Growing a newsletter and a website to 35K subscribers and 100K visitors per month in 2 years. AMA πŸ‘‡

Anne-Laure Le Cunff
84 replies
Hi everyone! I'm the founder of Ness Labs, a platform to help knowledge workers achieve more without sacrificing their mental health. We publish evidence-based content around productivity, creativity, and knowledge management. Our weekly newsletter is read by 35,000 subscribers, and we have around 100,000 people visiting our website each month. We monetize these through sponsored interviews with founders of tools for thought. Past sponsors include Notion, Obsidian, and MindMeister. We also run a paid community for knowledge workers with 2,500 members. Finally, I'm experimenting with a YouTube channel β€” still very new and definitely out of my comfort zone! I sent the very first newsletter two years ago. You can see the Product Hunt launch from 2019 here and my first AMA here. It's been an amazing journey, with now two employees and a team of freelance writers. Ask me anything about starting a content business from scratch, building an audience on Twitter, managing a community, or anything else you want to know more about :)

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I interview tech founders and innovators
Hey @anthilemoon πŸ‘‹ How did you get your first 100 subscribers? And what was the moment you realised you were onto something?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@daniellenewnham Hi Danielle! When I left Google, I started a personal newsletter to stay in touch with my former colleagues. The launch of Maker Mind was actually a pivot of that earlier newsletter, which had accumulated around 300 subscribers in two years (you can tell I wasn't promoting it). I actually think most people could easily get to 100 subscribers by reaching out to people in their industry or (respectfully) promoting their newsletter in relevant professional groups.
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Maintainer of the Obsidian(md) Roundup.
At what point do you think it's an optimum to launch a newsletter on ProductHunt? Like, when would it be appropriate to do so?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@eleanorkonik Hi Eleanor! I had around 2K subscribers when I launched the Maker Mind newsletter on Product Hunt. I think 1K subscribers is a good number that would allow you to benefit from a snowball effect and make the most of a launch on Product Hunt. That's because (1) even though people on Product Hunt tend to be early adopters, it's much easier to sign up for something that feels validated; (2) you'd have enough readers to collect some great testimonials; (3) your existing readers can support your launch and even help answer questions in the comments section.
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Maintainer of the Obsidian(md) Roundup.
@anthilemoon Thanks! That jives with my sense of things, so I'm glad I'm not wildly off base on how I'm understanding this space :D
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SLP and content strategy
Hi Anne Laure! you've built a successful business in a crowded market of "self-development and productivity." For a digital gardener with many interests, do you recommend starting really niche and specific at first, and then branching out once you have traction? Thanks :)
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@jamesberges1 Hi James! We're in the same boat, I also have lots of different interests :) If you want to build a business, I think your can either (1) explore as many topics as you want as long as they are loosely related. For instance, with Ness Labs, I explore topics across education, mental health, productivity, creativity, and more; (2) explore two very different topics and create your own unique niche. For instance, "mindful productivity" is at the intersection of mindfulness and productivity. Another example: you could create a website that explores knitting and mental health. If you have lots of different topics that have nothing to do with each other, it may be better to write about these on your personal as it will be hard to build a brand and articulate the value of your content to potential readers. I hope that helps!
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@anthilemoon I just want to say congratulations! Two years ago you posted "I've started writing Maker Mind in July and it has grown to 2,300 subscribers and almost 100K visitors, all organically." and now you're up to 35,000 subscribers! That is crazy awesome πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ [https://www.producthunt.com/disc...]
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@tnorthcutt Thank you so much, Travis! I really appreciate it :)
Do you have a process or strategy to select the topics that you write about for your newsletter?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@csoakley It's not a very structured process, but I basically take notes all the time and maintain a list of topics I find interesting and would love to write about in the future. I never feel like I have zero potential topic to write about, it's more a matter of selecting something from my ever-growing list, and the selection is mostly driven by inspiration. Sometimes I feel like exploring a complex topic I don't know much about; sometimes I read a book about something that I now understand pretty well, and I feel excited to share that newly acquired knowledge with Ness Labs readers. And sometimes I'm feeling pretty lazy so I pick something helpful that I'm very comfortable with, so I know it's not going to take too long to write but will still deliver value to our readers!
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Co-Founder, Little Labs
Congrats on all the success, Anne-Laure! Curious about the monetization side of a newsletter. 35k subscribers seems like a very healthy number - are you able to derive revenue from this in a way that allows you to live off of this newsletter? Or do you need to complement with other revenue streams?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@arielvardi Thanks so much, Ariel! It's so nice to hear from you after all this time β€” the times when we worked together when I was still at Google feel like another era! And yes, I'm even able to pay other people to help manage the newsletter. Our main sources of revenue are sponsored interviews (I need to update that page) and the paid membership with a great community of like-minded people, all interested in mindful productivity, creativity, knowledge management, and mental health. I sometimes do 1:1 coaching but that's not a main source of revenue, and it's more of a way to keep the door open for people who want to pick my brains. I could stop coaching tomorrow without impacting my revenue in any way I would notice.
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Co-Founder, Little Labs
@anthilemoon Google was indeed a while ago, but we remember that time very fondly on our side! Awesome to see you succeed on your own, and super interesting to read about the newsletter business model!
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Founder - Clarity Lab
Hi Anne-Laure :) Big fan over here. Have been following your work and newsletter for the last 6 or 7 months. I'm curious to hear if you've had a strategy around growing the newsletter audience outside of just focusing on creating amazing content. Have you run any ads in other newsletters that have readers in your market? Spent time posting content from newsletter issues in subreddit channels or Twitter or Instagram, for example? Obviously you did a launch on Product Hunt back in 2019, but I'm curious to hear if anything else has helped you grow your audience, or has it been almost entirely organic word-of-mouth marketing that has grown your audience? Thanks heaps for answering questions over here. Keep on doing what you're doing. I love it!
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@forestlinden Hi Forest! Thank you so much, it means a lot :) I think "strategy" would be an overstatement, but I did try to be systematic and consistent in the way I created and promoted content. When I launched the newsletter, I committed to write 5 articles a week until I reached 100 articles. I'm a bit fan of learning in public, so I documented the process on Twitter, and shared each article on HackerNews. Some articles went semi-viral, which immensely helped in growing the newsletter, but I think most people joined because they enjoyed following my journey. I tried cross-promotion a couple of times with other newsletters, but it never really worked. I've never done any paid ad. Nowadays, most of our traffic comes from Twitter and search engines. So it's almost entirely organic marketing - please let me know if there's anything you'd like to hear more about!
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Founder - Clarity Lab
@anthilemoon Thank you so much for taking the time to respond, Anne-Laure! It's super helpful to hear about how your growth unfolded. Your commitment to creating a large amount of amazing, evergreen content in such a short period seems to have resonated really well with people. Good luck with everything at Ness Labs, and thanks again :)
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Founder of Notabase
Hey Anne-Laure! Congrats on your success. Anything surprising that you learned when you decided to start a paid community? What were the strategies you used to convert people from your newsletter to the community?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@richard_chu Hi Richard, thanks so much! To me, the most surprising thing was the number of people who asked me to raise the price for the paid community. When I said that wasn't the plan, quite a few members started gifting memberships to other people. That has been really amazing to witness. In terms of strategies, I have a section in my weekly newsletter where I mention any events or interesting conversations we are having in the community, and I also talk about the community from time to time on Twitter. I should probably do more, but I'm fine with the slow growth, I feel like it may be more sustainable.
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Touchgram founder, coder+martial artist
I'm a big fan of Ann-Laure and the community. My only regret is I don't have enough time to engage with them!
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@andydentperth1 Thank you, Andy! It's okay, the community is not going anywhere :)
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Co-founder and CEO @ Gelt.finance πŸ…
Hey Anne-Laure πŸ‘‹ I’ve been a subscriber since issue #23 (9 Dec β€˜19) β€” it’s one of the few newsletters I actively read. Merci for the wonderful content please don’t stop! Question: how/where did you find your team of freelance writers? πŸ€—
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@itsjeremiahs Wow, Jeremiah - so nice to see a long-time subscriber on here :) All of my freelance writers are from Upwork! It took a bit of time to find the right ones, but I'm super happy now β€” instead of writing articles from scratch, I now spend most of my "writing time" reading research papers, briefing the freelance writers, and editing their drafts, which frees up a lot of time to work "on" the business rather than "in" the business :)
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Co-founder and CEO @ Gelt.finance πŸ…
@anthilemoon Thanks for sharing!
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Co-Founder, CMDO at Weavit
I love Ness Labs! You guys put in some real hours for amazing quality research. As we're building a tool for thought - it's a godsend. Thank you! πŸ™
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@komalnarwani Thank you so much, Komal! I'm so glad you find Ness Labs helpful, it's a labour of love indeed :) And please keep us posted when you are ready to launch your tool for thought!
Co-Founder, CMDO at Weavit
@anthilemoon Absolutely I will do, we're almost ready to launch following our pivot. Check out HTTP://www.weavit.ai!
Freelance content writer and marketer
Hello! I'm a big fan of your newsletter. As far as creating free resources to get people to sign up for productivity newsletters, what have you seen that's been the most successful?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@jen_sako1 Thank you, Jen! I'm really glad you enjoy the newsletter. We have a few lead magnets for the newsletter, but really what works best is when other readers recommend the newsletter to friends they think may enjoy the content. That's why we have links at the bottom of each edition to share the newsletter on Whatsapp or Twitter :)
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Marketer and product owner from Finland
Hi! What are the main channels that you get visitors from to your website? And have you done any link building to your site?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@aleksi_halsas1 Hi Aleksi! The two main channels are Twitter and search engines. We haven't done any proper link building (that's on my long to-do list of improvements I want to make on the website) but I do try to always link back to older articles when I publish a new one. Our SEO is pretty decent at the moment, but it could be much better!
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Chief of Staff @ Zama
Hi Anne-Laure! How much content do you include in each newsletter release? And how do you decide what's relevant? I suppose it must have been challenging in the beginning.
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@jeremycbradley Hi Jeremy! We include 2 original articles + 1 YouTube video + 3 interesting tweets. I have always followed my curiosity when it comes to selecting topics: if I'm finding something interesting, I'm hoping our readers will find it interesting as well :)
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Making life easier w/ cool products πŸ‘€
This is so awesome! Do you monetize any other way than sponsored interviews? Like partnerships with products etc!
Founder @ Ness Labs
@adirajgupta Thank you, Adiraj! The two main ways we monetize are (1) sponsored interviews; (2) the paid community. I also sometimes do 1:1 coaching but that's a negligible part of our revenue.
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Work From Home Dude
wonderful, gr8 job
Inspired product maker
Hey, Anne-Laure. Thank you for this AMA. Much appreciated. How to build an audience on Twitter? Where do I start?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@shashcoffe I'm not an expert, but I'd start by defining your goals. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to learn from other people, promote your work, establish your expertise - or maybe a mix? Then, I'd try to figure out who "your people" are - in my case, it's knowledge workers who are prone to burning out. It means they are a bit geeky, curious, love trying new things, and also ambitious, driven, and could definitely benefit from taking care of their mental health. What about your tribe? Finally, you just need to consistently engage with your people :) Contribute helpful thoughts under their tweets, re-share anything interesting they have posted, and add to the intellectual wealth of your tribe by sharing your own thoughts, asking questions, etc. Do this for long enough and you'll have more than an audience: you'll have a tribe.
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Inspired product maker
@anthilemoon Thank you so much, Anne-Laure. I can’t thank you enough. πŸ™ These are really cool questions. I wrote it down, and I'm going to answer.
I read your content, great work.
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@new_user_ff684a94d3 Thanks so much, Vladimir!
Just a software engineer
Congratulations on your success - What inspired you to pursue this idea and build this product? - What made you believe that you're onto something? - How did the first public version of your platform look compared to now?
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Founder @ Ness Labs
@mostafa_gomaa Thank you, Mostafa! (1) When I started my neuroscience studies, I discovered something called the Generation Effect, which shows that we better remember stuff when we create our own version of it rather than just reading it. I created my newsletter as a forcing mechanism to write about what I was learning, and make use of the Generation Effect. I had no idea the newsletter would become a business. (2) The newsletter grew quite quickly β€” so it felt like I wasn't the only person interested in these topics! (3) The first public version was built on MailChimp with a basic WordPress website. I'm still using WordPress (with a different design), but I have since then switched to ConvertKit.
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Author at takefiveapp.com
Congratulations to this! Following your profile and topic. Great Job!
Founder @ Ness Labs
@judy_gilmore Thanks so much, Judy - much appreciated! :)