newsletter, without clear options for differentiation
Are targeting users who don’t use email much
If none of those are true about your startup, a newsletter may be a good fit. It can be particularly useful if you:
Are building a waitlist, since a newsletter keeps you on their mind
Have an existing audience somewhere else, since it’ll be easier to build your subscriber base
Have budget for growth, since newsletter subscribers can be acquired cheaply (~$2 / subscriber)
Are selling a high price-point product, since you’ll have more time to build familiarity and have more chances to get them to convert
Are building in a brand new market, since you’ll likely need to educate potential users about it
How to Set Up Your Newsletter
Once you’ve determined that a newsletter is the right way for your startup to go-to-market, you’ll need to take care of some logistics:
Topic → You may think your startup is too niche to build a newsletter around, but in 2023 that’s actually beneficial:
The best way to stand out is to build a newsletter in a market that exists but doesn’t yet have a dominant newsletter. Follow Peter Thiel’s advice for startups and apply it to your newsletter:
Peter Thiel says the question founders should ask themselves is:
"What great business is nobody building?" https://t.co/xFnnpfGPD1
For example, competing directly with Morning Brew sounds challenging at this point. They have millions of subscribers who each have limited time to read daily business news, and also millions in revenue to defend themselves with.
But a “Morning Brew" style newsletter focused exclusively on HR professionals might be a good way to build awareness for your HR tooling startup.
Structure → Most founder-led newsletters fall into one of three buckets:
News (ex. The Split)
Entertainment (ex. Shitposting Works)
Advice (ex. Lenny’s Newsletter)
The best newsletters choose one of these as their clear focus, but sprinkle in bits of the others. For example, The Hustle writes about the daily news in business and tech, but is written in an engaging and entertaining voice — with the bonus of making you feel smarter about the topics it covers.
Your goal is to establish credibility with your audience so they trust that your product is worth checking out. I started Houck’s Newsletter as an advice column for founders while I was still at my last startup, with the original goal of driving those founders towards our cohort-based programs and membership.
You can also think about this in terms of why a reader is coming to read your newsletter each week:
The five newsletter jobs-to-be-done:
1. 😆 Entertain me (e.g. @TheBrowser)
3. 🤔 Make me smarter (e.g. @web)
3. ☝️ Keep me informed (e.g. @thedispatch)
4. 🤔 Make me money (e.g. @kevinmuir)
5. ✊ Help me feel like I'm part of something bigger (e.g. @emorwee)
Cadence → How often will you send your newsletter? Most start out as either weekly or daily. Chances are that you won’t have time to write a daily newsletter while also getting your startup off the ground, but you do want your readers to know when to expect emails from you.
Weekly, or even every other week, is a smart choice for founders. Setting the expectation matters more than what the cadence actually is.
If you have someone on your team who has bandwidth to run a daily (Mon-Fri) newsletter, it’s a great choice for ones focused on the news. Milk Road, Growth Daily, and Ben’s Bites are great examples of this strategy.
Tools → There are some fancy newsletter tools that you can use to optimize everything from your landing page to how you generate revenue from the newsletter, but I highly recommend staying as focused as possible early on and simply building the habit of writing every week.
The easiest and most effective way to do that is to sign up for Beehiiv. I’ve used Beehiiv to send my newsletter since day 1. It has everything you need to get started (and has a great UX), and also more advanced features you can grow into if you find the newsletter if effective for your startup.
How to Grow Your Newsletter
Growing a newsletter isn’t a mystery. There’s a proven playbook that almost all big newsletters have followed:
How to grow your newsletter:
0 → 1k - Publish on Twitter and LinkedIn
1k → 5k - Cross-recommendations
5k → 10k - Newsletter ad swaps
10k → 50k - Refferal program
50k → 1M+ - Paid ads
Content Marketing → Find the platforms, communities, and spaces where your superniche spends time online.
Pick the one where they are most active and put out useful content to drive initial subscribers and validate your newsletter’s concept. Iterate based on their early feedback since these tend to be the most engaged subscribers.
In particular, I’d recommend using lead magnets. As long as the resource you’re offering is extremely aligned to the topics covered in the newsletter, you’ll be able to grow quickly without sacrificing much in terms of engagement.
Swaps → Once you have a bit of an audience, find a few other newsletters that are a similar size and build relationships with them. You can swap recommendations, or feature each other’s newsletters in place of running ads in your newsletter.
Referrals → Morning Brew famously scaled early on in large part due to its referral program. There are tons of articles that have been written about this. Milk Road also heavily relied on referrals.
Don’t overcomplicate a referral program. As a founder, you don’t want to be spending time fulfilling swag orders. Keep it simple and offer a lead magnet for anyone who refers 1 person. Plug this in your welcome email so that there’s a chance everyone who subscribes will see it.
Paid Ads → Matt McGarry put together a comprehensive guide on how to run paid acquisition for newsletters, but there’s one main thing unique to newsletters run by founders:
Funded and/or revenue-generating startups have the capital available to start running paid ads much sooner than independent newsletters, and they should as soon as they feel confident the newsletter will be a part of their longterm growth strategy and their target reader is clear.
How to Drive Conversions
Your ultimate goal with growing a newsletter as a founder is to drive a larger number of users to your startup. There are a few ways to do that:
Welcome email → Let your readers know about your startup right away by mentioning in your welcome email. Send them to a custom landing page for your startup for readers of your newsletter.
Footer → The readers who reach your footer in your newsletter are your biggest fans and most likely to be a good fit for your product. Mention your product and see if it resonates like Nathan Baugh’s did.
Email blasts → You can send one-off emails to your newsletter email list about your startup launching, or new features. Just don’t do this often — you’ll quickly lose your subscribers’ trust.
📚️ Founder’s Library
🚀 Deel’s simplified a world’s worth of global hiring information. Their expert teams can help you navigate quick and compliant hiring in 150+ countries.
📰 Matt McGarry, who grew The Hustle and Milk Road, has a deep dive on how to get your first 1,000 subscribers.
💬 Lenny Rachitsky gave a great presentation about how he’s grown his newsletter to become the best publication for his niche, product managers.
💡 How I Can Help
Whenever you’re ready, here are 2 ways for us to work together:
Grab time with me for a 1:1 session on fundraising, GTM and growth, hiring, finding PMF, or anything else
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