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A $1 Million Dollar Newsletter Run By A Solo Founder

From side-project to a million dollar newsletter business

Hello! Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your business?

Hey πŸ‘‹ I'm Michael Houck, founder of Houck's Newsletter (a weekly startup advice column read by 70,000 founders) and Megaphone (a managed marketplace for growing on Twitter/X and LinkedIn).

My last startup raised $15 million, including a Series A led by a16z, and I've co-founded a venture fund and invested in over 50 startups as well.

I'd love if you tried my newsletter.

We have weekly fireside chats with experts (and record them all), do IRL meetups, and will soon have courses and playbooks to help you build your startup. We have over 450 members who've collectively raised over $200 million.

And if you're looking to generate leads or build your personal brand on social media, definitely check out Megaphone (we probably work with creators you already follow)

How did you start this business? Take us through the process.

Megaphone started by accident. I texted a few friends and asked if they'd be interested in a marketplace where big, well known creators amplified their content to help them grow.

All five of them asked me if they could pay me for it that same day, so I knew I was onto something.

The v1 was as basic as it gets β€” I set up a Typeform and connected it to Slack + Airtable. When someone shared a URL with the Typeform it sent a message to a Slack channel where my VA picked a few creators (who had opted in) from a list and sent it to them on Telegram or WhatsApp.

All in all I spent basically $0 to start it since I already had subscriptions to those tools and my VA for my newsletter.

My newsletter started as a side project! We were trying to build up my personal brand to attract more customers for my last startup. The startup didn't work out but the newsletter kept going.

Some people said a newsletter for startup founders was too broad, but I saw a big gap in the market. Most people write really specific advice for parts of running a startup. But there wasn't much modern advice out there from someone who had recently built a venture-backed company, despite Silicon Valley having evolved considerably from the early days of Y Combinator when Paul Graham was putting out his most seminal essays.

Once I realized it would become its own business, I put $10,000 in, which I didn't actually use much of. I probably spent ~$1,500 of it on Beehiiv and various SaaS tools to get things off the ground.

How did you get your first initial customers?

For Megaphone, my newsletter made it simple. I expanded in concentric circles:

  1. Texted a few friends with the idea to get their thoughts and feedback

  2. Texted a larger and more varied group of people with a formulated sales pitch to see what type of messaging would work, and for whom

  3. Shared it with my paid founder community (~450 people) to see how a trusted audience would respond

  4. Ran a lead magnet on Twitter and LinkedIn to generate leads. Got ~600 emails.

  5. Added it to my welcome sequence for the newsletter and have mentioned it 2-3x in the newsletter since

It made money right away because the value prop was really simple and my friends and audience had seen me grow my audience over the last few years. So I had credibility with them.

For the newsletter, I used swaps with other newsletter writers in my niche who were at a similar size, content marketing (viral threads) on X. I had a small initial email list from a previous newsletter I started that had ~1,500 emails on it, so I wasn't starting from 0.

Interested in more growth strategies?

Check out this extensive database of over 300+ growth strategies from various indie founders.

With this database, you would be able to find out stories of:

  • who got 100 paid users in just 1 day for his SaaS

  • who used a pricing strategy to hit almost $15,000 in sales for his digital product

  • who shared a step-by-step process to finding journalists and their email address in order to get free PR coverage for your business

  • who went from merely hundreds to over 200,000 monthly search impressions implementing just this one strategy

  • how this creator went from 0 to 2,500 email subscribers in just 30 days

  • who generated 6 figures from a digital product in just 2 weeks

Since launch, what are your marketing strategies or channels to get new customers?

I haven't expanded Megaphone's growth channels beyond my own newsletter so far, but I'm currently evaluating a few options. I have some intuition here from my time building products at Uber, but not ready to share!

For the newsletter, these days paid channels are the majority of my new subscribers (which is true for most newsletters β€” even the really big ones).

We run ads on FB/IG and Twitter, and I also use SparkLoop for paid recommendations. I've also experimented with acquiring other newsletters, and running lead magnets on social.

How does your business make money?

Megaphone has tiered subscription pricing of $49/mo or $89/mo. The $49/mo option delays your posts from being sent to creators by 1 hour.

We also take 20% of creator earnings (but 0% of what you spend on the user end).

The newsletter monetizes through ads, subscriptions, and upsells to Megaphone and consulting time for me. We also make money through SparkLoop by referring other newsletters, and a couple other channels as well.

Currently these are growing at a good enough rate that I'm not looking to expand to more channels right now.

We just had our first $100,000 month! I don't think we'll consistently hit that every month til Q1, but it was still a nice milestone.

More reliably we're doing $~70-80k/mo of which ~$20,000 is MRR (after starting the year at $0).

Expenses vary based on how much we invest in growth, but I'm trying to keep margins very low (under 10%) to optimize for growth and basically just pay my rent.

Where can we go to lean more about you and your business?

Here are some links you can go to learn more:

Houck's Newsletter: https://join.houck.news

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