I asked Sam Parr, the founder of The Hustle, an email newsletter with curated business and technology news, how he has grown his list to over 1 million subscribers.
“It’s fricking hard,” he told me. “For the first 100,000, I spent all of my time on Reddit. Then I shifted focus to news only. Then I created an ambassador program, which helped us get to about 500,000. We now have complex systems that track each user. We have gold, silver, and bronze users.”
Subscriptions are free for The Hustle. But related services, such as Trends.co, a community for entrepreneurs, are not. He and I recently discussed his company’s strategy, his inspirations, and, yes, fake news.
What follows is our entire audio conversion and its transcript, edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about yourself.
Sam Parr: While in college I owned a chain of hot dog stands in Nashville, Tennessee. The business was called Southern Sam’s: Wieners as Big as a Baby’s Arm.
I moved to San Francisco in 2012 to start Internet companies. I launched Hustle Con two years later. It’s like a Ted Talk conference for entrepreneurs. I didn’t expect it to make money. But it did — $60,000 in the first six weeks — via an email list.
But I didn’t want to be just a conference guy. It wasn’t interesting to me. I read a book about Ted Turner, the founder of CNN. His story of building a media company was inspiring. So in 2016 I launched The Hustle. It’s an email newsletter that goes out to over a million subscribers each day. We have a team of journalists. We cover the best and most engaging business news every morning.
It’s just email, but it’s quite a big business — seven figures in revenue each month. My vision from day one was to build this huge email list of like-minded people. Then we create related services and sell them to subscribers. We now have Trends.co, it’s a private community for entrepreneurs
We’re going to keep launching similar products. I’ve stolen the idea from SoftBank, the Japan-based conglomerate and holding company. The founder, Masayoshi Son, is a celebrity.
Bandholz: What sort of products?
Parr: I’m fascinated with this whole fake news thing. People’s trust in the media is at an all-time low. I’m interested in solving that problem in unorthodox ways. We’re tinkering with products to help solve that. In Japan, and ironically in China, people consume news in a vastly different way. So I’m studying how they consume information and whether they trust the media.
How do you give people truthful information? Every morning I go to Huffington Post and then to Breitbart — extreme left and extreme right. Then I go to CNN, and then to Fox. It’s quite challenging to find the truth. And so I’m pretty obsessed with how to give people truthful information. There’s going to be a shift in the next three or four years. People are going to pay for news way more than now.
Bandholz: How are you acquiring subscribers?
Parr: Let’s just say, hypothetically, that we have 1 million subscribers to The Hustle. I spent three years building up this email list, so I can probably get upwards of 2 percent to sign up for Trends, as an example. That’s how I think about that those initial subscribers.
I get you to join The Hustle. You fall in love with me over several weeks by reading all this free news. And then I offer you Trends. Two percent of subscribers will join. So that works quite well.
As for acquiring subscribers to The Hustle, we advertise extensively on Facebook, podcasts, and, especially, YouTube.
Facebook is working wonderfully. The coronavirus has been a blessing for us and a lot of other subscription companies.
Bandholz: I’ve never been able to figure out how to grow an email list to a million or more subscribers.
Parr: It’s fricking hard. For the first 100,000, I spent all of my time on Reddit. I would find interesting subreddits and comments that I thought I could exploit. For example, I found a Soylent subreddit and then wrote a blog post about living on Soylent for 30 days. I posted it on there, which generated traffic. And I would do that repeatedly.
After I got to 100,000 subscribers, I shifted the focus of the email to news only. We would send news Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Then we switched to five days a week. Open rates went up, and churn went down.
Then I created an ambassador program. That helped us get to about 500,000. And I started doing paid marketing around this time. If an email address is worth $15, for example, I’ll spend a lot of money to obtain them at $2.
We now have complex systems that track each user. We have gold, silver, and bronze users. I know where to find the golds, but I still need the bronze because they make up the quantity. We have a very sophisticated way of going out and getting all of them. We’ll add 300,000 new subscribers net this month [June 2020].
Roughly 50 percent of them will be via paid channels. But we have a lot of organic, too. Approximately 2,000 people per day go to TheHustle.co from organic search and subscribe. And we’re giving away a $35,000 Tesla this month. It’s a great way to get new subscribers. Those giveaways work.
Bandholz: Where can people find you?
Parr: I’m best found on Twitter, theSamParr. If you want to sign up for The Hustle, go to TheHustle.co. Signing up for Trends will cost just $1 for a week. If you don’t like it, just click cancel. You’re only out a buck.