How Janel went from no audience to launching newsletter OS within 5 months by building in public

"I'm a maker, marketer and writer. I'm passionate about building products, reading & writing newsletters and creating with no-code."

ORIGIN STORY:

What was the origin story behind your new project Newsletter OS? What inspired you to do it?

I started my curated newsletter, BrainPint earlier this year to move from consumption to creation.

As a new newsletter writer, there was a lot to learn. I built an Operating System in Notion to help me manage my newsletter and store all the quality resources I found for quick reference.

Having a dashboard helped me to get organized. I was able to methodically tick off distribution channels (e.g. newsletter directories to submit BrainPint to) and track important milestones.

Early version of the OS for BrainPint

The picture above is an early version of my own OS for BrainPint.

This year I joined LaunchMBA to challenge myself to launch 12 projects in 12 months. I am a firm believer in learning by doing, so I have been keeping up the launch streak since I started. I was contemplating creating an info product as October's project.

I have pretty high standards when it comes to creating paid products, so I told myself that I'd only sell something if I were confident of selling it to someone at 50% more than the list price. I only wanted to sell a product that created real value.

One day past midnight, it suddenly clicked that I already had a wonderful product sitting in my Notion workspace. I had spent months putting all the resources together for myself in my drive to improve & grow my newsletter. Why not give it a facelift, upgrade the content, systems & workflows and put it up for sale?

That could be my LaunchMBA product for October! I decided to call it Newsletter OS. I was thrilled as I knew it would help a lot of other writers with their curation, writing and growth processes. I spent a weekend working hard on a mini-upgrade before launching a pre-order to see if there was real demand for it.

How would you describe Newsletter OS to folks who may have never heard about it?

Newsletter OS is a comprehensive dashboard built in Notion that helps newsletter writers to curate, write and grow their newsletters.

As a newsletter writer myself, I know that writing a newsletter & growing it is time-consuming. I built a system that can help other newsletter writers in the process.

How is the launch going so far? What are some milestones you're proud of?

It has been amazing!

Pre-OrdersI managed to get $1K in pre-orders within the first 24 hours. I started off with a low price to reward my early backers. I was floored by the amount of people who pre-ordered. Every pre-order that came in made me more determined to release a high-quality product.

Sales

I'm now sitting at 285+ purchases without spending a single cent on paid marketing. I'm grateful to everyone who has purchased it and taken the time to spread the word.

Phenomenal ReviewsOn the weekend that Newsletter OS was released, my Twitter timeline started blowing up with people raving about the product. I was touched by my friends' support but seeing people I don't know personally taking the time to write positive comments was a huge "wow" moment. I've saved the best tweets in a public Wall Of Love.

I'm now gearing up for my first Product Hunt launch.

How did you validate demand for this project when you first started?

Earlier this year I took a course by Noah Kagan called Monthly1K. Noah constantly talks about the importance of validating demand for our ideas before we invest loads of time and effort into them.

I created a landing page on Gumroad and write a Twitter thread to start collecting pre-orders & gauge interest. I would only charge people if I completed the Newsletter OS.

For other (not-for-profit) projects, I've typically validated demand by building landing pages to collect emails.

THOUGHTS ON BUILDING AN AUDIENCE:

You are a poster child for build in public in my view. Tell us about your humble beginnings on Twitter and your newsletter growth and where you stand now.

Thank you! When I came back onto Twitter this year, I lurked for a long time. I spent time admiring the work & the words of people from afar without actually saying anything. In late June I only had 30+ followers on Twitter.

One day, I saw KP tweet that he had a product idea about books and wanted to share it, so I reached out to him via DM. I ended up chatting with him and Pierre about the idea. Eventually, we didn't move forward with the idea but I continued talking to KP and had a behind the scenes view into how he built Letterdrop.io.

Speaking to KP opened my eyes to the benefits of building in public, so I decided to be more intentional with my tweets. I discovered that the upsides are unlimited. By consistently writing & sharing insights with others, I've seen a lot of engagement on my tweets and have attracted many like-minded people into my orbit!

On the newsletter front, I wrote to ~25 people for the first 13 weeks of BrainPint as I didn't dare to promote it. Being in niche interest groups like Newsletter Geeks helped me realize that I should actively promote my work. I've also found myself in a smaller newsletter mastermind group on Telegram. We've become really good friends and communicate daily. It's so important to be a part of a tight group where everyone is ambitious and believes in expanding the pie. We propel each other forward.

I'm thankful for the belief capital that people like KP & Kieran Ball placed in me early on in the journey. When I was a smaller account, bigger accounts like theirs helped to amplify my voice and I'm forever grateful.

Now I'm an active member in a few communities and always try to share my knowledge. I don't think there are any magic tricks that can help build an audience. You get what you give.

What specific tactics/strategies have helped you in growing your Twitter following?

  1. Writing valuable content. I try to share my learnings and observations in a digestible format. I know that people want to follow accounts they can learn from.
  2. Build in public. I share what I'm working on, even if it's not perfect. People love vulnerability & authenticity. I've found that the threads where I summarize how I've built my projects have gotten really good engagement.
  3. Engaging frequently. I try to ask good questions and reply to the questions I receive. I often ask for advice when I hit roadblocks and people come forward to give suggestions and help.
  4. To be interesting, be interested. I constantly find ways to lift others up. Befriending other curious minds has also helped me grow my audience as we shine spotlights on each others' work.
  5. Using leverage. When I had ****a tiny following, instead of investing 100% of my time into creating my own content, I tried to add value to larger accounts. I summarized their work and commented on their tweets with unique points of view. This helped me to get "seen" by their followers.

Check out my Twitter thread here to get my Twitter playbook.

What specific actions have helped you build an audience for BrainPint?

I've put a fair bit of work into growing BrainPint as I started from 0. These three things probably helped to move the needle the most:

  • Writing Twitter threads to showcase what I've curated for the week, and tagging the people I've featured in them
  • Sharing about what I've learned in my newsletter journey (aka Building In Public) on Indie Hackers & Twitter
  • Cross-promotions with other newsletters that I love. Aside from writing, I love reading other newsletters and like to recommend the best ones to my newsletter readers. Building relationships with other newsletter writers is a high ROI activity.

I've recorded a lot of other audience-building tips in the Newsletter OS' growth section. It's 1.7k words long 😉

THOUGHTS ON CREATING AN INFO PRODUCT:

What was your tool stack?

All the tools I used to create Newsletter OS cost <$25 in total. You really don't need fancy or expensive tooling to make a profitable digital product.

Building:

  • Notion - Their free plan is generous and I built most of Newsletter OS on it. I upgraded to Personal Pro ($4/month) right before launch.
  • Setapp (Cleanshot X and Capto) - Tools to take screenshots & videos easily.
  • Ezy Gif -  Used it to convert my videos into GIFs for free
  • Icons8, Flaticon, GIPHY - Icons and images that I used in Notion
  • Namecheap - Bought the domain for ~$8
  • Colors and Fonts - Used this site to get the color schemes for one section (Brand Assets). Michael Andreuzza, the creator of Colors & Fonts helped me out with the design elements. He also used Open Peeps for illustrations.

Selling & Marketing:

  • Gumroad - started selling on Gumroad with the free account, then upgraded to the creator account ($10/month).
  • Figma - It's a free collaborative web tool that I used to create the promotional graphics
  • Share Link Generator - Tool to generate tweet intent text.

What are you most excited about the Newsletter OS? What do you hope it helps people with most?

I'm excited that I've created an actionable product that can help many others to grow their audience through their newsletters. I love the passion economy and see Newsletter OS as a useful tool that can help to expand the space.

Last week I was stoked to hear that one of my customers has started to make money from his newsletter thanks to Newsletter OS! I also love seeing that people are remixing and modifying it within their workspaces to suit their personal styles.

What is a piece of advice you'd give to someone who's considering being a creator?

You have something valuable to share. As one of my favorite quotes from Derek Sivers goes, "Obvious to you. Amazing to others." What you might view as common knowledge might be very helpful for others.

Don't overthink things. Spend less time strategizing and more time taking action. Even if you think you're not ready to release something, just do it. Your first project might not be a success but your learning will compound.

Don't do it alone. Join communities. Give and get advice. Of course, build in public!

THOUGHTS ON BUILDING IN PUBLIC:

When and where did you first discover the superpower of building in public?

Growing up, I used to blog on different platforms so I knew that building, learning and writing publicly had multiple benefits. However, this year I truly discovered the benefits by watching some of my favorite builders on Twitter and following their success stories.

What was the 1st project/initiative you have built in public?

My newsletter BrainPint's landing page. You can check out the Twitter thread here. I got a lot of useful feedback on how to improve my landing page by sharing about it.

Who are some of your favorite builders in public?

I really respect Anne-Laure, Shawn (swyx), Dru Riley, Arvid Kahl, KP, Kieran Ball, Sharath and Steph Smith. Sometimes I'm in awe that some of these people I consider my heroes are now my friends.

THOUGHTS ON DOWNSIDE:

If you were to argue for the downside of building in public, what would it be?

You're bound to run into haters. There will be people who say nasty things to you. As a new creator, this might be scary but remember, if you are building something valuable and are constantly helping others, you have nothing to be afraid about. The community will rally around you. Brush aside any mean comments and focus on delivering value to others.

A potential risk lot of founders and creators run into when they build in public is people copying/cloning their work? How do you handle that? What are some ways to go about it?

Make something that you're known for in your niche. Your personal brand is your moat. People can copy your idea but they can't copy your credibility, personality, passion and drive. Keep innovating and improving your products.

How do you stay on top of all the notifications/DMs/emails when you have a public persona?

I reply the DMs I get on Twitter. It's a great way to meet new people and learn about the cool things they're working on.

I looked for a way to scale my time when I started receiving a lot of 1:1 call requests and ended up building Pheedback with Pablo. Our aim is to help makers who need feedback on their projects get in touch with others who have complementary skill sets.

THOUGHTS ON FUTURE:

What goals do you have for the future?

I'm a builder at heart, so I would like to create a company or get involved in a high-growth startup. I want to keep creating products that are a net positive in this world and inspire others to build.

THOUGHTS ON DECISIONS:

What's the most important decision you've taken in the last 18 months?

Starting my newsletter. Writing publicly helped me to build a serendipity vehicle that has given me opportunities to meet amazing and talented people.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Do you have an ask for the Build In Public community?

Subscribe to BrainPint, my curated newsletter with interesting reads, tools & learning resources sent out weekly to make you smarter.

Purchase Newsletter OS or tell a friend about it!

How can people reach you on the Internet?

You can follow me on Twitter (@JanelSGM), subscribe to BrainPint, my newsletter or read my personal blog.

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