Each week, I do a deep dive on a creator to find out how they’ve grown from 0 to 50k+ subscribers. I’ll share the numbers, the growth levers they’ve used, and how well each has done. At the end, I include some takeaways you can use to implement these strategies to build your own newsletter or audience. Consider subscribing to get these each week.
The Generalist is a tech and news publication founded by Mario Gabriele, that started out as a side project, but quickly turned into a full-fledged business making more than $300k per year.
And to be up-front, that $300k number is a gross underestimation, as it was the last time I could find Mario publicly talking about revenues in August 2021.
It’s also important to recognize that this is from just his first year as a full-time creator (August 2020 to August 2021). $300k after that short amount of time is incredible.
I’d venture to guess that number is more accurately $450-500k at this point, as he’s raised his prices quite a bit recently. But I went with that number because it was the last concrete data point we have.
VC, turned professional writer
Mario went to Columbia University majoring in Political Science and eventually getting a degree in International Development.
After college, he was kind of all over the place and wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do for the long term.
He led growth at AndCo, which eventually sold to Fiverr. From there he worked for a VC firm called Charge Ventures investing and helping other startups grow.
The writing was always to the most enjoyable part of anything he did, so he kept coming back to it.
Eventually, his colleagues kept pushing him to write about Tech, Startups, and the VC world, which is what he did. He started compiling interesting things he’d find on Tech, writing up his thoughts, and sending it to friends and co-workers.
This morphed into The Generalist as we know it today.
How the Generalist Makes Money
Mario posted this image on the website in August of 2021 after 1 year of him going full-time.
He said that the annual revenue of the business at that point was $308k. ?
Since August of 2021, he has switched up how the business makes money. Instead of putting some of the content behind a paywall, he now has all the content online for free.
Now the community piece of The Generalist is now behind a paywall.
This means that the % split between memberships and sponsorships shown above has likely flipped in percentages.
At the time, the membership was around $199, with a couple of other package options.
Now, an annual membership currently costs $499 for the year, or you can get a 3-year membership for $1,198 and support Mario and the quality of the content upfront.
With prices more than doubling, I have to imagine that even with the change in revenue structure, this is closing in on (or already is) a half-a-million-dollar-a-year business.
The Growth Timeline of The Generalist
Let’s talk numbers. I scoured Twitter, the Internet at large, various podcasts, and interviews to put these numbers together.
I don’t notice anything insane here, do you? Of course, there are points where growth accelerates or slows down, but overall it’s an up-and-to-the-right chart.
Let’s dive a little deeper into each of those. And if you’re looking for some more detail, head down to the details section and find all of my research.
While there are a ton of things Mario did, here are the ones that stick out most to me.
The 4 Growth Levers of The Generalist
Mario has made some really smart moves along the way to get this business to where it is today.
There are 4 main reasons why I think The Generalist and Mario Gabriele are consistently growing the community.
1. He writes the most comprehensive articles on the planet about the topic. Seriously, it’s a shock when one of his articles is only 5,000 words. His longest piece (that I found) was over 15,000 words.
2. He uses collaborations to amplify the quality and reach of that content. The way he does this is so simple, but so powerful.
3. He has become a super-connector. Not only through these content collaborations, but also by bringing members of his community together that might not otherwise have met.
4. Audience engagement and “The Puzzler.” I’ll explain more on this later, but Mario stumbled into a brilliant way to get people to engage more with his emails.
Iteration and Seeing What “Stuck”
When Mario first started writing The Generalist, he wasn’t going super deep with the topics he covered like he does today.
He was posting what he called “Brunch Briefings” on Sundays that were a compilation of interesting links, and a bit of commentary about each – more than a 5 bullet Friday from Tim Ferris, but nothing like what he’s putting out these days.
He had a number of different sections he tested out in these early posts:
- “Signal” – which was a trending topic he came across that week (often not related to tech) that he would dig into a bit
- “Puzzler” – a random trivia question he asks his readers – which he still has around today. More on this later.
- “Overheard” – relevant quotes and musings he found from various sources
- “Job postings” – just a list of jobs he found or was sent
- “The Long Tail” – Random findings from other sources, or big pieces of news that are relevant to almost everyone
Aside from these, his “longer” posts were around 1,800 words – nothing to sneeze at for a normal person, but compared to what he’s putting out these days, it’s a LOT less.
But he soon realized that throwing a bunch of links together and writing a bit about each one wasn’t going to differentiate him from the hundreds of other newsletters out there doing the same thing.
Around May of 2020, he started writing a lot more detailed pieces, often hitting around 3-4k words, going in much more detail than he had previously.
This is also the same month he started writing the S-1 Club, which I’ll get into more later.
These aligned with how he liked to research and seemed to resonate much more with his audience. It wasn’t just another roundup of links from the industry each week. This was information they couldn’t find anywhere else.
So how did he turn The Generalist from a small little newsletter to, at the time of writing, having over 60k subscribers and a ton of raving fans?
1. Beat Everyone Else With Detail
Mario spends more than 40 hours a week writing the “Briefings” that get published each Sunday.
40 hours spent on just research and writing. Let alone all of the marketing and connecting with his audience like he does. I’m honestly not sure how it all fits into his week.
He even sets up any meetings or interviews the week before so that he can focus on research instead of logistics during his writing days.
Because he does such extensive research, he learns everything he can about a company, and is able to pull out a well-crafted story that keeps you engaged until the end, even though most pieces are over 5,000 words.
And it’s paying off in more than just subscriber count…
This Leads to Backlinks and PR
If you’ve been in the SEO or online space for a while, you might have heard the adage that if you just create content that is 10x better than everything else out there, you’ll get all of the backlinks and PR you could ever want.
It’s said so often, it’s like one of those terrible cliches’s used in the industry.
But it’s true in a sense…and Mario has proven this many times over.
If you search for companies he’s covered, like AirBnB or Stripe, he ranks pretty high for a lot of their brand terms due to the fact that he covers them in such extensive detail; Google recognizes it’s the best piece on the topic on the internet.
His 12,700-word piece (not a typo) on Stripe was so in-depth that the company even links to it from their jobs page. And when I say jobs page, I mean pages, because they have over 100 of them across multiple countries and languages.
Any SEO would be drooling over a backlink snag like that, and Mario did it with brute-force learning and his incredible storytelling.
People pay lots of money for links like that.
Adding Original Research
Mario combines takes his extensive research about the company to an entirely different level by adding info he gets from interviewing people close to the company and anonymous data he gets from insiders.
Yes, anonymous. He keeps all of his sources quiet and I’m sure that helps him earn trust with others at other large companies.
Many other journalists who cover topics like tech and IPOs stick to a method of aggregating other’s data, or interviewing the most obvious prospects. Mario often goes out and finds people who have been studying these topics forever to get even more detail.
By pulling in data from other people who know more about the topic than he could learn on his own, he’s giving his readers confidence that everything they need to know about a topic or company is in his newsletter, and nowhere else.
While we’re all looking for a hack on how to grow our audience, Mario isn’t leaving anything to chance. He finds any and all information on the topic at hand and weaves it into a compelling story that even non-tech folks can enjoy.
The S-1 Club
If you’re not familiar, the S-1 Form is one that companies fill out prior to going public on the stock exchange.
The S-1 Club is Mario’s attempt to give his readers a more in-depth look at companies before they IPO and go public on the exchanges.
On May 13, 2020, Mario published the first edition of the S-1 Club.
These are essentially breakdowns of company financials, current investors, growth and retention rates — pretty much anything someone looking to invest in a company could want.
⭐️ An obvious value add – Tech people are interested in IPOs, you know someone is going to IPO when they submit these documents. So he aggregates all the data and does the research for them.
Essentially, he was providing a boatload of information for people without them having to do all of the research themselves.
Can you imagine if someone came to you and said:
“Hey, I know you usually spend 2-4 hours (if not more) researching these companies. But I did it all for you. Here it is for free.” ?
What an epic way to gain raving fans.
2. Collaborations…They’re Not Just for YouTubers
Mario also started collaborating with other experts who were much more familiar with those specific companies and industries than he was. He wasn’t just putting together solo pieces anymore.
These people had been researching these topics for years, and knew more than he could have found doing all of the research on his own.
These collaborations would turn into a lot more pieces that bring together top minds around different subjects. What Mario calls “Multiplayer Pieces”.
One such piece was the article on DAO’s (Decentralized autonomous organizations) that brought together eighteen of the top minds in that space.
The piece ended up being over 14k words, but it literally covers everything you could ever want to know about DAOs and how they are changing the Web3 space. Mario admittedly says that he could never have put together such a comprehensive piece like that all on his own.
Better Content, but Also More Reach
What happens when you bring together over 18 of the top names around a specific topic that work tirelessly to write the piece on that topic?
A few things happen:
- It adds a TON of credibility to the piece. If you didn’t already know of Mario, by being associated with those 18 people, his level of credibility goes through the roof.
- This leads to more shares, and more eyeballs on the piece
- He seems to have gained around 10k Twitter followers in November right around the time this was published. WOW.
3. Becoming a Super-Connector
The Generalist attracts top-level CEOs and VCs to the community – With his deep research and insights, Mario is bringing together some of the top minds in the industry.
And he’s doing something very smart to leverage that high-level of an audience.
He sets up what are called “Introductions” for all of the paying members of his community. Each month, you get partnered up with another community member and jump on a phone call.
It sounds simple, but lots of his members rave about this aspect of the community.
In March of 2022, Mario was chatting with Adam Ryan from WorkWeek. Adam said that the meetups he had through The Generalist community had “directly led to them starting a completely new revenue line at the company.“
Also, Mario needs to put this on his sales page somewhere – like, come on. 🙂
The Hidden Beauty of “The Puzzler”
I mentioned above that one of the sections Mario tried in his early newsletter days was called the Puzzler, which he continues to include today.
And it’s pure genius.
While Mario has mentioned this section in an interview before, and says it’s because he likes connecting with his audience and learning new things.
Take a look for yourself and see if you can spot the genius here:
Do you see what he did there?
? He is getting people to reply to his emails to give their answers…
And when people reply to your emails, it helps the deliverability of your emails.
So essentially the next time you email them, your email has a much better shot at landing in the coveted Primary tab.
But he’s also doing it in a way that is connecting with his audience. He likes puzzles, and I’m sure a decent portion of the tech community does as well.
I’m sure he could be doing this better by explicitly asking for answers, but I’m sure that would really clog up his inbox every time he sends an email.
Let’s Not Forget Twitter
I know what I’ve been mentioning was more about the content and methods of creating, but let’s chat about Twitter, because it just can’t be ignored in this case.
I compiled his Twitter follower numbers as best I could (he changed username 3 times), and overlaid them on top of the number of subscribers to his email list:
While you could make the argument that either one is correlation vs causation, I have no doubt that Twitter helped grow the number of subscribers he was able to bring in. In October of 2020 he started taking Twitter more seriously, kickstarting his growth by writing 30 Twitter threads in 30 days (that’s a Herculean effort if I’ve ever heard of one).
That definitely accounts for the huge bump in his following during that time. After that you can see the growth start moving faster.
In addition to putting out a wild amount of content, to this day he still comments and thanks everyone who shares his posts on Twitter.
How You Can Use Some of Mario’s Methods to Grow Your Own Newsletter
I know that was a lot, but let’s break down how you can take some of the brilliance of Mario’s strategy to help grow your own audience.
1. Create your own “S-1 Club”
What’s something your audience does on a regular basis that you could do for them, or give to them?
Or is there already some research you’re doing that you could share with your audience that could save them some time each week?
This could be a one-off thing as well, just showing your audience some love and giving them a Google Sheet you build that automates some portion of their work.
2. Get your audience to reply
A random trivia question isn’t going to work for everyone.
The benefits here are two-fold:
- You will increase your email deliverability rates and get in Gmail’s good graces.
- You can build a deeper connection with your audience.
This isn’t something you need to do weekly either. Here are some ways you can do this with your welcome email and get people to reply.
3. Add your own original research.
There is such a low bar for creating content on the internet, especially written content like newsletters and articles.
But if you add your own spin, or do more homework than anyone else on the topic, you are going to stand out. This doesn’t have to equate to 10k+ words either.
Here are some ways you can make your content stand out:
- Test something out and show people the results you got from it
- Calling people who would know more about the topic
- Using your network and connections to get more information
- Are you good at searching around on the internet? Most people don’t go past the first 10 results on Google or know about tools you can use to dig deeper. If this is a strength, use it!
- Presenting the idea in a different way that everyone else does
- Aggregating insights from different places – i.e. you’re writing about fitness, but the method reminded you of something from a non-fiction book you’ve read
By doing something different, you’re making it much harder (if not impossible) for someone to come in and copy your ideas.
4. Become a super connector
This could come in multiple forms.
First, you could personally recommend people to meet each other because you know Person A is great with one topic, and Person B needs help with that. I have friends that are wonderful at this and seem to magically always have a connection they’re sending people.
There is also the method of just matching up random people from the community together. Since everyone is really there with similar goals, these can be really valuable.
I’m part of a community called FinCon, and each month they do what’s called “Donut Buddies”. You get matched with someone new in the community every month (it’s literally done via a Google Sheet) and jump on a call with them for 30 mins.
These calls have led to potential partnerships and clients for me in the past.
But you could also do it in a bit more automated way. Mario uses a tool called Covalent that gets data from every audience member and uses AI to match them to people who they would resonate with.
But it’s nice to connect with someone who just understands all the nerdy things you might be interested in.
5. Get help from people who have done it before
Mario enlisted what he called his informal board of advisors when he first started taking the newsletter on as a full-time job.
He went to people like Nathan Barry of ConvertKit and Adam Ryan, now of Workweek, because he knew they had a ton of experience and could help him see gaps he wasn’t seeing.
While you don’t have to make this something super formal, this is a great way to get others to hold yourself accountable and get insights from people who know more than you do about the industry.
Quality over Quantity
After all is said and done, Mario has built what seems like a super sustainable business that he loves working on. While you might look at 36 months and think that’s a long time to build up to 60k subscribers (a large stadium full of people), I think you’re looking at it incorrectly.
The caliber of people in his paid community apparently includes well-known VCs, startup founders, and people you want to be in the room with.
Having such a high caliber of people has created almost a flywheel for Mario.
When you put out amazing content, you’re going to attract high-quality people in the industry.
When your community has such high-quality people, they’ll naturally be able to introduce you to folks in the spaces you’re researching (or might be those people themselves!).
And then you end up with even better content. And the cycle just keeps repeating.