How Michael Houck Built a $1 Million Newsletter in 13 Months

Michael Houck writes a newsletter called Houck’s Newsletter, where he writes about helping founders build, grow, and raise money for their startups.

Houck’s News began in August 2022 and currently has over 70,000 subscribers at the time of writing.

And this deep dive isn’t just about a high subscriber count, Houck is able to bring in more than $1 per subscriber, every month.

Last month he made over $100k from the newsletter, and if that continues he’s on track to do over $1 million annually.

But how did he grow it so quickly? That’s exactly what we’re going to dive into in a bit.

How Michael Makes Money

Houck made over $100k from his newsletter last month:

https://twitter.com/callmehouck/status/1697632936940413335

And he makes money from a number of different places.

Here are some of the ones I’ve found that might give you some ideas for your own newsletter.

1. Sponsorships

A lot of newsletters monetize via sponsorships, and Houck’s Newsletter is no different.

What is different is how many options he has for sponsoring the newsletter.

Houck uses Passionfroot to create and manage this page.

You can get featured in:

  • The “Tool of the Week” spot
  • A Sponsored Deep Dive
  • Featured Placements
  • Links of the Week
  • The Founder’s Library

These are all sections within the newsletter and you can buy any one of them.

If all of these spots are booked each week, he stands to bring in at least $5k per issue. If it’s a week where he does a sponsored deep dive, it could be an additional $7,500.

2. Paid Community

Michael has created a paid version of the newsletter that includes community access.

He offers a free 14-day trial of the community, and after that, the price is $15/mo or $150/year.

You get access to the community hosted on Circle, as well as digital events and in-person events.

The community has a few hundred paying members and growing quickly.

3. Consulting/Coaching

Houck also has a link on his site to book time with him and get advice or feedback.

You can book 30 mins for $350 or a full hour for $700.

He also mentions that you can hire him for a full-day sprint, but I have no context as to what he charges for that.

4. Megaphone

Megaphone is a new platform Michael created to help creators get more social shares. It’s only a few weeks old at this point, but already getting some good traction.

He charges $49/mo for the service.

Side note: I have a feeling there are some other monetization methods on the backend but I couldn’t find them.

The Growth Timeline of Houck’s Newsletter

I always like to share a growth timeline so you can visually see how quickly this has grown.

Michael has been posting on Twitter since the beginning and it’s helped grow his newsletter since he links to the signup page in all of his threads.

He is active on LinkedIn as well, with around 40k followers at the time of writing.

LinkedIn is notoriously hard to track follower counts with though so I did not include them in the growth timeline as it would have been wildly inaccurate.

The Growth Levers of Houck’s Newsletter

There are a number of ways Michael’s been able to grow the newsletter, but here are a few notable ones.

🧑🏻‍🔬 1. Treat it like a startup. Having a background in startups has helped Houck in more ways than one when it comes to growing his newsletter.

💰 2. Acquiring other newsletters. We’ve only seen this in one other deep dive, and the numbers are super interesting.

📱 3. Paid ads. Houck has been reinvesting his profits back into growth to be able to build an audience faster.

🎁 4. Database giveaways. Lead magnets, giveaways – whatever you want to call them, they’ve brought in over 15k subscribers, FAST.

♻️ 5. Cross promotions. A really interesting and easy way to build newsletter subscribers is through swaps. Michael has successfully done this more than a few times.

🤝 6. Referral program. In the early days, Michael used “expiring” referral bonuses to entice his readers to continue referring readers.

1. Run Your Newsletter Like a Startup

Michael’s been working on building and helping others grow startups for years. He brought all of that knowledge to his newsletter and runs it like a startup.

🧪 Quick Experimentation

While many people will try one thing at a time, Michael says he tries a ton of things, and then doubles down on what’s working.

There will be projects you might have thought were a great idea at the start, but end up not providing the results you were looking to get. You have to be willing to kill those projects and focus on what’s working.

💰 Reinvest in Growth

One of the big reasons Michael has been able to grow this newsletter so quickly is that he’s not trying to siphon every penny he makes out of the business.

He’s reinvesting what he can back into the business to grow it via paid ads and hiring people.

He talks about

Even as someone who isn’t technically running a startup, it’s interesting to get ideas for “professionalizing” my creator business and newsletter.

💬 Listen to Mentors

Throughout the process of building the newsletter, Michael has consulted with some friends in the space that you might know.

Lenny Rachitsky runs one of the largest paid newsletters and Sahil Bloom comes from the VC space and has built a massive newsletter as well.

It’s clear that Michael has been following their guidance as well. Here’s one example:

Michael charges $15/mo for his paid newsletter. With that, you get 2 main things:

  1. Extra content
  2. Community of founders

Michael said that he tries to make sure that the extra content you get with the paid newsletter is worth $15/mo, but he also makes sure the community side is worth $15/mo as well.

People join for different reasons, and if you’re only focusing on making the extra content good, you’ll lose out on the people who joined for the community. And vice versa.

I love the way he’s put this into action and you can see he’s taken a lot of notes from Lenny on how to run a good paid newsletter.

2. Acquiring Other Newsletters

One of the other ways he’s treated this like a startup and real business is by acquiring other newsletters.

Houck has acquired 2 other newsletters, with one of the deals happening just last week.

This is a pretty rare strategy we’ve only seen in one other deep dive from Codie Sanchez.

The first one Houck bought was called Daily Dose of Startups, run by Jaisal Rathee.

He acquired it in July 2023, and it had around 2,100 subscribers at the time.

The readers were in the same niche as Michael’s so it was almost like paying to just bring on 2,100 new people to his list.

It sounds like a wild success as he thought around 30% of those people would unsubscribe, when in reality only 6% have done so.

The second acquisition came just days ago, when he posted this:

https://twitter.com/callmehouck/status/1699813497587015799

I’m pretty sure I know which one it was but I’m not going to share since Houck hasn’t done so himself.

Interesting to see how well the last one did that got him excited to buy another. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time he does this 🙂

3. Paid Ads

Michael has been running paid ads for at least 5 months now to help grow his newsletter.

I’ve been following the journey for a bit, and was able to capture a few screenshots of these Twitter ads to give you some examples:

These examples are not comprehensive, just the ones that I came across in my Twitter (X) journey.

Michael was running these on his own for a bit, but now is working with Matt McGarry to optimize the campaigns more effectively.

Here are some of the Facebook ads he’s currently running:

Houck has also been investing in Sparkloop Ads to grow the newsletter. He was spending $5k per month but said he increased it to $10k per month more recently.

At this point, since he’s making $50k-$100k per month from the business, he has a lot of money to reinvest in growth with paid ads.

4. Database Giveaways

Houck used social giveaways to get subscribers for his newsletter on Twitter and LinkedIn. This tactic ended up getting him more than 10k subscribers in just a matter of weeks.

Here’s how this works:

  1. He builds (or has a VA build) a database of relevant information for his ideal audience
  2. He posts a screenshot of the database and asks people to reply and RT to get the resource for free.
  3. People engage and share the post, getting it in front of more and more people.
  4. Once they share the post, he uses a tool like Tweet Hunter to set up “Auto DMs” and the tool will send a message with a link to the resource to everyone who commented.
  5. They join his email list in order to get the database

This works really well because Twitter sees engagement as a high signal that a specific post is useful. When a high number of people are liking and commenting, the algorithm shows it to more people, and the flywheel keeps turning.

He shares a link to a custom landing page he’ll build for those giveaways. Michael used Carrd for this which is a tool you can start with for free.

All you really need is a great piece of content to entice people with, a well-written Tweet or LinkedIn post, a signup form or landing page, and a way to connect that form with your email provider.

This strategy is amazingly simple, but it was wildly effective and got him thousands of subscribers each time.

Giveaway Examples

I went back and found some examples of these tweets that Michael used. Here is one of the first ones he did.

You can see the high engagement and retweet counts on these posts.

I’d guess he’s getting at least a few thousand subscribers each time he runs these.

But he doesn’t just stop with a Twitter post – he also publishes the same content on LinkedIn:

The tricky thing about LinkedIn is you can’t use outside tools to DM people, so he had to manually try and DM everyone who commented.

This commenter knew exactly what he was in for:

Michael has done this 6 times that I could find:

Now, you might think posts like this are a little cringe, but he says “You have to embrace the cringe, especially in the early days” if you want your business to grow.

He has a relentless drive to turn this into a sustainable business and he said he was willing to do some things others might see as cringey to get it off the ground.

But when you’re getting started, would it be worth it to you to get 15k subscribers for an afternoon of work (plus however long it took to create the resource)?

I’d venture to guess you’re nodding your head right now.

After a while, it seems like the strategy stopped being as effective as it was in the beginning so he seems to have put a pause on this strategy.

The other thing to note here is that these subscribers weren’t all the best quality. He mentions in this interview that the people he got from these giveaways have an open rate in the high 30%’s compared to a typical 50% range.

However, being able to get that many subscribers in a short amount of time was a great way to get the newsletter off the ground.

You can always remove the lower quality subscribers later on as well and just be left with the higher quality folks.

5. Newsletter Swaps & Recommendations

Cross promotions AKA newsletter swaps are a great way to build an audience in the early days.

Michael has done quite a few of these with relevant newsletters in the space.

Here are a few that I was able to find:

This swap was done with Abhi who ran Psychology of Marketing earlier in 2023. He’s since sold that newsletter (the irony!) but these two seem to have swapped spots.

Another example I found was done with Jasper Polak of The Minimum Viable Project (which has changed to now be called Project Management Unraveled).

But this was the shout out I found from that one:

These cross promotions can be a great way to grow your audience if you do them correctly and have similar audiences.

This one is also an example of getting “recommended” by other newsletters. That subscribe button will automatically add the reader to his email listen since Jasper was also using Beehiiv.

6. Referral Program

In the early days of his newsletter, Michael started a referral program.

But this wasn’t just any referral program, he was offering expiring bonuses to create urgency for his readers.

If you didn’t refer 1 person last month, that bonus is gone and there’s a new one in it’s place.

I think he got a little too busy to be creating new freebies every month, but he told Beehiiv that it 10x’ed his referrals in the early days:

This is simliar to what we saw with Ali Abouelatta of the First 1000 newsletter. He was doing something similar with giving away pitch decks each month.

Bonus: Beehiiv Creator Spotlight

This next one comes from building relationships and becoming a “success story” for software.

Michael was also featured in the Beehiiv Creator Spotlight on March 10, 2023. At the time it ran, he had around 18k subscribers.

After that went live, his list jumped up to 28k by March 28th.

Coincidence? Maybe.

He could have been running paid ads at the same time, but with Beehiiv’s network I have to imagine a good percentage of those folks came from the feature.

As I said above, this isn’t something you can buy. But it’s something you can work toward through building relationships.

🗺️ How You Can Replicate Houck’s Successes

There is a lot we can take away from the way Houck has been able to grow his newsletter and business.

A. Treat Your Newsletter Like a Startup

Or at least a business.

A lot of creators are set on just doing work they love, which is the whole goal, but you also want to get paid well for it so you can keep doing that work.

I’m guilty of not taking this as seriously as I should, so it’s nice to see others doing it that we can model.

  • Experiment often
  • Be willing to kill your darlings. Some of the experiments won’t work, and you need to be ready to quit those that don’t.
  • Reinvest in growth when you can

And acquire some smaller newsletters once you are able to reinvest.

B. Speed is Everything

Not only was/is Michael experimenting a lot, but he’s moving quickly as well. Time waits for no one, and he knows that.

By taking advantage of the creator space now, it’s going to be much easier to grow and cement your place in the industry.

I was listening to Danny Miranda interview David Rosenthal this weekend, and they were talking about how important it is to just get started.

When Danny started his podcast in 2020, he thought it was too late, and the market was saturated. But if you know anything about his podcast, he’s exploding now and has been able to interview people like Alex Hormozi and Robert Greene.

Can you imagine if he hadn’t started because he thought it was too late? What a shame that would be.

Starting today is going to be much harder than if you started 2 years ago, but it will be easier than starting next year.

C. Build Relationships

Not only was Houck able to get some great advice from mentors like Lenny and Sahil Bloom, but even some of the more tactical stuff he’s done has come from building relationships.

You probably won’t have mentors of that caliber, but you can start engaging with people and getting on their radar. Building relationships is a foundational part of any business.

Cross promotions can be a great way to grow, but they come from getting to know people in the space and agreeing to swap spots.

Acquiring other newsletters comes from people who know you sharing those opportunities and or trusting the person you’re buying them from.

I’d recommend signing up for Houck’s Newsletter so you can follow along with his growth and learn as he continues to build.

If you enjoyed this, I’m putting together a course around all of the growth tactics I’ve learned from studying top creators for more than 1,000 hours.

You can join the waitlist here.

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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