How Zoe Chew turned her newsletter into a business by treating content as a product
Hello! Who are you and what newsletter did you start?
Hey everyone! I’m Zoe Chew. I’m a product builder, ever curious about innovation, launched 11 MVPs, featured on Lifehacker, Product Hunt #1, and also a Medium Top Writer & HackerNoon winner in startup topics. Previously, I consulted venture-backed companies (US/APAC) for product/marketing strategies.
My passion for tech and consulting has led me to my full-time newsletter business at Venturescale. These days, I spend my time helping technologists to discover emerging consumer trends and unpack profitable opportunities and business models
How did you launch it and what did you do to get the first 100 subscribers?
I started Venturescale under my personal newsletter, Zoe’s Build & Launch. So at that point, I didn’t have a dedicated website or email audience for the newsletter. My goal was to test the idea using blog content before I spend time building and designing another new website.
I put together the first research report in a PDF, created a sale page using Gumroad, priced the report at $39, and shared it with my subscribers. Within 24 hours, people started ordering the report. I have my idea validated with paying customers by using a PDF MVP (minimum viable product).
I continued running Venturescale as a series under my personal newsletter. More recently, I launched the new site, that’s when I created a new business brand for the newsletter.
In terms of growing subscribers, I’m afraid it may sound too simplistic. I usually redistribute the same promotional pieces on Substack, Medium, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If you take a look at the marketing material, you’ll notice I used a “freemium” content approach. Free subscribers will see a portion of the tech research and will have to become paid members to access the full content.
What tools are you using to create, send, and grow the newsletter?
Tech research: I consume tons of newsletter materials from tech journalists, VCs and thought leaders on a daily basis. That being said, my Gmail inbox is my research search engine. Other platforms for studying a new market include Substack, Twitter, TechCrunch, McKinsey, CB Insights, and Apple Podcasts.
Writing: Most of the time I use Google Doc to draft my tech analysis report.
Company database: I use Airtable, Crunchbase, LinkedIn, Bardeen, and Airtable Web Clipper (Chrome extension).
Marketing distribution: I promote the marketing materials on my Substack newsletter, Venturescale email list, Medium, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Overall: I use Webflow for the Venturescale website, Memberful for the paid membership management, Mailchimp for managing the email lists for paid readers, and Substack for managing free subscribers.
What have you tried to monetize the newsletter and how well did it work?
During my idea testing stage, I was selling the paid newsletter using a PDF. I wrote the consumer report and published it as a downloadable digital product using Gumroad. People would purchase the report on a one-time basis.
Over time, I thought about the idea of turning the newsletter into a micro-SaaS product. Apart from trend reports, paid subscribers could access hand-picked market maps and company databases that integrate with every issue released.
I was also looking for a more viable business model at that point. So I pivoted from the one-time purchase ($40/report) to a yearly subscription model ($240/year). Readers get huge savings with a single membership for accessing all trend reports and databases, including future updates. For the business, revenue is more predictable with a subscription model.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain subscribers?
I’d say to treat the content as a product. For founders/developers, building something useful is the mantra. For writers, sharing something helpful, valuable, and usable is the key to attracting and retaining subscribers. There are 3 main components I will consider:
Solve problems: Figure out the goals of your readers and help them to achieve those goals. For example, staying updated, gaining clarity, learning new tactics, etc.
Features: You can add value to your blog post by offering additional content features. This could be a framework, toolkit, prompts, insights, printable guides, checklists, etc. For Venturescale newsletter, paid readers will get a curated list of company databases in addition to every new issue released.
Outcome: What do people gain from using your content? Do they gain new ideas and perspectives? Do they learn new ways to resolve their situations? Do they learn to make better decisions?
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share with someone who wants to get started or is just starting out?
Be experimental. When I first started, I wrestled with the idea of finding a topic to talk about in my newsletter. The more I look for a theme, the more I procrastinated.
What helped me tremendously to get started is being open to experimenting. I started Zoe’s newsletter and talked about what I have built and launched. I would write everything related to my journey as a product builder, such as no-code MVP, Notion productivity, startup, and product management.
Reducing inertia to start is also important. At that point, I only used Substack to grow the email audience. No fancy website, custom domain, or email tools. So I could focus on creating content, testing new ideas, and posting consistently.
As I continued to narrow down my interests, I discovered my passion for consumer tech and business frameworks. I toyed around with emerging trends topics under my personal newsletter. And then only built a separate Venturescale email list after the consumer topics gained traction.
Where can we go to learn more?
Sure. You can find valuable guides on startup framework, product management & no-code MVP in my public resource directory. I unpack emerging consumer trends twice a month at venturescale.to. You can also find my thoughts on Twitter / LinkedIn / Substack.