How do you get 6,000 email subscribers in just 4 months, and keep that momentum going for the next 3 years?
And then launch a membership charging just $5 a month and end up making more than $120k per year from it?
Anne-Laure Le Cunff from Ness Labs has figured out the recipe for sustainably growing her email with that level of momentum behind it.
She sent out her first edition of the “Maker Mind” newsletter in July of 2019.
Since then, she’s written hundreds of articles that have attracted over 75k newsletter subscribers and 2500 paying members.
Ex-Googler Turned Neuroscience PhD
Anne-Laure Le Cunff went from working at Google to moving to London and pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience.
She started Ness Labs as a way to hold herself accountable to properly understanding the concepts she was learning in her studies.
After realizing people were interested in how she explained these complex topics, she started sending them out each week as the Maker Mind newsletter.
Since then, it’s grown to over 75,000 subscribers and bringing in over six figures per year.
How Ness Labs Makes Money
Ness Labs, the overarching company that Anne-Laure has built, seems to make money a few different ways.
1. Membership Community
There is the Ness Labs community, which charges an annual membership of $49 and includes everything Anne-Laure creates.
While you might sneeze at $49-a-year price point, the volume she’s doing is nothing to laugh at. Over 2,500 people are paying for the community.
I’m not sure of the exact number at this point, but the math on that is great:
That 2,500 member number was last discussed in her 2021 annual review, so it’s likely gone up since then.
While some might suggest raising the price, the low cost allows people from all over the world to be able to afford to join the community.
She’s going more for impact and volume than revenue per subscriber.
She also loves the simplicity of only having one thing people can sign up for that includes all of her paid products.
Ness Labs also makes money from sponsorships, as many newsletters do.
There are 3 levels of sponsorships:
- Newsletter ads in the Brain Picks part of the newsletter
- Tools for thought – interviews with founders of mindfulness tools
- Webinars in her community
It’s not clear how much each costs, but I’d imagine these alone bring in a decent amount of revenue each year.
Anne-Laure is openly selective about who can sponsor and they vet each one really well to make sure they’re actually providing useful information/tools for her community.
Between the membership and sponsors, I think it’s probably safe to say that she’s making well over $200k ARR at this point.
3. Affiliate Marketing
Ness Labs has some affiliate marketing going on from what I can tell. Whether it’s book recommendations, or tools she uses, there is a little money coming from those.
While this is probably a minuscule amount of revenue, it’s still likely bringing in quite a few sales per month.
The Growth Timeline of Ness Labs
Let’s talk numbers. I scoured Twitter, the Internet at large, various podcasts (she’s been interviewed on SO many), and various other websites to put these numbers together.
This is some of the most sustainable growth I’ve seen.
While she started the newsletter with around 12,000 Twitter followers, those two numbers have grown pretty much in sync since then.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the numbers and get some more detail on how she’s grown her audience.
The 5 Growth Levers of Ness Labs ⚙️
But how did Anne-Laure grow Ness Labs and the Maker Mind newsletter to this point? There are a few big levers she’s used that catapulted her growth.
There are 5 big reasons why I think Anne-Laure has been able to grow Ness Labs so sustainably.
👷♀️ 1. Building in public, or as Anne-Laure calls it – building with the garage door open. She has shared her process, numbers, and experiments online since before she started Ness Labs.
⏳ 2. Writing 100 articles in 100 days. Anne-Laure challenged herself to write every weekday for 100 days and it brought her over 6k subscribers.
🤝 3. Being an active member of groups & communities. Anne-Laure is one of those people who will help others in her community even if it seems like she doesn’t have the time.
📆 4. Consistency. Now before you write this one off, it’s something she brings up in literally every interview because it’s been so impactful. And it’s not just the typical “send an email every week” kind of consistency.
🔎 5. Search and SEO. Many creators leave SEO to chance. While Anne-Laure isn’t actively trying to rank for keywords, she’s following some simple best practices…and it’s led to SEO being her fastest-growing growth channel.
Let’s dive into each of these and see why they worked and what the results of each have been.
👷♀️ 1. Building With the “Garage Door Open”
Anne-Laure mentions her willingness to build in public every time someone asks her how she got her first few thousand subscribers. And yes, she calls it opening up the garage door and letting people see what’s going on.
It seems like a play on the fact that a lot of tech and startup founders began building in their garage, and instead of building in private, she’s opening up the door and letting people in.
There are a few reasons Anne-Laure enjoys the concept of building in public:
1. You get early feedback from your audience about whether the thing you’re considering making is something they’ll need, like, or even want.
2. You’ll build a base of raving fans who will be more likely to share the final product because they’re invested in your work.
3. Building in public allows you to think through your work and better plan your next steps.
It’s all about feedback loops, and building in public is one of the better ways to do this. Plus, getting yourself out there will open you up to a bunch of new opportunities you wouldn’t have access to if you were to build in private.
All of the partnerships, sponsorships, and consultancy work I’ve had were all inbound. People read my blog, reach out, and we figure out how we want to work together. I strongly believe this would not be possible if I was conducting my research and building products without sharing my progress on a weekly basis.Anne-Laure Le Cunff, nesslabs.com
⏳ 2. 100 Articles in 100 Days
In July of 2019, Anne-Laure challenged herself to publish 100 articles on her blog in 100 days. (130 days if you count the weekends – she is a mindfulness researcher after all).
Anne-Laure has mentioned that she doesn’t like letting people down, so announcing this challenge publicly made her really want to stick with it.
She set aside 1-2 hours every morning to write to make sure that nothing else on her schedule got in the way.
And, it’s probably no surprise that she shared her progress in public.
In the first 63 days of this challenge, Anne-Laure posted on Indie Hackers that she had crossed 2,000 subscribers and had 85k visits to her website.
Read those numbers again. That’s a LOT of traffic and a lot of subscribers in a short amount of time.
By the time the challenge was over, she had quite the showing:
- 6k email subscribers with an average of 50-60% open rate
- 250k pageviews on her website
- 100 articles written
- She made the front page of Hacker News 4 times
I’d call that a successful launch if I’ve ever seen one.
And I may or may not be considering something like this as well after seeing those results.
🤝 3. Being an Active Member of Groups & Communities
One of the reasons she was able to get a huge jumpstart on her growth was that she had been building other projects in public and was deeply ingrained in the “Maker” community.
She had built a few other projects before and was showing the process of learning how to build and create projects on Twitter.
She was also part of a few other groups and communities like:
- Indie Hackers
- Product Hunt
- Women Make
These groups are full of makers and creators, with a lot of them also building in public.
She’s also created her own communities on Telegram and a paid community for Ness Labs.
Having these communities allowed her to get an extra bit of traction every time she launched something, or
📆 4. Consistency Above Everything
I know that we hear this day in and day out as creators. But it’s playing out true over and over.
When you’re consistent, you’re building trust with your audience. They know you’re going to show up when you say you will.
While Anne-Laure jumpstarted her growth with the 100-day challenge, she didn’t let up much after that.
She was posting 3x a week after the challenge ended and still posts 2-3x per week.
Consistency for her is about publishing schedules, not length or superior quality. While she doesn’t just publish garbage, she isn’t trying to be a perfectionist either.
After all, if you can’t find anything wrong with your first posts, you aren’t growing.
She doesn’t force herself to write 1,000 words if the topic doesn’t warrant it. In fact, one of her most popular posts is about the Generation Effect, and it’s only 300 or so words.
Embrace the cringe — it’s a sign of personal growth.Anne Laure – Women Make
Building Consistency for Readers
Anne-Laure is very serious about the contract she has with her readers. She tells them they are going to get one email a week, and she makes sure that happens no matter what.
On the same token, she doesn’t email them more than once a week either.
Every week, the newsletter is structured in a similar format too.
- Opening: Updates, etc. – she gives some highlights about personal stuff, or timely events, like the Annual Review workshop she runs every year.
- Brain Food – this section is the articles she has written that week, along with any from others who have published on nesslabs.com.
- Brain Candy – as she describes it “Little nuggets from my Twitter bookmarks this week. Click on the card to read the full tweet.”
- Brain Picks – this is essentially the sponsor area of her newsletter.
- Brain Trust – this is a static section that promotes the Ness Labs community.
- Brain Waves – this section is asking people to share the newsletter with someone who might enjoy it.
This gives her readers a consistent format each week so they know what to expect.
🔎 5. She Doesn’t Ignore SEO
A lot of creators don’t understand SEO and how to rank in Google, so they just don’t pay attention to it at all.
Anne-Laure doesn’t take this approach. She uses some of the best practices that also help her readers have a better experience.
And it’s no wonder that SEO has been her fastest-growing traffic source for the last year or more.
Building a Connected Web of Content
Anne-Laure simply writes what she’s interested in, and follows some SEO best practices. After all, if people are searching for it, it’d be nice to show up.
So what is she doing differently than a lot of other creators that help her rank in Google?
There are a few ways, but the most obvious one is how she is interlinking her posts together.
Interlinking is simply just linking to another article that is relevant to the current post.
Using internal links to connect pages on your website is a common method used by professional SEOs to help increase Google rankings and search traffic.
Anne-Laure is a master interlinker if I’ve ever seen one (and if that’s even a thing!).
Here’s an example from one of her articles.
These aren’t just random links to other stuff, she’s also helping the reader better understand the concept.
These internal links make it so easy to go on nesslabs.com and not come out of your rabbit hole for a long time (which I may or may not have done). 🕳️
And they also have the added benefit of being good for SEO and helping Google understand the content.
She does this in every article, and it doesn’t hurt that she has hundreds of articles already written that she can link to if it makes sense.
Her Fastest-Growing Source of Traffic
The other benefit to search engine traffic it’s more sustainable. While she has said that Twitter drives much of the subscribers to her newsletter, if she doesn’t tweet, then she’s not going to grow her list.
But with Google traffic, people could be searching in the middle of the night and sign up for her email list because they found super interesting content and want more from her.
I looked up nesslabs.com in SimilarWeb, which is a tool that estimates search traffic and other stats.
It’s showing that she’s getting almost 200k visits per month from Google. Now, these are really rough estimates and I’d probably estimate that it’s somewhere near that.
But can you imagine getting that many eyeballs on your content every month?
Even if you only converted 2% of people to join your email list, that’s around 4,000 subscribers a month – from a “passive” channel.
I have to imagine her email list is starting to really gain traction from this traffic.
She also started a YouTube channel recently, and Google owns YouTube. So, her videos are likely to start showing up for Google searches as well.
How You Can Use Some of These Methods to Grow Your Own Newsletter
I realize that was a lot, so let’s break it down into some actionable ways you can use these methods.
1. Build in Public
While this might sound a little intimidating, building in public can be as simple as posting some milestones on Twitter. Or asking your audience some questions about whether they like the new design you’re thinking of using, or if you should stick with the old one.
There are some great guides on ways to get started with this. But I think the easiest is just to start tweeting about your progress and what you’ve gotten done that day.
2. Complete a Challenge to Jumpstart Growth
Anne-Laure wrote 100 posts over 100 days, and it turned into 6,000 subscribers and the start of a community that got her to 6 figures in revenue.
She cites this as being very impactful personally, and professionally
Writing has been amazing for the business side of things. I can attribute a dozen of consulting contracts and many coaching sessions to people randomly finding me through one of the articles. Companies have contacted me to do workshops and to license the content, which I’m currently exploring.Anne Laure
3. Quit Lurking, and Start Engaging
I’ve been doing this a lot more in one of my favorite communities that I’m a part of.
I was just reading everything, but since I’ve finally started engaging and posting, I’ve seen a lot of great benefits (and subscribers) coming from it.
If you’ve been lurking in a community, or on Twitter – start engaging with people who are sharing meaningful content. I promise you it will pay off.
If you can’t find a community you enjoy, why not build one?
4. Be Consistent
Anne-Laure is consistent with everything from how often she writes, to when the newsletters get sent out, to what is included in the newsletter.
While it’s not going to attract new people to you, it will certainly help with the retention of your community members.
5. Follow SEO Best Practices
Don’t let SEO scare you because people tell you it changes every day and it’s hard to keep up with. The best practices have been the same for a while, and they aren’t changing anytime soon.
Here are some easy things you can do:
- Link your posts together. Let’s say you write a post about the history of the avocado. And then your next post is about guacamole and the best recipes for it. You should absolutely link back to your post about avocados. For one, it’s going to help Google find that other post. But secondly, your readers might be interested in that since they’re already reading about avocados.
- Add links to your new post from your old one. This works both ways. Also, go back to that post about guacamole and link to your post about the history of avocados.
- Don’t add images to your site that are over 200kb large. Even if you’re a photographer, publishing the full-resolution image is going to ensure that it takes the person on the other end 15+ seconds to load it, and Google isn’t going to rank your site because it’s slower than a snail.
- Keep your URLs short (4 words or less). Anne-Laure does a great job with this. Put only the most important word in the URL.
Not only is this easier for people to link to, and it’s easier for Google to understand. But what happens when you add a 195th recipe??
Alright, this made me hungry, so I’m going to go make some guacamole. I hope this was helpful.
PS – send me that guac recipe; I love trying new ones!