Do you have what it takes to write a newsletter for an entire year without hitting 1,000 subscribers?
That’s how Packy McCormick started out. While he has a large audience now, that first year was super slow growth.
Eventually, things started to click. 1 year later he hit 50k.
8 months after that he hit 100k. And now, the Not Boring community has over 183k people and brings in more than $3 million per year.
We’ll dive into how he grew the newsletter, but first, let’s take a look at how he’s making money from this.
How Does Packy Make Money?
Not Boring brings in more than a few million dollars a year from a variety of sources.
Every issue of Not Boring has a primary sponsor, and Packy sends it out twice a week.
The first post each week (usually now sent on Tuesdays) is more of a long-form piece on a trend, company, or strategy that Packy feels is going to have a big impact on business.
These are the real reason a lot of his subscribers read his newsletter. They’re punchy, and interesting, and he does a great job of holding attention even though they’re often over 5k words.
The last I could find him publicly mentioning it, he charged $5k for his Monday posts. That’s $20k a month right there.
Thursday’s post is often a straight-up sponsor play.
But he makes them super interesting and sets out to have it be the most in-depth piece on that company. He’s upfront and honest about everything having to do with that business – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And that’s part of the big reason the audience doesn’t mind them. And this ties in well with the next way he makes money, stay tuned.
It doesn’t hurt that Packy charges at least $20k per sponsored deep dive. He does these 1-2x per month.
These numbers were made public when he had around 36,000 subscribers. Now he’s at 183,000.
Let’s do a little math here:
That’s considering the amount he charged per sub for each of those posts. I just extrapolated those numbers out to what his audience has now.
Adam Ryan of Workweek wrote an article in October of 2022 about Substack’s new referral feature, and how they had basically gifted Packy around 8k new subscribers in a few days.
He did some math and came up with a number of around $15 ARPU, annual revenue per user/customer.
That was his conservative estimate.
If we use that number and extrapolate it out with today’s current subscriber count, this is where we end up:
Now, this is from sponsors alone.
While my estimate is probably high, using Adam’s estimate might be a little low, but let’s just call it $3 million.
The Not Boring newsletter doesn’t just make money from sponsorships, though. There are a few levels of revenue that come into the business.
Remember how I said that the Thursday sponsored posts tie in well with this next revenue stream? Here’s why.
When he does these company deep dives, Packy is going through financials, press articles – pretty much anything he can find.
Which means he knows the ins and the outs of a business. And also whether or not he wants to invest in them.
Packy started a VC investing syndicate where he invests in companies, and his audience can invest with him through Angel List.
Not everyone can invest, you have to be an accredited investor, but his audience clearly has quite a few of those people reading along.
The sponsored deep dives I mentioned above are almost like getting paid to do your due diligence on a company, and then getting paid again after you invest and they turn a profit. Of course, not everyone will, but having done that level of research probably leads to making much better investing decisions.
From my research, it seems like Packy makes around 10% of the profits that come from those investments.
He’s doing a lot of the due diligence (from deep dives and being connected with so many startup founders and investors), so he gets paid first and then the rest comes back to individual investors.
In early 2022, Packy launched the Not Boring Talent Collective – which is essentially a job board that matches companies that are hiring with people in the Not Boring community.
Because of the nature of the content in Not Boring, companies are willing to hire from within that community. If they are subscribed, they are interested in the details of companies and are willing to read (or at least listen to) his 5k-10k word articles.
Here is what the pricing looks like for companies who are trying to reach candidates in the Not Boring audience:
From what I can tell, there are 128 companies listed as active on this collective, but only 7 active jobs (rough times we’re in).
2 of those jobs are listed as “featured”, so at the moment it seems like this part alone is bringing in around $1100 per month.
Not a huge sum of money, but also nothing to sneeze at in terms of another revenue stream. This number is also probably much higher during times of the year when companies are on a higher spree.
The Growth Timeline of Not Boring
I love seeing a growth timeline like this. It shows perseverance and consistency.
The man had been writing for over a year before he got past 1000 subscribers, let alone the almost 200k he has now.
So how did he do it?
The Growth Levers of Packy McCormick
I found 3 main growth levers Packy has used to explode the Not Boring audience in just a few short years. Here they are:
1. Transparency and building in public. This might sound like a boring name, but it’s not a boring strategy. Packy has been able to gain loyal followers by sharing how he’s growing his audience every step of the way.
2. Interviews, podcasts, and guest appearances. Most newsletter creators will write and cross-promote with other writers. But Packy is a multimedia kind of guy and has been on over 100 interviews in the last few years.
⚙️ 3. Leveraging the Not Boring flywheel. Just wait until you see how well these all work together. While Packy says that this wasn’t intentional, it doesn’t make it any less effective.
1. Transparency and Building in Public
Since almost the beginning of his newsletter, Packy has been sharing exactly how many subscribers he has, how he got them, and what’s working.
When he started the newsletter, he had initially named it newsletter “Per My Last E-mail”.
On April 2, 2020, he officially changed the name to Not Boring. And this first issue was also the first time he started consistently sharing numbers around subscribers and growth.
This was such a clever way to verbalize his goal of hitting 1,000 subscribers and start bringing the readers along with him.
On April 7, he had 602. By early May he had reached his goal of 1,000.
And he upped the goal to reach 2,000 subscribers by June 15th.
He got to around 1,750 subscribers in June, and then before hitting the 15th, he took matters into his own hands:
He launched on Product Hunt.
I dig deeper into this later in the post, but that move would skyrocket his subscriber growth to more than 3,500 people.
He hit his goal twice, so he probably stopped sharing, right?
I’d actually say he doubled down.
He posted about his growth in his newsletter and also on Twitter.
He even teases the next issue in a tweet about his progress towards the next goal, which was 10,000 subscribers.
People love these tweets and they get a ton of great feedback. This is him building trust with his audience.
Transparency About Sponsorships
He started selling sponsorships in September 2020, he was really open with his audience about it.
Along the way he told his audience his goals, and that he was living in his in-law’s basement with a baby on the way.
His wife was getting a little restless with his income being close to zero.
And then on August 20, 2020, he wrote a newsletter about why he was choosing sponsorships and asked his audience to fill out a form with some of their demographics so he could give potential sponsors more info on the audience.
I dug up the form because I was curious about what he was asking people.
Aside from his typical demographic questions, he asked things like:
- How important is it to you to manage your own investment portfolio?
- How important is it to you to have the latest DTC products?
- How important is it to you to use the newest SaaS products?
- How much would you be willing to pay for Not Boring?
- How do you feel about the two types of posts I write?
- What company would you like to see sponsor Not Boring?
Once he had enough responses, he put together a sponsor deck to share with potential advertisers.
And taking a page from Mario Gabriele, he posted the sponsor deck on Twitter.
Packy has said that by posting this on Twitter, he sold out the next few months of advertising slots in just a few days.
I’m sure his wife was THRILLED to hear that.
While most people go around trying to cover up the real reason they are asking those questions, he just comes out and says it.
Packy admits he started doing that because he thought it would be cool for people to look back on if and when it grew into something big.
“I doubt I’m ever going to get there, but just in case, let me just time stamp all of this stuff because if it works then I could show people that I’m a random idiot sitting in a basement somewhere writing a newsletter and you could also be a random idiot doing this thing.”Packy on the Art of Newsletters podcast
I think people are genuinely attracted to those who are open and honest about what they’re doing. Especially in this day and age when we’re all so immune to marketing.
Having someone come out and say “hey, I need to feed my wife and unborn child, so I’m going to start putting ads in here”, is different.
It stands out. People remember that kind of thing.
And, by sharing his newsletter subscriber numbers he made it much easier for me to create the growth timeline you see above, so thanks Packy! 🙂
2. Collaborations and Interviews
While many writers just publish on their own platforms, maybe doing a cross-promotion here or there, Packy takes an entirely different approach.
I found over 100 podcast interviews and/or major mentions starting in July 2020.
It seems like he says yes to almost any invitation to be on another podcast or YouTube channel.
I almost missed this as one of the growth levers because I was so entrenched in listening to all of these interviews. It was right in front of me.
This is just the one playlist I had going while doing research for this deep dive.
This doesn’t count some that weren’t in there or were strictly YouTube videos or other media around the internet.
He went on podcasts with hundreds of thousands of listeners, like the Acquired podcast which has around 150k unique listeners per episode.
But he did interviews with smaller audiences as well. Some of the YouTube videos I found had less than 100 views.
The podcasts he goes on also run a wide gamut of industries. They might be about crypto, general tech-related, or even just podcasts for creators.
While he might have recorded some of these at different times, starting in July of 2020 all through the end of 2022, he was a guest on at least 2 podcasts every month, with some months it was 5 or even 8 episodes.
That’s a lot of different audiences he’s getting in front of.
All of these connections he’s making help him grow the Not Boring community by getting in front of other audiences.
This also helps him get more data and learn about companies that he ends up doing sponsored deep dives on. And that leads us to the flywheel.
Buckle up, it’s a doozy.
⚙️ 3. The Not Boring Flywheel
It reads like a well-operated machine.
But apparently, it was all an accident.
Either way, it’s probably the most important piece of this entire operation.
Everything Packy does with Not Boring feeds another part of it, and it just accelerates the growth.
In short, this is what I envision it looking like:
1. Packy writes an article about a company or is a guest on another podcast.
2. This article gets shared because it’s just so good. People join the newsletter.
3. Some of those people are founders, accredited investors, and/or VCs.
4. A percentage of those people will be so fascinated by what he’s built, they sponsor an issue, post on the job board, ask Packy to invest in them through his syndicate, and/or pay $50k+ for a sponsored deep dive. This is where the money comes in.?
5. This spreads the word even more about what he’s doing, and gets more of those founders and VCs to join.
And from there it starts back at square one. He’s constantly building raving fans because the content is so sharable and related to his audience.
Here is my best attempt at visualizing this flywheel for you all:
The Wide Distribution Net
One of the best parts of this whole flywheel is that the topics he writes about span a lot of different verticals.
One week he might write about something in crypto so a lot of those people will share it. And then next he could write an epic post about Spotify, and a lot of people from Sweden share it.
And on and on.
This also means he can expand the podcasts and other audiences he gets in front of. Maybe there’s a specific Tesla podcast. If Packy writes about Tesla, he could eventually end up on that podcast and siphon people from there to Not Boring.
But the main thread holding everything together is these are deep dives in the tech space. If you’re interested in tech in the way he writes about it, it won’t really matter if it’s not directly related to your specific industry or work.
The through-lines are all relative.
Other Growth Tactics
Here are some other growth tactics that Packy used to grow the audience in the beginning.
Product Hunt Launch
Packy launched Not Boring on Product Hunt on June 9, 2020.
He said he spent a ton of time building out a strategy to make this worthwhile, researching past launches, talking to people who have successfully done so in the past, etc.
He created a separate landing page for this as well that hopefully converted better than just the typical SubStack landing page.
I honestly really don’t like this page. It’s generic, doesn’t convey the message of what Not Boring is, and doesn’t have his crazy yellow branding color anywhere.
Anyway, it was a successful launch.
His strategy of being open and honest seemed to have a positive impact on the success of this launch. Just another benefit of building in public.
He sent a newsletter the morning of the launch talking about why he was doing it and gave the link to support the launch.
After the launch, the Not Boring newsletter won 2nd Product of the Day and grew from around 1,200 subscribers to over 3,200 subscribers in a matter of a few days.
The Gamified Referral Program
When he had around 500 subscribers, Packy started asking people to share the newsletter more regularly.
That worked for a while, but he wanted to get more traction with this strategy.
Taking a page from the Morning Brew playbook, he went on to implement a “real” referral program on June 25, 2020.
The best part of this referral program? There is a leaderboard.
People can essentially compete to be the top referrer. Talk about adding gamification to your referral program.
He was also giving away the typical stuff like stickers and shirts at certain milestones, but this leaderboard added fuel to the fire.
He said he got a ton of great feedback on the leaderboard and a lot of people just wanted to get to the top and didn’t care about the merch.
In the first 3-4 weeks, that referral program drove around 600 referrals.
I went through and counted all of the referrals that were sent using that program, and there were 1,441 in all.
Even though it’s still technically active, the last time Packy promoted it in the newsletter was on August 20, 2020.
That’s a lot of referrals coming from just a few short months of promoting it.
He mentioned that it was taking away from the call to action for the sponsors, so he stopped including it.
“The more things you try that are new, the more free press you get around the newsletter community from them.”Packy McCormick
Twitter for Distribution
We touched on this before with the Build in Public area, but Twitter has been extremely important for the growth of Not Boring.
You can see in the growth timeline above that these two channels are inextricably linked together.
As far as distribution went in the early days, Twitter was the platform for Packy.
The strategy was pretty straightforward.
- Post threads about each article
- Engage with everyone who shares or comments
- Engage in the comments of retweets from his own posts
- Share something about growing the newsletter and building in public
- Engage with at least a hundred other people’s tweets per day
Okay, that last one might be a bit blown out of proportion, but going through his Tweet history was rough.
Every day there were tons of replies to other folks’ tweets. While most people say they are engaging a ton on Twitter, he embodied this philosophy.
He truly built a community on Twitter by just being himself and having fun. Even though he had less than 10,000 followers, got tons of engagement because he was also engaging on other’s content.
So does this still work?
I think it can. A lot of creators are finding success on Twitter, but with recent changes, it seems like the old strategies aren’t working as well as they once did.
It’s been so bad that Packy even tweeted about it recently.
All that means is we need to get smarter about finding ways to use the platform for growth without posting direct links. Or at least wait until a post has traction before adding it in.
How You Can Use Some of Packy’s Methods to Grow Your Own Newsletter
While some of the growth levers Packy used might seem like they aren’t easy to replicate, there’s a lot we can take away from this if we dig a little deeper.
Gamify Your Referral Program
As we saw in the deep dive with Ali of First 1000, gamifying your referral program is a great way to get people invested.
While Ali did it by giving a shoutout in the newsletter to people who shared with enough people (a tip I may have swiped ?), Packy had a full leaderboard built out.
He said that it was a little tricky and required some custom code, but you can do this manually too.
Especially in the beginning, just use a built-in referral program you can, and then manually update the leaderboard before you send the next issue each week.
Share Your Work
Being open and honest about why you’re doing this, what your goals are, and how you plan to reach them can pay dividends in terms of your growth.
You don’t have to share every single update with your audience. Here are some ideas if you’re not willing to fully build in public quite yet.
- Behind the scenes of your work – this could be as simple as mentioning that you usually end up working on Saturdays even though your wife would prefer if you didn’t – sorry babe!
- Ask for feedback – thinking of building a new feature or product? You can ask your audience for their feedback, or even if they prefer Name A or Name B for the new project.
- Share tutorials – when you’re building projects or even just working with clients, there are certain parts of the project you do over and over again. You can share some of the steps you use to make that process more efficient.
Even if you don’t want to give away all parts of what you’re doing, you can share how much you’re making, or how many visitors came to your website, etc.
Doing this builds trust with your audience, and they feel invested in your success because they’ve been seeing how much you put into the project.
Get in Front of Other People’s Audiences
Growing your own newsletter quickly is going to require some additional distribution besides just building an audience on social platforms.
Getting yourself in front of other audiences that aren’t strictly newsletter readers is a great way to grow.
While you’ll be leveraging the audience that podcast has built, they are going to be getting a good piece of content for their audience, so it’s a win-win.
Even if you’re not willing to get on camera or audio just yet, you can always reach out and try to write a guest post where it makes sense.
Or reach out to people who run text-based interview sites.
Do Something a Little Different
The through-line with almost all of the deep dives we’ve seen so far is that they are creating unique content, or doing it in a different way.
You can go super deep on a topic like Packy, Dru, or Mario, or you can look at something in a different way like Ali does with First 1000.
Even if you’re just curating topics, choosing only the highest quality stuff is one way you can stand out. People will be excited because they know you’ve spent time and aren’t just pulling random links off the internet because they’re semi-related.