May 14th, 2021
I can cap and say that I never scratched my jealousy's itch
But thank God I conquered that 'cause if not I'd never be rich
Envy, keep your pockets empty, so just focus on you
If you broke and clownin' a millionaire, the joke is on you

- J Cole
May 10th, 2021
April 2021 was a great month. We had our best month ever in traffic, email subscribers, and we accrued $31K in revenue!

I’m excited and optimistic about the future of this company! Specifically, it becomes more clear each day just how much opportunity there is here and how it can actually be achieved in a scalable business model. 

It feels like the only thing stopping us is time!



Key Metrics for April 2021

  • Revenue: $31,272 (+43% MoM)
  • Uniques (GA): 607K (+10% last 30 days)
  • Newsletter: 81.3K Total (+11.8K) (+18% MoM)


Traffic

Traffic is growing, but slower than I’d like. 10% growth is still good, though. 

If we keep growing at 10%, we’d hit 1.7M visitors/month by the end of the year. But that is not enough... To reach our EOY goal of 5M/month, we’ll need to grow at ~25% per month!

We are getting closer to 1M search impressions per day

So, that’s got us thinking about growth, how can we grow and scale?

The Media Company Of The Future

So here is my idea, my “big bet”, on how we will get to 5M monthly uniques: we’ll keep building the media company of the future...

What does the media company of the future look like? Instead of a clunky content team of employees, we’re building a system / “marketplace” for experimenting, producing, and iterating on content. We’re building a technology-first, cost-effective content machine!

For example, let’s say we have a piece of content that works like “best coworking spaces in X city”. This system enables us to scale that piece of content to the top 500 cities in the world. That’s 500 pieces of high ranking content and quality traffic, as long as we can 

(1) confirm the unit economics work for that content (it’s profitable), and 
(2) understand what makes it rank highly and iterate there.

The killer feature is that we’re building a system that allows us to do this extremely fast, by deploying dozens of freelancers to do the work inside of Starter Story, with this platform that we’re building.

This is a big bet but I don’t think there is a downside. I believe this will work because our unit economics already work at Starter Story. We can produce content at such a low cost, and this system will only make it cheaper!!

And this is still early days, one day it’ll be mature enough to do more than just written content, but even YouTube content, news-type content, courses, or whatever media and content we want to produce.

Here’s a screenshot from the new system our freelancers are working in.


Revenue

Revenue was $31K, a very solid month. 

Most importantly, we are continuing to diversify our income streams. We’re maintaining a healthy balance between subscriptions, sponsorships, advertising, and affiliate revenue. 

It’s nice to see a healthy split across all of our revenue streams. Think of us like a tiny version of the New York Times.

If this keeps up, we won’t have to go chasing down big sales, investments, or deals. We are certainly under monetized, but I’d rather stay healthy as a business and focus on content (our most important asset) rather than chasing down something that is not core to our business.

Content As “Products”

One reason our revenue saw a spike this month was the launch of our “Growth Database”.

We need to be launching more things like this: packaging up our content into info products that signal value to readers. Make it feel like “less than a blog post” and “more like a database”.

These products give us an opportunity to increase the total value of our membership, and also give us a remarketing opportunity for longtime readers.

Newsletter

We’re bringing on David Bustos to a more full time role to run our newsletter. Next to content, email is the biggest part of our business, and we need a full time mind on it.

At the time of this writing, we have over 82K subscribers and we are getting closer to a cool milestone: adding 1,000 new subscribers per day! We might hit 100K by the next time I send this!

I read this book about email marketing and I highly recommend it. It is written by an entrepreneur who runs a $30M/year media company similar to Starter Story.

Next Month

Next month, we’ll be heads down on the following goals:

Goal #1: 22 pieces of non-interview quality content published per day, trailing 30 days by June 30, 2021.

Content goal, this goal is based around our new tasking system that we’re building. It’s an aggressive goal, but will push us to step out of our comfort zone and build the right tools and hire more freelancers to help!

Goal #2: 5% Email Opt In Rate and $0.10 Revenue Per Recipient (RPR) by June 30, 2021.

Email goal, we have a lot of opportunity and low hanging fruit to convert more website visitors to our email list, and then convert more of those on our email list to our paid membership.

Goal #3: 80+ Lighthouse Score On All Pages Mobile & Desktop + All “Good” Core Vitals by June 30th, 2021.

Our website could be a lot faster, and apparently Google will favor super fast websites more, soon! We need to put some work in here!
May 4th, 2021
For all the WSB-types out there:

Hedge your bets against crypto, stocks, investments, etc by building a cash generating business around it.

If the crypto fails, you built a successful business.

If the business fails, you made a great investment.
April 28th, 2021
re: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/business/basecamp-politics-ban.html

Basecamp can't be canceled, they have no investors! 

They have a solid, profitable business so even a mass exodus of employees really wouldn't hurt them.

Customers could leave, but I believe the controversy is too nuanced.

They'll probably gain more customers, and definitely gain more applications to work there because of all this attention they are getting.
April 27th, 2021
If your main goal in life is to “build wealth”, you’ve got it all backwards.

“Wealth” is a byproduct of our passions and doing honest, hard work over time.

For some people, that’s starting a company. For others, it’s real estate. For others, it’s frugality and saving. There are hundreds of paths to wealth.

Wealth itself should never be the goal, the path should be the goal!

If I gave you two options:

1. You can become wealthy doing something you don’t love
2. You can become wealthy doing something you really love

You would of course pick #2. 

Why would you ever pick #1?
April 22nd, 2021
Went on Twitter. Saw some guy I distantly know who got into YC. Who never launched anything before. With a generic ass startup. The same batch that I was rejected (which was also my 3rd YC rejection).

My whole story is about rejection and the rest of my life will, too. And it's usually because people don't think I'm smart enough. Or because I don't have an Ivy League persona.

These rejections always sting in the short term but months later I'm thankful for them. And stronger.
April 15th, 2021
Here are the books I read during my two month Twitter hiatus:

  • The Algebra Of Happiness Scott Galloway
  • Open by Andre Agassi
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  • A World Without Email Cal Newport
  • Grinding It Out Ray Kroc
  • Business Brilliant by Lewis Schiff
  • Sam Walton Made In America
  • Invent & Wander by Jeff Bezos (my favorite of the bunch)

You can read a lot when you gtfo off Twitter lol
April 14th, 2021
I'd love to one day have an exit and sell my company, but I also don't care.

I don't have any "end goal" with entrepreneurship. This is something that I came to terms with last year, and ever since, it's been freeing.

Entrepreneurship is more of a way of life, and I hope to be hacking and starting companies until I'm 80 years old.

If I sold my company today, I'd just go start a new one. And it would probably be pretty much the same company.

That's why I love startups. Because there is always a new challenge, or something new to try. 

I can do it for every minute for the rest of my life and I still wouldn't cover it all. I'll never get bored.
April 13th, 2021
It’s time to come back. I feel refreshed and focused. 

Mainly, I feel more independent. Independent from everyone’s musings. Independent from everyone’s ideas and opinions in Twitter feeds, blogs, and messages.

That’s one of my goals this year. To be more independent and to be me. To do things in my own unique way.

Going into hiatus really helped with that: I feel more focused, less concerned with others, and more confident in the path that I’m on.

I’m not tempted to start new projects. I’m focused on building this company to be something big. Hiring. Operations. Invention. Process. Etc.

Independent!

I can’t be in my “hole” forever. As much as I hate it sometimes, the “community” was and is very beneficial to my success. I should be writing every day. And sharing my learnings.

I have to share with others. And be an inspiration to people that are starting similar websites and apps and startups.

So I’m back to writing every day. 

And maybe even some Twitter. My rule is that Twitter must stay blocked on my computer unless I’m tweeting. No reading or checking notifications.

April 13th, 2021
If you do Rails, check out this ebook.

I'm working on getting Starter Story down to 100ms server response time. Working on performance stuff is fun and rewarding. Starter Story is so much faster now.

My main takeaway is cache, cache, cache, cache, and cache again. Cache everything.

There is really no downside to caching, other than the risk of showing something outdated if you don't cache in the right way.

My other takeaway is that it's usually something really stupid that makes your app run slow. For me, I finally found it: one line of code that was taking 300ms on every server response. It was so dumb and it was causing nightmare performance issues...

I feel so much more confident on how to get a Rails app to respond in <100ms.

Now I'll start learning more about the frontend and how to serve up JS and CSS faster... That's something I can learn a lot about - I'm basically a n00b on that stuff and it's always scared me.

--

It's kind of crazy just how much you can learn as long as you're motivated. Back when I was a software engineer with a six-figure salary, I knew diddly squat about caching and server performance. I'm such a stronger engineer than I was back then.

It's at least comforting to know I can always be a decent SWE if I'm somehow banned from entrepreneurship.

It also brings me joy to know I could make a lot of money writing code for 2 hours a day for someone else with no stress, yet I choose not to because that would be the easy way out on life.
April 8th, 2021
I just ran a query on the Starter Story database to see how many different countries we've featured businesses in.

51!

Here's the full list:

Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Province of China, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, United States Minor Outlying Islands, Vanuatu

Blows my mind!
April 7th, 2021
First of all, sorry for missing last month’s report! To be brutally honest, I procrastinated it because February was the first month we didn’t grow at least 15% month over month since last June! Traffic only grew 2%, and other metrics like revenue were down, unfortunately.

I’ve had some time to sit with that and reminded myself this: things are not always going to grow massively month over month. 

It’s important to look at the bigger picture. If we zoom out and look at year-over-year growth, February was up +525% in traffic, and revenue up +220%.

A less than expected month should never stop me from sharing, though. And I give you the promise that I won’t miss another month this year.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about March 2021:

  • Revenue: $21,951 (-5% MoM)
  • Uniques (GA): 592K (+14% MoM)
  • Visitors (SA): 898K (+3% MoM)
  • Pageviews (SA): 1.3M (+8% MoM) 
  • Newsletter: 69.5K Total (+9.9K) (+18% MoM)

Traffic

March 2021 is the biggest month we’ve ever had in traffic, although our month-over-month growth is not as impressive as it has been in the last 8 months.

I wish I could give a great answer as to why we didn't grow 15%+, but the truth is I’m not exactly sure.

Over the past few months, we captured an amazing opportunity with our Lean SEO strategy, but to continue to grow, we’ll need to keep making changes and adjustments to that strategy.

In other words, we learned what it takes to go from 100K -> 1M per month, now we’ll learn what it takes to go from 1M -> 10M per month. I don’t have the answers to that right now. All we can do is focus and learn and experiment. Our goal is still to hit 5M by the end of the year.

Revenue

On the monetization side, revenue and new paid memberships has been slowing. 

I think this is a bit natural as January and the preceding months were so big for us, plus we had a lot of attention from Lean SEO


More people are presumably starting a business in January than they are in February and March, and maybe that is just part of the natural cycle?

One of my goals this month is to look closer at conversions and understand this a bit more. More to come next month.

Newsletter

Our newsletter is getting very big now (70K) and we’ve brought someone on part-time to focus on it. 

David Bustos, from Spain (who’s been with us from the beginning), will now lead up the weekly newsletter and give it the focus and attention it deserves.

At the current pace, our newsletter would grow 10k per month. So by the end of the year, we’ll effectively be at 150K (and that’s if we didn’t grow at all).

It’s important that we spend a lot of time delivering a super high-quality newsletter with a lot of value. I couldn't do that on my own anymore!

Growth Ideas Database

Over the past month, Sam has been working on launching the Starter Story Growth Database - a collection of 200+ proven ways to grow your business.

The goal for this is two-fold (1) to have another staple for our premium membership and (2) to add 200+ pieces of content to the blog. 

Eventually, this database will grow to 1,000+ ways to grow your business, and further, 1,000+ pieces of content around marketing.

We are running launch tests on it right now - we’ll officially launch this in the next couple weeks.


Business Idea Profiles

In addition to our database of almost 4,000 business ideas, we are launching individualized pages for business ideas.

Want to start a subscription box business? We put all of the data here for you, including startup costs, case studies, pros and cons, ways to grow, etc.


We are doing a lot behind the scenes to fill out these pages. Over time, we’ll continue to add more data and “sub-pages” for each business idea.

It’s very early days for this feature, but below is a look at daily traffic over the last 3 months to these pages, it’s growing!


Scaling Our Freelancer Efforts

One of the tenets of Starter Story is our focus on software. On paper, we are a media company, but at our core, we are a software company - with a laser focus on data, process, and automation.

By leaning on data and software, we can stay lean as a team (and keep costs low). Right now, we are just about 5 team members working full-time.

But behind the scenes, there are dozens of people working on Starter Story, whether it’s freelancers or even our users helping us generate content.

I’ve been building a new backend/system that these freelancers use to get work done. 

It allows us to assign work to freelancers, and review their work quickly. Additionally, we can track the amount of time that tasks take, as well as costs to complete projects.

It’s still very early days, but this is the future of scaling our content efforts. The possibilities here blow my mind. More to come next month.


The Business Wikipedia

We are heads down working on a public-facing “wiki” on Starter Story.

What’s a wiki? A wiki is a database/content that anyone can edit.

We’re going to build the Wikipedia for entrepreneurs / the Wikipedia for businesses. This has always been the plan for Starter Story long-term, and now we’re finally getting started...

More on this next month.

Thanks for reading! 
March 9th, 2021
I’ve been off social media for almost a month now. It feels nice. It feels blissful. 

I said I would end my social media hiatus at the end of March, but I think I will go longer. Going back to Twitter doesn’t sound interesting at all. Honest.

There are probably a lot of “things” that have happened in the media or in startup communities that I’ve missed... 

Even though I’m off social media I’ll still see or hear about them, but they’re never interesting enough to hold my attention for long. 

BUT they would hold my attention before. What’s up with that? 

The problem was the social media algorithm would keep feeding it to me. Feeding new details and updates about XYZ developing stories, and like a morphine patient, I’d keep hitting the button over and over for the next hit.

It is a god damn blessing to be out of that right now.

An interesting development: I stopped writing every day on the blog here. 

Sometimes I’ll stop writing because I’m in a “funk”. But that’s not the case here.

Right now, I just don’t really feel like writing on here. I don’t have much to say. And I don’t feel guilty or compelled to keep it updated, like I used to.

Maybe that’s because I’m not on social media. Maybe social media convinced me and kept me accountable to that unwritten commitment: Write every day. Tweet every day. Answer every email. Do this. Do that. Do everything, today.

I’m still writing every day, just not on here. I’m writing for my business: memos, project plans, ideas, guides, strategies, implementation, code, etc.

The bigger theme is I’m more focused on my business than my personal following. And I really like it that way. 

If someone hears about Starter Story, and they don’t hear about me - that’s a beautiful thing. 

A successful business and a successful personal following: I’m not sure you can have both and be healthy and happy. Pick one.

I’ll keep writing though, just not every day on here.

I want to write when I really have something to say. That can only come with time, experience, and staying off social media.

I’m not sure I’ll go back to Twitter at all. Twitter is just ego, and I don’t want to be that.
February 27th, 2021
The culture around "breaking into tech" is gross.

It's basically the same thing as: 

  • "getting into Ivy league"
  • "getting into investment banking"
  • "getting into XYZ EPIC company"

"Here's how I hacked my way into Google"

I've been there. I wanted a job in tech so bad and I jumped through all of the hoops to get it. But when I got there, I realized it wasn't what I wanted at all.

At the end of the day, working at all these companies is the same. You do emails, Zoom meetings, write some code and have some boss that tells you what to work on.

Why do people glorify working a desk job? I just can't get behind that.
February 26th, 2021
At the end of the day, I'll always have more respect for the business builder than the investor or critic, even if the business builder did something wrong or had a misstep.

It's so much easier to criticize the business builder because they have to make so many decisions and put themselves in the arena every day. One the flip side, the investor and the critic don't really have to make too many hard decisions.
February 24th, 2021
Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus recalls:

“If you ask Sam how’s business, he’s never satisfied. He says, ‘Bernie, things are really lousy. Our lines are too long at the cash registers. Our people aren’t being helpful enough. I don’t know what we’re gonna do to get them motivated.’ 

Then you ask some of these CEOs from other retail organizations who you know are on the verge of going out of business, and they brag and tell you how great everything is. Really putting on airs. Not Sam. He is down to earth and knows who he is.”
February 24th, 2021
Currently reading: Sam Walton: Made In America

Lots to unpack from this book, but one thing that I quite like...

In the super early days of his business, out of necessity, Sam bought a small airplane and became a pilot so he could save money and get things done faster. It allowed him to go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. 

He credits much of the success of Wal-Mart to that airplane. It allowed them to expand to multiple regions in a time before computers, as he could be in many places at once.

When COVID is over, I want to get back to traveling within the US. Even if it's going somewhere for a day, why not?