The Amazon approach to setting your newsletter goals #Substack #Revue

Most writers start their newsletter because they want to share their thoughts and writing with others. There are over 50,000 individual newsletters on Substack and over 30,000 on Revue alone. Of these, only 12,000 are active monthly. Of the active monthly newsletters, only about 1,100 are paid email newsletters.

That means 85% of newsletters are abandoned within a month of getting started and less than 10% of active newsletters are getting paid subscribers.

This compares to 60-80% of blogs being abandoned within a month of getting started. After discussions with 20 people who abandoned their Substack newsletter withing a month of starting one, there are 5 main reasons that came up:

a) lack of subscriber growth,

b) lack of time to manage newsletter,

c) lost interest in the newsletter / topic,

d) other priorities came up,

e) day job takes up too much time.

Why do writers abandon Substack?

Most writers plunge right in and start a newsletter since it is free and easy to do so. They go to Substack, sign up and send their first “newsletter”. Then they may post it on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, reddit and one or two industry specific websites and expect a flood of subscribers. When that does not happen, nearly 60% of people give up.

After a week or a month passes, they realize the amount of time required to manage their newsletter is upwards of 4-8 hours a week they are forced to prioritize. Since over 80% of newsletter writers start their newsletter as a side hustle, their time become valuable and the trade off becomes more important. Send an update to a “small and not growing very fast” list? Or focus on their day job? Most end up focusing on their day job.

In drilling deeper, one thing that stands out is how many people don’t have a goal that they start with to work on.

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” –Zig Ziglar

In this post I want to share an alternative way that I learned at Amazon on the best way to setup a goal, a plan to achieve your goal and metrics to track progress.

First set a goal. A SMART goal.

Here are 7 examples of real goals we have helped creators put together.

  1. Create a newsletter that inspires 1000 people to take climate change seriously in 6 months
  2. Build a community of 500 enthusiastic Node.JS developers who want to learn about growing from 0 to hired in 12 months
  3. Educate 2000 people about pet adoption and get 50 paying subscribers in 3 months for our newsletter
  4. Grow my millennial finance management newsletter to over 10K subscribers in 12 months
  5. Become an expert in all things DeFi with a focus on developers by growing my newsletter subscribers to 12,000 in 6 months
  6. Generate over $10K ARR from my newsletter in the first year from subscriptions with a focus on stock analysis research
  7. Build thought leadership in Indian business community by writing about deep dive case studies and gaining over 7500 subscribers within 6 months

As SMART goals state, they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.

There are 3 important elements we help writers understand:

  1. Put a number, what ever number to your goal. That makes is easy for you to work towards. One metric (or number) is better than 2 or 3 (don’t try to work on # of subscribers, open rate and subscription revenue all at the same time)
  2. Be realistic – even if your target audience is 50,000, you need to start small with a realistic goal in 3-6-12 months.
  3. More specific is better. Notice we do not have goals that are broad – Be the best DeFi, newsletter or Be a thought leader. Those are nebulous and don not motivate you to work towards something measurable.

Second, work backwards to create a plan

Now that you have a goal, build 3 plans:

  1. Editorial calendar – what you are going to write about – it need not be specific about each post, but you need to have a calendar of items for 5-10 newsletters (depending on your newsletter’s frequency).
  2. Marketing plan – how and where are you going to promote your newsletter. What incentives are you going to provide users to forward your newsletter to others. If you want to gain 2,500 subscribers in 3 months, you need to get to add about 80 new subscribers weekly on average. That’s after people that unsubscribe. Here is a roughly weekly growth chart for one email newsletter. As you can see some weeks were great, some went backwards, but there was long term growth.
Weekly New Email Subscriber Growth
  1. Time and Calendar: Plan out your day or week when you will take time from your calendar to do the research, form your thoughts, write the outline, and edit your final newsletter post.

Third, focus on executing your plan every day and week

This is easier said than done, but you need to spend time doing the hard work of executing to the plan. Along your journey you will learn new ways to promote your blog and grow readers. You will learn new areas of content that you did not think about when you get feedback from your subscribers.

The best way to execute the plan is to review metrics every week. At Amazon there is a mechanism called WBR (Weekly Business Review) where you look at your goal, what your planned to do for the week and how you are progressing towards your goal. Or how you are executing to the plan.


Profile of SubStack the company, founding, SubStack investors and Growth metrics

SubStack Revenue Growth and Paid subscriber growth

What does SubStack do?

SubStack makes it simple for a writer to start an email newsletter that makes money from subscriptions. They provide a platform to publish, distribute and monetize independent writing by paid subscriptions from readers. This is different from most media businesses which make more money from advertisers than subscriptions.

When was SubStack founded?

SubStack was founded on 28th July 2017 at 1448 Cortland Ave, San Francisco CA 94110, which is the home of co-founder, Chris Best. The company, SubStack Inc. was incorporated on 29th of November 2017 in Delaware. The California state filing was completed on July 27th 2018.

Who are the founders of SubStack?

SubStack has 3 founders. Hamish McKenzie, who was a part time writer at Kik; Chris Best, who was the Chief Technology Officer at Kik and Jairaj Sethi, who was the head of platform and lead developer at Kik.

Hamish McKenzie serves as the Chief Operating Officer (COO of SubStack); Chris Best serves as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO of SubStack); and Jairaj Sethi serves as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

Where is SubStack located?

SubStack headquarters are in 244 California St, Unit 204, San Francisco, CA 94111.

What is SubStack’s mission?

SubStack’s stated mission is to “Make it simple to start a publication that makes money from subscriptions”. It has evolved from: Substack’s mission is to make it simple for a writer to start a paid newsletter.

Is SubStack public?

No, SubStack is a privately held company, with investments from multiple individual investors and institutional capital from A16Z, Garage Capital, YCombinator and Zhen Fund.

How much money has SubStack raised?

SubStack has raised over $17 Million. There is a mention of $19,086,734 on July 23rd, 2019 in a document filed with the SEC.

SubStack raised $120K from YCombinator as part of Winter (Jan) 2018 cohort.

In May 2018, SubStack raised $2.2 Million in a seed round from Bill Bishop, The Chernin Group, Fifty Years, Zhen Fund, Garage Capital, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron and others.

On July 16th, 2019, SubStack raised $15.3 Million in a Series A round with Andrew Chen from A16Z as the lead investor and YCombinator also participating.

Who are the investors in SubStack?

According to the filing with the SEC, there are over 32 investors in SubStack since their inception. They include among others:

1. Wie Guo

2. VentureSouq

3. UpHonest Capital

4. ZhenFund

5. YCombinator

6. The Chernin Group

7. Kenji Niwa

8. Justin Waldron

9. Garage Capital

10. Funders Club

11. Emmett Shear

12. A16Z – Andreessen Horowitz

13. Fifty Years

What is SubStack’s business model?

SubStack charges a fee for paid newsletters. The fee is 10% of the newsletter’s price. An overview of SubStack pricing indicates they also have payment processing fees (that goes to Stripe which are about 3% on average of the newsletter’s price.

SubStack does not charge for free newsletters. In the industry this is usually referred to as a freemium model.

How many people does SubStack employ?

As of August 2020, SubStack has about 20 employees across technology, writer operations and marketing.

Is SubStack hiring? What jobs are available at SubStack?

SubStack has 10+ open positions in engineering (technology and data), Writer team (recruitment, community and strategy) and support listed on the SubStack careers page.

Is my SubStack subscriber list confidential?

SubStack accidentally revealed hundreds of subscribers’ emails on Jul 2020, by emailing them in CC to an entire list. Other than that incident, there are no other reported incidents of data breach at SubStack. As a newsletter editor, only you will have access to your subscriber list.

What is SubStack’s revenue?

Since SubStack is a private company, they do not disclose revenue. However, doing a simple estimation based on publicly available data indicates they had over 100K paying subscribers (July 2020). Some newsletter brand such as The Dispatch alone, doing over $1 Million in revenue on SubStack. SubStack charges 10% of all newsletter fees. Given the average subscriber pays about $50 – $100 annually, we can estimate SubStack revenue is in the $1 Million to $2 Million run rate range.

SubStack Annual Recurring Revenue Growth and Paid Subscriber Growth

Do you have a copy of the SubStack Pitch Deck?

SubStack pitch deck for raising Series A indicates they were looking to raise over $17 Million after having raised over $15 Million from A16Z and YCombinator.

Their positioning in the pitch deck was

We empower any individual to launch their email newsletters that make money from subscriptions of “super true readers”

In the pitch deck they also indicate that they view Revue, Pateron and ButtonDown as direct competitors and Medium as secondary.

Is SubStack growing?

SubStack is growing dramatically. Of all reported metrics, there are 3 that we track. Paid Subscriber Growth, Average Revenue Per Subscriber, Paid Newsletter Growth and Annual Recurring Revenue Run Rate. SubStack’s core growth loop starts with great creators who attract subscribers, which attracts other great creators to the platform.

From July 2017 to July 2020, SubStack has grown subscribers by 110,000 and Annual Recurring Revenue (Run Rate) to over $1 Million. 2019 growth in subscribers was 355% and 411% in ARR.

If you want a personalized assessment of your potential audience, feel free to reach out to us via email at admin @ and we will respond to create a market assessment plan – absolutely free with no further commitments!


How many paying SubStack subscribers can I get?

This is the first question we get from most new SubStack writers. As the world’s first SubStack Agency, we understand that is one of the main reason’s writers are starting a newsletter on SubStack.

The worst answer we can give based on our experience, is “It depends”. We have tried it hundreds of times and got “Ghosted” after that first 15-minute introductory call.

If we cannot answer their #1 pain point and question, why bother?

So, we started to put a methodology to answer that question, with the best way we can – data and facts.

There are 4 primary and 5 secondary variables to help you answer that question with data. Our Assessment service helps you leverage our data from 1000’s of SubStack newsletters and surveys to give you a tighter range. You can do this calculation yourself, but we do this for free, after a 15-minute discussion with you, so it helps to use our experience.

What are the variables to help you determine the # of subscribers (paying) for your SubStack newsletter?

SubStack subscriber variables
The important things to grow your SubStack subscriber count

First, the category and subcategory of newsletter. We track over 8000 newsletters (free and paid) as of Aug 2020.

The top 5 categories are: Politics, Sports, Technology, Food and Self Help. Subcategories within Politics (for paying subscribers) are conservative, opinion, economics, and foreign policy. For sports, American Football, Basketball and then Baseball are top.

Within American Football for e.g. Fantasy Sports does better than most team newsletter. To give you an estimate, we have political newsletters with over 700 paying subscribers, and the top Self-Help newsletter has fewer than 200 paid subscribers.

Second, How big of a brand the author is. Authors with a large following on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and an engaging social media presence have a larger subscriber count.

Third, is the location or country of subscribers. SubStack subscribers are very much focused on North America (US, Canada).

For the same category and subcategory (e.g. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence within the Technology category) we track 2 different newsletters – one written by a writer in SF and another based in UK. Both have similar social media profiles and similar tenure (7+ months on SubStack). The one from SF has over 50 paid and 400 free subscribers, while the European one has 3 paid and 100 free subscribers. The free subscribers are also in the United States. For the European newsletter, of the 100+ free subscribers, over 70 are in the US, to 12 in all of Europe and 2 paid subscribers in the rest of the world.

Fourth, the tenure and consistency of your publication. Paid subscribers expect frequent, dependable, and regular news.

We know of 2-3 SubStack writers who received emails within 3-4 hours of a “delay” in their newsletter being published. Longer tenured newsletters get more subscribers.

The secondary things to grow your SubStack subscriber count

There are a few secondary variables as well.

Length of each update in your newsletter. Writers who writer longer (> 1000 words) on average have more subscribers.

Use of images and visuals. Writers who write only text (old school) tend to have fewer subscribers.

Multiple offerings enhance subscriber count. Writers who supplement their newsletter with podcast content do an order of magnitude better than those that write only text-based newsletters.

Uniqueness of content (controversial, different, distinctive, quirky). This is highly subjective, so we use AWS Comprehend and our own humans to score each newsletter on 1-5 for “uniqueness”. The bottom line is the more “controversial” the news article is, the more subscribers.

There are other unknown variables which we are trying to score and map including

a) Newsletter name and Logo,

b) Age demographic for your content – Email is still a largely older, 35-year-old audience,

c) Author’s background – those from “known publications” such as New York Times, are doing better than those who are just getting started,

d) Time of your posting – Saturday and Sunday work better for politics and sports, and Wednesday works better for technology categories.

If you want a personalized assessment of your potential audience, feel free to reach out to us via email at admin @ and we will respond to create a market assessment plan – absolutely free with no further commitments!