What I learned starting a newsletter (1-Read-A-Day)

I think you misinterpreted...In July, I launched a newsletter called 1-Read-A-Day.

Every day, I recommend and summarize one article on some aspect of starting or growing companies.

Entrepreneurs – especially CEOs – rarely have time to learn. But they are constantly checking email.

I ask them to spend 2 minutes reading my email, and in return they’ll learn something that will make their startup better. If they want to dig, they can read the original article.

The original articles feature well-known guys like Paul Graham and Chris Dixon. They also feature lesser-known people who are in the trenches, struggling every day to build something great.

Like I mention on the signup page, it’s Cliffnotes for startup essays.

Enough pitching. I hope you subscribe :)

Starting today, I’m going to write a monthly post that shares what I’ve learned running this newsletter. I’ll be transparent and include subscribers, analytics, experiments, and general observations.

Please keep in mind that this is a side-project. I’ve spent an hour a day working on it and have no plans to increase my time commitment.

What is it?

  • It’s an autoresponder sequence (also known as a drip sequence) which sends emails on a pre-determined schedule. If you subscribe today, you’ll receive the same first email that a subscriber 2 months from now will receive
  • I’m the only one curating and summarizing the content. Some of the articles I use are influenced by the Hyperink list. Others are sent to me by friends and colleagues
  • I use Mailchimp for everything: from design to sending emails to managing subscribers
  • My goal is 100 of these email lessons. After that, who knows?

How well is it doing?

  • Subscribers: 161
  • Open rate: 22.8%
  • Click rate: 2.2%

The subscriber # is low. Once I hit 50 email lessons, I will start marketing the newsletter more aggressively. For now, I’m content with referrals and pimping it on this blog.

What have I learned?

  • Your subject line heavily influences your open rate. When I mention “CEO” or “VC” in the subject line, the open rates are noticeably higher
  • People enjoy quizzes. I send a 2-3 question quiz after every 5 lessons, to help people retain what they learned. The quiz emails get the highest open rates and positive responses
  • Design matters. My design is simple, but on the sucky side of simple. Look at Sacha Greif’s newsletter then look at mine. I’ve made small improvements but this is a weak area. I will eventually seek help from those much better at design than me
  • I enjoy finding great educational content and summarizing it. This is a central lesson I’ve learned about myself: to keep doing anything, I need to enjoy the meat-and-bones of the work. It seems an obvious insight from simpler pursuits (after all, don’t all successful painters enjoy painting?) but becomes less obvious in more complex pursuits (if you’re growing an enterprise software company, what is the meat-and-bones of the work and do you enjoy that? in that case maybe the meat-and-bones is the actual growing of the company)
  • Email newsletters are in. Old-school online marketers (they of the David DeAngelo and Frank Kerns variety) have known for years that email converts. Everyone hates on email, but its still the #1 online communication tool. My favorite newsletters like Sinocism and Hacker Newsletter just keep growing, and are a favorite part of my daily media consumption routine

I really like this quote from Chuck Close:

Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ And the belief in that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day.

I’ve discovered this truth while building 1-Read-A-Day. Adding emails, listening to feedback, and doing the work has really opened up other possibilities. For example, I plan to launch an audio complement for each email (so you can listen to it while you’re on the road). I will also launch more focused drip sequences, on common problems like “how to raise a seed round” or “how to hire great engineers”.

Here’s to showing up and getting to work. Cheers!

PS. If you run an email newsletter, I’d love to hear what you’ve learned, what works, and what doesn’t.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.