How David Perell Built an Email List Worth 8-Figures

David Perell has become a top name when it comes to online writing. He now teaches a writing course that costs between $4k and $6k per student.

But he was terrible at writing in school.

So how did he become a wildly successful and prolific writer? Let’s find out.

How David Perell Makes Money

David’s business is one of the simplest we’ve seen in terms of revenue structure.

Write of Passage Course

David teaches a cohort-based course called Write of Passage. He doesn’t try to sell other courses or have other side products.

He’s solely focused on this one course because he wants to make it the best writing course out there.

If he had a bunch of other workshops and courses he sold, his attention would be split into a bunch of different directions.

Each year they do between 2 and 3 cohorts.

Each cohort has hundreds of students, and at a minimum of $4k per student, he’s bringing in at least $1.5-$2 million every time he runs this course.

Angel Investing

David has been able to invest in some angel deals because of the influence he’s built online.

He’ll invest in companies that help further online education and help people write online.

Other than these two income sources, he doesn’t have much more coming in.

No sponsorships, no affiliates, nothing. He’s pretty much all in on Write of Passage.

The Growth Timeline of David Perell

David’s growth timeline is very steady and consistent. There aren’t giant spikes, or a ton of other platforms being added.

Just consistent growth on Twitter over the course of years of effort.

I have to point out that David stopped increasing his email subscriber number on the website around June of 2022. It still just says “Join 70,000+ subscribers.”

I’ve taken the liberty of adding around 4,000 people per month to this chart because he has said in multiple interviews that he adds 1,000 people per week minimum.

I’d guess his email list is probably closer to 110k but have zero evidence to back this up. But the consistent Twitter growth alongside it would lead me to believe that.

The 5 Growth Levers of David Perell

David Perell has built a wildly successful business. And while he doesn’t have the largest audience, he definitely has one of the most profitable that we’ve seen.

Here are some of the growth levers he’s used to build his business.

🔎 1. Extreme focus on one platform. David is one of those rare creators who hyperfocused on one platform and hasn’t diversified from there. But he’s been able to build a following of over 400k people on Twitter.

👋 2. Relationships & Connections. David has been building relationships since the beginning of his creator journey, and it’s led to some powerful connections. I’ll show you a few ways he’s been able to consistently build those relationships.

🤝 3. Collaborations. David is masterful at getting other creators to build with him and collaborate on different projects. And it’s one of the main things that even got Write of Passage started.

📬 4. Turning traffic into email subscribers. David doesn’t just ask people to signup for his newsletter. Instead, he has a different method of getting people who end up on his website to subscribe to his email list.

♻️ 5. The student flywheel. The act of teaching his course creates a flywheel that is continuously building up the rest of his business. I’ll show you exactly how he does it.

1. Extreme Focus on One Platform 🔎

David is one of the rare creators focused only on one social platform. He hasn’t tried to grow an Instagram account or build a thriving LinkedIn page.

He’s narrowly focused on Twitter as his social writing platform.

His strategy?

He optimizes his content to get the most screenshots (i.e. bookmarks or saves) per user of any Twitter creator.

He strives to have 95% of his tweets be insanely valuable, vs just platitudes that get traction but don’t actually make people think.

If you look at the growth timeline, you can see that his account has steadily grown over the years because he’s been so consistent about posting there.

Getting Email Subscribers From Twitter

David has noted again and again that Twitter is a valuable place for him to grow his email list.

The email list grows when I write Twitter threads and link to my email list — this is the one-two punch of my professional life.

David Perell

One of the interesting ways he uses Twitter to build it up it by creating a mega-document of his most popular insights.

He has been writing his email for years, so he has data on what posts get the most clicks and replies.

He takes those posts and creates a giant document of all of those top insights.

He told Nathan Barry he gets 3,000-4,000 subscribers every year just from this mega-document he creates.

Here is an example of his “mega document” from 2020.

Building Relationships

Not only has Twitter helped grow his email list, but it has been extremely valuable for David in terms of building relationships.

He’s been able to connect with huge creators, VCs, and celebrities, as well as top minds in almost every field you think of.

One of those life-changing connections he made through Twitter? Tiago Forte.

More on that in this next section.

2. Relationships & Connections 👋

I’ve talked about relationships a lot recently because I’m realizing just how important this is for many, if not most, successful creators.

Having people in your circle can open doors you didn’t even know existed.

David’s mom has told him since he was young that it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. He’s definitely taken that to heart.

Here are some ways he’s cultivated relationships and built really strong connections with people.

A. Starting a Podcast

In 2017, David started to realize how little he knew about the world. He said he messed around for 4 years in college, saw that he was falling behind in terms of knowledge, and knew he needed to change that.

He tried to talk to a number of people he found interesting but kept finding that no one would give him the time of day.

He created the North Star podcast and all of a sudden, some of the biggest names were willing to come on his show and spend time talking to him.

People like:

  • Shane Parrish
  • Sara Dietschy
  • Neil de Grasse Tyson

He writes about this in his 2020 mid-year review:

Unfortunately, he put the podcast on pause around May of 2021, probably because it took a lot of time to put it together.

But the benefits of having all of those conversations with interesting people are long-lasting.

Writing in Public

David talks a lot about the value of writing in public.

Essentially, you want to pick a topic you find fascinating and go deep into researching it. Start sharing what you’re learning online on places like Twitter.

Those writings become a “lighthouse” for other people with similar interests to find you.

Through this process, you’re able to build really strong connections and challenge each other’s thinking. And collaborate on content creation, which I dive into here in a bit.

Join Communities

David was also part of the Type House community founded by Nathan Baschez of

type house members

Other members of this community include some huge names like Dan Runcie, Lenny Rachitsky, and Dru Riley.

I’ve said this in the past, but surrounding yourself with people who are hyperfocused on similar results will lead to many open doors.

Take Part in Online Courses

In March 2017, David and Tiago Forte started interacting on Twitter.

In August of 2017, David took Tiago’s Building a Second Brain course.

This was the beginning of a relationship, and ultimately the beginning of what would eventually turn into a business partnership.

Going through this course helped David formulate his thoughts and capture his ideas so that he could write better. But it also helped him see what a professionally built course looked like and the impact it could have.

To me, this feels like one of the inflection points for David.

Creating Write of Passage

In late 2018, David tweeted that he wanted to help 1000 people start writing in 2019. This was in November, and over the coming months he kept tweeting about the same topic and idea.

In an interview on the Tropical MBA podcast, he said that he got around 500 messages on Twitter from sharing this goal.

I have to imagine that David had no clue where to start creating a course.

In early 2019, David said he practically begged Tiago to help him create an online writing course.

He had seen the level of vigor and quality Tiago was able to deliver to his students, and David wanted to learn exactly how he did it.

That February, the two got together to plan and record what would become Write of Passage.

This business partnership started from just a few tweets on the Internet.

3. Collaborations 🤝

I’ve talked about collaborations in the past, but David is a master at this and makes it seem so effortless and obvious.

Let’s walk through a few examples so you can see the power of this.

Tiago Forte

The Girard Lectures

David collaborated with a friend of his named Johnathan Bi to create what they coined “The Girard Lectures.” This is a series of 7 lectures around René Girard’s theories and philosophies.

Whether you’re into the topic or not, it’s an interesting collaboration. This series of highly produced videos was made possible through a grant from economist Tyler Cowen.

These videos have been viewed over 134k times.

These lectures led to Johnathan and David appearing on the Pomp Podcast, as well as a few others.

Co-Writing Articles

David has a long history of writing articles with other creators. This reminds me a lot of the “multiplayer articles” Mario Gabriele writes.

Here are a few examples:

He’s even co-written Twitter threads. Here is one with Brie Wolfson:

Workshops on YouTube

David has done a number of workshops with other creators.

Essentially, the person will come on and teach about one of their processes, or a big idea they have. Then the two will riff on that for a while and teach others how to do that thing.

Twitter Workshop with Matthew Kobach

One big example is this Twitter workshop he did with a guy named Matthew Kobach.

At almost 2 hours in length, they walk through their strategies for growth on Twitter, and tips to stand out on the platform.

This webinar also led to his “How to Crush it on Twitter” email course, which he turned into a paid course as well.

Note: This course no longer exists, but it’s interesting to note that it was once a thing.

That workshop got over 33,000 views and lots of great engagement on social.

Here are a couple of other examples of these workshops:

These workshops help build authority for David, he gets to connect with top creators, and his audience benefits by learning from these people.

Some of these even lead to quite a few subscribers for his email list:

Book With Jack Butcher

In May of 2021, David and Jack were toying around with the idea of writing a book together.

They got a ton of initial interest on day 1:

I don’t think the book ever came to fruition, but it’s interesting to test out different ideas and consider new projects.

The Bootstrap Collective

Austin Rief of the Morning Brew and David Perell came together to work on a community for bootstrapped entrepreneurs.

They had an application form and everything.

I didn’t see much more about this initiative after the posting, so this might have been another test project or a project they ended up building in private after posting this tweet.

These last 2 might not have come to fruition, but I find it interesting that he’s willing to test the viability of some of these before committing to the full thing.

4. Lead Magnets & Email Courses 📬

One of the more tactical ways David has grown his email list is by giving away freebies to his audience.

David likes creating email courses for his audience because they are much more helpful than a typical lead magnet would be.

“They also are just so much more helpful than a lead magnet. It didn’t feel as useful to the reader as some kind of email course that I poured my heart and soul into.”

David Perell

I also have to wonder if these types of courses also help people understand his style of teaching better and can convert more folks into the Write of Passage.

Here are a few email courses he’s tried:

A. 50 Days of Writing

David has created a 50-day email course that provides insights into all kinds of writing.

The examples he gives to get people interested are ones that create intrigue and let you know that the tips you’re going to get aren’t one’s you can find just anywhere.

David came up with the “Soulja Boy” strategy so it’s not like you can go Google it.

I think we can learn from the way he is presenting the information and offering a huge amount of value upfront without asking for anything more than an email address.

B. 7-Day Email Course

This next one is an email course that he links to from Twitter threads quite a bit.

It’s a short 7-day email course that helps you get started writing online.

Here is an example of a thread he wrote and links to this course at the end.

This one is a great lead-in for people to get started writing online, but also probably creates a lot of open loops that his paid course can close for the reader.

C. How to Crush It On Twitter

David recorded a 2-hour workshop with Matthew Kobach about how to “crush it on Twitter.”

The workshop itself is really valuable, but David then turned the content into a 5-day email course.

And then he built it into a paid course (that is no longer available).

D. 100 Days of Writing Challenge

This is really interesting and reminds me of Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s 100-day writing challenge that she credits with kickstarting her growth.

David set out to write a 600-word article every day for 100 days. I’m not sure if he completed it, but it was interesting to see him trying a new kind of optin.

The Switch Back to Lead Magnets?

If you go to now, David includes lead magnets vs only email courses.

Here’s one that I found:

It delivers a quick PDF with his top 5 writing tips. Quick, simple, and digestible.

David had said to Nathan Barry in an interview that he gets 2 million visitors to his website per year and doesn’t convert enough people.

I have to imagine this was the impetus for including lead magnets again and asking for the email in more places.

5. The Course Flywheel

The last piece of this is really interesting. Every successful student David has becomes a living, breathing example of how you can succeed in his course.

Some of the top names include:

As these people go on podcasts and tell their stories, they often mention Write of Passage as a place they got started.

This creates a flywheel for all the people listening to those interviews who get interested and go check out the course.

The better the course becomes, the more high-caliber success stories his students have.

Those people end up talking about how it helped them get there, and it leads to more students.

How You Can Replicate David’s Growth Levers

While David has been building an audience on the internet for years now, there are some methods I think can still be beneficial and valuable for newer creators.

A. Collaborate With Other Creators

David is really good at collaborating with other people, it seems like second nature at this point. If you see someone whose work you admire, why not work with them?

Or put together a workshop where you share their ideas with your own audience.

Some other interesting ways to collaborate include:

  • Co-creating content
  • Mutual podcast interviews
  • Putting together workshops
  • Creating online courses together
  • Creating Twitter threads together

The opportunities truly are endless, but the potential is huge. By coming together you’re building a more valuable piece of content and can have double the reach.

Here’s a Twitter thread I wrote on this recently:

B. Join Courses & Communities

The internet is a vast place of potential connections you could be making.

David took advantage of a lot of these, including joining courses, connecting with people on Twitter, and writing in public.

I’ve personally seen success in joining courses put together by creators I admire, and then connecting with the other students and teachers.

Buying someone’s product gets you into the outer ring of their circle, and as you go through the course and get results, you can build a relationship with that person.

This is one of the most underutilized shortcuts to building an audience online that I’ve seen.

Sure, it might cost a little money, and definitely costs some of your time, but it’s much better than tweeting into the void and hoping you get noticed.

C. Optimize for Email Subscribers

Make sure you’re optimizing for getting email subscribers, not just growing your “follower” count.

As we’ve seen lately, Twitter and other social platforms can tank your reach, or even disappear overnight.

Yes, you need a discovery channel like Twitter, but don’t get too reliant on that channel. Make sure you’re moving people to something you own like your email list.

You can do this with lead magnets, or even just mention your newsletter.

David went from using the typical PDF-type lead magnets to only using email courses, and now he’s back to a combination of both.

But every audience is different, so you’re going to want to try this for yourself.

Don’t blindly listen to the people online who tell you that lead magnets bring in low-quality subscribers, figure that out for yourself.

I stumbled across this quote in my research and wanted to leave you with this:

Just as product subscriptions give you recurring revenue, email subscribers give you recurring attention.

David Perell

chenell basilio

Chenell Basilio

Chenell is the head writer and reverse engineer at Growth In Reverse. She spends her days researching newsletters, audience growth, and generally figuring out how to help others create better content.

She has an almost useless Bachelor's Degree in Geography, enjoys running, listening to podcasts, and eating guacamole. 🥑

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