Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Seth Keysor, and I’m the creator of the Chief in the North Newsletter, a Substack publication dedicated to covering the Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL at large.
I review and analyze the game film every week and try to unlock the secrets of NFL football for my readers. My goal is to provide diehard Chiefs fans (or football fans in general) with a look beyond the box score into what is happening on the field every Sunday, rather than more of the “hot takes” that are force-fed to sports fans week in and week out. By taking a closer look at the game film, we can all learn together what matters, what doesn’t, and where things are going in a complicated sport.
In under 2 years since I started this site, over 5,500 subscribers have jumped on board and it’s reached a point that it’s gone from a hobby that pays to a legitimate side income of over $4,000 a month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been working in the sports media industry for over a decade now, starting at SB Nation and then moving over to The Athletic in 2018. That came on the heels of me spending my entire life cheering for the Chiefs and loving football in general. I began writing about the Chiefs as a hobby, blogging for nothing on SB Nation as another reader in the comment section who wanted to talk about football.
Over the years, as I watched, I grew more and more hungry to learn every single nuance of a game that is wonderfully complex. The more I learned about the game, the more I grew to love it. I began writing about the Chiefs as a hobby, blogging for nothing on SB Nation as another reader in the comment section who wanted to talk about football.
As I went on that journey, I wanted to pass it along to readers, and by moving from standard shallow coverage to more in-depth work on game film, I was able to do just that every single week.
In 2020, as Covid took its toll on every aspect of life, the sports media was no exception. As my role was diminished at The Athletic (through no fault of their own, those were trying times) to just several articles per month, I knew I wanted to continue to provide insight to fans that couldn’t be located elsewhere. I’d also long had a desire to try and strike out on my own and create a direct conduit between myself and the fanbase, with no subject being too “niche” and no detail too small. I’d learned about Substack through fellow content providers, and after some prayer and self-reflection, I took a chance and started the site, hoping that it wouldn’t be an embarrassing (and public) failure.
The response was greater than I’d ever hoped. I knew sports fans were desperate for more in-depth coverage than what they were receiving elsewhere, but I had no idea they would be so willing to pay a small fee to get past clickbait and sensationalism and get details as to what was occurring on the field. What started as a side project has grown, with the support of Chiefs and football fans, into a not-so-small-anymore site where we get as in-depth as we please on every subject imaginable, and where I can interact directly with the people consuming (and paying for) my work.
Take us through the process of designing your newsletter.
For the start of the newsletter, I knew that I needed to grab the attention of readers right away. While I’d built up an audience already with my prior jobs, it was important for people to know right out of the gate that the content I was producing was going to be simultaneously what they were expecting/hoping for and also more than what they’d seen previously. Otherwise, why subscribe?
With that in mind, I also knew that I wanted the layout and design of the newsletter to be as simple as possible. I wanted the content to be the sole focus, and for anyone who came to the website to walk away thinking about what they had read rather than anything having to do with how pretty/pleasing it was. In a business of content creation, if you can make it all about the content and the content is good, results should follow (with a little luck).
I was fortunate in many senses, one of them being that Substack’s design is simplistic and met the needs I had pretty exactly. Another way I was fortunate was that thanks to my time in the industry and the generosity of readers, I already had a logo designed by a reader/listener from the old “Chief in the North” podcast.
Looking back a couple of years and comparing what the site looks like to other “startup” websites, I now see how wildly fortunate I was to have a simple but professional logo already cooked up. While bells and whistles are distracting from the content, being able to look “professional” out of the gate matters in a space where there are so many voices fighting to be noticed.
Once I had the design and logo ready, all that was left was to figure out how to get moving.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I decided to name the site “The Chief in the North Newsletter,” a play on the fact that I’m a Chiefs fan situated in Minnesota and a name of a podcast I created years ago. I knew the title, and I knew the content I would produce. What I didn’t know was how to present it to consumers. I was desperately nervous, knowing how people react at times to being asked to pay for sports content.
I chose to write a “launch article” as a preview of the site, basically letting my readers from The Athletic and SB Nation (and those who chose to follow along on Twitter) know that I was going to be starting a project of my own that I thought they would enjoy. I explained what I was doing, and why I felt having a direct line to Chiefs fans would allow me to produce content that I never had before.
I gave them a start date for the site and provided a “coupon” link that allowed people to subscribe for 60% off the price that was set for a standard Subscription (to make it $12 a year, or $2 a month for a monthly subscription). I hoped to generate some interest before the site went live, and I made sure to have three articles written in advance so I could drop content on people as quickly as possible once we started.
The response was more than I expected, and I ended up going live several days before the anticipated “launch date” just to reward people for subscribing so fast. Since then, it’s been nothing but upwards and onwards in terms of support from readers.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
First and foremost, I have been very intentional about keeping the price absurdly low and have maintained the “coupon” of 60% off open for the entirety of the time the site has remained open. Frankly, I did this against the advice of multiple smart people whom I have a deep amount of respect for. Their theory was that if I kept the price higher ($30 to $50 per year), I would not need a high number of subscribers to make solid money.
I view it differently. For starters, as someone who absolutely could not have paid a subscription of even $30 a year for much of my 20s (maybe all of my 20’s now that I think about it), the idea of someone being unable to subscribe because of price never sat right with me.
On a more practical note, though, and as advice for content creators, I would note that having a low price point allows you to appeal to a much broader base of people and leads to happier consumers. You can open yourself up to a much larger group of people, as the reality is in the current world even a price of $30-$50 a year is a barrier that can’t be reached. By keeping the price point low, you can be less reliant on a small base of consumers and handle losing people if their circumstances change. Additionally, in a business of monthly/yearly renewal, having a price point that people don’t think twice about has value.
Be willing to adjust as you go to obstacles, but recognize the difference between a temporary and normal obstacle and one that requires you necessarily alter your approach.
My retention rate is very high, and a large part of that (I believe) is that it’s priced at a level that people don’t blink when they see it, even if they haven’t used it in a month or two. The “pain” a customer feels upon spending money is significantly reduced if you can make it an “impulse buy” price. You also open yourself up to, well, impulse buys. And those can turn into longtime customers if you have faith in your content/product.
In terms of marketing, I’ve stuck with organic social media growth. I had the definite edge of an already-existing market of followers on Twitter, but reaching out to others in the industry who have followings of their own and providing them with free subscriptions/articles was something that got the word out as to the product. Other than that, there’s no substitute for just providing content people enjoy and getting them to talk about it and share it on their own.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, things are going well following the NFL draft and the plethora of content opportunities that the event creates. Now, it’s a matter of providing the type of content people can’t get anywhere else during the “downtime” of the NFL offseason. That’s a great chance to write about things that others ignore, such as offensive line play or players who aren’t considered stars but have an important impact on the play. Any time one can provide something a consumer can’t get elsewhere, striking at that opportunity is important.
I have a goal in mind for subscribers before the next NFL season starts, which is 5,000 paid subscribers. It’s a lofty goal considering that summer is the “dead time,” but my goal is to reach a point that, if I chose, this could be my full-time, primary job. I’ve thought about expanding into the podcasting world to provide an additional piece of content for people to consume, and am currently sifting through what that would look like and how to distinguish it from the thousands of other sports podcasts out there.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is to not get in your way. Figure out a niche to fill that, in your opinion, isn’t being filled by anyone else. Then think about what you could do to specifically fill that niche on a small scale. Then, once you’ve seen you can do that, start to grow that scale and see what happens.
Be willing to adjust as you go to obstacles, but recognize the difference between a temporary and normal obstacle and one that requires you necessarily alter your approach. Changing things up too frequently is as bad an idea as refusing to change your course of action when it isn’t working.
Success is almost always incremental until suddenly it’s not. So you grind, then grind, and then grind some more, churning out something with value and being kind every chance you get to customers and peers in your industry.
The second thing I’ve learned is that if you treat people decently and provide something they want, profits will come. Focus on the content you create and ensuring it’s what the consumer wants, then be kind to your customers and peers, not on whether you’re turning a profit immediately. If you HAVE to turn a profit right away to make it work, you’re probably not in a position to start something up and should take a moment to reconsider precisely how you’ll survive the always-present struggles of an early venture.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I utilize Twittera great deal, given its massive place in the sportswriting industry. Other than that, it’s simply Substack’s platform (which is excellent) that allows me to focus solely on creating content and not having to worry about the procedure of setting up the site, email lists, or even thinking about payment. Stripe is a wonderful tool in the final issue that allows me to track what I make without having to deal with the billing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Smart Football by Chris Brown and Take Your Eye off the BallbyDavid Seigerman and Pat Kirwan are two of the most influential books I’ve read to get me started on a path to analyzing football and understanding how much more is going on during games than the standard fan (myself included) ever realizes.
There are a few substacks that have started up slightly before or after my beginnings that have been wonderful inspirations and great content all on their own. Trench Warfare by Brandon Thorn is the gold standard for understanding offensive and defensive line play. The Draft Scout, by Matt Miller, and JoeBlogs, by the unmatched Joe Posnanski, have shown that Substack isn’t just for startups but established vets in the industry. My good friend Ryan Tracy does a fantastic job with his new NFL33 page, and the folks at the KC Sports Network are also good friends and excellent content providers. Overall, one could get all their coverage of the NFL from Substack and not miss a beat.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I’d say the stuff I’ve learned about getting out of your way and focusing on your product/content rather than profits out of the gate are the most important thing to remember. There’s going to be such a burden early to turn it into something, anything, that feels “real.” And a lot of that will be related to profits. But it’s (almost) never going to be a sprint with this stuff.
Success is almost always incremental until suddenly it’s not. So you grind, then grind, and then grind some more, churning out something with value and being kind every chance you get to customers and peers in your industry. And by doing just that, you’ll be ready when the lightning strikes and you’ve got a chance to make a jump.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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