How much time do you need to build an MVP for a startup that you can sell for $20 million?
As little as 20 minutes.
In 2013, Ryan Hoover created an MVP for Product Hunt, a platform to share and discover new software products. In just three years, ProductHunt allowed people to discover more than 100 million products and was acquired by AngelList, another platform well-known in the startup community.
In a blog post written back in the day, Ryan shared his story about how Product Hunt began. I’m fascinated by that story. The most amazing part is that all he did was create a newsletter and announce it! Within two weeks, more than 170 people were subscribed.
Maybe Ryan is more well-connected than most of us. But maybe, if an idea is viable, and if your content is interesting and valuable and people care about your cause, you’ll find your subscribers with a newsletter.
A newsletter by itself is not an MVP, unless you charge money for it. Getting paid for providing value is what makes a product viable. I’m sure you can get paid for a newsletter — and a lot of people do — but I haven’t tried it yet.
Apart from being used as an MVP, a newsletter is a great tool to create an independent marketing channel that you can use to establish two-way communication with your audience — and, most importantly, to build trust.
Here’s how a newsletter compares to other communication channels:
Newsletter vs. Blog.
A blog is a form of one-way communication — you post something and hope that people will read your article. Or you hope that someone will land on your blog after clicking on a link elsewhere, or searching for something on Google. You have no control over who reads your posts and when they read them. Blogs were the main marketing medium for years until they passed the lead to social media platforms.
Newsletter vs. Social Media.
For a long time, social media was one of the best channels for keeping in touch with your audience. Things have changed, though, as most major social networks have stopped showing people all content they’ve subscribed to and transitioned to “smart feeds” where an algorithm chooses what gets seen and what doesn’t. You can no longer expect that your content will be seen by your social media followers…unless you pay for that.
Newsletter vs. Paid Ads.
Paid ads cost money and annoy people. I’m a big fan of the “permission marketing” approach advertised by Seth Godin, which involves only starting communication with a person when you have permission to. Paid ads in any form is “interruption marketing.”
Newsletter vs. Online Community.
Each online community has its own rules, but one rule is common across the board — you can’t promote yourself. Otherwise, a helpful community can quickly become a promotional platform. In a newsletter, you can promote yourself however you want, and even promote other people and businesses. Just keep in mind that too much promotion will turn people away.
In short, a newsletter is your own communication channel that you can build over time, and it’s reliable and free to use. It allows you to send messages in a certain order and expect people who get the messages to at least notice them.
Now, newsletters have certain disadvantages too:
- You need to consistently create content. Creating content for your newsletter is the hardest part of maintaining a newsletter, especially if you haven’t done this before or aren’t in the habit of doing it. But the good news is that once you start doing it regularly, it gets easier. Plus, you can repurpose the content you create for the newsletter for other mediums, like your blog or social media platforms.
- You need to figure out how to get people to subscribe. If you don’t have a network of people who are interested in the topic you’re writing about, you’ll have to market your newsletter. If you’re unfamiliar with marketing, this step may be hard. The good news is that you’ll have to learn to market your product anyway. Doing it for a newsletter just involves smaller risks.
- You’ll need to face your fears. To create and maintain a newsletter, you need to answer some foundational questions that you were most likely postponing — like who’s your audience, what’s your positioning and what’s the problem you’re trying to solve. In working through these questions, you may face imposter syndrome and a fear of failure. You’ll just have to persevere.
Why You Should Still Create a Newsletter
So it’s hard to create a newsletter. That’s all right! You’ll have to market your product anyway when it comes time to launch your product. It’s better to practice these marketing skills early on with a newsletter, so that by the time you’ll be ready to launch a real software product, you will have everything figured out. Sure, you can try partnering with a marketing professional or even hiring one, but I personally think that marketing strategy is a key skill for founders. You can’t build a strategy when you don’t know what you’re doing.
Plus, creating a newsletter is a great way to build trust in potential clients. For a product to be viable, you need to get paid; even if it’s just $10 or $20, chances are that people won’t pay you straight away, so you need to nurture them and earn their trust. A newsletter is a perfect way to do this because you can send a sequence of emails telling them a story, shaping their beliefs and leading them to a certain string of thinking. Think of it as of a TV series where you control when the next episode is aired. A newsletter is also a great way to segment people based on their actions and interests.
What has your experience been creating a newsletter? If you don’t have one, what’s keeping you from building one?
Originally published on Medium