Three lessons from a year of weekly writing
Tomorrow is the one-year birthday of Silicon Valley Outsider!
This week is the one-year anniversary of Silicon Valley Outsider! After 47 editions, this newsletter now goes out to 500 subscribers.
I started from scratch:
And now that I have a year of experience under my belt, I have some hard-earned lessons to share!
Here’s what writing every week for a year has taught me about the joys (and challenges) of starting a new creative endeavor.
🤷♂️ It’s really, really hard to predict what “the public” will like ahead of time.
I thought that “What Startups Want From Business Hires” was too blatantly self-promotional, but it became my most-viewed post of all time. I thought that people would want a news digest, but people really wanted me to talk about the meaning of life.
After surprising successes and disappointing duds, I’ve learned that the only way to account for such uncertainty is to be prolific. In practice, that means lowering the bar for what you consider ready to publish — it’s much better to release 47 mostly crappy essays a year than to spend a year attempting to produce a single magnum opus.
Mediocre content fades away fast on the internet; nobody cares if you write mediocre stuff. Better to churn through your bad ideas as quickly as possible so you can find something that actually works.
So, whatever it is you’ve been thinking of trying — just do it already. If you fail, nobody will care. But if you succeed, you’ll wish you had started sooner.
It took me 10,761 days to start writing Silicon Valley Outsider, and after 365 days, I have 500 subscribers.
Makes me wish that I had some of those first 10,000+ days back!
📈 Growing your audience and concentrating your audience are equally important.
I’ve had two big spikes in audience growth so far: one experiment running paid ads in June, and another as-yet-unexplained boost in March.
The spikes feel awesome in the moment — multiple folks subscribe each day, you publish articles to ever-increasing numbers of readers each week, and you can’t help but to do the math on what your readership would look like if the rate of subscriber continued for another month, year, or decade. But, invariably, those expectations crashed down to earth as each spike was followed by a long period of basically zero growth.
Even in those flat periods, I never stopped getting a normal amount of subscribers (~1-2 per day), but I was losing subscribers at about the same rate. In other words, growing too fast degraded the quality of my new subs, and they churned faster than those acquired through normal channels.
Periods of high churn can be great if they help you focus.
And I’m not alone in seeing this pattern:
I’m curious if the software folks in the audience have experienced similar phenomena in their day jobs — or whether “churn is good” might just be a dangerous rationalization. (Let me know what you think!)
😎 If you do anything for a year, you’ll have highs and lows — and both are okay.
Early on in my authorship of this newsletter, I made a crazy, irrational promise to never miss out on writing a single edition of this newsletter.
“If it’s a question if you [will write a newsletter this week], the answer is going to be no eventually. So, just don’t let it be a question.”
To be fair to myself, that was a pretty cool way to describe a weekly habit. But it was also way too much pressure for what is ultimately a pretty chill, unambitious newsletter.
A few things got in the way of publishing perfection over the last year, and all of them were more important to me than a marginal edition of this newsletter: training for a triathlon, raising a Series C, adopting a pet rabbit, learning to play Magic: The Gathering, watching 25 seasons of Survivor with my girlfriend, and — last/best — getting engaged.
The lesson: consistency leads to achievement, but giving yourself a break lets you enjoy the pursuit of achievement.
As long as you trust yourself enough not to make excuses or take breaks by default, you’ll be just fine.
Looking forward to another year with you all! Thanks for helping make this such a fun part of my life.
Thanks for reading Silicon Valley Outsider! Here are a few past editions that you might like if you enjoyed this one:
If you want to join 500 folks in getting an email from me each Monday, I’ll help you understand Silicon Valley using normal-human words.