Listen Up! IH – Episode 4
“We get it. We’re creators too.”
👆That’s a quote from the landing page of WhereByUs — an organization that has built local media brands in Miami, Seattle, Portland, Orlando, and Pittsburgh.
The company was founded by Rebekah Monson, Chris Sopher, and Bruce Pinchbeck and together their newsletters are netting more than 1.5M ARR. They are also the same team behind LetterHead, a set of business tools for quality newsletters, which is at more than 25K MRR.
Bruce & Chris caught up with Courtland Allen on the IndieHackers Podcast back in January 2021.
During their chat they talked about doing local news right, their platform for creating newsletters, and their insane, but effective research methods.
Initially, Chris, Bruce, and Rebekah didn’t set out to create a newsletter.
They simply wanted to make the city of Miami more interesting.
They hosted workshops with locals about local issues like housing, affordability, and transportation.
But one idea kept coming back at these meetings – the need for a resource that kept the community updated on new events in the city. A sort of a newsletter.
After a year of researching the habits and interests of the people of Miami, they launched The New Tropic.
Its punch line is -
“A newsletter all about Miami, delivered fresh daily at 7 A.M”
The Insane Research Method
In order to understand Miami, they embedded themselves in Miami life.
That meant understanding the daily morning commute, the local bar scene, even the local school systems.
They collected an immense amount of information during the process — “enough to fill an entire wall with a couple of thousand post-it notes.”. It was everything that anyone had said to them during the research period.
Then they sat down, looked at all the notes, and started to find patterns in the types of interests – transportation, traffic, taxes, food, and dining – Miamians shared.
Email – The Dark Horse
They decided to send The New Tropic over email since they observed people checking email all the time.
Out of bed, first thing in the morning – check email
Standing on the train – check email
Go into the office – check email.
Diverse Income Streams
Right from the start, the newsletter had diverse income streams.
They charged for memberships and subscriptions for premium content($96/Year)
Plus they also monetized through ads.
They did local events as well.
And long-running well thought out marketing campaigns for local brands.
After building The New Tropic in Miami, they almost had a playbook on how to build similar brands in other cities.
But there was no way they were going to handle the content writing.
For Seattle, they found a couple of local creators who knew the community and the city well.
WhereByUs then provided them with the user research playbook, the tech stack, the payroll, but the local creators did the content.
The key was to get the vibe of the city right. A bunch of outsiders couldn’t have done it, trusting local creators with content and community was crucial.
The Seattle Newsletter is called The Evergrey (like the weather)
Letter Head – The Shopify for Newsletters
Letterhead is a tool for helping anybody build and grow and launch a newsletter business.
It provides creators with subscriptions, sponsorship, and even ad management while they can focus on the content.
LetterHead vs Substack
Substack primarily focused only on a subscription model. And people have to do weird workarounds to get sponsors or show ads.
Managing ads in newsletters is a pain anyways. Tracking placements to clicks and conversions, it can get daunting for the creator.
That’s what LetterHead helps them with.
It’s more of a business tool than a writing platform
And it’s definitely creating value with a 25K MRR at the time of recording of the Podcast.
Most of their revenue comes from sharing advertising revenue with the original creators.
Final Words for Indie Hackers👇
“The best thing you can do is a deep understanding of the community.
Slow down, take the time to do the research, speak to people, get feedback.” – Bruce Pinchbeck
“Start by understanding your customers, your community. You really only get a limited number of attempts to try to figure out what people want. You can cut down on the number of attempts required by really focusing on people.
Break your giant journey down into a lot of bite-sized steps because it’s not going to be you just go from zero to a million in a day.” — Courtland Allen
What We can Learn from the founders of WhereByUs👇
Do Research. At Length.
Spend a lot of time studying your users, learn to sift through the noise and look for signal in your research.
The more effort you take to understand the user beforehand, the less mistakes you will make in shipping the final product.
Keep the Brand Authentic. At All Costs.
Authenticity is crucial to build brands that last.
Even if it means not doing content yourself and focusing on the tech, it’s alright. Make sure to double down on your strengths and get other people to do the other stuff. Brand Equity should not suffer.
Spin Out Stuff.
Always be learning when you are creating. You will find plenty of ways to spin out new and interesting products that you can spin out from your main project.
Even companies like Shopify & Gumroad are examples of spun out projects while building something else.
- Making $1.5M/Year Reimagining Local News with Chris and Bruce of WhereBy.Us | Indie Hackers podcast
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Thanks to Seth King for editing this post.