Who says email is dead, is old school, is lost in spam, is intrusive, and <insert other words that blackball the first digital communication channel of our world. Sigh.>
I sleep to The Hustle every day (The west wakes up to it; blame our time zones, of course). Their sharp, unconventional, and informed voice makes consuming news seem less like a task and more like devouring your favorite book. This is also probably the reason why their open rates are 2x times better (40% and higher) than cross-industry averages.
Hustle grew by 5x in 2017, increasing their email subscriber base from 100,000 to more than 550,000. It also started a storytelling event by women founders – 2X, apart from their flagship event Hustle con (described as “if TED and Coachella had a baby”) which brings together 5000+ founders and hustlers together every year.
We caught up with Sam Parr, Founder, and CEO to learn the story behind the media company’s growth, unique voice, and everything else-in-between.
Here. We. Go.
With an obvious question.
Isn’t email dead?!
More and more readers are shifting to consume news at their own pace and on a two-way communication channel – through news apps, twitter feeds etc. Why email then?
Because email has stayed the same for decades. Twitter, Facebook, and the rest are great. But they’re still new.
Every young person gets an email when they get a job and I reckon it’ll be like that for years.
Also, I don’t ever want to be told what to do and rely on someone else. Most publishers rely on Facebook for the majority of their traffic, and thus revenue. I don’t want to ever be in that position. Email is like a pirate ship and every email is a little bit of wind in our sales.
What makes The Hustle stand out amidst all the email fatigue in the world today?
We say whatever the hell we want, put the user first, and treat email as its own platform vs acting like it’s just an RSS feed.
What’s the story behind The Hustle’s distinct voice and tone?
The original voice was just my partner and me writing like we speak. I read a ton of direct response books, like Joseph Sugarman and David Ogilvy books. I think the voice was heavily inspired by that. They write intelligently yet very approachable and conversation-like.
Some other places where I found inspiration for the newsletter’s voice are:
- Kopywriting Kourse
- The Adweek Guide to Copywriting
- Call Me Ted
- Confessions of an Advertising Man
- Stephen King’s On Writing
What did The hustle do differently in 2017 to get to 550,000+ subscribers?
We found a few tactics that worked (word of mouth, referrals, and Facebook) and just did them more.
Word of mouth has been our top traction channel. One of the ways WOM has worked for us is The Hustle ambassador programme. The programme gives subscribers access to a private online community, free swag, and tickets to The Hustle Con when they refer other people to the newsletter.
Followed by WOM, it’s Facebook that has helped a lot. Since we know our LTV we advertise in order to get users underneath that number.
We also made the processes slightly more optimized, like changing the copy to increase conversation rates or changing how often we ask people to share. It was just the same stuff in 2017 – same channels and mix, but with 5x more firepower behind it.
How is The Hustle different from any other media publication?
The Hustle exists to help a generation of makers put a dent in the world. To start, we’re doing this by giving them the news they need to succeed and make better decisions as well as hosting killer events where they can learn from world-class leaders.
We’re different because we are not beholden to Facebook’s algorithms. This means we can say whatever we want, when we want, and how we want. It feels good.
Generally, ROI from events is considered a myth. How is this different for The Hustle con?
We bootstrapped our company early on because our events were so profitable. The secret is simple: we don’t spend money on stupid stuff.
For example, name tags can cost over $10,000 for a 2,000 person event. So why even have name tags? Do they really add $10k were of value? Probably not. There are about 10 other examples like that.
Additionally, when we start the vast majority of our event revenue came from ticket sales, not sponsors. This meant we had a product so good that people paid real money to attend. Most events can’t do that. Their events are just big a platform to sell sponsorships, which isn’t the right way to do things. Consumer first is the way to go.
With around 40% OR, Hustle’s metrics are 2x better than cross-industry averages. How does the team optimize for better conversions?
We work hard on deliverability.
There are a few things.
- You should send your email to your power users first. If Google sees that they’re opening then you will be placed in other user’s inbox.
- Make sure your IP is white labeled and has a great reputation.
- Make sure your HTML is clean and the data doesn’t go over the allotted amount.
- Few pictures and extra CSS is better.
- Subject line testing isn’t always about what users will click on, but what subject lines get you into user’s inboxes.
Hustle’s revenue model relies on advertising and events. Have you ever considered a fenced-off ghetto for your content? Why ad-driven system over consumer-paid system?
Ad-driven allows us to have a bigger impact. We can touch more people. We may have subscription one day, but the goal from day 1 was to impact as many people as possible. It’s tough to do that if you start with a subscription product.
How did you get your initial subscribers?
Lots of blog posts. Here’s our first post.
We got to 100,000 or so subscribers mostly from content marketing. Early on, I knew how to get lots of traffic from Reddit and Facebook, so we blogged a ton, disseminated right, and got the traffic we wanted.
How do you look at growth?
We know our LTV and payback period of a set of users. So, for us at the moment, the name of the game is getting as many users as possible which will increase revenue and give us the ability to create more products for our users. The number one metric is the total number of subscribers. Our next benchmark is 1,000,000 subscribers. We’ve got solid revenues and profits so those will follow user growth.
What metrics do you measure every day?
Monthly revenue, number of subscribers, and open rate.
What does your typical day at The Hustle look like?
I plan my day the night before. I get up at 7:30 am and go to the gym, get to the office at 9 am with my dog Sid after walking there with my girlfriend (her office is nearby). The first couple of hours are spent responding to emails, talking with my head of growth, head of sales, our accountant, and head of HR to hear the latest. If there are any issues with any of those folks, I work to see how I can help solve them.
Around noon I talk to investors or big business development deals and try to push things forward. In the late afternoon and evening, I take calls and meetings with people in our team, outside BD deals, or get involved in recruiting.
I’m always talking to outsiders, whether it’s current investors, future investors, someone we can partner with, recruits, anyone. My feeling is my job is not to do the actual work (the team down that now) but to collect people and add them to our machine as we need them.
What are some of the newsletters or news apps you frequently browse?
- The Hustle
- Business Insider
On starting up and side hustles
What motivates you to ideate?
I’m not really sure, to be honest. I don’t try to get motivated to come up with ideas. My mind is just always moving. When I see processes or ideas, I automatically ask why it’s being done the way it is. When I go to a restaurant, I always look at how they take orders vs. make the food, why the cash register is where it is, and why the line is facing the direction it is, and that kind of thing. I do this because I wonder how we can improve it.
What has been your biggest startup learning so far?
The importance of controlling my emotions.
Startups are emotional. I can feel like I’m going to be homeless and king of the world in one day. Staying balanced is important.
Can you share some of Hustle’s early victories and learnings?
An early victory I think was Hustle Con 2016. We packed a huge 2,000+ person theater. Before that, Hustle Con was in a 600 person venue so it was inspiring to see how big our community grew.
One of our early learnings comes from hiring for our company. When we first launched, we hired people who had fantastic backgrounds and pedigrees. But that didn’t make them great teammates for us so we had to restart. The best people who we’ve hired are media outsiders. They’re very smart, high IQ folks who work super hard. They’re also fun loving and self-deprecating.
I had a big media CEO once say “man, you guys are breaking all the rules…you are the new cool kids!” I thought that was crazy because that’s not out goal. We aren’t purposely breaking the rules because we don’t know the rules. We’re just doing what makes sense to us. We’re not purposely trying to rebel or anything.
What are some of the unconventional challenges in starting up that nobody is talking about?
There’s a difference between types of businesses. Very few companies should raise venture capital. And if you do raise VC, you need to go all out and put growth above everything else.
Last month, Freshdesk Messaging (Formerly Freshchat) got featured in The Hustle. We love how whacky and right we sound here.
Have more questions for Sam Parr and the team at The Hustle? Find the comments section right below and we will make sure you get the insight you’re looking for.
Cover illustration by Karthikeyan Ganesh