Recently, Dimitris (Head of Product at Viral Loops) interviewed Peter Nowak.
Peter is CEO & co-founder at theDONUT, a FREE daily newsletter compiled by fact-only summaries with a 360° view of what the media is saying.
During the interview, they discussed how much people don’t know about our world, how we can learn from our audience about what business to create, and the importance of media literacy in the age of the filter bubble.
Watch the interview 👇
Below you can read the summary of the interview.
What theDONUT is, and represents.
It’s extraordinarily important to give people the tools that they need to make the best decisions for themselves.
And what I mean by that is teaching critical thinking skills, teaching media literacy, providing easy access to information and perspectives across the spectrum.
Everybody’s got an opinion, but a lot of times those opinions have some sort of validity to them. So we just want to ensure that people actually have access to all of these types of different types of information.
The inspiration for that came from my entire childhood. When I was growing up, I’ve lived everywhere; Hong Kong, India, Massachusetts, Texas, California, Michigan, North Carolina, you name it.
What I was always fascinated by was the why and how— like, “why does the world work? And then why does it work like that?”.
So growing up, I’m asking questions from people in Bangalore India to Hong Kong, and just getting exposed to the information. How the world works was always fascinating to me and also I wanted to be like my dad.
My parents had trained the dog to go get the paper.
Every single morning like clockwork, we’d wake up at 5 am and we’d just open the front door, and the dog would be so excited. His name was Tramel, he would just run towards the ends of the driveway, grab the paper, and then sprint back up, so we could grab the paper out of his mouth.
This whole ceremony made me be fascinated by the news in general.
Getting older, I kept reading the news. Then I started getting exposed to, the internet phenomenon.
The news industry changed almost overnight when the internet came around because the news business is based on advertising.
In the past, they had pretty much a monopoly on advertising until Facebook and Google came around. So now what these news orgs are trying to do is to catch up and still make the same amount of money that they were making when they had this monopoly.
So the incentive structure just change. We saw, this kind of decrease the sensationalism— clickbait narrative writing, only writing to one side, and then the “sky is falling” kind of rhetoric.
Because what we found, with social media algorithmic data as well, that people engaged more with things that make them anxious, things that make them outrage; those hate clicks.
I hated seeing the industry devolve into that, because, as I mentioned, I got exposed to people all over the world, and what I realized is there are so many good people doing so many good things.
And nobody talks about it at all.
There are these stories that are happening, and it’s important to be reminded of those every single day.
So at theDONUT, what we do is we serve up the actual news.
Just facts, no-frills.
We give you access to those opinions, and then couple that with hope and positivity for the future.
Because the future is going to be dope, I think it’s gonna be cool, and I’m excited about it.
News orgs do the opposite of that; they get you fearful for the future.
We are excited for the future of humanity, and I want to surface all of these positive stories that people run into every day.
How big is theDONUT?
So we launched our newsletter about a little under a year and a half ago.
I had this policy that I didn’t want to spend any money on advertising— at least initially.
I wanted all of the growth to be organic.
I’m a product-first guy, and if we just threw a bunch of money into advertising, sure, we’d get a lot of data back, but we wouldn’t build advocates. And from a product standpoint, I think we had to learn who we were as a company, who are writing to just a little bit more about ourselves.
After we launched, I guess, the fallacy of being a first-time entrepreneur kind of got to me. It’s like you don’t think through some of the things that you should be thinking through. People tell you stuff, you’re like “God, I know better than you.”
Then you launch your company and maybe expand into this as well, and then you expect every person to be just as excited about it as you are.
But then you’d like you to step back and you take like this holistic view of it. You’re like “Well, this isn’t great. This could use a lot of work. Maybe it wasn’t as great as I thought it was.”
That’s what happened to me; I ran into that brick wall, right after we launched. I had no experience in journalism, so thinking back on it now this 25-year-old idiot being like: “I’m gonna change the news without having any experience in it.”
It’s beneficial in a certain way. But it’s also not, because I have to learn what I didn’t know before.
So the first year at theDONUT, was about figuring out from a product standpoint who we are, how to write, who we’re targeting, who’s resonating with our message. That way we went from absolute zero to approaching 20,000 subscribers, 100%, purely organically.
We just very recently landed on a lot of that stuff, which now allows us to invest a little bit more on the growth side of things.
Figuring out the answer to what your company represents.
You can figure out the answers to those questions by creating strong feedback loops.
To give you an example:
Every single subscriber email response comes directly to me; I read everything that our subscribers reply to. Sometimes it’s hundreds of messages a day, sometimes it’s two— some positive, some negative.
What our subscribers have been awesome about doing, is giving suggestions. We’ve gotten folks believing in our mission, which is to positively transform culture, conversation, and education in the US.
Those things need positive transformation, and the people take the approach of being somebody helping us.
Like, “Hey, I love what you guys are doing. You guys do X, Y, and Z really great. I think it would be cool if you did a, b, and c.”
And once we get enough of those responses, we collect, compile them, and then we put them into a visible format.
If people are asking us for a podcast, maybe we should go try to develop a podcast, or if people are asking us about a text message, maybe we should go on go and develop that.
So the answers always come from the subscriber.
Creating a tribe with referrals.
At this point Dimitris asked Peter the following question:
“You have a referral system for growing your mailing list. What I’ve been thinking about is, how these systems help grow a niche?”
Like-minded people attract other like-minded people. The individuals that we’re going after, I call them the massive middle in the US.
A lot of what you hear from the media is like, the polar sides. Literally, less than 20% of the country believes this stuff, but it’s all that you hear about.
There is an analysis, that Nieman lab— it’s a branch of the Knight Foundation, which is this massive journalistic enterprise. They analyzed close to 50,000 cable news transcripts from the likes of Fox News, CNN, MSN, etc., and what they found was that the ideologically extreme, or more ideologically extreme politicians, got all the airtime.
The point of this analysis was that for example, the House of Representatives in the US is not as ideologically extreme as it appears; it only appears that way.
All the platforms that are being publicized are the extreme positions. They are leaving out literally like 80 to 85% of the whole country.
theDONUT is after that 85% of the country— a demographic comprised of reasonable people whose belief systems could span both politics in the US, feel like they don’t have a home.
These people look at things on an issue-by-issue basis and understand that there’s nuance and that you can’t boil down these extraordinarily complex positions to the 280 characters of a tweet.
Some things get lost in translation.
That’s the tribe we’re going after. We’ve seen a lot of success with that initially because there’s a lot of people out there and they’re hungry for something that they don’t have to spend a lot of time and mental effort on, to feel informed or get informed.
theDONUT’s rating system
Even though we’re planning to build one out internally, for now, we use a company called Media Bias Factcheck.
So, the rating system analyzes all of the articles published from a news publication and places them in an ideological bucket.
For instance, CNN tends to skew towards the left politically, so it would be scored “left” ideologically by Media Bias Factcheck.
Fox News, on the other hand, it’s exactly the opposite; it is scored as “right” by Media Bias Fact check.
So, for our newsletters, we will find and write about the biggest events happening that day, and factually summarize them.
Just the event that happened; we’re not planning on it, we’re not analyzing it.
We’re saying “this is just what happened, and here is why it could potentially be important.”
After we provide counterbalancing ideological weights.
For instance, there was a story about President Biden signing an executive order for a supply chain review in the US.
We wrote the story saying: “Hey, you know, he signed this executive order to review supply chains in the US. Here’s what the order says. “
After communicating what the order says, we provided a left/center news article that writes about that particular topic, and then a right/center news article that writes about that particular topic.
So if you want to dig deeper, you can figure out what the left side says about this particular news event, and what the right side says.
There’s a quote that I love, and we talk about all the time. It’s something like “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
A lot of times what you’ll find when you read a left-leaning news article, they’ll use specific statistics. And there are ways that you can spin-statistics. It’s the same statistic, used in different ways to communicate a different thing.
I’ll give you an example of that.
Very recently, we read a survey or analysis, that was done on the homeless population in the US.
The way it was communicated was “one in every 500 Americans was homeless”, which is crazy.
But then you can also communicate that same data point to say “Homeless people are 0.2% of the population.” We say it that way, it doesn’t seem like they are that many homeless people.
But you can also communicate it another way and say “it’s 600,000 people”.
There are different ways that you can communicate and present statistics that make people believe different things.
Our journalists— especially the younger interns, have a crazy reaction when they get exposed to this.
That’s why we need to link to both of those sides.
That way you’ll get a more holistic view if you want to. But if you don’t want to, then we told you what the event happened or was anyways.
Presenting both sides, and breaking people’s bubbles.
We have the ideological breakdown of our subscriber base. We surveyed that.
We found that 22% of our audience, identified themselves as centrists.
39.2% of our audience identified themselves as being in the “right”, and 39.2% (the same), identify themselves as being on the “left”.
So we have even distribution to folks who lean left, and lean right.
We get a lot of frustrated individuals who write in sometimes, and my benchmark is “if we are getting those types of folks equally writing in from the right and the left, we’re probably doing something right.”
At this point, Dimitris asked:
“I’m curious though to know, how often someone takes the other parts viewpoint? Because sometimes when people are presented with an opposing opinion, it makes them hunker down; go back into their safety, and just reinforce what they were thinking already. Some people will the safe title, and just dive into that.”
I see it every single day, and it’s so funny.
It’s just like a knee-jerk reaction that somebody has to their beliefs being challenged.
And a lot of times people take it as a personal attack because their beliefs are an extension of who they are.
theDONUT tries to extricate people from believing that.
You can believe something— your beliefs kind of make you who you are, but your political beliefs are not the be-all-end-all of who you are.
When folks do this knee jerk reaction, it is because of not having the tools, or not having thought through a position, or not having the information at hand to be able to communicate or articulate to somebody else something that they believe so strongly, that they’re willing to take action in some way; whether it’s like speak out against something that they see or, in extreme cases, like physical activity.
It’s really interesting to see this “echo chamber” emerge.
Is there a way to pull people out, when the “echo chamber” combines with the knee-jerk reaction? I believe there is.
To me, the only way to counter bad information is with just a deluge of good information. You just say the correct information over and over and over and over and over and over again. At some time, it’ll break through.
Because I’m not a big fan of the alternative, because the alternative to me is to just ostracize people from society or just tell them to shut up. There’s a lot of issues that I can see with either of those.
Giving people the tools and the ability to make their own decisions is the only way out of it without giving up a lot of freedom on an individual citizen’s side.
At this point, Dimitris asked:
“In the case of Twitter, and the ban of President Trump, there were these viewpoints that said, ‘Wait a minute, where do you draw the line?’ It’s one thing to say ‘I’m trying to get people to make their sense of the world’, and it’s another thing to say ‘I am going to hide some voices to protect people.”
There’s no sort of objective standard, that as a society we agree to abide by.
But right now there are no rules, and decisions to ostracize people from platforms or cast them out are made subjectively, instead of objectively.
I get a little concerned about that.
Especially in the US, you get regimes that swing back from conservative to liberal, and back to conservative, and then back again at liberal.
Right now, it’s all liberal, it’s not going to be that way forever.
From a liberal standpoint, it might be good to control some conservative voices, but to think that that’s not going to come back on you, I just think that’s wrong. Because it will, and it’s a slippery slope.
I think we need to be very cognizant of and think about it a lot.
Human beings haven’t figured out the internet yet— the internet’s been around like 20 years. These things just take time for human beings to acclimate to and figure out how to, like, live with each other.
The internet is an absolutely revolutionary, never seen before thing. It changed all of humanity and all of the information gathering forever.
What’s also crazy, is that everyone expects you to have an opinion.
Personally, there are some things I just haven’t made my mind to. Because I haven’t learned it, and I want to have an educated opinion. So until I’ve learned enough about that particular topic, I’m going to reserve judgment and I’m not going to lend an opinion on it because I don’t have one.
But then what you’ll find is folks are like “Oh, you know, you’re lazy.”
I just want to be educated, and I want to be informed when I talk about something. And I’m not afraid to be wrong.
But you don’t need to weigh in on everything. You just don’t.
It also saves a lot of fights in my experience.
The transition of the news industry.
Another thing that a lot of folks don’t talk about, is the news industry’s kind of transitioning to a paywall model. Like a gated subscription.
It’s like “you pay me a set recurring fee, you get access to my content.”
And if news orgs write only to a single narrative, or are biased in some way, shape, or form, you have the same echo chamber thing going on, but within a reputable organization.
Note from Dimitris:
“I’m not sure if it’s worse, but it’s definitely dangerous because it gates good information, based on how much you can pay. I’m not saying that journalists or media organizations should not be getting paid. I’m just saying that there’s a risk that we’re running there.”
There are different ways to go about it, which is why we (theDONUT) will always give all of our basic new stuff 100% free.
Let’s say that the news industry completes its transition to mostly paywall. So like 95-97% of news orgs.
Since quality information is gated, you have to pay for it. Not everybody’s going to pay for it. So if not everybody’s going to pay for quality information, what’s left to the people that aren’t willing to pay is bad information.
That is something that scares me; the lack of access to quality information.
I believe it’s a human right to know what’s going on around you.
It terrifies me. Last week, I had no idea when my water was going to be back on, no idea about when the power is going to be back on. And the uncertainty of that terrified me more than the power and the water is out. Just by not knowing anything about my situation.
I don’t want people to be in that bucket when it comes to their lives. Because there are so many folks that just feel helpless like a frickin canoe in the middle of a hurricane, with a sail getting buffeted in every single direction.
We’re trying to give these people the paddle to roll themselves out of the ocean.
The people that drive the change
theDONUT has four full-time employees, six contractors, and four interns.
We were self-funded.
I’ve put all my life savings into the company— so did my co-founders, and we also raised a small friends and family investment round to start with.
The model we’re built off of is built for profitability and scalability. We take the creator focus model and apply it to business.
We distribute our content on “wholly owned” channels, as I call them.
Because there have been some instances where people just had their access to an audience or their ability to distribute a message cut off overnight. A recent example in the news industry would be in Australia; Facebook just blocked access to sharing any sort of news articles, publisher traffic dropped like 50 to 90% overnight.
That means that if you’re a news publisher, a third-party entity that you have no control over whatsoever can turn off your revenue stream and handicap your company.
That— again, scares me. This is why we have that “wholly owned” channel distribution model.
We send out emails, we own the email list, and we don’t share it with anybody; privacy is tantamount to us.
We can take that with us to whatever platform would work for us.
Same thing on the text messages and podcasts, which is why our kind of content expansion is going to come with text, more newsletters, text messages, and podcasts.
It’s a direct conduit to people, we have no middleman in there. So we get to talk directly to the folks, and they get to talk directly back to us, which I love.
Dimitris noted at that point:
“I believe people are waking up to that even on the other side of things (as a consumer of news). I’ve seen that with my friends. They suddenly realize they’re not getting access to all the things that they would like to have access to when they’re on Facebook. And right now there are cases where Facebook might be blocking some content, or banning accounts. And people are starting to realize: ‘wait a minute, the thing that we’ve relied on for so long, it’s it’s not so it’s not so much in our control anymore.”
That’s the core of my message: “People are smart, they’re not stupid”.
If you just continue to expose folks to information, they’ll understand they need to change what they are doing.
People are starting to wake up, and understand, and change their habits, which is what makes me hopeful.
If we are cognizant of stuff, we know what to do, and then we’re able to act upon that correct information.
Dimitris noted at that point:
“And I believe this, this thing becomes more important in the years to come. As we’re facing increasingly complex issues. If you thought the Coronavirus was challenging wait for technological unemployment, wait for climate change, artificial intelligence, etc. We’re running towards increasingly complex issues. And that’s why I believe that the ability to do good sense-making is very important in those cases as well.”
Breaking the new frontier
That’s another one that I haven’t had a lot of folks talk about.
Spaces is the new frontier now, right? They are people battling for it. It’s like “colonialism” and the American frontier. It’s the same thing, but in space, and there are no previous settlers. So it’s an absolutely unsettled territory, with access to trillions, if not more, dollars.
It’s up there.
And all of the countries are in a race for it now. So I think we’re gonna see some sort of like Star Wars, but in actual reality at some point in the future— that’s another thing that it’s kind of terrifying.
But humans, we’re resilient creatures. So I hope I hope we can work through this.
Why theDONUT choose the newsletter format
I thought it was a lot easier than it was.
I thought it was just as simple as like typing stuff out, and then you load it into something, and you click send.
That’s the reason why we started with it; it was easy and then it fit our “wholly owned” distribution model, and our “built for profitability and scalability” approach.
What that means is that we have a fixed cost to create the newsletter. We have a fixed cost to create a podcast, and we have a fixed cost to create a text message. that’s fixed for us.
Our revenue drivers are the subscribers, the number of people we can get our message out to and engage.
The engagement of those folks affects the CPM rate that we can charge to our advertisers. Once we surpass that fixed costs in terms of revenue or being able to charge our sponsors, we’re not losing money; we’re making money.
And we can reinvest that money in the growth of the company. So if we can continue to expand our content across these “wholly owned” distribution channels, then we’re going to be in a really good position.
It took us about a year to get to that “break-even point”.
It could take longer, but it also could have been a lot sooner.
My DONUT original sin was not knowing what it actually entailed to run an operating business. So during the planning stage, and initial fundraising stage we kind of handicapped ourselves.
It’s something that I’ve had to learn from. And our team is incredible because they’ve given me space and allowed me to make the mistakes that I’ve made to this point, still believing in what we’re doing, still thinking that I’m the guy.
It’s very humbling.
theDONUT of the future
We’re doing a lot of things that I’m excited about, in 2021.
The first thing we’re going to do is a design refresh. We’re going to roll out a brand new email design for The Daily Donut.
We’re also gonna add two additional newsletters— that’s coming up over the next quarter.
One of them is called Positive Donut, and it will be 100% positive news. All of the under-reported good stuff that you just don’t see in the world; we’ll surface that for you.
We’ll also launch the Futuristic Donut, which is all about the future; emerging technologies, space stuff, medical breakthroughs.
If you’re into that, that’s your newsletter.
And we’re also launching a text message; we’re calling it The Hot Button. It’s about getting informed in 60 seconds or less.
That’s legitimately no frills. It’s just to you every single day, what you need to know and out; you’re done.
We’re launching a podcast, it’s called Rocket Launch Pod. We’re a little bit obsessed with space and the future; It’s all about space.
And then we have an education side-business— we’re spinning off a business unit focusing on creating content, that can be used in the classroom to help teach, and further digital literacy skills like media literacy, reading comprehension.
We haven’t figured out how to succinctly call it; Verbal EQ is kind of what I’m calling it.
It’s like the ability for individuals to have productive rational, reasonable discussions around hot button complex topics, just by providing the skills for that so people don’t retreat into that show like we were talking about earlier.
Those are all the things we have on the docket. And I’m stoked for it because we figured out who we are as a company and what we’re doing. We figured out, very succinctly and clearly, our mission and now’s the time to actually put it into practice.
That was something we kind of stumbled into. One day we realized that a few thousand teachers are using the newsletter— something that’s not designed for use in the classroom, in the classroom.
That was eye-opening for me. I love education, but I hated “forced learning”.
“Memorize something, and then spit it back to me, and I’m gonna grade you on that.”
I didn’t learn that way. And I didn’t like other people telling me what to learn. I am a lifelong student, and I’ll learn about the stuff I’m passionate about.
I just spent 100 hours over the past three weeks learning about pirates. Now I can draw a direct line between the fall of feudalism in Europe and the rise of the American Revolution in the colonies through piracy.
I want to provide content that gets kids excited. It’s different than lecture-based memorization type learning. It’s based on real-world experiences based on gamified content.
Full circle: From blogging to newsletters.
Dimitris noted to this point:
“he past few months, we’ve seen dozens of writers going solo. Many people are creating their own blogs. And sometimes it feels like the web is coming full circle. We’re just coming back to where we started. 20 years ago people started using platforms like Blogger. Do you have any thoughts regarding that? How do you see this transition from centralized media to decentralized media?
I think decentralized is the future because folks are starting to wake up and realize where the value was all along.
I can give you an example from my perspective.
So I run a media company. If we don’t have content to send out, we don’t have a business. I’m not going to sit and create all of the content in perpetuity. My other option is to pay somebody to create the content.
Who has the power in that scenario?
I think what people are starting to realize is that as creators, and individuals, they have a lot more power than they previously realized.
That’s where our best ideas come from. That’s where all of our art comes from.
It does take a special kind of individual to want to branch out on their own and stay on their own.
A lot of times it’s hard to grow a list past a certain point. Or you’ll be doing a lot of admin stuff yourself. Maybe your earning potential is not quite where you want it to be. And then, maybe you’re just not in contact with like-minded individuals.
Maybe you just want to talk to people who have more of that sense of community.
If you want those types of things, instead of being out on your own, that’s where we come in.
We provide the support, we’re very creator-focused in terms of our like incentive model and payment structure.
Our writers are incentivized to see the business succeed, and they get a piece of the business succeeding as it succeeds. And that’s the kind of model I want to continue to scale with.
We need to be creator-focused; the world is becoming creator-focused.
And in my mind, that’s an absolutely amazing thing. I want to foster and encourage that creativity, and give people a home to explore, without fear of repercussion, or fear of blowback.
As a company, we can absorb a lot more than an individual does.
I want to be a beacon for the antithesis of what people see the news industry as, right now.
It goes back to not being overly dependent on one single individual.
So if theDONUT is turned too dependent on me and something happens to me, then theDONUT ceases to exist. I don’t like that.
So I want to be able to democratize our mission and give people a playground where they can explore their ideas without fear of being ostracized.
Facing the challenges
There’s a story that I think illustrates the struggle that I personally went through starting the company.
When we were just launching, I didn’t know what it entailed. This might be a good thing, because if I actually knew what it’s like, I may have never started.
The lowest point I ever was this was maybe two months, or so, after launching the newsletter, and was not prepared. So I’m working literally 20 hour days. I’m miserable and I have no money.
I’m getting these eviction notices on the door, my utilities are getting shut off. Three days after I launched the newsletter, my longtime girlfriend at the time that I thought she was the one, broke up with me because of the company.
All of this stuff is swirling. And occasionally, every Sunday or so, I would just get in my car and I had no place to go.
I was just bawling my socks, like “What in the world? What the hell? You’re an idiot! What did you get yourself into? This is just stupid, you should just give up.”
Everybody’s telling me to give up as well.
And I’ll never forget sitting in my car; three hours away from getting all my stuff tossed on the street. It’s me and my dog, his name is Calvin.
So all of our stuff’s about to get tossed on the street because I’m $450 short. So I’m picking up the phone in my car again, and I call my mom.
And my parents were like a last resort because they had told me from the get-go that I’m an idiot for doing this, and that they are not an option.
That was communicated to me again from my mom in that phone call. But she suggested calling my sister because she’s been working summer jobs and she might have some money on the side.
And to give you an idea for my sister, she is a neuroscience major student at Notre Dame. She’s a college kid. I don’t know how your college experience was, I didn’t have any money in college.
I remember picking up the phone and calling my sister and as the phone’s ringing I thought: “this is the lowest point of my life”.
I was supposed to be this hotshot founder CEO like I thought to myself to be. Instead, I’m calling my college-aged sister begging for money.
I’ll never forget that.
But the whole point of the story is that I don’t know what got me through that. I don’t know what got the rest of our team through that. But I’m sure as hell I’m glad that I made it through.
The only thing I think that kept me going was the successful people in my life that I had talked to.
According to their terms, success is very simple.
There are two things that you need to do; the first thing is to start something. because most people just don’t take that leap.
So I had checked that box right again, probably from an idiot perspective.
The second box was “don’t ever give up”. So pick one thing, start it, and then don’t give up.
I think that I took that to heart, and the mentors in my life kept pounding that into my head.
It does get better.
Writing that stuff out is extremely important.
It’s not going to be all Highs; there’s a lot of lows. But the highs are intoxicating man. So the biggest challenge for us, I would say is how much work we have left to do.
Dimitris noted to this point:
“Basically what you’re saying is that the talent is to keep yourself motivated. The times when you don’t see the end of it. Right?”
That’s the toughest part. It’s just a grind. Hopefully, it won’t be that way always.
But if it is, I’m prepared for it. It’s just very recently got into my head that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Dimitris noted to this point:
“Are you familiar with Simon Sinek? He talks about infinite games. That’s a thing. That’s a very useful concept to have. How you’re thinking that what you do is a war; in the war, someone wins. But in business, there’s nothing like that. And you have to play the game.”
Now, in terms of more practical things, like growing the business and this kind of managerial thing, manpower holds us back.
Everybody’s doing multiple jobs. I’m doing five jobs at this time right now. It’s a common struggle when you’re scaling, or when you’re early stage.
And as with everything, if you try to do a lot of things, you’ll do a lot of things okay, but nothing exceptional.
So as we continue to grow and scale and add people and bandwidth to the team, I think you’ll only see the quality of the company increase. Right now, on the content side, we’re good because we’ve invested so much into the quality of the content.
It’s exactly where it needs to be.
But from the admin side and the operation of the business, we still need to get a little bit more efficient. Things are falling through the cracks just as like with every other startup because people are doing a lot of jobs.
From a bandwidth perspective, I would say that’s the biggest challenge; and it’s not unique to us, either. You see it with every company that scales and grows; stuff breaks.
You got to fix it and then continue to iterate, and it’s that constant. A never-ending infinite game, as mentioned.
A message to newsletter businesses
if you’re starting, find somebody to hold you accountable.
When we were first starting, I had a lot of enablers, and nobody to hold us accountable. And if somebody had sat me down and questioned my business plan a little bit more, we would be in a much better position than we are right now.
Number two, know what you’re trying to do.
If not, then you’ll feel the same way that I did for the first year or so— lost and miserable. Whereas, if you have a very clearly defined goal and mission, and you wake up every single day to accomplish that, it’s going to make the tough times a lot easier.
And I would also say just don’t give up, and just don’t give up because it’s going to suck.
It’s going to be hard. There’s going to be a time where you hit a plateau. Keep doing what you’re doing well, over and over and over and over again. Because if you do hit that plateau, it’s not forever; everybody hits it.
For us, it was around 2000 subscribers, we were stuck at 2000 for a couple of months. But we finally broke through that. And then it was 5000; we got stuck at 5000 for a little bit and we broke through that. We got stuck at 10000.
You just get stuck at places and you need to figure out how to grow and scale. And for some folks, it’s harder than others. But what I would say is if you go in with a plan, and you know what you’re trying to accomplish, it makes it easier.
If you want to just build a lifestyle business where you make $5,000 a month, by writing on Substack, that’s wonderful and very achievable.
But if you want to build a massive media conglomerate, you might have to take a different path.
Knowing what you’re getting yourself into, or knowing what you want to do to start with— to me, it’s the biggest challenge.