Growing First 1000 (this newsletter) to 10k Subscribers
Today's case study is about how I grew this newsletter. We talk about every strategy I tried, what worked and what didn't .
I have been sitting on this for a while…but there are now over 10,000 of you reading this newsletter. I still can’t believe that 🤯. So today our case study is on this newsletter 😁.
Before we got started, Partner shoutout to The Premoney List
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My First 2 subscribers.
Time: 1 day
So actually, I never told anyone I was starting this newsletter. What I did was that I subscribed two of my friends (Shoutout to Jawad Shriem and Mohammed Bahaa) without them knowing…wrote my first issue..pressed send and just waited for their feedback. I kept refreshing every 5 seconds to see if any of them opened it, I would go back to my phone and check my messages, hoping one of them had seen it. Long story short, they didn’t :(. I realized needed more than two people to test this with.
My first 10 subscribers
Time:8 days What Worked: ✅ Replying to People I know (12 subs)
The Journey from 2 ->10 was relatively swift. After not getting any feedback from my 2 subscribers, I wanted to expand the test. What I did was going through my email history ( I think I went 2 years back) and saw who I interacted with that fits into the “early startup founder” archetype. I then replied to those email with something along the lines of:
Been sometime 🙈. I just launched this newsletter that talks about how companies got their first 1000 customers. You can checkout the first issue here.
Thought this might be of interest,
I emailed 217 people and got 11 new subscribers. Now I was ready to release issue 2 about Slice.
From 10 to 100 subscribers
Time: 2 days
✅ Hacker News Feature (117 subs) ✅ Guy Kawasaki's shoutout
What Didn't work:
⛔️ Adding Newsletter link to my signature (2 new subs)
I wrote the second issue about Slice, I think this one took me about 13 hours. By the end of it, it was 6am in the morning, I pressed send and before I went to bed, I posted the link to Hackernews. I didn’t think much of it, it was just something I read other newsletter writers do.
I woke up to this:
I got tens of thousands of views, but only 117 subscribers (I had no sign up CTA in the actual article). I learned my first lesson about writing a newsletter…always have a CTA😁. But the high from going to bed with 14 subscribers and waking up to THIS is not something I can put in words. I think it was one of the best moments of my life. This is when I decided that maybe this newsletter thing is something I should take more seriously.
From 100 to 1000 subscribers
Time: 79 days
What Worked: ✅
HN Feature- Doordash (219 subs) ✅ Twitter (140-160subs) ✅ Cross Promotions (80-120) ✅ Joshua @ DoNotPay Retweet (73) ✅ Facebook Alma Matter University Group (63) ✅ #Intro Slack Communities (50-60) ✅ "Who leaves their email on twitter?"(31)
What didnt Work: ⛔️ PH Launch (2 subs) ⛔️ Betalist Launch (0) ⛔️ Indie Hacker Posts (22) ⛔️ Personal Linkedin Posts (25) ⛔️ SEO (18) ⛔️ GrowthHackers Posts (14) ⛔️ Interviews (2 subs) ⛔️ Invites to invite-only software (0) ⛔️ Cold Emailing 1000+ founders (27) ⛔️ Free Ad credit - $450 (17)
😿 What didn’t work?
To change things a little bit, let’s start with what didn’t work. So at this point I thought all i need to do is post my newsletter in places were that lot of influential people in the tech community visit regularly. The first place that came to mind was Product Hunt. I launched the newsletter there (for the first time) and it went terribly. I took screenshots of my articles, and linked the launch to my substack. I put in 15 minutes of work, and got what’s it worth.
After these epic launch failures, I thought these strategies didn’t work because people just haven’t bothered to read the content. So I started posting entire issues online in different places: Indie Hackers, Growth Hackers, Linkedin..etc. That didn’t work either. The next thing that came to mind was maybe the audience is just not right... I needed to focus more on early-stage founders. So I used Snov and Linkedin to scrape some early founder emails, got about a thousand, and then started emailing them, 10-50/day, so my domain doesn’t get blocked. I got about 3% conversion which is not too bad, but the numbers didn’t work out. I needed to cold email 33k early-stage founders to get to 1000 subscribers. At 50/day, that would take me about two years. I could’ve used an Email Service Provider, but I knew my conversion would take something like a 90% hit; now the target would be 330k cold emails. That’s just crazy 🤯!
I tried a few other things along the way that didn’t work. I got enrolled in every startup program I could find that offered free ad credit. Ran $450 worth of ads, got 17 subscribers(I was really bad at this). I also tried offering people access to some “exclusive” startups that had a waitlist if they posted about the newsletter…I got no takers.
😻 What worked?
Okai now to the less depressing stuff… what worked for me to go from 100->1,000. The first thing was a second HackerNews feature, this time on my Doordash issue. It was about 3-4 weeks after my first Hackernews feature and this time got me 219 (vs 117 the previous time) new subscribers (even though it got 1/5th of the traffic …but this time I had a CTA to subscribe 😉)
The second thing that worked really well for me was Twitter. Primarily three tweets.
This reply got me 170 subscribers alone! To this day, I have no idea how. The other one, was a retweet from @Joshua cofounder of DoNotPay. He somehow discovered the issue I wrote about his company and wrote me a nice thank you note and retweeted it from his account and the corporate account. That got me 73 new subscribers. The last tweet that actually worked out really well for me was this one below.
Kinsey, for those of you who don’t know, at the time was the host of Business Casual from Morning Brew. I wrote a snarky email to all 66 people that left their emails on this tweet with the subject line “Who leaves their email on twitter?” I made some sarcastic comment about how they should subscribe to First 1000 instead. I got *screaming voice* 31 SIGN UPS.
There are other stuff that worked that are more aligned with your traditional newsletter growth stuff. Posting on communities (I used the #intro channel to introduce myself and the newsletter cuz it just felt more genuine than randomly plugging in First 1000 in a chat), Cross Promotions and posting in alma matter FB group (which somewhat turned into an a controversial debate…but this is a story for another time).
From 1k to 2k subscribers
Time: 126 days
What Worked: ✅
PM Resources (274 subs) ✅ Hada News (180) ✅ Twitter (170-190) ✅ Referral Program (157) ✅ MENA Investors Database (73) ✅ Screenshots (40-60)
What didnt Work: ⛔️ Giveaways on Linkedin (6) ⛔️ Guest Postings (13) ⛔️ Interviews (10-20) ⛔️ Listing on every Newsletter Directory (<30) ⛔️ Google/Twitter Ads - $212 (11)
If I am being 100% honest, the second thousand was the hardest. There was a period of 42 days in between when I got my first 1k subscribers and hitting 2k subscribers where I only wrote one issue, and it was performed horribly. So many of the things that worked out for me before were just out of my control, I got featured twice on HackerNews, Guy Kawasaki tweeted and made a Linkedin post about the newsletter. This period was just mentally draining. Even the things that worked that were within my control were spammy. My stomach ached every time I had to go out there and “plug” the newsletter in a random online space….I just felt that I took this newsletter as far as I could.
I can’t remember the exact day, but at some point I just thought
I write all these case studies about how companies got their first 1000 customers and thus far I have never tried any of those strategies…if I can’t get another thousand…then is writing is of any value to anyone…really?
So I started to experimenting with some of the concepts I had written about at the time.
The first thing I tried, was from Juno. Okai, I did not write that story yet (coming soon) but this actually where I work when I am not in Class ( I am currently doing grad school 😁) [P.S if you are a student, sign up please and make me look good internally]. Anyway, one of things that one the team members came up with (shoutout to Max) was rewarding people based on action vs results. This something a lot of companies do internally (rewarding employees based on the process as opposed to the result) but I haven’t seen anyone do it for referrals. The idea was simple, tell people what post and where (if you know your audience well, you can kind of map out the outcome), they send you a screenshot, and you send them a reward. No referral codes, no fuss and people don’t “risk” their social capital to promote your product. I didn’t have time to build to a referral program so I just did that. It worked out really well I got something like 40-60 new subscribers.
After the screenshots thing worked out, I took a page out of the Morning Brew issue and replicated their referral program. The only thing I changed at the time, was just changing the location of it in every issue (sometimes I didn’t even add it), so that people to become “blind” to it and subconsciously learn to skip it (shoutout to Tyler for sharing his tips on how he built referrals for Morning Brew)
The last thing I tried, inspired by my Zumper issue, was building a “distribution product.” What Zumper did early one, was build a tool “Zumper Pro” where renters can create and upload a listing to Zillow, Trulia, HotPads, and, of course, Zumper with one click. So I created two of those, one to find early stage investors for startups in the Middle East and the other was a wiki of resources for PMs ( I noticed a healthy number of PMs in my subscribers list). I would find people that would be most interested in those tools on Linkedin comments of posts that end with “add your email here if you are [PM/MENA Startup] and we will email [something].” I built a tiny scrapper to capture those emails and added them to a sequence that would provide them with the resources, and singed off the email with
These two mini-products got me 347 new subscribers (one month later, I got a warning from Linkedin so I had to stop doing that. It was so much fun while it lasted though 😅).
The last thing I tried that actually worked really well, was posting on this Korean knock-off of HackerNews. This was completely by accident, I was checking my analytics one day (something I should do more often) and found like 10 people that came through this site, but it was all in Korean (and they were extremely engaged). So I started translating every post to Korean and posting it there. I got 180 new subscribers from doing this alone.
and this is the story of how I got this newsletter from 0 ->2k subscribers. If you would like me to do Part 2 on going from 2k->10k, hit reply and let me know 😉
What the First 1000 community is working on
Merge: A Technical Assessment platform to enable a bias-free & skill-led hiring ecosystem, reducing manual screening hours, cost & time per hire.
VC Deals: Digestible VC funding rounds data at fingertips!
This is it for today, See you on Sunday 😉,