and getting your first 1000 true fans
Hello Folks 👋,
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Eric Newcomer from the Newcomer Substack publication (so meta) to talk about getting your first 1000 true fans.
Kevin Kelly, cofounder of Wired, popularized the idea of 1000 true fans through his 2008 essay. To be able to make a living off your true fans, Kevin hypothesized, you need to meet just two criteria (a prerequisite not mentioned here is having an audience)
First, you have to create enough each year that you can earn, on average, $100 profit from each true fan. That is easier to do in some arts and businesses than others, but it is a good creative challenge in every area because it is always easier and better to give your existing customers more, than it is to find new fans.
Second, you must have a direct relationship with your fans. That is, they must pay you directly. You get to keep all of their support, unlike the small percent of their fees you might get from a music label, publisher, studio, retailer, or other intermediate. If you keep the full $100 of each true fan, then you need only 1,000 of them to earn $100,000 per year. That’s a living for most folks.
It wasn't until a decade after this essay was written that the tooling needed to have a direct relationship and monetize your audience became widely available. For authors, Substack was the platform that ignited the going independent and establishing an unmediated relationship with your audience movement.
Eric caught wind of the independent trend early and on October 2020 he left his reporting job at Bloomberg to become an independent journalist. In three short months after starting his one man operation, Eric broke the 1000 paid subscribers and last week, he celebrated the one-year anniversary of the publication having over 1300 paid subscribers.
Today we're taking a behind the scenes look on Eric's journey to building a six figure business and 4th largest paid tech Substack.
Eric started off in journalism at a young age. He was an anchor on his elementary school newscast and the editor-in-chief of his high school paper. At Harvard, he studied philosophy in class but he spent most of his time at The Harvard Crimson. He interned at newspapers every summer, including The New York Times after his senior year. He briefly took a job covering DC City Hall at the Washington Examiner but the paper decided to kill its local section just a few months into the job. The paper gave impacted employees a 3 months heads up to figure out their next moves.
It was during that time that Eric met Jessica Lessin, who had left the WSJ after an 8+ year tenure to start The Information. Eric was set on taking a job at the Philadelphia Inquirer but when Jessica offered him a job at her yet-unnamed tech publication it was too cool of an opportunity to pass up. This decision would implant the very first seeds of the Newcomer publication, even if he did not realize it at the time.
During his year and a half tenure at The Information, Eric would come to experience the ins and outs of building a premium subscription-based technology publication; he got the chance to witness how receptive sources were to speaking to Jessica Lessin's publication, without having the WSJ brand behind it.
Years later, this first hand experience would give Eric the confidence to quit his long-held job at Bloomberg- where he did some of the best reporting on Uber during their tremulous time- and follow the footsteps of his former boss to launch his very own media publication.
Fun fact: It took both Eric & Jessica 8 years from kicking off their respective journalism careers to branch out on their own.
Newcomer, the publication
In 2021, we somehow find ourselves living simultaneously in the best and worse information era . On one hand we have exploitative algorithmic feeds that amplify whatever happens to drive engagement that day, millions of SEO-driven blog posts catering to the lowest common denominator and overall, just an unfathomable amount of content to read.
On the other hand, we have more independent reporters, analysts, researchers, and industry experts than ever before, who are empowered by the zero-marginal distribution cost of the internet and the ability to directly monetize their content directly sharing their unique worldview/expertise/analysis with the world.
Newcomer is an opinionated tech publication, that offers a unique lens into tech reporting; Eric doesn't just report and break news on what is happening in the startup and venture world, he dives into the why and how, a practice tech publication have shied away from for many decade.
And Eric does a phenomenal job at all three.
Don't take from me, take it from the GOAT VC himself.
The First 1000 (paid) subscribers
Eric is not one for self-promotion or growth hacks, instead he build up his paid subscriber base in the purest creator-economy way possible: consistently pushing out high quality content.
Along the way, however, a few factors helped give him some leverage to building one of the largest paid tech publications.
1/ Establishing trust with both Media & Tech:
In an us against them world between media and VCs, Newcomer planted his flag right down the middle and it was by no accident. When announcing the launch of his publication, Eric wrote:
I tend to be a contrarian, which meant for many years I was skeptical of Silicon Valley. Today, with press coverage of the valley so overwhelmingly negative, I think there’s room for some contrarian optimism. So I quit my job at Bloomberg — where I’ve scooped IPO news, acquisitions and financing rounds and written about startups before they were cool and exposed them when they were overhyped — to write for the industry. That means the founders, the people who work for them, the people who fund them, the people who want to join their ranks, and the people who think they should be fired.
With his "contrarian optimism" positioning, Eric garnered support from both the media and tech top figures.
2/ Established trust with an existing audience:
His remarkable coverage at Bloomberg, especially around the Uber saga, earned Eric a highly-engaged following of 17k+ people Twitter.
When Eric decided to leave Bloomberg and go solo, many of his readers followed him across the internet despite having no means of directly communicating the message, except through Twitter.
3/ Halo effect from high-profile interviews:
With a dedicated following(seen through his 11% conversion rate from free to paid) and champions across both aisles of media and tech, Eric interviewed Dara Khosrowshahi (Uber), Tony Xu (Doordash), Bill Gurley (Benchmark), Kirsten Green(Forerunner) and Chris Sacca (LowerCarbon) to name a few.
While many of those interviewed were behind the paywall, once could still clearly cross-reference the growth spike with the dates when these interviews were published
Newcomer falls into it's Monday why I haven't I received my issue yet category. That is to say it is one of the few publication that I actively seek out.
But the future for Newcomer is building a presence across different platforms. So far we already have:
Newcomer the newsletter - For deep analytical reporting
dead cat the podcast - For fun entertaining takes on what's in the world
Sidechannel - discord server- For casual discussions, debates and exclusive interviews
Seeing Eric in different lights, on different platforms with different angles on the overarching theme of VC & Startups is how he plans on expanding his personal brand. Instead of building these new channels from the ground-up, he is going multiplayer and cross-pollinating audiences with other creators in the same sphere.
I am personally really enjoying this strategy. The more Newcomer in my life, the better.
@ Eric, can't wait for the next dead cat episode drop (and please stick to a release day)
That's it for today, see you next week 😉,