Tomas Pueyo was a VP of Product and Growth for a huge ed-tech startup called Course Hero.
Now he writes a newsletter to 81k readers each week called Uncharted Territories where he breaks down really complex topics into fascinating stories you almost can’t help but read.
A Little Backstory
Tomas had been writing and learning about storytelling for years, while also implementing his findings in his day job as VP of Growth for Course Hero.
In early 2018, Tomas gave an incredible TED Talk about storytelling.
In it, he mentions how he has studied the neuroscience behind storytelling for his job and how it has taught him that the best way to teach others is by using stories.
This feels like a peek into what was to come in the future.
Fast forward to early 2020 when COVID began making its way around the states, no one had a clue what was going on.
Now, Tomas is the kind of guy who loves finding the answers to very hard questions, so he knew he had to dive in and figure out what was going on.
“Everybody has a superpower. Mine is to take new, hairy problems, analyze them in-depth to understand them, figure out a solution, and turn around to explain the whole process. I had a unique opportunity to apply it to make the world better than I found it. I took it.”
In early 2020, he wrote a few articles that would go on to change his life.
Tomas was writing his thoughts on Facebook, insights every day of what he was finding. He didn’t plan on writing an article around this, but his friend asked him to put them all into one place so that he could share it more easily.
Since he had already written on Medium, that was where he ended up curating his insights.
He updated his Facebook followers in this post:
He asked them to read, share, and “clap” it (the equivalent of likes on Medium). And then he includes a little teaser of some of the more interesting insights he’s included there.
This post, and the ones following it in the coming weeks would go on to get viewed over 60 million times, and completely change his life.
The Growth Timeline
This is a much different growth timeline from what we’ve seen in the past because of how it started.
Try not to get too bogged down in the huge viral hit that start this journey and pull out some truly valuable insights from the rest of the story.
As you can see, he’s been able to have some huge explosions of growth well beyond the days of his COVID stories.
How He Makes Money
Tomas left his job in 2021 to work on his Uncharted Territories newsletter full-time.
Now, he makes a majority of his revenue from the newsletter.
At this point, it seems like a majority of his revenue comes from paid subscriptions.
You can read some posts for free, but paid subscribers get:
- Access to the full archive
- The ability to leave comments and vote on future topics
- And some additional content
Compared to some other paid newsletters, these might not sound like super compelling reasons to join, unless you see the value in his research. And thousands of people do.
As a founding member, of $500 or more per year, you also get direct access to Tomas.
A decent benchmark I like to use to estimate their earnings is 5% of free subscribers are probably paid subscribers.
He has 81,000 subscribers, so 4% of that is 3240. At $100 per year that’s $324,000.
Of course, some of those pay $500 or more, and some are also paying monthly so this is a very conservative number.
But it gives you a good idea of what he could be bringing in from this side of the business.
The Growth Levers
Tomas Pueyo has been able to grow his newsletter to over 81k subscribers and has a Twitter following of 315k.
Here are some of the growth levers he’s used to build his audience.
🪂 1. Build your parachute on the way down. Instead of obsessing over the right platforms/niche/format to get started with, he simply got started and figured it out along the way.
🔬 2. Super deep research. If you think my deep dives are intense, you haven’t seen anything yet.
🏰 3. Turn it into a story. Storytelling is one of the most impactful ways you can convey complex topics. And Tomas has been mastering this art for years.
🗺️ 4. Data visualization. From maps to charts to graphs, Tomas is extremely good at using data to support his stories.
🧵 5. Unique Twitter threads. If all of that wasn’t enough, Tomas takes all of these elements and carefully crafts them into threads that go mega-viral.
1. Build the Parachute on the Way Down 🪂
This entire explosion of his content happened because Tomas wanted to understand what was happening. A pandemic wasn’t something we’d seen in the modern era, so what did it mean for us in 2020?
Instead of waiting around for someone else to figure out what was happening, he did the research himself.
Just Get Started
Tomas didn’t start out thinking he was going to create a newsletter.
He was just curating the research and his findings for people so they could stay up to date.
Naturally, people didn’t want to miss his next article. They were asking for a way for him to send them his next research piece.
Instead of building his own website, then finding the perfect email provider, and building out a nice form – he went with the fastest way to capture these emails.
He embedded a Google form at the bottom of his Medium articles.
I’m not kidding.
I know so many creators who are stuck trying to figure out which software to use, and this guy just found the easiest path and went for it!
It’s worth noting that this is a VP of Growth at a software company we’re talking about. It’s not like he doesn’t know about other platforms he could use for this.
They would have just taken too much time, and he wanted to be focusing on the content, NOT pushing pixels around and making it look nice.
The content is what matters. If it’s good enough, people are going to subscribe via a Google Form.
Eventually, he moved on to a Mailchimp account:
Before finally transitioning over to Substack in May 2021 after leaving his day job.
But the key here is that it’s the internet, just get started, you can always make changes later.
2. Deep & Insightful Research 🔬
Tomas’ research is some of the most impressive posted by a creator that I’ve seen. Not only does he think about these ideas for months or even years before writing about them, he’s also gathered tons of data on each idea.
Distilling 50 Pages of Notes Into 5k Words
Tomas has been collecting ideas and notes about some of these topics for years.
He has pages and pages of notes on hundreds of ideas. Eventually, he sits down to “finally try to make sense of them.”
His research still ends up being 2500-5000 or more words, but he’s condensed that down from a huge amount of notes he’s gathered.
Long Research Timeframe
Tomas has been thinking about topics like this for years. Collecting notes, sharing ideas with friends, and thinking about these concepts.
As he researches, he finds more and more potential ideas to write about.
He says that “at any given point, I have 100-150 drafts that I’m working on.”
That’s an insane amount of potential content he can formulate and write about. But it also shows you how much work each of these pieces takes.
He isn’t just deciding on a topic and researching it for a few days before posting. He spends days, weeks, and months thinking through these topics and how to be position the story.
By writing about the ideas he’s interested in, he’s able to pull out a nugget of wisdom that his readers are also interested in.
The moral of the story? Spend more time on content.
3. Turn it into a Story 🏰
Great content is a major thread among most of the creators I’ve researched.
But how does one go about creating “great content?”
The concepts Tomas writes about can be very dense and heavy. He can lose people at a moment’s notice if he’s not careful.
So how does Tomas turn otherwise boring concepts into fascinating pieces of written art? Storytelling.
Luckily, this is something Tomas has been studying for years to get better at his day job. Because he’s been doing it so long, it’s almost second nature for him at this point.
There are a few components that Tomas uses to bring these stories to life.
If you remember the deep dive on Jack Butcher, one of his big reasons for growth was that he was able to simplify complex quotes and ideas into black-and-white visuals made with few elements.
Tomas Pueyo does something similar, but in a very different way.
He uses a ton of maps and moving visuals to help you understand complex research data.
These aren’t all things he’s created himself either. But he finds ones that can convey the ideas in a story better than simple words can.
And there are tons of them. But they aren’t just thrown in there, they are adding to the concepts and ideas he’s explaining.
This one article on how transportation has shaped cities is 2,469 words long.
Tomas includes 18 visuals in that one article.
That means for every 137 words, there is an image or visuals he’s included.
That’s a lot of visuals.
As someone with a Geography degree, Tomas is speaking my love language with these maps! Haha.
He even has a full mega-thread of these maps on Twitter:
People Share Stories
By turning these relatively big topics into easy to understand stories, he’s making it easy for his readers to share this with friends.
“Hey Joe, remember when we were chatting about
It doesn’t hurt that he has a nice referral program for people who share the newsletter enough times. Take a look at this leaderboard on Substack:
4. Data Visualization 🗺️
Tomas uses a ton of visuals that quickly show progress, data, and change over time.
Take this one for example:
His hook is essentially getting you to wonder what red and green means in the image. For context, if you’re scrolling on Twitter, this is an auto-playing video.
The image changes back and forth between the two fast enough that you’ll see it moving and are more likely to slow your scroll.
You can’t help but wonder what these colors are showing.
These hooks are extremely good at getting people to go to the next tweet.
Images on Every Tweet
There are a lot of creators who write threads with 1, maybe 2 images included, some don’t use any.
There is a visualization or picture in every single tweet in his threads.
Does it take more time? Of course! But having multiple images slows people down enough that they seem to engage more on his tweets.
It also helps you tell a story much more effectively.
George Mack is another creator who does this extremely well.
5. Twitter Threads
Before his articles on the Coronavirus exploded in March 2020, Tomas had 450 followers on Twitter.
By April, he had over 35,000 followers.
Can you imagine gaining 34,500 followers in one month? That’s more than 1,000 per day.
All because of some research you decided to make public for others.
Tomas was all over Twitter in the days following the Coronavirus articles. And it definitely helped him continue that growth.
The Second Twitter Explosion
This wasn’t the only time he has experienced massive growth on Twitter.
Early in 2023 he gained 80k followers in a single month.
The week of February 4th he went from 101k followers, to over 170k followers.
He posted a thread that got over 124k likes, 25k bookmarks and almost 30k retweets.
If you’re not familiar with Twitter, those are monster numbers. And I think it’s his most viral thread of all time.
After this post, he followed up with threads on China.
The following month he had another viral thread:
This one got about half the reach as before but still gets mentioned quite a bit. It’s also the thread he has pinned to the top of his Twitter profile.
Tomas’ Viral Formula
How does he grow on Twitter so quickly?
Take all of those elements we talked about above, and combine them into a Twitter thread.
Storytelling with Threads
Tomas has a magical way of taking these extremely long-form posts, and crafting shorter, cohesive stories for his followers.
He hooks you in with a
His threads almost remind me of The Cultural Tutor. Take an interesting, seemingly unknown topic, and write a great thread around it.
Tie it Back to Current Events
While not every post is about something that’s currently happening, Tomas is really good at framing them in a way that makes them seem relevant to today.
This makes all of his posts evergreen.
Instead of just commenting on the days news, these threads are relevant for years to come.
One of my favorite parts of this whole thing? He is not consistent on Twitter.
Yet, he still has found ways to go viral when he does post. Of course, it’s not everytime, but he’ll take weeks off from posting and then come back with a banger.
There is hope for those us of who can’t get into the daily thread game 🙂
6. Turning Free Into Paid Subscribers 💰
Here’s a bonus one for you. There are a few really insightful ways that Tomas turns his free subscribers into paying ones.
Tomas lists out all of the articles he’s written over the last quarter. He pulls out some of the major ideas and concepts and how they have evolved or relate to more recent news.
By doing this, he is naturally linking to interesting articles he’s already written, many of which are only available to paid subscribers.
These posts are almost like teasers of what’s already been created. I have to imagine that quite a few free subscribers end up paying after reading these.
On top of that, you get to read about 1/3 of this content before he drops in a paywall.
Writing in “Series”
Tomas uses “series” of posts in a way I don’t see many creators doing. He writes a 1 free post each week and 1 paid post.
The free post is often a big setup for the paid post.
The free posts are also the more “shareable” broadly interesting posts that will naturally get people telling their friends and hopefully sharing the link.
Let’s walk through some examples so you can see how well this is executed.
Free Post: When Will AI Take Your Job
Tomas published an article on March 21, 2023 titled “When Will AI Take Your Job.”
This is a pressing topic for a lot of people, as well as entrepreneurs and academics who use these insights in their day to day.
He breaks out this article into these sections and then goes on to tease other articles he will write in the future:
He’s already priming you to want to know how fast it’s going to take your job by including this. Subtle.
Tomas goes on to include different industries and his thoughts on how jobs will be replaced and/or created.
At the end of the article, he includes a conclusion. But this conclusion does 3 smart things:
- Tease the premium article that’s coming later this week.
- Tease the free article for next week and how it relates
- Asks people to share, in a very pressing way. “If you know someone who might be worried about losing their job to automation, share this with them.”
He’s giving you the exact type of person to share it with.
Not just, “please share this because it helps me grow.”
Side note: the one thing I wish he would go back and do is link out to those paid posts once they were published. That would be very smart. He’s done this for other articles, but not every single one.
Moving on to the next post in the series.
So now he’s gotten everyone worked up and wondering “how fast” is AI going to take over? Two days later, he published the answer: How Fast Will AI Automation Arrive?
Again, I really wish he would link back to the previous post, but he does an overall decent job linking to related posts in general.
But he does drop a paywall right after he tells you the End of the World is in 15 years.
If that doesn’t make you want to keep reading, I don’t know what will.
I don’t want to give away the rest of what’s in the article (as it’s paid), but he breaks down insights from experts, shows examples of this already in play, as well as some insights into how fast AI is transforming today.
Make Your Audience Feel Like You Care
This was not something I found right away, but it’s an important one to call out.
Tomas works hard to reply to most comments on his articles. And after all, the people who are able to comment are those who are paying.
There are a number of comments like this one above.
And as a free reader, you still get to see all of his comments and know that Tomas is invested in the UT community. That’s definitely going to be a tipping point for some people to decide to join.
People like when they feel part of something. If you can incorporate that into your business and journey as a creator, do it.
What Can We Learn From Tomas
These kinds of stories are some of my favorites because they didn’t set out to build a personal brand or a newsletter, they just followed their interests and found people who enjoyed their work.
I hope you see there are a number of things we can learn from Tomas’ story.
Spend More Time on the Content Instead of Pushing Pixels
Next time you start a project and find yourself spending more than 10 minutes trying to figure out what the best software is to use, stop and think “What is the fastest way I can get this going?”
Is there a Google Form equivalent in that situation? Do that.
After all, you might hate the entire idea. Or you might change the concept or format completely.
Spending time building out a fancy website and moving pixels around, in the beginning, is a waste of time.
Start whatever that thing is and figure it out as you go.
Make Your Readers Feel At Home
I get insights like this from readers all the time “you really care about the community” etc. and I didn’t realize what they meant at first.
But now I see that most creators don’t reply when they ask you reply to their emails. (I admit, I’m a little behind, but I’m working on it!)
Many creators don’t take the time to comment when you tag them online.
Spend time building a community.
You don’t have to reply to every comment forever. But in the beginning when you have more time on your hands, it’s one of the highest leverage things you can do if you want to build an audience.