Dec 27, 2022 • 15M

Growing this newsletter: what works and doesn’t work

The best and worst of 2022 of I Want Product-Market Fit

 
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Actionable insights for founders poured in stories, straight from my experience mentoring 150+ startups and my PhD research on early-stage startups.
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Thanks for reading this year. A full year of writing. 20 editions, bi-weekly(ish). Time to reflect.

In this post, I will go over

  1. Top-viewed and top-voted articles

  2. What works and didn’t work for growing my newsletter

  3. Plans for 2023


Best voted

Share of votes ‘Great’

  1. 93% - ‘Any colour as long as it’s black’: the untold story

  2. 90% - Get truly honest answers with this interview technique

  3. 83% - Don’t worry about your third boyfriend until you have your first

Most views

Views on the post, any source

  1. 2777 views - Customer-problem fit: not all problems come equal

  2. 2432 - The difference between problems and jobs to be done

  3. 1107 - ‘Any colour as long as it’s black’: the untold story

I shared some of my posts in LinkedIn Groups, these 3 got some good traction there.

Growing a newsletter

This year I started at 237 subscribers. As of writing, I’ve got 876, that’s 350% growth. The curve is looking more and more exponential, yay for that, yet there’s always a dip around the holidays.

What worked and what didn’t work

Last year, I found out a specific type of article was not working, where I listed scientific research findings. I stopped writing those (these were also the least fun to make).

I tried doing a similar analysis on things that don’t work or work for 2022. But, I couldn’t find a pattern. Still, some things worked for me.

Things that work

Keep doing: writing about one topic only

My writing mantra for each post is to write about one topic only. This is very hard, because it’s very tempting to for instance start talking about value propositions if you just want to discuss solutions.

Changed: The rebrand

One of the most ‘controversial’ things this year was my rebrand. When I posted the new brand I was quite anxious. 25% of the voters felt it was ‘Meh’: too childish, not professional. That’s always a bummer. I wonder how many of that 25% of voters do like it now.

I always carry these with me, hit me up IRL if you want one.

You can also focus on the 75% that did like it. It matches the reactions in real life. People I meet react very enthusiastically to the brand when I hand them the stickers. I’m keeping it.

LinkedIn feed to get new subscribers

A key rule of early newsletter growth is self-distribution, I read this in many posts on growing your substack. You need to bring it to new readers, they won’t automatically come to you I tried many outlets beyond substack.

So far, LinkedIn is my best channel. My own feed attracts people to follow (I post once every day or two days) me and from there I lure them to the newsletter.

LinkedIn groups to power up old articles

Some LinkedIn groups are huge. There’s one LinkedIn group that devours my posts (Design Thinking), I’ve been submitting some of my older articles in there, sometimes getting 25 new subscriptions for 1 minute of work.

I’ve tried in other LinkedIn groups, such as Lean Startup but there I got little traction. There are some Discord & Slack communities that have a self-promotion channel, doesn’t work great I only post there if I have a lot of time on my hands.

New: podcast improves traction and writing

I started adding audio in April and it’s great. I’ve got a sense that since the amount of post-shares is going up, however, I can’t prove the causality

In total, the podcast got 5243 downloads. Especially posts that get traffic from other sources have a high podcast playback ratio (70+%). What surprised me is that 96% of plays come from the browser. The majority of you just pop on the recording.

The podcast adds an hour or two to the editing process. Because I need to say each word, it forces me to get a sense for the flow of the text.

Edit: Recommendations work

A big portion of my new subs come from the Substack network. 33% is direct traffic (assumably LinkedIn), 30% comes via the Substack Network (recommendations and other features) and 30% ‘already has a substack account’ — this is a bit tricky to decipher.

Things that didn’t work

Medium

I also tried posting on publications on Medium. Some publications on Medium with lots of subscribers accept external writers, here’s a list with some tips. Some have half a million followers. A founder told me he got 200 subscribers on his waitlist for an application he’s building.

I submitted to 5 publications accepting. There’s this one publication, Entrepreneur’s Handbook. They have 200.000 subscribers, accepted, me yay. But this ranked in a total of just 154 views. Maybe a subscriber or two.

Half a million likes on Twitter don’t convert

Earlier this year an unrelated tweet of mine got half a million likes. It was a fun experience, but hardly any new subscriptions out of that and my open-rate tumbled. It’s back to 50%-ish percent now, but for now Twitter virality seems a lotery strategy.

I Want Product-Market Fit
Here's how half a million likes convert
Listen now (17 min) | 🧪 Experiment: Podcast version available above! ⚠️ Warning: Longer article with many visuals. Click the above title to read in your browser. Two months ago, a tweet of mine got almost half a million li…
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Resource package at talks

During the year, I gave some talks on my ideas at some as scale-ups, incubators and venture builders. When I do a talk, I always mention many books, podcasts and other resources.

I email anyone interested a list of everything I mention, they just need to sign up for the resource package. There’s an opt-in for the newsletter.

This got 22 subscribers over the past 16 months. It gets about a 10%-30% conversion to subscribing to all people watching the talk. Doing the talks is fun, but this is not the most scalable tactic.

Substack Chat

Substack is pushing its smartphone app and chat to users. When everyone was exploring that new Substack App, some people used the chat. I bounced around some ideas on what to write next on.

Next edition, nobody showed up. Crickets. Abandoned this. Maybe later when I’m bigger I’m revisiting.


Plans for 2023

What happens after problem-solution fit?

Since inception, I’ve written a lot about problems and job to be done, all to enable problem-solution fit. That’s all nice, but I want to start writing more about the phases after that.

My intention is to write more about business and revenue modeling, value proposition design, segmentation and marketing. And I will at least do one more historic story of entrepreneurship.

Closer to the trenches

My personal accelerator program currently has two startups in it. This is great because here I’m closer to the trenches. Whereas with other startups I mentored, I’m more in the passenger seat, the navigator. In these programs, I sometimes take over the wheel. This will allow me to give rich examples of what works and doesn’t work. Definitely looking forward to sharing my learnings there.

First research findings coming up

So the reason this newsletter started was to share my insights with practice and make sure I don’t develop myself into some academic peninsula. During the coming year, I’m hoping to finish my first study and be able to share what I’m finding. I’ll also do a short post on what my research focuses on soon.

Thanks for reading!

Really happy with y’all reading my stuff. Till next year!

That’s one happy chap innit?

How was this one?

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