183: How To Get Over A Million Email Subscribers In 2 Years With Sam Parr Of The Hustle

How To Get A Million Email Subscribers In 2 Years With Sam Parr Of The Hustle

Today I’m thrilled to have Sam Parr on the show. Sam is the founder of TheHustle.co which is a media company that caters to entrepreneurs.

They have more than a million email subscribers and email is the backbone of their business. Every single day, they send out an awesome email that details the latest startup and tech news.

The also run an annual conference called HustleCon that I had the pleasure of attending as well. Anyway, what’s amazing is that Sam has managed to build this gigantic email list in a few years which is crazy. And today, we’re going to learn how he grew his company so large in such a short period of time.

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What You’ll Learn

  • How Sam gathered a million email subscribers in such a short period of time.
  • The Hustle Co’s business model and how they make money.
  • How Sam generates traffic to his site.
  • How Sam gets high profile folks to write for him.
  • Sam’s email metrics and he maintains such high numbers

Other Resources And Books


Klaviyo.com – Klaviyo is the email marketing platform that I personally use for my ecommerce store. Created specifically for ecommerce, it is the best email marketing provider that I’ve used to date. Click here and try Klaviyo for FREE.

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Steve: You’re listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, the place where I bring on successful bootstrapped business owners, and delve deeply into what strategies are working and what strategies are not. Now today I am thrilled to have Sam Parr on the show. Sam is the founder of Thehustle.co, the premier media outlet for entrepreneurs, and he’s amassed over a million email subscribers in a very short period of time. And today we’re going to find out how he did it.

But before we begin, I want to give a shout out to Klaviyo who is a sponsor of the show. Now I’m always excited to talk about Klaviyo because they are the email marketing platform that I use for my ecommerce store, and I depend on them for over 20% of my revenues. Now Klaviyo is the only email platform out there that is specifically built for ecommerce stores, and here is why it’s so powerful.

They can track every single customer who has shopped in your store and exactly what they bought, which allows you to do many things. So let’s say I want to send an email out to everyone who purchased a red handkerchief in the last week, easy. Let’s say I want to set up a special auto-responder sequence to my customers depending on what they purchased, piece of cake, and there is full revenue tracking on every single email.

Now Klaviyo is the most powerful email platform that I’ve ever used and you can try them for free at mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O, once again that’s, mywifequitherjob.com/K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.

Now I also wanted to give a shout out to my other sponsor Seller Labs, and specifically I want to talk about their awesome Amazon tool, Scope. Now I’m really excited about Scope because it’s a tool that I like and use. And Scope is actually a tool that increased my Amazon sales on several listings by 39% within the first week of use, crazy, right?

Now, what does this tool do that could possibly boost my sales so quickly? Well, quite simply, Scope tells you what keywords are driving sales on Amazon. So here is what I did, I searched Amazon and I found the bestselling product listings in my niche, then I used Scope to tell me exactly which keywords that bestselling listing was using to generate sales. I added these keywords to my own Amazon listings and my sales picked up immediately.

So today I use Scope for all my Amazon products to find high converting keywords in the back end as well as for my Amazon advertising campaigns. So in short, Scope can boost your Amazon sales almost immediately like they did for mine, and 39% is nothing to sneeze at. Right now if you go to Sellerlabs.com/wife, you can actually check out Scope for free, and if you decide to sign up, you’ll get $50 off of any plan. Once again that’s Sellerlabs.com/wife, now on to the show.

Intro: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.

Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit her Job Podcast. Today I’m thrilled to have Sam Parr on the show. Now, Sam is the founder of Hustle.co, which is a media company that caters to entrepreneurs and millenials. They have almost a million email subscribers, and their primary form of media is actually email which is pretty cool. So every single day, they send out an incredible email that details the latest startup and tech news.

And they also run an annual conference called Hustle Con that I had the pressure of attending a couple weeks ago as well. And let me just say they get the most incredible speakers to speak at this conference. And what is actually kind of amazing about Sam is that he’s managed to build this gigantic email list in just a little bit over a year which is crazy. And today we’re going to learn how he grew his company so large in such a short period of time. And with that welcome to the show Sam, how are you doing today man?

Sam: You know I’m great, how are you?

Steve: So Sam, how does a dude from in the middle of nowhere Missouri create Hustle Co? What’s the background story, how did you get started with it?

Sam: Well, my mother would not be happy if you said that. I’m from St. Louis, it’s somewhere, it is in the middle of the country though, St. Louis, Missouri. So how did it get started? Well, the abbreviated version is basically I went to college in Nashville Tennessee, and while there I started a couple companies because I met this very inspiring person, this guy’s name was Mike Wolfe. Have you seen that TV show, American Pickers?

Steve: I have not.

Sam: Okay, it was a TV — it was really – it was way, way, way popular between 2008 and 2012 or so. It was the second most popular show on TV. Basically they went and bought junk and sold it for more, that’s the over simplified version. But anyway I met him, and I worked for him, and he was the first like real — he was like the first real entrepreneur that I’d ever met. I was like, oh that’s cool, like I’ve been selling stuff that I bought forever, but I didn’t know like you could like make a big thing out of it, and that’s what he taught me.

And so basically while I was a junior in college, I started a chain of hot dog stands called Southern Sam’s, winners as big as a baby’s arm, and that was my first introduction into entrepreneurship. And while doing that, I met another mentor of mine, Casey Smith who showed me that you could do like cool things on the internet, like you can make a living on the internet. And I started doing some research, and I found some cool companies. One was called Air Bed and Breakfast.

This was in like 2009 when I first heard about them – oh no, sorry 2011when I first heard about them, 2010. And I was like this Air Bed and Breakfast thing, that sounds awesome. And then I did more research, and I realized there was another company nearby called Uber. And I was like, man, all these like really cool internet companies are all in the same area in San Francisco, I need to get up there.

So I applied to get a job at what was then, its Airbnb now, but it was then Air Bed and Breakfast. And I flew out for my interview, and while here I stayed on an Airbnb. And I met a guy named John Havel, and John Havel was basically had just quit his job like three weeks ago, and I was like — because he did start a company, and I had never met anyone my age who moved to another city like I was planning on doing, and who also made money on their own, and started companies, that I was like, oh this is sick, I feel like I’m at home. I feel like this is where I should be.

And so this all happened when I was a senior in college. And so I decided to pack up my bags and I left school before our graduation.

Steve: Crazy.

Sam: And I turned down the Airbnb job, and then I asked John if I could join on the idea that he was working on. And that’s kind of how I got up to San Francisco, and that was in the fall time of 2012. And so we, John and I created this website where we helped people find roommates, and very quickly like ten months after starting it, we had a very small exit, and we sold the company.

Steve: To Airbnb or no?

Sam: No, to a company called Apartmentless. That would have been close to Airbnb though. And then we sold it, and I worked at that company for one year and one day, and then I was like what next, what do I do? And I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in my life, I wasn’t sure at all. And so my idea was, what if I host a conference called Hustle Con, and I can surround myself with lots of other entrepreneurs, and kind of like what I did with John. Maybe they can give me inspiration, and hopefully I can find my next big idea.

And that’s what I did, and I hosted an event called Hustle Con, and that’s kind of started this whole media business that we run now, and hopefully will become a huge empire one day. But yeah that’s kind of how we got to where we are now.

Steve: So the conference came first before the email list or?

Sam: Yeah kind of, so basically yes it did, but the conference was an email list as well, so basically I like knew that — I did the math and I was like, okay like one percent of people who come to my website will buy a conference ticket, but like 20 or 30% will give me their email, and about 20 or 30%, this percent will make a purchase. So it’s very — like it’s far better if I just collect people’s emails and try to sell them when they come to the website.

And so what Hustle Con, the premise was quite simple. I would collect people’s emails, and I only had two or 300 at the time. I just like all my friends and their friends, I just like spammed them all, like hey, you guys know where my home is, you’re now on this email list. And it was basically two days a week I would write a funny article on someone or something interesting, and then I would send that to my list, and then at the very bottom it would say like, I would write something funny about the speaker. That if you want to participate and like see this person and like hear and learn from them, click here and buy a ticket and come to Hustle Con.

Steve: Okay, so let’s back up here. So in order start a conference like you kind of have to have an audience. So you didn’t have any audience before you decided to start the conference?

Sam: The email list was 200 people.

Steve: It was 200, okay and how did you attract the speakers, because you had some high profile speakers even that first year, right?

Sam: Yeah definitely, bigger than I deserved, how? Well, I’m a cold email master you know, what I do is I’m a self taught copywriter, and I’m a sales person. I’ve been selling forever, and I understand marketing a little bit. And I just added those altogether, and I was like you know I’ve been reading, I love business news and technology news, and I love reading about other companies. So I was really well versed in other companies, I knew who was interesting; I knew who would come and speak.

And so I basically just cold emailed them and I did a really good job of saying, you need to speak here because — and I would tailor my pitch to whatever their needs were. And I kind of understood where they were in their company’s lifecycle because I had been — I like to follow some brands.

Steve: So give me an example, like let’s see, you probably got some high profile CEOs. So how did you pitch them, give me an example?

Sam: Sure, so Rick Marini, I love Rick Marini. Maybe you don’t know, but basically Rick started a company called Branch — was it a Branch — no sorry, not Branch, Tickle. He started a company called Tickle, do you remember Tickle?

Steve: I’m not familiar with the company actually.

Sam: It was it was huge. Yeah it was pretty huge, but he sold it like 120 or $30 million, like some big number, and then he started BranchOut. That was really a big company. Anyway I was a big fan of his, and I read and watched every conference that he had done, and I knew that he had a situation in his life where he kind of got a job at Scientific [inaudible 00:10:42] which was a high end consulting firm, and they would pay him like a quarter million bucks when he was 26, or he could like risk it all and go and start a company, and he decided to start a company.

And I basically when I emailed him, I said, Rick I’m similar to you in that when you were deciding between going to this really nice company, Scientific [inaudible 00:11:01] or starting what would then become Tickle, you decided to go with Tickle. I did that recently as well, and so we could kind of relate on that, and I would love it if you could tell that story at my conference. And he said, I can’t believe you found that story because it was a video with like 200 views. He was, that’s amazing that you found out, you really done your research, come to my office and we can talk about this, and that was how it happened.

Steve: Wow, okay so for every person that you pitched, it was like a very specific personal pitch for everybody?

Sam: One hundred percent.

Steve: Okay, and so once you had the speakers, then I guess selling tickets made it a whole lot easier, right?

Sam: Well, you know starting an event is a really fluid process. It’s kind of like when you’ were a kid, and you go and you want to pull one over on your mom and dad, you go to your mom and say, hey mom can I do this, and she says, if your dad says it’s okay. And then I go to my dad, hey mom says it’s okay, is it okay with you? And then and he’ll say, yeah it’s okay, and then you go to your mom and say, hey it’s okay, he said it’s okay. You know what I mean how you kind of say…

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

Sam: That’s what hosting a conference is like. You basically get like 16 people who you would love to come, and then you pitch each one promising that the other four are going to be there. And then you just go down the list of like promising each one, and then slowly like the previous seven that you pitched finally say yes. So you’re no longer like completely paving, it’s like the truth. And you do this with sponsors as well, you say, hey these people are all in, these speakers are all in, and there’s going to be like 400 people there.

Of course no one has signed up yet, but you just hope that you could pull this all off. So it’s a very fluid process of like three things, speakers, audience, and sponsors. I guess the fourth one is logistics, and you’re doing them all the same time you’re kind of like each one is like halfway there, but everything raises at the same time.

Steve: It’s crazy. Okay so it sounds like once some of the speakers start like agreeing to do it, the rest kind of fall like dominoes at a certain point, it gets easier, right as time goes on?

Sam: Yeah, well we’re always kind of getting in the way also, it’s actually a way better if you spend like — if let’s say you only have four weeks of time to do something, if you can spend three weeks getting the biggest name possible, it’s worth it, because then the next week you can go ahead and get like a bunch of people that are really great people, but they are saying yes because the big person has said yes.

Steve: Okay, that totally makes sense. And then once you have the speaker line up, and then you’re selling tickets kind of at the same time, right?

Sam: Exactly, we’re adding speakers as we’re — and it’s not — the lineup is never set. Sometimes a lot of stuff is sent just like a week out.

Steve: Oh really, that’s crazy.

Sam: Yeah that’s an extreme situation, but it could be, oh yeah I mean it’s happened like two nights before someone has gotten sick and we had to make changes. So yeah it’s changed two nights in advance, but sometimes it can be like yeah sometimes people bail for crazy reasons, or we add people probably last minute.

Steve: So meanwhile to get interest for the conference you’re also getting emails and these are based on articles that you’ve written and shared, right?

Sam: Yeah exactly.

Steve: And then so it’s kind of like a blog in the beginning right, it’s kind of how you got started?

Sam: Yeah I’d been blogging; I had my own personal blog and never did anything. That wasn’t particularly huge, but every once in a while I could get like 60,000 people on one article. But yeah I mean I’ve been a blogger for years, so yeah it’s basically blogging, it’s just in the — people when they hear email I’m like look, think of it this way, your email is your website, and so think of it that way. And so yes it is a blog, but it’s like in an email form.

Steve: Sure, sure. How many times – I’m trying to think, so when you first had those articles, I’m just trying to think how you got to like where you are today like a million in just a little over a year.

Sam: Yeah sure, so we did this conference now, the first time I did it I had 360 people come, the email list started out, I don’t remember the exact number, but let’s say it’s about 200 people that started. By the end of that seven week cycle, I launched the website and then the conference happened seven weeks later and 360 people came. By the end of that cycle, the email list had grown to maybe 2,000 people.

And basically I would write email a week, and that email I would then post that e-mail on the blog, and then I would share the blog on Reddit and places that would get more traffic, and then more people would sign up, they’d fill up the cycle. So that was kind of how it worked, it’s quite simple.

Steve: Can we talk a little about that, so how do you share your own content on Reddit without getting like creamed?

Sam: Well, because I’m like the biggest Reddit nerd on earth. So like only like 10% of my content that I post on Reddit was actually mine. The other 90% was just me being a community member of lots of sub Reddits. So it wasn’t really like I don’t like break any rules.

Steve: I see, so you’d already been established on Reddit?

Sam: Well I wouldn’t say the word establish, I don’t know if that’s the most accurate word, but I was a user and I was like I was a community member, and I was a participant , I wasn’t just a regular, I participated. So I wasn’t quite established, but I was just like a user. And then same with Hacker News, I was a user, I commented, people didn’t know my handle or anything, but I would like comment on stuff and ask questions and submit stuff. So it wasn’t like I was a spammer, I was not a spammer.

Steve: Okay right.

Sam: And I could post up on there, and every once in a while it would get one or two thousand views. Sometimes I could get a million views if I got to the front page which has happened maybe five or six times. But yeah that’s kind of, that was like the cycle. And then I would also have these two to a thousand people or so a day getting my email and they would help share as well.

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How does it work on Reddit actually, just I’m sure some of listeners are very curious, and in terms of getting traffic? So you share other people’s stories and then maybe one out of ten times you’ll post something to your own website?

Sam: Yeah, so Reddit is like an interesting beast. Reddit is, if you get Reddit on your side, you’re a god. If you don’t you’re going to be ashamed and it’s going to destroy you, so like it’s very volatile. So basically Reddit, you just have to understand the personalities of each sub Reddit, and then create content sometimes if you want to go big on Reddit, create content that that particular sub Reddit would really like. But before you do any of that, you have to participate, and at times — so basically the rules sometimes for a lot people it’s like one out of ten things that you post can be self promoting.

Steve: Okay, so were you just sharing other people’s posts then in the beginning?

Sam: Yeah or obvious I guess the question like if I’m in like, I like to follow male fashion, that’s a sub Reddit that I love, male fashion, and I’ll post like, hey does anyone have any used like this brand jeans for sale? I live in San Francisco and I’m interested. Or my boosted board, [inaudible 00:19:44] board, the remote control broke and so I was asking questions on how to fix the remote control. Things like that.

Steve: What about an entrepreneurship example?

Sam: Yeah I mean I would post in the tech news, the tech news section any time like Travis Kalanick like get some crazy stupid stuff, I would always be the first to post that in the tech news section, or in the our entrepreneur. Those entrepreneur ones I really get spammed at times, you have to be particularly — they have a particularly high bullshit detector. So to circumvent that, you have to just don’t bullshit. So I would write comments about people who I found to be inspiring, and I would write stories about why I felt that, but I won’t actually link to anything, and that would slowly build up.

Steve: I see okay.

Sam: I would do it as a hobby, yeah.

Steve: So essentially writing like a little post within Reddit so to speak?

Sam: Exactly.

Steve: Okay, and then what about Hacker News?

Sam: Hacker News, you just have to understand their audience which is young nerds, and I would post lots of press anomic articles on there because press anomic articles are awesome, and I knew that Hacker News loved it, and that one got me my initial color, my initial [inaudible 00:21:02].

Steve: And then have you kind of established like a little group where you can easily get votes for your posts that you post on there, or did everything just kind of happen organically?

Sam: I would never have done that, no. Those just get — I used to be into that type of stuff, but since you know I just I wouldn’t do that because I just would rather do things organically because I think that you’ll have — in the long term, it just pays high dividends. You know I don’t know do those things actually work?

Steve: They do for a while as long as you don’t do it all the time, but after a while like Reddit for example though easily figure that out after a while.

Sam: Yeah so I just like whenever you know — yeah I just never really want to mess with that.

Steve: Okay, so you focused on Reddit and Hacker News, and then every now and then you’d hit the jackpot and drive a bunch of people to your site, and then you’d get a ton of email subs during that period, right?

Sam: Yeah although that’s not like particularly the biggest way that helped us get to where we are. So what happened was I did the first conference in 2014, and it was a pretty good success. The second conference got beat, because I did the first conference, and I thought, oh I did not expect that to be big, 360 people came and it made a whole lot of profit. And I took about six months off and drove my motorcycle around the country is what I did. I just kind of reflected and did a lot of soul searching.

And then I was like, okay let’s try this one more time to see if this actually has legs. And so we did. We did the conference again, and 80 days later it was four times bigger than the last one and we used the same tactics. And at this point the email list grew to be about 8,000 people. And so it wasn’t terribly big, and after that second conference, we realized the reason people liked our events was because of the content that we were sharing. So like during this time I’d read Ted Turner’s biography, the guy who started CNN.

And I got really interested in like these huge massive media conglomerates like Time Warner or Fox Interactive or News Corps, and I was like these companies are like super cool because they have all these like little sub businesses in their company, and that’s not that exciting. But they are their audiences, a lot of their companies are just like dying, they’re really old. Like the average CNN or Fox News age is in the 60s. And I was like fuck it, why can’t we just start the next like huge media empire, and that’s what we wanted to do.

And so in that summer of 2015, we said, let’s try to create a huge media company. And that’s kind of where we started. So the whole thing started with only 10,000 emails, and getting on top of Reddit would drive thousands of emails a day, but the real value happened after we created like hundreds and hundreds of blog posts, and we started covering news and doing news coverage. But the real thing happened in April of 2016 when we decided to switch to email only, and that’s when everything just took off.

Steve: That’s interesting, why would switching to email only cause things to take off?

Sam: Well, a couple reasons. One it’s really noteworthy. So a lot of people told their friends, it’s like kind of weird, like email only media company is like a very strange, it’s unique, it’s noteworthy. And two, when we started emailing people every single day, our open rates actually started increasing a ton, and because we were becoming a hub in people’s daily life, and we began providing a service for them. So in the morning The Hustle was the source of information that they had to make better decisions and be successful and sound intelligent throughout their day.

So our goal was, let’s quickly give them the news they need so they can eat their breakfast and read this, and then go and talk to their coworkers and will sound like they know what they’re talking about. Because that’s kind of a problem is like not being informed, you’re not really part of the conversation too often and you kind of feel up out, or you don’t feel as intelligent, and we were like what if we could solve that? And that’s what the Daily Mail did, and so that’s why it grew.

Steve: I know for myself it’s actually one of the few emails I open because it’s well written, and it provides like all like the latest news. I’m just — what I’m curious about is like once you stopped blogging, it seems like that would hurt things a little bit, right?

Sam: It seems like it yes, but when we first focused on it, it really worked. I mean we did a couple things like we have an ambassador group, and that accounts for a lot of our news [overlapping 00:26:08]. And well basically it’s this, we did four conferences, but basically like if you would share your unique URL with your friends, and some of them bought tickets, you would get a free ticket to the conference.

Steve: I see.

Sam: And so we just hacked that code together, and if a user shares their unique URL, and they get four people sign up, they become an ambassador. If they get 20 people sign up, they get a t-shirt, they get 100, they get a hoodie, things like that. And so that kind of viral looped, it definitely helped us.

Steve: Okay, and so you’re actually sending out physical products for people who share the word about Hustle?

Sam: Yeah, t-shirts, stickers, hoodies, hats, socks, all types of like cool gear. My co-partner, he’s kind of a brand genius, and so whenever — like he’s homemade t-shirts that are so good that people want to buy them, and we just gave up for free.

Steve: Amazing, so how much growth would you attribute to that?

Steve: 20%.

Steve: Really, okay. So once you — when you had the blog, you were still getting subscribers, and I would imagine these posts are getting ranked in Google and they’re driving traffic also, right?

Sam: That’s true yeah, so we still get to this day, I don’t know, you can probably look this up on SEMrush, but roughly 20,000 to 30,000 visitors a day from some of our articles where we wrote like about — when we wrote like some really crazy stuff about like living [overlapping 00:27:36].

Steve: Yeah, I just read, that that was a crazy post.

Sam: Or taking Elsy [ph] and how [inaudible 00:27:41] and how it impacts your work. So that’s up still ranks for a high.

Steve: Whereas — but when you just go straight to email like you lose out on like the extra Google traffic, right?

Sam: Well, we still have that, we still get a lot of traffic from that, but yeah so for this quarter we actually are — we are building ways for our articles. So like basically when we write stories for our daily email, that’s five articles a day at least. We are making it so that actually starts to rank for us.

Steve: Okay, so sorry where we left off we’re at the end of conference two, and you’re at you said 10,000 emails at that point?

Sam: Yeah between ten and 15,000, I don’t remember the exact number, but we can say 10,000 because that’s probably more accurate.

Steve: Okay, and so from there like what was the next step in scaling, like how did you get to your first 100,000?

Sam: Well our first three months doing what we’re doing we wrote some crazy articles, and like in our first three months of business we were averaging probably half a million to a million monthly unique visitors. And it was just me and John writing articles, and we just we knew how to write well, but we also were afraid and we were willing to be extremely controversy off, and that got us to 60,000 people by the time we switched to email which happened nine months later.

So that got us 60,000 people happened in April. So we kept writing these articles, and so by April 2015 we were at 60,000 people, but we’re like this business like it’s not going to be that huge, like creating articles and making money off ad revenue on your site it’s dying. It’s not going to ever be big, or if it is like it’s going to be rare, and we’re not in a position to win. And so we completely pivoted the company on 420 [ph] of 2015 where we said, we’re going all in on email because that way we don’t need that many writers to do stuff.

And our goal is to find a new revenue engine for media companies, and we think that we could do that with email because the economics are so great. And you could sell things to your audience and you can learn from them and build great products and services for them, and then even do even more media. And so that was our goal, and so we launched that on 420.

Steve: We need to talk about how you guys make money. So outside the conference how do you guys generate revenue?

Sam: Yeah, so practically all of our money comes from email advertisements right now. We make a lot of money from conferences, but 90% of it is from email advertisements. But our goal with this company is I believe that advertisements for news can be a meaningful number, tens of millions maybe hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. But in order to be a massive media business which is definitely our goal, you have to have another source of revenue.

So for example NerdWallet while they don’t do news, they do make hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of the credit card offers or AARP. A lot of people don’t think them as a media company, but they are and they make two or three billion dollars a year from their membership program, and so same with Bloomberg. Bloomberg everyone thinks that they’re a media company, but they make the majority of their money, so like nine billion dollars a year from their Bloomberg terminals. And we looked at some of these companies that do that; we were like that is the way to go.

Media should be basically your news coverage should be content marketing for other products and services in your repertoire. And I think that that’s how our media is going to be in the next ten to 20 years.

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So in terms of your ads that you’re putting in your emails like what is the going rate on pay outs for that?

Sam: It ranges from $20 to $60 CPM.

Steve: Okay, is it for people who open or people who you send to?

Sam: Send.

Steve: Send, okay. And then so up until this point you’ve been advertising other people’s companies and it sounds like your end goal is to use your email list to sell your own products?

Sam: Yeah.

Steve: Okay, and then 90% of your revenue — I was just looking at your email the other day, the advertisement is always at the end, but it doesn’t sound like an advertisement at least if you read it quickly.

Sam: Well, it says that it’s an ad; it definitely says it says it. It says sponsored by, and it’s native. So it’s supposed to read, you know the same writers who write the news write that stuff, write our advertisements. I mean don’t get me wrong, it reads native and that’s what we want it to read.

Steve: Yeah it’s excellent.

Sam: But we also want to make it crystal clear like that that’s paid for which I sleep well knowing that we do. People should know we’re definitely — our product at the moment is our audience, this trust in us and we definitely always want that be crystal clear that this is paid for. But at the same time we don’t work with assholes, and we don’t work with brands that have bad products, so we’re always promoting stuff that we actually like.

Steve: And then so it’s just one advertisement per email right is what it…

Sam: Well, you’ll see two in there sometimes. Yeah sometimes you’ll see two and then also we split the list as well. So you may not see the same advertisement as your wife or your friends who are also on The Hustle.

Steve: I see, so it’s segmented based on what you think people are interested in?

Sam: Exactly. Yeah so on the same day both Microsoft and Sam’s Club can be an advertiser.

Steve: I see. Just curious, did you build your own email management system or are you using something off the shelf?

Sam: Originally we used MailChimp, then we switched to SendGrid. Now we built our own service.

Steve: So you have your own server sending out the emails?

Sam: It built on top of another person’s API, but we’ve built the CMS.

Steve: Okay cool, and then okay so when you went to email only, it sounded like one of the biggest advantages was the fact that you didn’t have to pump out these long five page blog posts anymore, you could just focus everything onto a single email, is that accurate?

Sam: That is accurate. Another advantage that’s as huge as my whole life I always say I want to be a pilot ship, meaning I want people who I enjoy being around to be able to get on our pilot ship, and I want us to be able to do whatever we want. And if you’re building a media company, right now you are beholden to Facebook and Google. And while I don’t mind having them guide parts of my business, a lot of companies like say Upworthy, that’s an older example, but many media companies today fall in that category as well.

They rely 95% of their company on Facebook, and to me that is like the worst thing on earth. And so with email it’s not so much that. I don’t rely on one thing.

Steve: But I guess you could argue that like Google’s promotions tab is a way to affect that business model as well, right?

Sam: That is correct, but not every one of our people has Gmail.

Steve: Sure.

Sam: And of course there’s no perfect platform, we’re always — unless I build my own platform, we’re always going to be a little bit beholden to someone. I’m just trying to hedge my bets and make it so I have the best likelihood to win.

Steve: Yeah, that makes sense. And so by going all email also people are much more likely to open that mail because it’s not like you post the entire library of emails that you’ve ever sent on your site, right?

Sam: You could find them but it’s not…

Steve: It’s not easy to find them, right?

Sam: Yeah that’s right.

Steve: Okay, so that adds like an extra incentive that improves your open rate? Would you mind sharing what your open rate is actually, I’m curious since you have so many emails?

Sam: It ranges, but it’s you know on a low day, it’ll be 40%, on a high day 60%.

Steve: That is crazy okay.

Sam: Yeah, if you do a good job, yeah it’s cool. I mean email is cool.

Steve: Does that — how much of that has to do with the fact that you kind of control your own email and your own IPs and everything as opposed to using a service like MailChimp?

Sam: It went up big time.

Steve: And at what point…

Sam: It’s the product is good.

Steve: Yeah I know the product is excellent, yeah.

Sam: That’s the biggest thing is that it’s a really good product, targeted, and we found a product market fit. We know who likes our ship and we go and find them, but we also make it really easy, like making sure the HTML code in the email is like perfect and will not get flagged by spam, in spam boxes.

Steve: Yeah I know that’s where I was getting to, like a lot of emails don’t even make it to the inbox even, even if it’s good a lot of people miss it.

Sam: Yeah and that’s hard, that’s a challenge. I mean at these big companies, I imagine Amazon has like a 50 person team for email deliverability.

Steve: Actually since we’re talking about that, how do you guys manage that, do you run it through tools like mail tester and before every cent?

Sam: So I am far from being a tech person, we actually have a tech team. So I mean any advice I can — or any feedback to this I can give is going to be strictly high level. But my partner and Wes are our two tech guys, and they — yeah they do use — they have some very expensive tools that tell them the deliverability rate, and they get suggestions on how to improve that. But basically, you can fix the code a little bit, so you want your HTML code to be really clean. When you send, you want to send from your own IP address, and you want to make sure that your own IP address has a really good reputation with Google and Yahoo and things like that.

And there’s like another — it’s basically email deliverability is the same thing as SEO. There’s a whole bunch of best practices to follow, and if you follow best practices, you most likely will be okay. But there’s no like perfect like silver bullet.

Steve: Okay, it seems like your secret sauce is actually the content that you write in your emails. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your process for constructing these emails?

Sam: So at first it was just John and I, and we would just go back and forth and we would read what’s going on in the world, and then we would have conversations about what we thought was interesting. But now I don’t have anything to do with the daily process, and John now doesn’t either. We have a team that does it, but the process is actually coming to work, and between eleven and noon, between that when they come in and two or three, they’re reading the news, and they’re learning what’s going on in the world.

And then like three to five, they’ll get in a little room and they just shoot the shit, it almost feels like a Saturday Night Live like writing room where they just like make jokes and they talk about what’s going on in the world and what’s important. And then from like five to like eight, they’re cranking, they’re writing drafts and then throughout the night, like sometimes as late as 3am, they’re editing and fixing and looking at anything new that’s going on in the world, and they’re trying to perfect it, and proofread it, and then they get up early.

Right now we’ve got in New York now, so they don’t have to get up as early, who sends the email at like 8:30, 8:45, and then they come to work and do it again.

Steve: That’s crazy. So does each person, are they responsible for like one day of the week because to do this over and over on a daily basis sounds pretty intensive?

Sam: It is intensive, but that’s the type of people they are, yeah.

Steve: Okay.

Sam: Each person contributes like 30%.

Steve: So okay, so we’re running a little bit short on time here, and we kind of left off at like one 100K emails. Growing from 100 — like where would you say are the inflection points in email growth that you experienced?

Sam: Yeah, so like getting the 30,000 was a big deal for us. And then from 30,000 to 100,000 was a big deal.

Steve: What did you do differently in each of those inflection points?

Sam: You know like not much. What happened was like it’s just consistency really, like you know our mutual friend Nebol [ph] kind of pointed this out to me. He’s like — because he comes to our office, he’s like, I see you guys doing this, I’ve seen you like each quarter and you’re not doing anything different, but the thing is, is that you’ve been in this office, this little crappy office, we’re in a much bigger and nice office, but at the time it was a small apartment.

He’s like you’ve been in this office and you’re just doing this shit every single day, and that catches on eventually. And I think that’s what happens, it’s extremely unsexy, but you know do the same job like what we’re doing every day for like 18 months and if you’re doing a pretty good job, you’ll see results.

Steve: Okay.

Sam: It just takes a ton of turn.

Steve: The reason why I asked that question is because sometimes as you get bigger, so going from getting to a million for example which is where you’re going to hit later on this year, like the same tactics that you used percentage wise might not yield the same gains. So that’s why I was just kind of curious if you’ve instituted new tactics over the years to kind of boost the growth or scale it?

Sam: Well, so in the beginning when we started, we did a lot of scammy stuff like some giveaways we would do, or we would have like a Reddit voting ring, and that stuff like gave us like a little like bumps, but like bumps in traffic. But really the stuff that’s been the biggest evidence, we’re just doing the really like the right thing, and doing it over and over and over again. So just like not like — I think the problem with a lot of people in our world and all my internet marketing friends is they’re always looking for short term gains.

But really focusing on like, okay we may like suck like for the next like month, but if we like with time and create these articles are going to give us good search traffic now, then will be paying huge dividends in like a year. And doing stuff like that has added up.

Steve: Let me ask you this Sam, if you were to start this thing all over again, would you do anything differently than the way you proceeded now?

Sam: No.

Steve: So you’d start with the conference to build that initial pool, would the conference be like the integral part of this still?

Sam: Yeah, our conference — like in order to do what we need to do or what we want to do, we don’t make money right away. Like with media once you have a huge audience, then the money just pours in. But to get there you have to be poor for a little while and so the conferences were our cash cow that allowed us not to be able to — like we’re going to need to raise a lot of money.

But what I’m hoping is that our conferences, the profits from our conferences will subsidize the amount of money that we need to raise, and give us a better valuation and allow and keep us majority owned by ourselves and our employees. So yeah I would do everything the same way. I will make the conferences much bigger.

Steve: So the conference allows you to bootstrap The Hustle essentially is what you’re saying?

Sam: Exactly. We have since raised 1.3 million dollars, but I wouldn’t really even say we needed that, but it makes us grow faster.

Steve: Based on our earlier conversations it sounded like you got some of that early investment as kind of like a strategic move to get access to some of these big profile people, right?

Sam: Yeah so like the founders of Bleacher Report, the founders of [inaudible 00:44:47], Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, these are some of our investors and some of our friends, and we have access not only — I would normally pay for their advice, but it went the other way round. Locally we’re going to pay them a lot more for everything, so it worked out, but yeah so now we have these guys on our team.

Steve: That’s ingenious. And so going forward we kind of talked about you introducing your own products, care to share any of the things that you have in mind going forward?

Sam: Yeah, so we aren’t revealing anything big yet, but we’re not publicly talking about it yet. But I will say this, we have this massive audience of people who all have similar tastes, and buy similar things. And I think that it would be really powerful if we could leverage on group buying power to get really cool deals and discounts on shit that we’re all buying, that everyone buys.

So we’ll definitely — that idea to me is really interesting because it’s very powerful, because if you get 30 or 40 million members of an infinity group, you could I bet you can change the law. I mean you know what I mean like you can change policy. And I think that’s really exciting for me, and that’s something that we’re interested in.

Steve: That’s cool. Hey Sam, I want to be respectful of your time, where can people find more about you and your company?

Sam: Well, if they want to find out more about the company, they can just search The Hustle and hopefully it will be the first thing that they come up. And if they search The Hustle they’ll also find cool articles about how we started and things like that. Me personally, I’m on Twitter @theSamParr, and my email is very easy to find, so you can always shoot me an email as well.

Steve: Cool Sam; well really appreciate you coming on the show. I learned a lot and your story is just crazy.

Sam: Well, hopefully it’s just the first ending.

Steve: Cool man, take care Sam.

Sam: All right, see you man.

Steve: Hope you enjoyed that episode. I actually had the opportunity to meet Sam in person at his last conference, and he’s one of the most ambitious people that I’ve ever met. For more from information about this episode, go to mywifequitherjob.com/episode183.

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Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information, visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.

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