How The Biggest Newsletters Got Their First 1,000 Subscribers

Updated: February 14th, 2024

Newsletters are one of the most powerful ways to reach an audience, but how do newsletters get their first 1,000 subscribers?

In this case study, we analyzed over 50 successful 6 and 7-figure newsletters. We uncovered the 5 main strategies newsletters use to get to that sweet number: 1,000 subscribers.

Each strategy, data point, and growth method in this case study is backed up by real-world interviews with founders.



My biggest takeaways from this research:

  • There’s no one-size fits all approach to growing a newsletter. But - every newsletter achieved their first 1,000 subscribers through sheer brute force.
  • Having a deep understanding of how to create 10x content gives newsletter operators a significant edge and ultimately accelerates growth both in the short and long term.
  • Never underestimate the power of your own personal network - even if it means your first 3 subscribers, it will be the stepping stone to your next move.

Access this data in a spreadsheet

Want to get your hands dirty with all this data?

We’ve got the data for all 50 newsletters, including:

  • Revenue numbers
  • Number of subscribers
  • Number of followers
  • Main acquisition channels & strategies
  • Tools + tech stack
  • Link to their full case study

Access the spreadsheet → here

The 5 Strategies To Go From 0 to 1,000 Subscribers


Here are the 5 strategies:

⁣1. 10x Content

This strategy centers around newsletter operators who create content that is 10x more valuable than anything else you can find online. This, in turn, establishes the creator as an authority, builds trust, and converts readers into loyal subscribers.

⁣2. Inner Circle

The majority of newsletters kickstarted their growth by tapping into their personal and professional network to acquire their first few subscribers - this includes friends, family, colleagues, mentors, neighbors, classmates. Leveraging your network can be done both online and offline, but online is the most common approach.

⁣3. Community Heist

A community-heist involves identifying where your customers hang out online, providing value to them, and sending them directly to your platform. The most common channels are (1) Product Hunt (2) Reddit (3) Indie Hackers (4) Hacker News (5) Facebook Communities

⁣4. Collabs

This method involves engaging with other audiences to grow your subscriber base. The four most common approaches include writing for other publications, utilizing retweets and shares, getting featured in other publications, and engaging in swaps or collaborations with other newsletters.

⁣5. Paid Acquisition

This tactic involves utilizing paid placements and ads to reach a wider audience. Although we found this to be the least common approach, it’s an effective way for newsletters to target specific demographics and promote their content to potential subscribers who may not have discovered it organically.

Strategy 1: 10X Content

10X Content is content that – no matter the format – is at least ten times better than anything else available online on that topic.

The obvious benefit of this strategy is that it is, of course, great for SEO; but also establishes the creator as an authority on the topic. People will pay attention when sharing something.

According to our research, 30% of the newsletter operators that we studied found early success thanks to this blueprint: great content comes first, newsletter comes second.

There are two main approaches to this strategy:

  1. Convert traffic into subscribers: Write amazing articles -> Grow SEO -> convert traffic into subscribers.

  2. Convert followers into subscribers: Create amazing content → focus on one platform → build a fan base → convert them into early subscribers. The primary channels for this approach are Twitter and Linkedin


Examples of newsletters that leveraged this:

1. Marketbeat: Articles on stocks

MarketBeat is a newsletter and website that empowers stock investors to make better trading decisions. Its numbers today are insane:

  • 3.8 Billion emails sent
  • 3.2 million email subscribers
  • 11,243 premium subscribers
  • 140 million website pageviews
  • $22 million top-line revenue
  • 14 employees

And the craziest part is that it started out as a personal finance blog in a college dorm room back in 2006.

How MarketBeat created 10x Content

  • Stock brokers issued exclusive research notes on companies (high ticket reports that weren’t covered widely).
  • Matt paid for access to this research and provided his own unique insights.
  • He created 15-20 different pieces of content around this every morning, and offered free access.
  • He reached out to established news sites like Google Finance and MSN Money, requesting links to his stories.

The articles would see anywhere from 5-10k visitors per day, so they started collecting emails with a simple opt-in.

They later launched their newsletter, which gained immediate traction - going from zero to 10,000 subscribers in just six months.


This was the beginning of the MarketBeat newsletter.

It turns out that stock investors tend to get emotionally invested in their stocks and want to know the latest tidbits and news headlines about them. We were able to package that information and provide it to our subscribers in a convenient, real-time format.

– Matt Paulson, Starter Story Interview

2. James Clear's 3-2-1 Newsletter: 12 years of writing online

You might recognize James Clear as the author behind the best-selling book Atomic Habits.

But he’s also built one of the largest newsletters in the world, with over 2M subscribers.

Over the last 10 years, he’s established himself as a thought leader in a highly competitive space.

What makes his content different?

  1. He creates content around common issues and experiences around self-help / daily life.
  2. He establishes a strong connection with his audience by sharing relatable stories, validating their experiences, and building trust
  3. He provides tactical advice supported by science or research (while still keeping it digestible for his readers)
  4. He then ties this back to his own frameworks - which anyone can learn.

I recently read one of his articles on “The Second Mistake,” where you can see this strategy unfold:


His writing has influenced people worldwide, which played a significant role in the success and rapid growth of his newsletter.


And he did it with zero paid ads.

Here’s how:

  1. Built a loyal audience from his years writing online
  2. Ranks high in search engines by creating content that users are searching for (high intent)
  3. Writes high quality, informational content around that query, but offers an extension of the learnings via email
  4. Showcases the newsletter CTA in two areas of the article: The header and at the end of the blog post


3. Justin Welsh: Mastering short-form content on Linkedin

Justin Welsh is a legend in the content space.

Over the last few years, he’s mastered the art of short-form content and built a massive audience of solopreneurs online.

His content and writing style are so distinct that people know it’s his even if it doesn’t have his name attached to it.

So how does he do it?

  1. He unlocks human emotion by highlighting something painful or problematic (oftentimes, experiences his readers have had in the corporate world).
  2. He hammers the problem home - resonating on a deeper level with the reader.
  3. He offers an intriguing solution or shares something about his personal life - building a sense of familiarity with his readers.
  4. He sells a positive dream of what the future could look like.
  5. He offers an extension to what he just shared - often in the form of his newsletter.

Here’s an example in action:


In January ‘22, Justin started his newsletter, The Saturday Solopreneur.

He has since grown it to 77,000 subscribers in just 1 year (primarily from Twitter & Linkedin), a core part of his $1.3M/year business.


4. The Milk Road: Using Your Unfair Advantage

I personally love this story - it’s a mix of (1) tapping into your network, and (2) leveraging an existing audience on social media.

They were able to acquire over 250K subscribers and sell it for 7 figures in less than a year, and this initial boost played a big part in their journey.

Shaan Puri , founder of The Milk Road leveraged the Twitter audience he built over the past two years thanks to his podcast, My First Million.

He calls it: using your unfair advantage:

Using your unfair advantage can be the fastest way your idea can take off.

An unfair advantage is something that cannot be easily copied or bought by your competitors. For Shaan and Ben, it was using the pre-existing audience Shaan had built over the past 2 years hosting My First Million, a Top 10 business podcast.

Additionally, Shaan had a weekly newsletter with 30,000 subscribers and more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.

We understand that not everybody has a massive audience / reach like he does.

But that’s not the point. The point is that everyone has some unfair advantage. You need to figure out which is yours and tap into it:

"Your unfair advantage can be your industry expertise, your work rate, or your ability to make people laugh about the most mundane things. Find a unique ability you’re better at than others and lean into it.”

–Shaan Puri (source)

Strategy 2: Inner Circle

Studies suggest that the average person knows ~150 people.

That is a great network to get the ball rolling on any project you get started. Since these are people who are close to you and who care about you, it should be relatively easy to convince a big part of them to check and subscribe to your newsletter.

In fact, what some of these founders did –without asking for permission– was to send the first newsletter issues to everyone they knew, introducing the project, and asking for feedback.

25% of newsletters reported that they used their personal and professional network to get their first 1,000 subscribers.

Based on our research, these are the most common channels to reach your personal and professional network:

  1. Email your professional and personal network
  2. Offline activity: host an event, pitch in-person
  3. DM, post, or ask your network to share on social media


Here are a few real examples that took newsletters from 0-1,000+ subs from this approach alone:

Online Approach

1. The Peak: Personal outreach and posts on social media


This newsletter covering Canadian news has 110,000 subscribers and was recently sold for $5M.

But the way it got started, it was far from fancy and sophisticated. In fact, one of the founders calls it “brute force.”

In the early days, the 3 founders would post about it non-stop on social media and saw the most success from 1:1 direct messaging.

They would go through their contact list and individually send this exact message to all of them:

"Hey! Wanted to let you know I started The Peak, a daily newsletter covering the top Canadian and business news in an informative and entertaining email.

Would love it if you signed up:"

This resulted in their first thousand subscribers, which gave them a good foundation for future growth.

On a recent podcast, Brett shared:

We got our first 1,000 subscribers through brute force. We posted on our personal LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts with a story on why we founded The Peak and what readers could expect.

2. Contrarian Thinking: Emailing personal and professional contacts

Codie Sanchez is the founder of Contrarian Thinking, a 100,000-subscriber newsletter.

To start growing her list, she did something that literally anyone could do: Manually emailing friends and old contacts from her Gmail.

"I mean, we’re all six degrees away from Kevin Bacon, right? So we’re probably six degrees away from everybody else. And so asking people that I know have some influence, even if it’s just with the PTA, ‘Hey, I’m creating this thing. Would you be open to sharing it?

That probably got me to my first 1,000 - 2,000. And, I didn’t know, a more viral way to do it than to go sort of modern-day door knocking. That’s what worked for me.”

Codie Sanchez, on Nathan Barry Podcast

What made her email so effective:

  • It was personal and authentic. Even if you hadn’t heard from her in years, you still felt a part of her inner circle.
  • She explained the “why” behind her newsletter idea. People could resonate.
  • She politely asked her friends and family to subscribe.
  • She gave examples of her work - proving her commitment.

We did a little digging and found the email she wrote here.


Offline Approach

1. Morning Brew : College Campus


Morning Brew is one of the most popular newsletters in the world. Around 6 million people read it every day, and it was recently sold for $75M.

Austin Rief, one of the founders, was attending University at the time of starting his newsletter.

To get people to sign up, they asked professors if they could spend the first 5-minutes of class pitching the newsletter. After that, they passed around a piece of paper and asked anyone interested to physically write down their email address.

This extremely simple but very effective strategy resulted in thousands of subscribers in just a few weeks.


Tweet thread

2. The Gist: In-person event


The Gist is a sports newsletter with over 500,000 subscribers that generates $1M per year.

To get started, the founders took a more traditional approach in the early days.

Their strategy: A launch party.

What they did was to invite 250+ people, and asked everyone for email addresses at the door to get in.

On top of that, during the party, they asked people to share The Gist with 3-5 friends who might enjoy it.

The result? 1,000 email subscribers in one night.

Strategy 3: Community Heist

The third very popular way to acquire your first 1,000 newsletter subscribers is to find them online (ie. communities and forums), provide value to them through those channels, and lead them to your newsletter.

20% of the newsletters we researched found their first 1,000 subscribers by targeting users online

Why is this strategy so effective?

Because instead of the 150 people the average person knows, these Internet communities have thousands of members (sometimes hundreds of thousands, even millions).

What’s the downside? Well, those 150 contacts on your phone already know you and trust you. To convince Internet strangers to sign up for your newsletter, you may need to do a bit more than just ask.


1. Facebook communities

Harry runs a marketing newsletter with 130,000 subscribers.

His growth strategy is simple, and a classic example of doing things that don’t scale in the beginning to understand your audience along with their behavior.

The best self-promoters aren't self-promoters. They take the time to become a genuine member of each community. Share others' content. Write detailed comments. Make friends. Give more than you take. It's a positive-sum game.”


Let’s break each of these steps down further:

Step 1: Identify & Target Strangers Online

Harry provides marketing case studies, so he knew that occupation would be a fundamental demographic for him to focus on (ie. marketers, entrepreneurs).

In Harry's case, he found his audience hanging out on Facebook groups, Twitter, Slack & Reddit.

Step 2: Deliver value

Harry knew every platform, and their audiences were different - and his approach to getting subscribers would need to be too. You can’t just copy and paste the same thing in 5 different places and expect it to work:

  • Twitter, Reddit, Indie Hackers: Long-form sharing works. He would share an entire article, and at the end, ask readers if they’d like to join his list.
  • Facebook and Slack: Shorter attention spans, showcase only visual tips.
  • Hacker News, Designer News, Growth Hackers: Share direct links.

Step 3: Engage, Engage, Engage

The entire process would take him 8 hours.

He’d spend 4 hours posting, and 4 hours replying.

Step 4: Direct To Twitter Thread

He wanted everyone sharing the same thing on the same platform, so he would direct everyone that liked his article to one Twitter thread.

The result? 50 retweets turn into 500.

His results from 1 year of sharing content online:


2. Starter Story: Subreddits

It took Starter Story 5 months to get our first 1,000 subscribers.

We tried various different things, but our main success was on Reddit.

Today, we have around 135,000 newsletter subscribers.


Here’s how we got to 1,000 in 5 months:

  1. Published first case study (+0)
  2. Promoted to personal network on Facebook (+27)
  3. Made the front page of subreddits (+95)
  4. More Reddit success in the comment section, reached #7 on Product Hunt (+434)
  5. Reddit, Product Hunt, Hacker News Feature (+735)


3. Ali Abouelatta (First 1000): Hacker News Success

Today, Ali's newsletter has around 72,000 subscribers.

Back when he was starting, set a goal: get 1,000 subscribers in the first 6 months.

He did the math and realized he need +6 subscribers per day to reach that goal.

He tried 40+ different channels - most of them didn’t work, but he found some early success, mainly on Hacker News.


What worked:

  • HackerNews (219 subs)
  • Twitter (140-160 subs)
  • Cross Promotions (80-120 subs)
  • Retweet (73 subs)
  • Facebook Group (63 subs)
  • #Intro Slack Communities (50-60 subs)

What didn’t work:

  • Product Hunt Launch
  • Betalist Launch
  • Indie Hacker Posts
  • Personal Linkedin Posts
  • SEO

Strategy 4: Collabs

Getting in front of other audiences is a great way to grow your subscriber base in the early days.

The 4 most common ways newsletters do this:

  1. Writing for other publications: Guest Posts, Medium. You know about your topic more than most, tons of publications will be happy to have you as a guest in exchange for a mention of your newsletter.
  2. Retweets & Shares: Your subject retweets, shares, or mentions you to their network on social (ie. Twitter & Linkedin). This works especially well for curated type of newsletters.
  3. Getting featured in another publication: AMAs, interviews, podcasts.
  4. Swaps or Collaborations: Rather than paying for sponsorship, you agree to a newsletter swap or placement in exchange for something. Very healthy and great for networking.

A practical way to approach this is to be realistic. Don’t try to get a feature on Forbes when you’re just starting out, or a retweet from Elon Musk that will bring you thousands of followers and subscribers with one hit. That will rarely happen.

Instead, get in touch with creators and publications that are just slightly ahead of you. You’ll be more likely to get a ‘yes’, and you can also take the opportunity to learn from them.

1. Lenny’s Newsletter: Medium & Guest Posts

Lenny had no intention of starting a newsletter.

Until his writing started resonating with other audiences, and he decided he could double down on it.

His First Success: Going Viral on Medium

Lenny posted about his experience from his time at Airbnb on Medium, which got 29,000 likes (+ a share from the founder of Airbnb)


Moving away from Medium: His First 100 subs

A few other posts went viral on Medium, and he decided to start his own newsletter.

He was able to send some of his audience from Medium to the new newsletter (+ his Twitter) which took him from 0-100 subscribers.

Guest Posting: 100 - 1,000 subs:

Now that he had a couple popular post on his own blog, he offered to do a guest post for a friend with an established audience, along with a guest post for the First Round Review.

These two guest posts took him to 1,000 subscribers.

2. Workspaces: Retweets & Mentions

Workspaces is a side project newsletter that grew to 12,000 subscribers , generates $24K and was acquired by a YC-backed startup.

Its format offers a unique advantage: they feature influential people on their blog and show off their ‘workspace’ or home office.

Ryan’s strategy:

  • Post all newsletters as a blog post on Twitter.
  • Tag the featured guest.
  • 99% of guests would retweet it to their network.
  • Overtime, this snowballed, and people started organically mentioning him in tweets.

This led to guests reaching out to him to get featured, as well as a huge bump in newsletter subscribers:


Dru Riley is the founder of, a newsletter that shares in-depth reports on AI, Crypto and other tech trends.

Today, the newsletter has grown to 55,000 subscribers and yields over $500K per year with premium reports, memberships, and sponsors.

The founder attributes his early subscribers to 2 key areas:

  1. Leveraging other audiences’ from his own content
  2. Communities & Masterminds: Indiehackers, Product Hunt

(1) Leveraging other audiences:

Every week he would post a Twitter thread about each report and tagged every company or person he mentioned:

"I would find a way to highlight others in the newsletter, publish social-optimized versions of the newsletter and tag the people and companies featured. A percentage of those who are featured will share your content with their audiences.

_This helps you "piggyback" on the audiences of others. It's similar to what podcast hosts do by interviewing guests. Bringing the guests' audiences into the podcast host's audience.” _

-Dru Riley,


(2) Communities & Masterminds

Before even launching, Dru was very active on IndieHackers (both online and attending events IRL) - building relationships, providing feedback to others, asking questions.

He attributes his growth in large part to this network and community.

Strategy 5: Paid Acquisition

Similar to the strategy above, the goal is to get in front of other audiences - except this strategy is paid (less organic).

Typically, newsletters start doing paid placements down the road (post 10k+ subs), but for some, it proves to work in the beginning and can be a fast track to getting early subscribers.

In fact, the quicker you can grow your audience, the sooner you can start generating revenue. If you have the opportunity to spend some money on subscriber acquisition, you definitely shouldn’t overlook this strategy.

Most common forms of paid placements:

  1. Paid Newsletter Sponsorships
  2. Facebook Ads
  3. Quora/Reddit Ads
  4. Pinterest Ads

1. TLDR Newsletter: Reddit & Quora Ads

Dan Ni, the founder, started off spending $50 a day on Reddit and Quora ads.

Today this newsletter that covers tech news has 1.2M subscribers and has become a $5M/year business.

  • Quora Strategy: Put ads on questions like “What are the best tech newsletters?
  • Reddit Strategy: Target people who are active in particular subreddits to get in front of a specific audience.

These two platforms got him to 1,000 subscribers in less than a month. He later moved to Facebook, Instagram & Twitter Ads.


2. CoinSnacks: Sponsorships

Coinsnacks is a crypto-focused newsletter that with 70,000 subscribers is able to generate $360K per year.

When they were just starting, they ran hundreds of ads and placements in other newsletters.

In their Starter Story interview, they linked to a full list of copy they used in the early days here.

We have hundreds of ads that we tested… We would write and test new copy every single day. But here are a few random ones that were sent to some recent newsletters:*


Final Thoughts

In conclusion, growing a newsletter from 0 to 1,000 subscribers requires a combination of strategies and dedication. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, this report shows a few proven ways to get there quicker:

  • 10X Content: Creating content that is ten times better than what's available online establishes your authority, builds trust, and converts readers into loyal subscribers.

  • Inner Circle: Leveraging your personal and professional network can be a powerful way to kickstart your growth. Don't underestimate the support you can gain from friends, family, colleagues, and mentors.

  • Community Heist: Engaging with online communities where your target audience hangs out, providing value, and directing them to your platform can lead to significant subscriber growth.

  • Collabs: Collaborating with other audiences through guest posts, retweets, mentions, and partnerships is a great way to get exposure outside your network.

  • Paid Acquisition: While less common, if you have some budget available, it can be extremely helpful to grow your audience fast.

Remember, growing a newsletter takes time and effort. Stay focused on creating valuable content, nurturing relationships, and consistently promoting your newsletter through various channels. Don't be discouraged if you feel like it's not getting traction quickly enough. Keep learning, experimenting, and adapting your strategies (remember how Ali tried 40+ strategies?).

So, whether you're just starting or looking to reach your next milestone, apply these strategies, leverage your strengths, and stay committed to providing value to your subscribers.

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Starter Story