How Khe Hy Built RadReads to Multiple 6-Figures and Over 51k Subscribers

In 2014, Khe Hy was seemingly living a dream life.

He was making 7 figures a year working at Black Rock, and was one of the youngest managing directors in company history. He was extremely successful by most measures.

But to get there, he was working 16-hour days, 7 days a week, and was so stressed that he lost a chunk of his hair right before his best friend’s wedding, which he would come to find out was from stress-related alopecia.

He knew something had to change.

In January 2015, he sent a few people in his network an email with links to interesting articles he read while he was on vacation.

It was an instant hit. His friends and colleagues wanted more.

He left his job in May 2015, and ended up turning the newsletter into his full-time business, which is now called RadReads.

434 issues later, Khe has over 50,000 subscribers and has built a business that allows him to live a life he loves.

How Khe Makes Money

Khe definitely might not be making the 8-figures he was while being in upper management at Black Rock, but he’s also not working 100-hour weeks either.

Coaching

Khe has pivoted a few times in his business, but now makes a good chunk of his revenue from coaching and helping others get off the hamster wheel.

Based on this post, it sounds like Khe was charging around $10k for his coaching engagements. This post was in 2021, so maybe the format was different than it is now, but it’s a signal.

It doesn’t take many clients paying that kind of money to have a full-time income.

Sponsorships

Khe has sponsors in his newsletter, which at 50,000 subscribers should be a few thousands bucks per issue.

He isn’t a huge fan of managing sponsor relationships, negotiating, and writing ad copy, so he manages his sponsors through the ConvertKit Sponsor Network.

Courses

Khe has run cohort-based courses teaching productivity via Notion in the past. He would do 3-4 cohorts a year, charging more than $1,000 per seat.

These were heavily inspired by Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain course.

In 2022, RadReads made $658k which was his best year ever in terms of revenue, mostly coming from the course. However, he said it was also his highest in terms of expenses, meaning the business profited only $250k.

He made a big pivot, which we’ll get into later and shut down the cohort side of things. Now he sells the self-paced version for $1,997.

And you can upgrade to the group coaching side of things for $7,997.

Only 5 people can upgrade to that higher tier, and you do get 1-1 coaching as well as 12 months access to the $10k accelerator.

Entrepreneur in Residence

In 2016, Khe became the Professional in Residence for Quartz Magazine.

The terms aren’t clear, but it sounds like Khe was brought on to write regularly for the publication. This helped him learn more about the digital media side of things and get his writing out to more people.

It was a part-time gig but he was able to draw a salary from it.

This is no longer something he does, but it felt important to share that this was one of his bigger revenue streams early on.

The Growth Timeline of Khe Hy

Khe’s growth has a few peaks, but mostly it’s a consistent up-and-to-the-right chart, aside from that huge jump in the middle of 2022. Don’t worry, we’ll explore that in a bit.

Getting the numbers for this deep dive was interesting.

There are a lot of times when his subscriber count stayed flat, or even shrank, but the reason is that Khe is consistently cleaning up his list.

He is not someone focused solely on a vanity metric like the number of subscribers he has.

Instead, he raves about having a high open rate or around 50-55% and optimizing for replies (which I love). So he’ll go through deleting subscribers because he doesn’t care about the vanity metric of subscriber count.

So while he “only” has 50k subscribers after 9 years of writing, he would probably have a much larger list if he wasn’t so diligent about cleaning it up.

Khe’s “Rad” Growth Levers

Over the last 8-9 years, Khe has tried a lot of things to grow his newsletter and audience. Here are some of the most impactful.

📡 Press & PR. Khe has been fortunate to have a story interesting enough that journalists want to share it with their readers. However, the way he’s gotten these features is interesting in itself.

🧲 Lead magnets. Love ’em or hate ’em, the lead magnets are extremely effective for Khe’s audience. And he uses these in newsletter swaps, which is very rare at this point in the creator space.

📹 Low-budget tutorials. This is by far my favorite piece of his growth. And you just have to see it to understand.

📱 Twitter and social media. Khe uses social differently than a lot of the high-growth creators you might see. He doesn’t have a massive audience, but he does have a highly valuable list of connections.

🔎 Getting found via search. In 2019, Khe realized that he was growing a lot slower because he completely ignored one of the biggest opportunities of getting people on his email list. Since then, he’s changed his strategy and now gets a third of his traffic from search.

🤝 Become a superconnector. Khe is one of the best creators I’ve seen in terms of building relationships. And he isn’t in it just for the benefits of what might happen to him, he’s a genuinely awesome person who goes around bringing tons of people together.

Let’s walk through each of these and see what we can learn from them.

1. Press and PR 📡

Khe is not shy about saying that a lot of his early subscribers came from press mentions.

One of the biggest breaks for Khe came when CNN wrote an article about him, calling him the “Oprah for Millennials.”

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But it wasn’t solely the article itself that catapulted his growth, it was the timing.

CNN published this piece on New Year’s Eve, right when New Year’s Resolutions are top-of-mind, and everyone is thinking about making changes in their lives.

The timing was incredible. It was around the new year, and people were looking for a “feel good” story – Khe’s story was it.

CNN ended up keeping this on the front page for 3 days.

That’s 3 days of exposure during the time of the year people are motivated to make positive changes.

The Results

Khe told Nathan Barry this piece alone got him 8,000 subscribers in 3 days.

And the numbers I’ve found back that up. In the CNN article, it says that Khe had 4,500 subscribers at the time.

A few weeks later in February, he shared that he had crossed the 15,000 subscriber mark.

Coming from someone who had a whopping 500 subscribers after an entire year of running the newsletter, getting 8,000 in 3 days is awesome. And so well deserved.

Subscribers aren’t the only thing that Khe got from this.

This article linked back to 6 RadReads articles. SIX! If you don’t know about backlinks and how stingy big publications have become in the last 4-5 years around even giving you one backlink, you’ll know this is a big deal.

Bloomberg and Barrons were the other two big press hits he’s had.

How He Got the Press Mentions

All of these opportunities came from the reporters being subscribed to the newsletter.

He didn’t do cold outreach, they just happened to be following along and learning about his thoughts through the newsletter.

Of course, it helps that his story was very compelling. He was willing to talk about his experience during his time on Wall Street, which is quite rare.

Most people want the option to go back to that job so they won’t talk about it publicly, but Khe was so burned out from his time there he was willing to talk about his experience and what happened.

Reporters eat this kind of thing up.

But don’t skip past the fact that even though he had a great story, if he wasn’t writing the newsletter these opportunities probably wouldn’t have come his way.

Podcasts

The other type of partnerships/press that Khe got was through podcasting.

By putting himself out there through his writing and being active on Twitter, he was able to get on these podcasts when they were still early on.

He humbly says he would never make the cut to be on those shows now.

Khe was able to be one of the early guests on One Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s Invest Like the Best podcast. If you aren’t familiar, this is now a top business and investing podcast.

Being on this podcast got him 1,000 or more subscribers in 24 hours.

The other big podcast was being on Ozan Varol’s podcast, Famous Failures. This episode and subsequent promotions via Twitter got Khe 900 subscribers in a day.

How did he get on these podcasts? Well, I have a feeling it was related to Khe’s nature of connecting people and being great at building relationships.

2. Become a Superconnector 🤝

Khe is a superconnector through and through. He is constantly trying to connect people to people, or people with ideas.

“I strongly believe that if there’s something that I know, or have access to, that would benefit someone else, then it’s my duty to share it with them.”

Khe Hy

Living life with this philosophy gets rid of any hesitation around “competitors” or questioning whether you should share something with someone.

He’s open and helpful to everyone when he can. And that comes back in spades.

There are a good number of bad actors in the world today, and if you can be someone who is happy to share ideas and contacts with people, you’re going to stand out.

Here’s an example of Paul Millerd calling Khe out for being a great supporter of other creators:

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We saw this Mario Gabriele as well. Being a superconnector leads to a raving fanbase, but also being surrounded by people who want to repay your kindness.

Community Events

One of the ways Khe has reinforced this is through putting together community events.

Khe held meetups and community hangouts for his audience.

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One of the attendees of these meetups? Dickie Bush.

Dickie asked him at the event if he had any advice for someone getting started. Khe told Dickie to write a newsletter every week for a year and watch it change your life.

And it absolutely did. Dickie now runs a multi-million dollar business, and Khe planted a seed to help him get started.

3. Lead Magnets 🧲

Lead magnets are one of those things creators either love or hate. I’m all about testing them, and I think if you’re in a space like Khe, they can work well.

Khe has created a number of useful lead magnets he can use on specific pages. If his blog post is talking about money and finances, he can share his lead magnet around money.

If it’s more focused around productivity, he can offer up a Notion template or his $10k work philosophy.

Lead Magnet Swaps

Khe uses a lot of custom landing pages when he’s going on someone’s podcast or getting featured in their newsletter.

On these landing pages, he’ll offer up a lead magnet that is highly relevant and going to be valuable for that person’s audience.

For example, Khe and Ali Abdaal did a newsletter swap back in March 2023. Khe had Ali link over to his lead magnet.

When you actually click through to that link, you see a custom landing page Khe has created for this purpose:

Because he’s using these custom landing pages, he’s able to tailor it towards that person’s audience. Ali’s audience is interested in productivity, so Khe positions the copy on his landing page around that topic.

This increases the likelihood of someone subscribing. They see the person’s name who sent them there, and the topic is interesting to them.

There is something called “ad scent” in the marketing world. If you’re not familiar, it’s essentially the consistency that carries through from your ad, to the landing page, just the way a scent would carry through.

I didn’t brand this term, but it’s a thing. And Khe is using it here.

His advertisement (i.e. the copy Ali used in his email) carries through to the landing page by calling out readers of Ali Abdaal.

It makes people feel like they are in the right place and they’re making a good decision by subscribing.

One way he could have done this better is if he carried it through to his thank you page. Instead of sending people to his normal “thank you” page, he could have added some fun pics of him and Ali.

I took the liberty of fixing this for him:

Jokes aside, this is very effective.

And there is a reason you’ll find this “ad scent” in many articles around conversion optimization. It’s because it works.

Not only does this let Khe be very targeted in his messaging, but he knows exactly how many subscribers this swap drove for him because he has a custom URL and a specific form created for this.

Custom Landing Pages

Khe also created a custom landing page when he had the chance to do a “guest tutorial” for the Keep Productive YouTube Channel.

This was a full video of Khe showcasing his template that he uses, and how he’s built it.

But then he gave the Keep Productive team a link to the actual template so people could start using it immediately.

That link goes to a custom landing page specific to this video – again, this allows him to know exactly how many subscribers he gets from it.

I see a lot of creators, myself included, just sharing their main call to action (i.e. newsletter landing pages, etc.) and not a custom freebie for that specific audience.

While it takes extra time, Khe told ConvertKit that some of these converts at 12%. That means if 100 people clicked over to that page, he got 12 new subscribers. That’s a pretty high conversion rate for something like this.

4. Low-Budget Tutorials 📹

For a long time, Khe was putting out content around Notion and how to effectively use it to be more productive.

He put together loads of content about the software and even created video tutorials around Notion because some of the features can be a little complex to use.

But these weren’t just regular tutorials.

These were highly effective subscriber generators masquerading as low-budget tutorials.

You ready to see one in action?

Khe would post on Twitter linking over to a tutorial for something that was a little complex:

The video would walk people through exactly how to use that feature.

In the top right corner of the video, he would include a link to his newsletter.

Did you even know you could do that with Loom?!

I certainly didn’t.

That link would take you to a landing page where you could download a template that has this feature already built for you:

Instead of trying to build it out like he was showing in the tutorial, the “Template Power Pack” let you import these funtinto your own Notion account and start using,

And of course, then you’re on his email list, getting other great insights into how to use Notion and be more productive.

This is so powerful. He’s finding a pain point people have, showing you exactly how to fix it, and then offering to make it even easier for you – and all you have to do is sign up for his email list.

Brilliance.

5. Twitter and Social Media

Khe has been using Twitter since the early days, but he’s not trying to play the “post anything that will go viral” game. It’s a more intentional approach to social media, and it’s helped him make tons of great relationships as well.

If you take a look at the data, a majority of Khe’s social traffic comes from Twitter. This isn’t a huge surprise since he’s most active there.

But even to this day, he’s “only” at 42k followers there. But as we saw with the way Codie Sanchez used Twitter in the early days, Khe is building quality relationships on the platform.

But he did have a few moments of going viral that helped grow his following quite a bit.

Easlo tagged Khe in a tweet thread where he was sharing a list of people to follow for specific categories:

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This one tweet got Khe around 6,000 followers, taking him from ~21k to more than 27k followers over the course of a few days.

6. Get Found via Search Engines 🔎

A few years in, Khe started putting effort into SEO and ranking higher in search engines.

He hired an SEO coach, learned a ton about it himself, and even ran a webinar about how to improve it to help other creators.

It seems like it was around 2019 when he started taking this seriously.

If you’re playing the SEO game, you might just look at keywords and let that inform your content strategy.

Khe doesn’t like this approach, so he would write a piece and then afterwards try and optimize the page to rank for a relevant keyword.

He still did create content solely based on keywords he found that he thought he could rank for, but 75% of the time he just writes what he wants to.

His guide to Notion was a very strategic piece to rank in search engines.

Of course, this video is from 2019 so some of this doesn’t work anymore. SEO traffic has also been waning with the rise of ChatGPT and Google prioritizing its AI tools in results.

However, this was a big growth lever for Khe from 2019-2022, and he is still getting around 30% of his traffic from search engines:

source: SimilarWeb

7. Know When It’s Time to Pivot

Khe has pivoted his business and newsletter a few times. I’d almost call him the master of pivots.

He left a high-paying “successful” job at the height of his career. He moved from a fully curated newsletter to sharing his own ideas, as scary as that sounds. And he’s changed his business offerings multiple times.

But the biggest pivot came in 2023 when he realized the course that was making him $658k in revenue was not growing.

The $658k Business Pivot

In 2022, Khe made the most money of his creator career, a whopping $658k.

$446k of which had come from his cohort-based course and the memberships built on the back of that course.

But there was trouble on the horizon.

The course market was shuttering, and he couldn’t make enough money to keep paying his full-time staff members. All of this happening weeks after giving his team healthcare benefits.

He could have just kept waiting around and holding his breath hoping things would get better, or rip off the bandaid and start the process.

It was a hard decision but he ultimately made the right call. He shut down the cohort-course and fired half of his team.

Talk about making an extremely hard decision. And Khe isn’t the only creator who’s talked about this. Ali Abdaal made a similar error and had to fire a lot of his team as well.

Khe wrote about the full story here, and it’s worth a read as he shares some great tips.

How You Can Replicate Khe’s Success

Khe’s story is one of intentional living and creating. I think most of us can learn from the way he’s going about his journey and building a more sustainable business.

In a world where the stories that get shared most are of creators making millions and having huge followings, it’s nice to see another option.

One where you can work less, make a good living, and not be burdened by a huge business and lots of employees.

Make It Past 25

Khe didn’t set out to start writing a newsletter. He was just sharing some links and videos that he found interesting with some friends.

Here is the first edition of the newsletter:

You can see at the bottom he even wrote “Not sure when I’ll find the time for the next one!”

That’s laughable now, 400+ issues later.

But the theme here is that he kept going. He told Ali Abdaal in a live stream they did in 2020:

“If you can make it out of 25 weeks, you can beat 98% of the competition. Once you have crossed the ‘I don’t want to do it” phase, it becomes so much easier.”

Khe Hy

And honestly, one year in he had only grown to around 536 subscribers. After 12 months. He definitely wasn’t breaking any land speed records for growth.

People want to get all the accolades of being a creator and having a bit email list, but are you willing to write for a full year while only getting 536 subscribers?

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Can you find something you enjoy writing about that even if you only gained a few subscribers in the entire first year, you’d still have the energy to keep going?

Build Relationships with Writers and Creators

Getting press was big for Khe. And while it might seem like it’s too hard and not worth it to even try, Khe has some advice for making this work.

Khe says that you can find out who the top writers are in your space and befriend them via social media or other ways.

Make a list of all the people from the bigger names writing for large publications, all the way down to smaller bloggers.

Start interacting with their content and building real connections. Over time, they might check out your work, or share something you’ve written on social media.

By being a superconnector, Khe has built a vast network of folks who can help him if the time arises. Although, he didn’t go into it with that mindset, it is a side effect of being a good human.

The network effect of being a good person and helping others is massive and wildly underrated.

Stop Focusing on Vanity Metrics

One of the things Khe does not care about is his subscriber count.

He is constantly cleaning his list and doesn’t really focus on whether people see his email list growing or not. He is more focused on having a high open rate above 50%.

In this clip, he tells Nathan Barry that if he hadn’t deleted any subscribers, his list, which was at 25k at the time, would probably be about 45k subscribers.

But that doesn’t bother him. He’s more interested in his open rate being at 55%.

There are newsletters with 100k subscribers, but only 15% of those people open their emails, and no one replies.

That list is not as valuable as someone with 30k subscribers and a 60% open rate, getting tons of replies each week because readers love the content so much.

I think there is a lesson in this because the newsletter space is constantly talking about list size, when those conversations completely skip the “quality” piece of the puzzle.

My takeaways from this deep dive are:

  • Build real connections.
  • Focus on quality over quantity.
  • Be a good human.

Oh, and put together some killer lead magnets with “low-budget” tutorials. 🙂

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. 🥑

Where I hang out on social media: