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🎢 Newsletter #35 - How I started writing Consumer Startups
+ Happy end of the year!
Hey there! Welcome to my email newsletter. My name is Leo Luo, a student entrepreneur at the University of Michigan. I write about founder stories, trends, fundraising, and unique behaviors in the consumer startup space.
All my previous posts can be found here.
Follow me on Twitter @_leoluo.
🍽 Today’s menu
Startup story - My journey writing Consumer Startups
What I’ve been reading - 5 articles about startups and investing
Who’s ballin’ this week - 5 new fundraising/developments in B2C space
Jobs - 12 full-time jobs and internship postings
Feedback - Feel free to leave any message!
🔥 Startup Story
How I started writing Consumer Startups
(Image credit: substack)
As a restless college student, I love working on entrepreneurial side projects. Whether reselling football tickets or building a second-hand marketplace for college students, I have always aimed to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
When colleges began sending students home due to the pandemic, I decided to start writing Consumer Startups to capitalize on the additional time I had at hand from not going to places. At the time, there were three main impetuses:
I wanted to learn more about the early-stage B2C space. I believed and still believe the best way to do so is by writing publicly and sharing my learnings from personal readings and other early-stage consumer investors and founders.
I wanted to build a brand for myself. Alex and Austin from MorningBrew are two of my biggest inspirations. They’ve built an incredible brand through a newsletter. (Fun fact: They also started writing their newsletter when they were seniors at Michigan.)
I wanted to pursue a long-term project that would be hard but could have outsized return overtime. Writing has never been easy for me. In fact, I often dread writing in school. Nevertheless, pursuing this project would enable me to increase the slope of my learning curve in the startup world, grow my professional network organically, and offer synergies if I were to become a founder or a VC investor down the road.
🚗 Newsletter Journey
The first edition of Consumer Startups was very different from what it is today. I made two main decisions at the time:
Use Substack as my platform - it is beginner-friendly so I didn’t have to worry about building a website or spending too much time making the newsletter look pretty.
Pursue a curation model - the newsletter started with more of curation-style model in mind. I was commenting on interesting startups and trends I found on Techcrunch or Twitter. The newsletter was a lot shorter and not very in-depth.
(I talked about Clubhouse and Cheetah in my first newsletter)
***Stats - I subscribed 36 of my friends who were interested in startups and had about an 80% open rate.
After a month of just curating and commenting on different trends and news, I realized two main issues:
I wasn’t an expert in the space. I didn’t know enough about the consumer space to really comment on anything. Despite my passion for consumer startups, I felt that I lacked the experience to have a unique POV.
I didn’t have original stories. People could easily read about trends and stories on Twitter or TechCrunch and my analysis was not differentiated enough to retain readers in the long-term.
I decided to make a pivot and focus on writing an interview-style newsletter. I would interview early-stage B2C founders and document the unique stories and experiences they acquired from building their respective startups. In doing so, not only did I not have to be the expert, but I could also produce more in-depth, original content that was both more insightful and exclusive.
***Stats - I had 165 subscribers at the time and the open rate fluctuated between 60-70%
Over the last six months, I have made multiple changes and implemented systems to improve both acquisition and retention based on reader feedback and conversations with other newsletter writers:
Reach / Top of Funnel - After each newsletter gets published on Sunday, I make a post on LinkedIn and Twitter to increase reach. From time to time, I also post on different slack groups and collaborate with other newsletters for shoutouts. For example, a single shout out from the Accelerated newsletter got me 100+ new subscribers within 24 hours.
Conversion - I tried to make it easier for new people to subscribe by having more ‘subscribe now’ buttons throughout each post so that the call-to-action was more salient.
Content is king - I believe the best way to increase retention is to listen to your readers and implement relevant changes based on their feedback. Here are some changes I made based on reader feedback:
Feedback #1- “The newsletter was long and hard to digest.”
Changes - 1. Chunking each story and have fewer sentences per paragraph 2. More headings 3. Highlight key insights
Feedback #2 - “I want an easy way to see all the previous posts.”
Changes - 1. Added a ‘what you might’ve missed’ section to easily navigate to a few recent posts 2. Created a notion board with all previous posts, sortable by industry, startup names, and investor names
***Stats - I have under 1000 subscribers right now and the open rate fluctuates between 50-60%
Moving Forward (12/27/20 – beyond)
In the next year, I will focus on two main things:
Refine my newsletter to deliver any relevant content to you and proactively seek out more feedback
Engage more with you and provide more opportunities for interactions among my readers (e.g. groupchat, events, making intros)
🤔 Challenges & Key Learnings
1. It is hard to get interviews
Early-stage founders and VC investors are likely two of the busiest groups of people in the world. They are typically highly protective of their time, so it is hard to get 30-45 mins booked on their calendars.
In the past seven months, I have reached out to 200+ investors and founders with about 40% of them being converted into interviews for my newsletter. I have two key learnings that have helped me to get interviews:
Follow-up is the key - I am very persistent with my outreach but I also avoid being annoying. My secret sauce: Email -> follow-up email -> LinkedIn Message -> Twitter Message. At least 20-30% of my interviews come from follow-ups.
Plan ahead - I try to always schedule interviews two weeks or at least one week in advance so I have plenty of breathing room.
2. Time management is tough
As a college student with a maximum course load and two side projects, I have found writing a weekly newsletter to be incredibly difficult. It takes about 15 hours a week - here is the break down:
Reading and finding interesting articles and news: 1 hour a day for five days
Interviews (reaching out + doing the interview): 3-4 hours
Writing the newsletter: 5-6 hours
To minimize time wasters, I implemented a consistent workflow such as having email templates for outreach and establishing a consistent reading flow to maximize opportunities to find relevant articles and news to share on my newsletter.
🚀 My vision for Consumer Startups
In the next 5-10 years, the vision is to grow Consumer Startups into a community that centers around early-stage consumer startups. I have three main missions:
Give more visibility to early-stage startups that are working on interesting ideas and solving massive problems
Help aspiring B2C founders learn more about what it takes to build a good business and how to validate ideas and get traction in the early days
Connect young people and investors with early-stage startups for jobs and investment opportunities
I want to give a special shout-out to my friend Kelvin Boateng, a marketing student at Vanderbilt, who has helped me edit my newsletter and given me a ton of inspiration regarding how to market my newsletter and grow the readership. Thank you, Kelvin!
Feel free to reach out to me if you are an early-stage founder that is currently fundraising right now.
I would love to help and pass on the deck to investors in my network!
👨💻 What I’ve been reading
The Observer Effect - Interview with Shopify Founder Tobi Lütke (day in the life, mental models, etc)
Building the Middle Class of the Creator Economy by Li Jin
The Ultimate Guide to Unbundling Reddit
How the top 50 tech thinkers think about the next big thing in 2021
Fiverr’s Road to 797% Growth: The Decision Frameworks Behind Their Success
🏀 Who’s ballin this week
Fluent Forever raises $4.9M for its language learning system
After lockdowns boost gaming marketplace Eneba, it raises $8M from Practica and InReach
Peloton stock price surges 15% to record high on $420 million Precor acquisition
WeRide, China's leading L4-level autonomous driving company, has raised $200 million from the nation's commercial vehicle maker Yutong Group
😍 Jobs & Internships
Apply - Redpoint - Growth Investor (SF)
Apply - DoNotPay - Software Engineer (Bay Area or Remote)
Apply - Worklife Ventures - Chief of Staff (SF)
Apply - GOAT - Junior Marketing Project Manager (LA)
Apply - SeatGeek - Product Manager (NYC)
Apply - Culdesac - BD Intern (Remote)
Apply - DocuSign - Product Experience Ops Intern (SF)
Apply - Dropbox - Summer Launch Interns (Remote)
Apply - Curology - Marketing Strategy and Operations Intern (Remote)
Apply - Done - Growth Intern (Remote)
Apply - TikTok - Software Engineer Intern (Mountain View)
Feel free to leave any message here!
I would love to hear more about what you think about this newsletter and how I can deliver better content to you in the future.
↺ What you might’ve missed in the last three weeks
12/20 - Story of Jemi (Shopify for content creators) + Saar Gur (Partner at CRV)
12/13 - Story of Geneva (Slack for private communities) + Future of Consumer Startups
12/06 - Story of Wellnest (joyful journaling app) + Matthew Hartman (Partner at Betaworks Ventures)
Check out all the startups and investors I have featured in the past on
this Notion board