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For years I advocated for profit sharing instead of stock options for compensating team members.

My reasons for going against the grain of common startup advice came down to:

  • Without selling ConvertKit (which I don’t want to do) the equity doesn’t have value.
  • Most stock options aren’t ever worth anything, so employees who take a reduced salary in trade for more options usually make less.
  • Team members are better off with profit sharing than the hope of a stock proceeds in the distant future.

This last year I changed my mind and issued over $4 million in stock options to the ConvertKit team. I also carved out a larger pool for future hires and additional bonuses.

Here’s what Charli Prangley, our marketing designer, had to say in a Slack direct message a week after receiving the options:

“I didn’t think equity was that important to me, having never found it to be much of a motivator at previous companies, but the difference is I didn’t believe whole heartedly in them like I do in ConvertKit. The stock options mean more to me than I ever would have thought, and I can’t explain the sense of peace and stability I feel knowing that ConvertKit is a team I’ll be on for a very long time.”

“Thank you for sharing a piece of this amazing company you’ve built with me.”

Charli Prangley

Why the change?

Part of the reason is my answer to the reasons above changed, but the biggest factor is simply that I realized that after another 10 years of building ConvertKit I would be very wealthy and the majority of my team would not.

Playing that scenario forward it didn’t sit well.

We created something of extraordinary value and everyone who worked on that should be rewarded with more than a salary.

I still firmly believe in profit sharing and didn’t make a single change to our profit sharing formula. In fact, at our retreat last week we distributed a record $340,000 to the team (for the second half of 2018). That puts the total profit sharing at over $1,000,000 in just a couple years!

The other objections

I still think my original objections to stock options are valid, I just have a more nuanced opinion over time. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

Most stock options aren’t ever worth anything

That’s true. I’ve heard countless stories of talented people working for a reduced salary in trade for equity. In nearly every case they would be better off at the full salary and no options. Simply because most companies fail.

But ConvertKit hasn’t failed. We’ve built something immensely valuable that tens of thousands of creators are happy to pay for every month. We grew 43% last year and expect to keep growing far beyond our current $14 million in revenue.

Investors reach out every day asking to invest or purchase equity. What we’ve built has value. Also I’m not advocating for a reduction in salary or profit sharing. Issuing options is addition to what we already have.

Can the stock have value without an exit?

By avoiding venture capital and the typical startup swing-for-the-fences mentality, I avoided focusing on an exit. Instead I planned to build ConvertKit for at least the next decade.

I reasoned that without the possibility of an exit, the shares had no value. But at the same time I was spending over a million dollars buying back equity from my technical co-founder who had largely worked for equity in ConvertKit. His equity had considerable value, all without an exit.

Plenty of companies have equity sold on a secondary market without raising capital that goes into the business. Two of the most famous examples are Basecamp and Atlassian. David wrote a great post about the day he became a millionaire.

In 2006 Jeff Bezos purchased shares of Basecamp from Jason and David. It wasn’t an investment, because the money went to the founders personally, rather than into the business.

In 2014 Atlassian raised a round from institutional investors, but the money was to give liquidity to the founders and team members, not as growth capital into the business. Early team members were able to sell some equity without having to wait until the IPO.

Over the next few years I plan to make it possible for team members to sell some of their shares (if they want to for a house down payment or something similar). This could be through ConvertKit buying the equity back or allowing a trusted outsider to purchase their shares.

Team members are better off with profit sharing than the hope of a stock proceeds in the distant future

Anything can happen. Even some of the best companies and products fail. That’s why I believe in making a good living along the way and not delaying all of the reward for years.

Profit sharing allows us to celebrate wins every six months. Equity will reward us for what we are able to build that into over a decade.

I think of compensation in two categories: short vs long-term and guaranteed vs performance based.

For short-term compensation at ConvertKit we offer both salary (guaranteed) and profit sharing (performance based). But we don’t want team members to only be focused on now, so we also offer long-term compensation through a 401k match (guaranteed) and equity (performance based).

The point isn’t to increase one category at the expense of another, but instead to find a healthy balance between them. Healthy short-term compensation will allow a team member to hold onto equity for a long time to truly see the upsides.

Adam Jones on our engineering team said, “Profit sharing creates strong personal incentives to care about the short term. Options help me balance that with similar long-term incentives.”

Other logistics

There were a few other logistics or concerns with issuing equity that I’d like to address.

  • The longer you wait the more you’ll give to the IRS
    If I had issued equity sooner then I could have done more through equity, rather than options, with a smaller amount paid in taxes. But because I waited until the company had significant revenue the price on the options was higher.
  • We issued options as an LLC
    I always thought that in order to issue options we would have to switch from an LLC to a C-Corp. After consulting with our attorneys, that’s simply not a requirement. We were able to stay as an LLC which is more beneficial to us as a profitable company where I own the majority.
  • Carta is great for managing options
    We moved all of our equity management to Carta. They’ve been great (though the setup process was more involved then I expected). I’ve really enjoyed how easy it is to sign in and issue options to a new team member.
  • These options vest over four years, after a one year eligibility period
    Vesting over four years is standard, but I decided to do a one year eligibility period, rather than a cliff. Meaning that options will start vesting after they have been at the company for at least a year.This is to avoid a date where anything big changes. I don’t want to encourage someone to stay longer than they should and I also don’t want to worry about firing someone who is about to reach their cliff.

So there you have it: the story and details on why I reversed course on a strongly held belief. There isn’t one option that is right for everyone, but I hope my story helps shape your opinion on what’s best for your team and company.

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Think about the difference between the value you receive from a product and the price the company charges for it—often referred to as consumer surplus.

A company with a low price that provides a minimal amount of value would look more like this:

Customers are happy to pay because the value still exceeds the price. A $9 product doesn’t have to deliver that much value to make it worth purchasing.

Charge more is common advice because many small companies often provide an incredible amount of value and charge a low price. Take Basecamp for example: their price is $100 per month.

With 38 team members my first thought is, “per user? That’s a quite high!”

But wait, they mean $100, flat. For everyone.

At ConvertKit we get so much value from Basecamp that if they doubled their price we wouldn’t blink. Really, they could 10x our price to $1,000 a month and they would still provide more value for us than we’d be paying.

Now they choose to keep their pricing super simple and leave that money on the table and many customers love them for it (it’s still a poor financial decision, but the great thing about owning your company is you can do that).

For us Segment is on the opposite end of the spectrum. They provide an incredible amount of value managing our data across apps, but they charge a ton for it. The high value is equally matched by a high price, not leaving any surplus.

Then whenever a slight gap opens up between the value they provide and the price—that gap that builds customer goodwill—they raise the price and close it. Requiring a price increase of $30,000 per year and even more contract lock in. The result is more money for them, but we end up resenting a company that we’d normally love—if they would just consider leaving some value on the table.

Intercom is also continually squeezing the consumer surplus in our relationship with them. They provide a super valuable service, but they charge a premium for it. That has made them one of the fastest growing SaaS companies of the last decade, but they don’t have as much brand goodwill with their customers.

This equation is different for every customer. That’s why SaaS companies use pricing plans or variable pricing (per user, per subscriber, etc) to capture more of the value. A ConvertKit customer with just 3,000 subscribers pays us $49 a month, but a creator with 100,000 subscribers pays us $679 a month. Some who receive considerable value are willing to pay quite a bit more.

Choose your customers

Industry matters as well. Drip, one of our competitors, recently made the move into email marketing for e-commerce and found that the standard rates paid per subscriber are much higher compared to other industries. That’s because commerce companies tend to have a higher revenue per subscriber than bloggers.

So Drip raised their prices to capture more of this surplus.

Some customers didn’t care, but those who already felt like they didn’t have a consumer surplus with Drip revolted and left the platform.

They could have done a few things to prevent that (grandfathering customers, better communication, etc), but the biggest difference would have been providing more value in the areas customers saw them as weak (deliverability and customer support). Unfortunately for certain customers, Drip changed the price when the value wasn’t there to justify it.

Long term I think the price increase will be a good move for Drip’s revenue. There is consumer surplus at their new price in the new market. By leaving some customers behind they’ll make more revenue long-term.

What does it mean for your business?

As you evaluate your pricing consider how much value you provide for each segment of your market. There may be room to raise your price, capture more of the consumer surplus, and earn more revenue. But keep in mind you may be leaving some customers behind and the remaining customers may feel less goodwill.

Goodwill is generic, so let’s look at tangible benefits for your business in not charging for all the value you deliver:

  • More referrals — Friends were talking about how much value they get from Zapier for $49 per month. As a result of the thread they referred a few more new customers for Zapier. I’m certain the team at Zapier knows they could charge more (and they do for some segments), but they value how easily shared their product is for a broad market.
  • Faster organic growth — That goodwill and referrals will result in higher conversions without having to engage a sales team, leading to faster organic growth. If a really efficient company is important to you, this can be to your advantage.
  • Lower churn — The lower the price, the less likely someone is to search for another solution to their problem. By keeping a nice value buffer you avoid customers even considering switching away from your product.

When evaluating your own price to value ratio consider all of these factors. You certainly don’t want to leave too much money on the table, but you want to make sure there is a healthy amount of value for the customer after subtracting the price they pay.

With smart segmenting and a solid pricing strategy you can strike the right balance between creating goodwill with your customers and building a healthy foundation for your business.

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The difference between you and the creators you follow is simply they are creating while you are consuming.

Reading their content, watching their videos, and following their journeys is so inspirational! For years I watched and learned. Paying special attention to each creator and how they built their audience and made the switch from consumer to creator.

I overcomplicated this switch. Thinking that I had to become a fundamentally different person before I was a creator. In reality I just needed to stack small changes.

Here are 13 tips to kickstart your own journey:

  1. Set a daily “make something” goal — Grab a sticky note and write “make something today.” Stick it to your monitor. Your goal is simply to make anything. It could be following a new recipe to bake a loaf of bread, making a video, painting that wall that you’ve had the paint for sitting in your garage for months, or writing that idea into a quick blog post. Just make something. Set the bar low and do it every day.
  2. Document what you made — Now look at whatever you made, snap a photo, and post it to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook along with a few sentences about what it means to you. Was this an idea floating around in your head for months? Code that you finally figured out the solution to? Or a DIY project you’ve been eyeing for the last year? Share the photo and tell a quick story. At ConvertKit one of our core values is to work in public. We are great at creating things, but it takes extra effort to share the process and journey. That means not just filming a documentary, but also sharing the process and what we learned along the way.
  3. Decide what you are going to do before you sit down at the computer — Too often I sit down at my computer and think, what should I work on? That’s dangerous. It usually starts with checking social media, reading slack, and catching up on email. The trick is to decide what you are going to do before you approach the computer.Write a simple todo list with 3-4 things while making your morning coffee. Then when you approach your computer, immediately jump into that first task, without the seemingly mandatory social media check. When you finish that, choose the next item and jump into it. Then after two or three tasks completed feel free to take your usual social media break. But save it for when you’ve earned it, not for the start of your day.
  4. Create and consume on different devices — Computers are for creating, not consuming. Go to all your social sites and sign out. Set up your computer so it can only be used to create. Then feel free to use your phone or tablet for consumption. But then it’s obvious when you aren’t working. One device is used for creating, the other for consuming.
  5. Know who you serve — If you try to create for everyone you’ll quickly run out of both ideas and motivation. Instead figure out exactly who you are serving. I just received an email from a reader who focuses on training for specific construction software. Now there’s a niche! He’s killing it. He’s not starting another generic blog about his life, but instead knows exactly who he is serving and the outcome he is working to create for his readers. Choose a niche and the ideas will flow.
  6. Schedule maker time to work on a specific task — Calendars fill up with everything urgent, but not important. Take control and reserve time for creating. Go to your calendar and set aside 30 minutes labeled with what you plan to do. Then when you get the notification you already have the time set aside and it is clear what you should start on.
  7. Quit Slack — At ConvertKit we have a simple shorthand for informing everyone else you are entering focused work: cmd + Q. That just means, I’m quitting Slack in order to focus for a while. If you need anything, I’ll be back later.I always underestimate the cost of maintaining conversations while creating. It’s hard and I’m bad at it. So I don’t try.
  8. Teach what you just learned — Teaching everything you know can be intimidating, so let’s start by teaching what you just learned. Go to your calendar and create a new 30 minute event every Friday. It should alert you and ask a simple question: “What did you learn this week?”Using that prompt you can look back at your week and share something that you learned. It could be how to code something in a language that is new to you, a particular keyboard shortcut (side note: did you know you can option click on the notification center icon to toggle do not disturb on your mac?), or a new business process.

    If nothing comes to mind for that prompt consider using, “What struggle did I overcome this week?” That question may result in a story rather than a tip, which is often easier for readers to connect with.

  9. Build a streak and don’t break the chain — I built my entire blog through one habit: writing 1,000 words a day. That turned into writing three books and hundreds of blog posts. The power came from building up a streak of days in a row that I didn’t want to break. At the peak I reached 650 days in a row! The desire to not break my 15 week chain of publishing every week is what prompted writing this article right now. Build a streak of creating every day.
  10. Block troublesome sites — If simply signing out isn’t enough, you can use software to block an entire website. The SelfControl app for OSX will block a series of sites for a set amount of time. Signing out is usually enough of a barrier for me, but this app takes it to the next level!
  11. Know your outcome — Don’t just create for the sake of creating. Work towards something. Whether it’s launching the course, reaching 500 YouTube subscribers, writing a book, or launching a new feature–have a specific goal to chip away at.
  12. Create a deadline, then raise the stakes — It’s not a real goal without a deadline. Set your launch date in advance. Then give $50 to a friend and have them only give it back to you if hit the goal. Just make sure you’ll feel the pain if you don’t do it. Have them light the money on fire or donate it to a cause you hate if you fail.
  13. Go public —  Better yet, make this a public challenge. When I started ConvertKit six years ago it was through The Web App Challenge: my public challenge to build a web app to $5,000 a month in 6 months.

    Because I had a public goal, people rallied around to help make it happen. Founders volunteered their time to coach and encourage me. Others made intros. Even more pre-ordered ConvertKit. The community came together to help me succeed. All because I turned my journey into a public challenge.

Start with just a couple. Once those become easy, add another. Happy creating!

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Nathan Barry by Nathan Barry - 3w ago

The founder on the other side of the call had over 100 clients he wanted to bring over to ConvertKit. With an opportunity that size I wanted to make sure we got it right and could answer every question, so I pulled one of our senior engineers into the conversation.

Just a few minutes into the call it was clear this wouldn’t be a good fit. Their unique use case would push the limits of ConvertKit in a different direction than our planned roadmap. While we could have found a way to make it work, it would have strained our engineering and product teams, as well as our relationship with them.

We have product market fit, and they would be outside it.

But it’s still painful to say no to such a big opportunity. It took me over two years to build up to the amount of recurring revenue they would add in a single deal. But I knew this founder’s use case would be a pain for us and for him. So that means simply saying no.

Profit gives ConvertKit the leverage to focus on the right revenue, rather than chase any revenue.

If we were struggling to make payroll, close our next funding round, or cut our burn rate it would be much harder to say no. But thanks to our focus on profitability our default path is one of success. Even if our growth slowed, ConvertKit throws off well over $100,000 in profit each month.

Profit isn’t just making more money, it’s carefully managing expenses. We have a 30 minute call at ConvertKit each month going through the spending from the previous month, all to make sure don’t bleed away money in the small things. We should be just as aware of our spending as our revenue.

We also have an incredibly high revenue per team member ($380,000) when compared to similar SaaS companies. Whatever happens we can act deliberately and take care of our team.

Profit gives clarity and focus, allows me to be patient, and ultimately gives me leverage to pursue my vision for ConvertKit.

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When we crossed $1m in monthly recurring revenue (MRR) ConvertKit’s open metrics dashboard received a wave of attention. That attention brings good questions, but also confusion and people reading the metrics only on the surface level. In this article I’ll break down what I look for in the metrics and how you can go beyond only caring about MRR.

Let’s start with MRR

When everyone looks at Baremetrics they immediately look at the MRR—as they should. It’s the most important metric in the business. But what most novices miss is that MRR is actually the summary of five metrics: new, expansion, reactivation, contraction, and churn. So the most interesting graph isn’t total MRR, but instead the breakout further down the page.

This shows the monthly break out for how we are growing over time. The black line in the middle is the trend. As you can see it’s all over the map. From as high as $73,000 net new in March to a couple negative months in the summer. The more predictable a company’s growth, the more even the black line we’ll be.

I also often look at the daily breakout to see the change on a given day, but that’s more in the weeds and I’d never look at that to evaluate another company. Monthly is as granular as you need to go.

The difference between MRR and net revenue

Right at the top of the dashboard you see both MRR and net revenue for the month. They are often nearly identical, so why track both?

Good question! Despite often being very similar numbers, they tell us different things:

  • MRR is the value of our subscription revenue.
  • Net revenue is how much we actually brought in for the month.

If you have one off revenue (upsells, courses, or other products) then the net revenue could often be higher than its recurring counterpart. For ConvertKit the only factor making them materially different is annual plans.

Each November we do a big push for annual plans over Cyber Monday. That will result in net revenue climbing to incredible numbers (this year as high as $3 million!), but because we offer annual plans at a discount, that means a drop in MRR.

The difference can be quite extreme with a big push for annual plans.

Then in future months we already collected some of that revenue, so it still appears in MRR (because an annual plan is recurring), but doesn’t hit the bank account, so it’s not in net revenue. If you remember cash vs. accrual accounting from college classes, this is a similar concept.

User vs revenue churn

Once you finish with revenue, the next place to look is churn. A common question is “what’s your churn?” The answer is more complex than just a single number. In Baremetrics there are two kinds of churn: revenue and user. One isn’t necessarily more important than the other, but they tell you different things.

Revenue churn is the percentage of your revenue base you lost in a month, whereas user churn is the percentage of customers you lost in a month.

Because our beginner customers churn more often than our larger customers, user at ConvertKit is always lower then revenue churn. If you were retaining small customers and losing large customers these would be flipped. 

Revenue churn also includes contraction, so it spikes when you do a big push on annual plans. The drop you see above is because the contraction from annual plans is now outside the rolling 30 day window.

It’s also helpful to see a further breakout in revenue churn between cancelations, downgrades, and failed charges. This shows us that failed charges are decently high and there is some more work we could do there.

Net revenue churn

In the same way MRR is a composite of several metrics, so is net revenue churn. Normally revenue churn is everything that decreases revenue: cancelations and downgrades.

Net revenue churn adds in expansion (i.e. upgrades) to balance out a the decrease in revenue. The holy grail in SaaS is to achieve net negative churn, which means that each month your existing customers upgrading adds more revenue than all downgrades and cancelations.

Meaning if you turned off signups and didn’t accept a single new customer, revenue would grow, rather than shrink.

At ConvertKit we are at 2.2% net revenue churn. Our biggest goal this year on the metrics side is to push that down to 0%.

Comparing churn

It’s tempting to compare churn between software companies, which is fine, but you need to know exactly what you are comparing. Enterprise software companies often come up with a unique definition of churn. I remember reading an S1 from a company with net  negative churn and  realizing that they didn’t consider any  account  canceling  in the first 90 days as churn. That’s convenient, no wonder their net churn was negative!

If you are going to compare, make sure it’s the same number. That’s why it’s helpful to look at the  Baremetrics open startups page, since they are all calculated the same way. Though even with the same calculation I would only compare to companies with a similar revenue and industry.

I found it really interesting to compare ConvertKit, Buffer, and Hubstaff (the three largest companies on Open Startups). The churn numbers are very similar! Though Buffer has a higher revenue churn than user churn.

Total customers

The next metric I care about is total customers. Just like with MRR, it’s only so useful to see the number climb up and to the right over time. The real value is in seeing how many net new customers you are adding each month. That’s shown similar to the MRR breakout graph, but simpler since there are fewer inputs.

It’s both interesting and depressing to see so many new accounts come in each month and be canceled out by so many customers leaving. It just shows how at a lower price point how much the user churn hurts you. This is where you can really focus on onboarding and activation metrics to make sure these customers are finding value. It’s also where many companies focus on an annual plan to get more of a commitment from these customers.

ARPU

With that in mind, average revenue per user (ARPU) is our next metric. You can multiply total customers and ARPU to get MRR. This is interesting to know how many customers a company has to support in order to make their monthly revenue.

Buffer is at $21 per customer and ConvertKit is at $57 per customer. That means that in order to make the same revenue they have far more customers. This isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it does play into the dynamics of the business.

Personally I’d like to see our ARPU climb to closer to $75-100 (since the larger customers tend to already be successful and have more expansion revenue), but not see it so high that we are beholden to a few customers (if ARPU grew into the thousands of dollars).

We can move this number through attracting customers with more subscribers (who naturally pay more), focus on retaining higher end customers, and helping our beginner customers grow their email lists to expand into new plans.

The 80/20 of customers

The last thing I look at is the breakdown of revenue from small customers against everyone else. To do that you move over into the customers tab. First a review of the overall numbers: we have 20,812 generating $1,188,580 in MRR.

Knowing that we have a lot of customers on the base plan ($29 for 1,000 subscribers), I can do a  search for everyone who  pays more than $29/month.

That is 6,994 customers (33% of the total) generating $811,117 in MRR (68% of  the total). Or put another way, 67% of our customers are generating only 32% of our revenue. This is because we have customers paying everything from $29 up to $5,000  to use ConvertKit.

***

Now head on over to ConvertKit’s Baremetrics page and look beyond just MRR to understand more behind the business. Then compare those numbers to other open startups to uncover trends. Drop a comment with any observations!

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Nathan Barry by Nathan Barry - 1M ago

The last month has been incredibly difficult.

Over the summer Hilary and I decided we wanted to have another baby. We’d talked about it for years, going back and forth on whether to stay with two kids or grow our family.

At the first appointment the baby was slightly smaller than expected, but everything else was good.

At the next appointment there was no longer a heartbeat. At nearly 12 weeks we had lost our baby.

The month since then has been a series of complications—ending in last Friday spent in the hospital (Hilary is doing well now).

***

In difficult times I take one of two paths:

In most cases I push through the pain, stress, or grief and focus on the positives in life. I have so much to be grateful for that is easily overlooked in hard times. By writing a daily gratitude list my mood changes and I stay strong.

My other pattern is the opposite: in trying times I lose hope and slip into depression.

This time gratitude worked for the first week, then it wasn’t enough. I felt angry, sad, depressed and alone. Hilary and I fought over things that didn’t even matter.

***

In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday makes the case that you shouldn’t try to go around the obstacle, but instead that many times the best course is to confront it head on.

That reminded me of time I spent last spring at a leadership training event hosted by Reboot. They emphasized taking the time to feel each emotion. To feel the pain that it brought on and to sit with it. To observe it. Even noticing if it manifests in a certain part of your body.

What is it that you feel?

Where do you feel it?

When I took the time to sit with my emotions I started to strip them back. I felt each one individually. I quickly realized most of them were surface level and not the core issue.

I kept digging.

And then I found grief.

With everything going on that was the one emotion I had pushed past and distracted myself from. Grief was at the root of everything.

I had thought I shouldn’t be this upset. People had said, “you can have another” or “usually a miscarriage means there was something wrong with the pregnancy.” Throw in statistics for how common miscarriages are and I felt like it should hurt less to lose a child I hadn’t met.

But the truth is I lost a child and I hadn’t taken the time to truly grieve. Instead I tried to distract myself with gratitude.

***

Now rather than reaching for distraction—even with something positive like gratitude—I choose to sit and feel. Working to fully experience and seek to understand my emotions.

Gratitude is a core part of my life, but I won’t let it become a distraction.

***

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2018 was simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life. While many things didn’t go the way I would have hoped they would, I’m proud of the risks we took and how hard we pushed to build the team, company, and world that we want to exist.

I’ve also never been so grateful for recurring revenue as I was this year!

Some of the most painful things are still too fresh for me to want to write about, but I expect I will once more time passes. For more context on my life and how things have changed overall, you can read the posts from the last 7 years (201720162015201420132012, and 2011).

Family

Oliver and August are now 7 and 4 years old. It’s so much fun watching them grow up. They are both playing soccer each week and really enjoying it. Life on the farm has been great for the boys. I love what they’ve been exposed to when animals, construction, work, and just room to roam.

Recently they’ve started to learn more games and be quite competitive at card games like Bang!

Parenting continues to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Though it’s definitely challenging. In fact, as I write this the boys are yelling at each other about who knows what…

This isn’t just a floor puzzle of the United States (as you’d think), but it’s also August in perfect camouflage. 

The farm

Last year we moved to a small farm in Boise. This year we were really able to settle in and start all of our projects. The biggest of which were building a walking path around the entire property and installing sprinklers through the entire back field. The sprinklers took months longer than expected because our contractor was so busy.

But ultimately it was worth it. We now have a commercial-grade pop-up sprinkler system, sourced from free irrigation water, covering three acres.

I also spent quite a bit of time in my shop on woodworking projects. I’m looking forward to even more of that next year!

Hilary and her brother Philip getting ready to harvest honey from our beehives.

Marilyn (one of our six goats)

We rented a skid steer for a week to build a walking path around our property.

Oliver and one of the baby goats born in the spring of this year.

Soccer

I continued to play a lot of soccer and loved every minute of it! At the peak I was on four teams playing 3-6 games a week! It’s been fun to see improvement since I’ve only been playing for a few years. Though so much soccer meant I didn’t go to the gym. That needs to change!

Travel
  1. Los Angeles for sales meetings
  2. Oceanside for our team retreat
  3. McCall for weekend vacation
  4. San Diego for Traffic and Conversion
  5. Boulder for the Reboot CEO Bootcamp
  6. Austin for the Dynamite Circle conference
  7. Las Vegas for Microconf
  8. Phoenix for a Taylor Swift concert
  9. Washington State for a mastermind retreat
  10. Toronto to eat chocolate chip cookies (seriously)
  11. Philadelphia for Podcast Movement
  12. Santa Cruz for a wedding
  13. McCall for our summer team retreat
  14. Austin for TravelCon
  15. Park City for Mastermind Talks
  16. Cerro Gordo to visit our ghost town
  17. San Antonio for the Inc 5000 conference

One of my personal highlights was going flying with my friend Chris in the Vans RV-7 he built.

At 17 trips I’m down two from the last couple years. There also wasn’t a big vacation like Hawaii or Barcelona like in previous years. I’m making up for that by heading to Hawaii in a couple weeks.

In my recap from last year I said I wanted to travel more with the kids. That just didn’t happen. Life on the farm kept us busy and we didn’t do very much family travel.

Right now I don’t have much travel planned for this next year. I’d like to be more spontaneous with some more trips (we have an insane number of airline miles to use!), so maybe we’ll just pick a destination and go.

Family photo on a trip to California this summer.

Personal projects Vlog

I didn’t really do anything with my video this year. But I did release a single video at the end of the year, which was really fun and had a great response. I’ve already got plans to double down next year.

Oliver and August building a sand castle with Levi Allen (a great friend and incredible filmmaker).

Book and course revenue

This is probably the last year I’ll report on book and course revenue since it has tapered off to just $9,092 this year. Down from $15,685 last year. It’s interesting to see these sales still come in, but it’s just not a focus compared to ConvertKit. 

As the content gets older and further out of date I’ll need to decide sometime soon what to do with each book. Authority and Designing Web Applications are more evergreen, but I think I’ll take The App Design Handbook down and archive the site. There are also a lot of old articles and PDFs that I’ll clean up and redirect.

Airbnb

The farm came with a small guest house that we remodeled and rent out on Airbnb. It made $10,459 in 2018, despite being unavailable for three months, including August, which would have been the peak revenue month.

It’s really fun to have a place for friends and family to stay and still have it bring in so much revenue.

After the initial remodel (which I wrote about above) we’ve slowly improved it one project at a time. In August I blocked off the calendar and fully remodeled the bathroom. I still have a few ideas of small things to improve, but now it’s finally to the level of polish and comfort that I want it.

Bought a Tesla

Like nearly everyone who loves technology, I’ve wanted to buy a Tesla for years. I tend to be pretty conservative with finances, so I set a personal net worth goal (outside the company valuation) and once I hit that I splurged with the purchase. Yes, I could have purchased it much earlier, but even though ConvertKit is successful I want to avoid too much lifestyle creep (or at least slow it down).

After careful research I bought a 2016 Model S P90D. In pure black, of course.

Buying used (with 18,000 miles) meant saving about $50,000 off the price—though some of that would have been saved with a tax credit. The car retails for $143,000 and I paid $93,000. Then I spent another $1,400 to have it shipped out from Florida to Boise.

It’s been an absolute dream to own! On the roadtrip down to Cerro Gordo I had no problem driving the entire time. I wrote a post about a few things I really love about it.

Bought a ghost town

There’s a heading I never expected to type in an annual report!

This was a fun, random turn of events this summer, but I got the opportunity to be a small part of buying Cerro Gordo, an old mining town in the California mountains. You can read the full story here:

We bought a ghost town.

Thanks to Brent, Jon, Ryan, and the rest of the crew for including me in this!

The road trip to Cerro Gordo in the Tesla was another highlight!

Exploring Cerro Gordo.

ConvertKit

“I never lose. I either win or I learn.”

— Nelson Mandela

In 2018 at ConvertKit we did a lot of learning. While we had a solid year by many business metrics, it didn’t feel like we spent a lot of time winning. Revenue grew from $910,455 to $1,171,395 per month. We hit $13.6 million in net revenue.

Here’s a short list of a few things that happened this year:

  • Rebranded the company (twice). We started and ended the year as ConvertKit, but in July I announced my long-time goal of rebranding ConvertKit to Seva. Ultimately we learned that the rebrand would be hurtful to people we care about and rolled it back.

    At some point I’ll publish the full story.

    On one hand I feel a deep sense of loss knowing that I failed to successfully execute on one of my long-term goals, but on the other I’m proud of making decisions that matched our core values even when they were hard.

  • Formed a board of advisors. In an effort to become better leaders we formed a board of advisors. The first two board meetings were quite successful, giving me clear direction on several important decisions.
  • Named the fastest growing company in Idaho. Thanks to Inc magazine for naming us the fastest growing company in Idaho. In addition to #1 in Idaho we hit #72 nationwide. That included a trip to the Inc 5000 conference and annual gala, which was a great way to celebrate.

  • Hired some incredible people. We grew the team to 37 people in 2018. It’s probably more impressive that our core team stayed this small. We’re continuing to push towards our goal of $100M in revenue with just 50 people on the team.
  • Made tough decisions to let people go. The hardest thing is to let someone go who has made a huge contribution to the company, but is no longer a good fit. That’s one aspect of business that never gets easier.
  • Launched some incredible new features. We completely rebuilt our form and landing page editor, rebuilt every commerce integration to track purchase data, and built a new reporting engine on Elastic Search.

I got to spend time with Ben Chestnut, the CEO of MailChimp

  • Set a new record for our best single month of growth. In March we passed over $73,000 in a single month of net new MRR (expansion + new revenue + reactivation – churn – contraction). Our previous record was about $50,000, so that felt great!
  • Shrunk for two consecutive months over the summer. But we also shrunk for two months in the summer, which was also a first. Next year I want to see us get far more predictable with our revenue growth.
  • Published a book and documentary. I am a blogger launched this summer and it is simply beautiful. It was such a pleasure to work with Caleb Wojcik, Barrett Brooks, Charli Prangley, and others on this project. Check it out here.

Dave Stuart seeing himself featured in I am a blogger for the first time.

Overall I learned a ton, but a few big failures or difficult tasks make me feel pretty beat up by the end of the year. In 2019 we have a clear focus on improving our customer support, rounding out some kinks in the product, and working hard to increase our trial to paid conversion rate.

There’s also a new part of ConvertKit that I think will really change how creators use the product to grow their audiences.

Goals Goals for 2018

In October, with just three months left, I revisited this list and realized how I wasn’t going to hit very many at all!

  • Host another amazing conference. Done! Casey Neistat and Pat Flynn both crushed their talks.
  • Build marketing funnels for this blog. I didn’t do this. I considered forcing it at the end of the year, but instead I just got my content creation off the ground and I’ll revisit email sequences and funnels next year. I still want to!
  • Release a documentary and coffee table book. Done! It’s absolutely stunning.
  • Cross $1.3m in Monthly Recurring Revenue. Nope. We hit $1.17m in MRR. Off by $130,000. We started out really strong, but couldn’t recover from a slow summer.
  • Weigh 175 lbs. This is one of the goals I started on late. In October I started taking it more seriously and have dropped down below 185. Continuing work here I should be able to get down to 175 in a few more months.
  • Relaunch Commit. This didn’t happen. Instead I started using an app called Streaks, which is a much more advanced version of Commit. It’s great! I’d still like to release Commit as a free app, but that is no longer a priority.
  • Publish 12 posts on this blog. Done! Again, I started late, but I’m already over 12 with a few weeks in the year. Getting the blogging habit going again feels really good.
  • Release 12 episodes on the vlog. I restarted the vlog! But so late in the year that I only finished one episode. But I get partial credit, right?
  • Become more effective with my time. Using a combination of Streaks and Forest I’ve become much better at creating consistently. It will take more practice to get to where I want to be, but overall I feel like I’ve hit this goal.

So I hit 4 of 9. That’s not great.

Hilary and I at her cousin’s wedding in Santa Cruz

2019 goals

Looking forward to 2019 I have a new set of goals. Most are centered around a few habits I’ve been working to establish around health, fitness, and creating consistently:

  • Complete at least 50 weight lifting sessions. I’m getting back into a consistent habit of lifting weights. This goal isn’t too aggressive, but even just an average of once a week would be a big improvement.
  • Publish 50 blog posts. Keep the weekly streak alive!
  • Grow ConvertKit to $1.6M MRR. That would be growing at an average of $35,000 per month.
  • Build a tiny house. I’ve wanted to build a tiny house for years and 2019 it’s finally going to happen! I’m going to keep it here on the farm to use as my office.
  • Publish 12 vlog episodes. Video is so much fun and I’m truly going to focus on it in 2019.
  • Learn to captain a sailboat. I signed up for a week long sailing class in June, 2019. I’m excited to learn a new skill!
  • Sign a book deal. I’m working on a new book that’s been on my mind for years. I’ll be working with a traditional publisher on this one.
  • Redesign this site. I’m going to launch a full redesign of this site to go with the new book and writing.

2018 was a lot of big risks and ambitious projects. I’m proud that we had the courage to make those happen, but 2019 will be a lot more about refining everything that is going well. On ConvertKit we’re going to continue to polish the app, round out existing features, and really work on perfecting the first impressions each customer has with the product.

On the personal side I am working to deliberately establish new habits around fitness and creating. I don’t have big goals besides consistent work. Which I think is perfect for where I’m at!

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In a few weeks, on January 1, 2019, ConvertKit turns 6 years old. As a fun way to celebrate and look back here is a compilation of the design and feature changes through the years.

What started as a simple app has grown into a global business helping 20,000+ creators earn a living online. As you look to create your next venture I hope it inspires you to see how rough and basic ConvertKit was when it started!

Launch – March 2013

The very first version of ConvertKit was focused on making it easy to create a landing page and then send a series of emails to new subscribers. This was the first rough wireframe I made for how to view and edit a landing page in ConvertKit.

There wasn’t any kind of fancy landing page builder. Instead it was simply a series of text boxes to fill out content for that area. If you wanted to delete a header, you’d just leave it blank. While this worked, it was clunky and didn’t have any flexibility. The CSS course landing page was the very first landing page created in ConvertKit.

Initially the app just had three tabs: landing pages, courses, and advanced. I always hated the term autoresponder, which was common at the time, so I chose course instead. We later renamed course to sequence.

The best feature of ConvertKit was the ability to see your entire email series at a glance and move between it seamlessly. Now, even five years later, this interface is still remarkable when compared to competitors.

Look at those default bootstrap buttons!

At this time I was creating landing pages and email courses (sequences) inside ConvertKit, but then still managing my main email list through MailChimp to send broadcasts and organize subscribers.

In June 2013 we added basic list functionality (the subscribers in a group of forms) and the ability to send broadcasts to them. Around this time I was able to start to fully move from MailChimp to ConvertKit for everything.

2014

In 2014 I tried to augment ConvertKit through offering training and coaching through something I called “ConvertKit Academy.” It made ConvertKit more like an info product rather than SaaS, and was a hope to hold the hands of some new customers and make sure they were successful.

Ultimately the strategy didn’t work out, but I learned a lot and it helped generate some revenue to continue product development.

Around the same time we added forms in addition to landing pages. Forms became the main heading and landing pages became a subset of those. At some point lists became a main navigation item with broadcasts underneath it.

We also added a new subscribers graph to the forms page. This graph is still there today!

Everything was managed by forms. You would import into a form. Lists were a combination of multiple forms.

Notice anything crazy about those screenshots? It still just says ConvertKit in the top right corner. Well over a year in ConvertKit still didn’t have a logo. The logo went live in October 2014. Nearly two years after launch!

Around this time we also launched basic filtering and segmenting of subscribers.

2015

Automations!

In 2015 we started to make a lot more progress on development now that there was a team working on ConvertKit full-time. The first move we made was to build out a trigger/action based automation rules system. We launched it with a direct integration with Gumroad where you could add a customer to a form after they bought a product.

At some point broadcasts replaced “lists” as the top level element.

Wait, why a form and not a tag? While, that’s because in 2015 we didn’t have tags. All the segmenting happened through forms and courses. It worked, but was unwieldy when you started adding forms for things like “Purchased: Authority” that no subscriber would ever opt into.

In July 2015 we announced tags so customers could better organize their subscribers. It was a big change and we should have done it months earlier!

2016

By January 2016 we were doing over $100,000 per month in revenue, which meant growing the team. That summer Dylan joined the team as our first product designer. The first thing he did was to clean up the interface a bit and make it more flat. So the rounded header was gone and we added a new set of icons.

2017

In January 2017 Dylan flew out to Boise in the middle of winter (he came from Florida). During that winter wonderland we designed visual automations along with a full refresh of the website.

Along with all the new features the colors and icons became a lot more refined. We also changed the tan background to a very light grey. Many people loved the clean look, but with all changes there were people who complained. My favorites were the ones who said, “it was like staring at a light bulb” and “even my mom thinks the tan background was better.”

This change also brought brighter accent colors throughout the entire app. It became a lot more lively and fun with the colors and icons.

July 2018

This summer we announced a new logo along with our rebrand to Seva. The new name ultimately was rolled back, but the logo stayed. The logo was inspired by the golden ratio to give it a level of precision that represents many of our creators who code and design, but it also ends in a brush stroke include the more organic, natural creators.

At the same time we focused on the oldest part of the app: forms and landing pages. We’d made improvements over the years, but some of the original code was still there in that part of the app. So it felt really good to rewrite it from scratch.

We also reworked the subscribers page to add a new graph to the top along with other powerful reporting. That meant we could show the total subscriber growth over time for the first time!

The subscribers tab replaced forms as the default tab when you sign in.

The most recent interface change we made was to change the default graph when you sign in. Before it showed your total subscriber growth over time, but now it shows the subscribers you’ve gained and lost each day. It’s more actionable in the short-term, whereas the other graph (which is just one click away) is better for stats over time.

That takes us to the present design! I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk through the last six years of ConvertKit. Whatever product idea you have, just start. It may be ugly and lack features at first, but if you stick with it for years then it can become something quite remarkable!

***

Do you have an early screenshot of your app? If so, link to it in the comments.

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A tweet by Justin Jackson started a debate about building a startup on only 40 hours per week. Can it be done?

On one side Jason Cohen from WP Engine made the case that you need to put in more time to get a successful startup off the ground. Then, representing the other side, DHH from Basecamp made the case for balanced work hours.

So who is right?

They are both sharing from their own personal experience and observations. Neither side conducted extensive research on how many hours the founders worked at most successful companies. Jason sees just how hard it is to build a startup and he is encouraging everyone to set expectations properly. David was able to build Basecamp in under 40 hours per week (initially as low as 10-15 hours per week), so from his perspective it is completely possible.

This debate isn’t binary. There’s another factor that isn’t being discussed.

The quality of an hour

If I measure something and say it is 6 feet long, we all know exactly how long that is. If I say I’ll be somewhere in an hour, we all know how much time will pass until I arrive.

But if I say I’ll work on something for an hour, you have no idea how much work will be completed. Simply because not all hours are equal.

Can you build a great company in 40 hours a week? Absolutely! But only if those are high quality hours. Don’t kid yourself that your time bouncing between Twitter, Slack, and Hacker News counts towards the 40.

Don’t confuse hours as an equal measurement for results.

Focus on output

When I was in high school I went with my dad to a church volunteer project. We were helping a family who had been dealing with medical issues landscape their yard. The task for the day was moving a giant pile of landscaping bark from the driveway to spread over weed fabric in the back yard.

I didn’t want to be there.

But I loaded my wheel barrow like every one else and casually brought it around and dumped it. Everyone was working at the pace you’d expect a volunteer group to work on a lazy Saturday morning.

After a few loads I looked at the massive pile of bark and noticed that we’d actually made a dent in it. Interesting.

I asked my dad, “Are we doing other projects after we spread this bark?” He looked at his watch and replied, “No, this will take all the time we have and is the last project they need done.”

Seeing my opportunity I filled my wheel barrow faster. Then quickened my pace around to the back yard.

The other volunteers noticed. They weren’t about to be outworked by a 14 year old, so their pace quickened. The group in the back yard started a mini game to see if they could spread the bark faster than we could get it to them. It was on!

We had estimated it would take four hours to finish. Instead we were done in just an hour.

The group was tired, but had a lot of fun. Everyone was impressed with how quickly we’d finished the work.

All it took was someone to set the pace. Which I only did because I wanted to leave sooner.

Don’t confuse hours worked with progress.

How long have you been working on your startup?

Before you tell me, I want to share a quick story.

In college I took ballroom dance classes. They were really fun, a great way to make new friends, and I was actually decent at it! One of the teachers started a ballroom dance team and I immediately signed up. There were plenty of better dancers on the team, but I kept learning.

For a few years after college Hilary and I would go to ballroom dance events each month to practice, see friends, and learn new skills.

Then my friend James, who lives in Los Angeles, mentioned he was getting into ballroom dance and taking lessons each week. That soon increased to twice a week, then three times a week. With dedicated time to practice what he was learning. Within a month he had mastered the basics and even stepped in to teach a beginner class when there was a scheduling mistake.

After six months he was teaching classes regularly and dancing competitively. He was already far better in six months then I was after five years! The difference is he was methodical, persistent, and practiced regularly.

Don’t confuse the passing of time with progress.

Back to your startup

Now, back to your startup. How long have you been working on it? A year? Two years? Five?

I worked on ConvertKit for nearly two years before getting meaningful traction. During that time I worked, learned, acquired customers, built features, lost customers, traveled, spoke at conferences, remodeled a house, wrote a blog, ran another business, wrote books, and a lot more.

ConvertKit was not my primary focus. So while two years passed, someone else could have achieved the same results in six months of focused time and resources. I worked a limited number of hours. Time passed without meaningful progress.

I tried to grow ConvertKit on the side. It didn’t work.

That’s not to say it couldn’t be done—I’m sure there are people who could have pulled off better results than me in fewer hours. But I didn’t.

When I couldn’t get the results I wanted working part time, I went all in.

Building a company is a long journey. I’ve now worked on ConvertKit for 2,170 days.

Even when I can’t give quality hours, I can give consistency over time. I know the incredible amount of effort it takes to grow a successful company and I don’t kid myself that I’ll be able to do it with a small quantity of hours or low quality time.

Now I work continually to improve the quality of each hour I dedicate to my company. Tracking focused time each day is the single biggest improvement I’ve made. Quality and quantity together isn’t a pipe dream. But the combination takes great habits and discipline.

Is it possible?

Is it possible to build a successful startup on 40 hours per week? Absolutely!

Is it possible for you?

Probably not the way you work right now.

You’re not the productivity professional. You may not have the relationships to shortcut closing deals. You probably don’t have the audience to kickstart a successful launch. But what you do have is the ability to work.

Figure out the schedule that works for you. Be honest with yourself about the quality of your output. Then work continually to make the most of the time you have.

Now go create.

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It’s time to start growing your audience, but what do you share? Teaching everything you know is a common path, but what if you’re not ready to teach?

I’d like to suggest you start by curating.

When you focus on curating content from other creators you are able to start building an audience without the burden of creating everything yourself. Then you have full control and can slowly work in your own content as you become more comfortable creating it.

I started by curating

Back in 2010 when I started to learn iOS development I searched everywhere for resources and articles. In that process I came across Dave Verwer’s iOS Dev Weekly. Each week Dave would send 5-7 links to articles to help you learn Objective-C and iOS development.

While I enjoyed it, I thought it could use a few design resources mixed in as well to help developers understand design. So I’d send him links to articles I found helpful.

iOS Design Weekly

Eventually I realized I had found so many resources to share that it didn’t make sense to keep trying to get Dave to feature them each week. So I asked if he’d mind if I started my own that was design focused and he thought that was a great idea. He even included a link in one of his newsletters a few weeks later.

Within a week I had registered a domain, started a newsletter, and designed a landing page. During launch week I received 258 subscribers from a mix of Dave’s mention, Twitter, Hacker News, and Reddit. You can read more of the story here.

Adding my own content

During the next year I gradually started to become comfortable writing my own original content. I kept curating, but would add a link to one of my own tutorials after publishing. This added a personal note and gave the subscribers a bit of a connection to me.

Then when I started working on my blog more seriously, I started another email list for that newsletter. I grew both in parallel until after I launched The App Design Handbook (my first book). By that time I had nearly 800 people on my newsletter and a few more on the iOS design weekly list. The two audiences had about 40% overlap. So I’d send dedicated emails about the book to my list, and then include a mention in iOS Design Weekly.

This was a great way to kickstart my own audience, get comfortable sending on a consistent schedule, and learn the basics of email marketing.

Eventually when my own newsletter was larger than the iOS Design Weekly list I shut down the curated list and let them all know to follow me on my blog newsletter.

Learn from the best

There are so many great examples of audiences built through curation and even seasoned creators who provide value each week through curation.

5 Bullet Friday

Tim Ferriss runs one of the largest email newsletters on the internet (it’s powered by ConvertKit!) and he built it through curation. Each Friday he sends out an email with his favorite quotes, content, and purchases. Sometimes he includes his own content, but it’s most often a curated list.

Ugmonk

Jeff Sheldon runs a great ecommerce brand called Ugmonk. His email list is quite valuable when it’s time to run a sale or launch a new product, but what should he send in the mean time? He’s focused on developing new products, not writing articles or filming videos.

So he sends out a monthly curated list of his favorite things called “5 things I’m digging — November Edition”

While it’s mostly focused on links you might enjoy, it often starts and ends by talking about Ugmonk products.

Product Habits

Hiten Shah runs a weekly newsletter called Product Habits. Each week it has articles on business, product, design, and marketing. Then he will also send his own content (or any action he wants you to take) in a separate email that week.

Art of Visuals

Prince McClinton built a massive Instagram community called Art of Visuals entirely through curation. He featured the best photographs he could find and directed fans to follow their work.

Eventually the community grew with thousands of photographers submitting their own photos to be featured. Now over 1.4 million people follow Art of Visuals and it’s grown into a full brand with a website, products, an email list, and significant revenue!

Cooper Press

Peter Cooper has grown developer newsletters into a substantial business. What started with JavaScript Weekly has grown to a collection of newsletter with a combined readership of 415,000 subscribers.

My holiday gift guide

Even the gift guide I wrote a couple weeks ago is a form of curation. I don’t normally write about what gifts to buy, but curating a list of my favorites made for a popular blog post.

Earning a living from a curated audience

Once you capture attention you can turn it into a living a few different ways:

  • Sponsored content
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Promoting your own products
Sponsored content

iOS Dev Weekly is a great example of sponsored content. Along with the the organic links in each newsletter there is also a sponsored link. It is always to something useful and relevant to the audience, but a company pays to be included. In that newsletter with 45,000 readers the sponsored link costs $1,500. $6,000 a month as baseline revenue isn’t bad!

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is similar in that you are paid for sending traffic to a product that isn’t yours, but you are paid a commission for each sale, rather than a fixed amount up front for the ad placement.

Promoting your own products

Often a curated list promoting their own product is clear (like with Ugmonk), but other brands are less direct. The instagram account Artisan Born curates beautiful custom woodworking from all around the world.

I followed them for a few weeks before I clicked through to understand what they were selling: wood slabs for woodworkers to build live-edge tables and other unique projects.

By curating the best work of their target customer they were able to build an audience of nearly a quarter million followers. Now when they want to promote a sale in their stories or in another post they have a large community.

Curate your own audience

If you’re intrigued by the idea of using curation to grow your own audience, let’s dive in!

Make a system

The first step is to make a system you can work, rather than simply posting sporadically or without focus.

  • Choose a narrow topic — Focus your topic on a specific niche and you’ll have an easier time attracting followers. That means started “iOS design weekly”, not “design weekly.”
  • Choose a cadence — Next choose the cadence you’ll share on. The most common will be weekly or monthly. Commit to something you know you can maintain consistently.
  • Systematize idea collection — Decide exactly how you are going to log ideas. This could be a whiteboard in your office with each empty slot ready for you to write something down, a Google Doc to drop links, and a place for readers to submit their own links. Just design a system to make it simple.
  • Automate your reminders — The final step is to put reminders on your calendar and anywhere else that will keep you consistent. I like to use the streaks app

Pro tip: don’t just add a calendar reminder for “publish newsletter” on the day it is supposed to go out. Also add, “prep newsletter” or something similar a few days before so you aren’t right up to the deadline.

Let’s put what we’ve learned in practice by starting a couple pretend newsletters.

Example 1: X-Carve Weekly

Inventables makes a product I absolutely love called the X-Carve. It’s a kit for building your own CNC machine. If you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen random woodworking projects brought to life through custom carving and inlay.

If I didn’t already have too many projects then I’d start a community around helping makers get the most out of their new toy tool.

Since I’m not going to do that, let’s just pretend to create X-Carve Weekly, a weekly email with the best X-Carve tips, tutorials, and inspiration.

Note that instead of starting “Woodworking Weekly” or something more broad, we focused in specifically on users of an exact tool. This will make it easier to understand our target market and attract subscribers.

Next I like to break down the links into categories. Instead of it growing or shrinking based on how many tutorials I can find that week, I want an exact format with four slots:

  • Featured project — What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen made on the X-Carve recently? This allows us to start the newsletter with great visuals.
  • Full tutorial — Either an article or a YouTube video walking through exactly how to build a project or learn a new skill.
  • Free Easel project — The software used to run the X-Carve is called Easel. Inside that you can share projects that other people can import and carve themselves. This is great for beginners to import something and hit carve within a couple minutes to show them the power of the X-Carve.
  • Quick tip — Then we’d close out the newsletter with a quick tip. This could be about bits, design techniques, converting graphics, or anything else.

With these categories defined, I’d then hang a small whiteboard in my office with each category on it. The board would be a constant reminder to curate more links and think about what projects I wanted to highlight.

Then once I had some more content and wanted to bring in my own personality or story, I’d add another section called “My Build” where I showcase what I made on my own X-Carve that week.

Choose your industry

This simple format could be applied to any topic you want (filmmaking, podcasting, woodworking, homesteading, etc). It’s the perfect way to blend your passion and learning with building an audience.

Example 2: e-commerce store

Now let’s say instead you already have an established process, but don’t know what to send to your email list. That’s where we can follow Ugmonk’s example and curate a monthly newsletter.

For this one we’ll use my friend Jason’s surf and paddle board company, Hydrus, as an example (since he and I talked about these ideas over coffee last month).

Here’s what I suggested for his monthly newsletter:

  • Featured customer photo — Because high-end paddle and surf boards are such an active product, it’s great to showcase action shots rather than just product photos. By featuring a customer photo in each newsletter they can build the community and show their product in action around the world.
  • Paddle boarding skills — With how popular paddle boarding has become many beginners don’t know proper technique aren’t getting the most out of their boards. By showcasing skills and technique each customer will find value and learn to love the sport even more.
  • Behind-the-scenes — The process of custom building boards is pretty fascinating, so why not show it off? This section can be a link to an article or video of the Hydrus shop, process, or team. This is where they can showcase what makes their products different and really tell a story.
  • Featured product — And finally they can cap off the newsletter by featuring a product. What’s the story behind it? Why was it designed that way? What makes it great?

By following this process Jason can take a growing email list and provide them value without too much effort. Each subscriber will gradually learn new skills, get inspired, and become more of a fan of the brand. Eventually buying more boards!

It’s time to start!

Now that we’ve practiced the curation method with two different examples it’s time to jump in and create your own!

Here are the steps:

Then comes the harder part: commit to doing it week after week for a year. If you do that, I promise you won’t regret it!

Once you build the foundation, you can always pivot

Over time you can pivot into including more of your own products, personality, stories, and teaching. For example, one of the slots could always be something that you made. Then it puts your original work on par with what the experts around the web are making. Which is always a good place to be!

Grow your audience

Curating is a great way to both build your audience and improve your taste. Focusing your time on finding and sharing great products will give you a better understanding of why a product or idea is good. Improving your taste that you can apply back into what you create.

Plus, you won’t regret building an audience who will follow whatever you put out.

***

Two simple questions to close us out (feel free to answer either one):

  1. What would you curate a newsletter about?
  2. What are your favorite curated newsletters?

Let me know in the comments.

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