Taking a hobby from $0 to $60k+ in a year

Image credit: AkitaOnRails

By Elizabeth

I had the opportunity to briefly talk with Peter Cooper, who is an independent programmer, entrepreneur, author, and now email newsletter publisher.  I met Peter about a year ago when he was writing a couple of email newsletters as a hobby for fun.  At that time he was occasionally selling his own products in his newsletters.  So, when we first met on Skype, I convinced him to try running ads in his newsletters, and within a year his hobby went from $0 to $60k+ in revenue from ads alone (combination of selling direct and through my company, LaunchBit).  Here’s his story.

So Peter, what kind of newsletters do you run?  

E-mail newsletters that curate the latest news and articles for programmers in different software development niches.  (He runs Ruby Weekly, Javascript Weekly, HTML5 Weekly, Status Code, and has a few others in the works.)

How did you decide to start publishing email newsletters?  

I had been running a popular blog in the Ruby and Rails world, Ruby Inside, for several years and noticed a lot of talk in the startup scene about the resurgence of e-mail as a way to get news and engage with customers. I was skeptical but decided to launch Ruby Weekly as a newsletter that complemented my blog, and 1200 subscribers signed up in the first 48 hours. It all went from there.

Take us from day 1 to today.  How did you get your subscribers? 

For Ruby Weekly, I posted a vague tweet the night before the “proper” launch and 120 subscribers came through that avenue alone – the value of having a loyal following on Twitter!  People who follow me include a lot of Hacker News and Reddit users and they frequently submit and vote my stuff up – without my asking, too!  Then, further posts on Ruby Inside (which had ~24,500 feed subscribers at the time) and RubyFlow then got the floodgates opening.  That’s how the first 1200 signed up.

Within the first two months, the subscriber count was up to ~2200 subscribers.  Although the growth slowed from the first two days, my landing page for the newsletter was converting at 55%.  This struck me as a high conversion rate.  I also received several e-mails and saw a few tweets with compliments about the newsletter, its format, and its content.  This sort of recognition doesn’t come with all of my projects.  So it was delightful to see, and I appreciated it a lot.  Every newsletter since then has had a natural link to another newsletter I already run so it’s been like dominoes!

How long does it take you to curate your newsletters?

Doing newsletters isn’t my full time job but it’s a key part of my work generally. It takes a couple of hours to produce each newsletter, but I’m also involved in the communities around the topics I cover.  I’m constantly researching anyway, so it’s hard to pin it down to a number.

At what point did you decide to run ads in it? Why?

My initial plan was to use the newsletters to build an audience to whom I could promote my own products and training services. I did some of this but had more capacity than I had products so I began to sell ads as a way of generating extra income and keeping readers used to the idea of seeing promotions.

Do you mind sharing approx how much you make off ads?

More than $5k and less than $10k (per month), but the newsletters also have a more general effect on my income in terms of building a brand and selling other products and services. For example, I’m a co-chair of O’Reilly’s 2013 Fluent conference and this came as a direct consequence of the exposure I gained running JavaScript Weekly.

Thanks a lot to Peter for his time!  Check out his newsletters at Cooperpress.com

    • admin says:

      Hi Davor – he first started running LaunchBit ads (our ad network for email newsletters). So, initially, he didn’t need to sell any ads himself. But, once companies saw that there were advertisers in his newsletter he started getting approached a lot. And now, he sells a lot of his advertising directly to companies. He doesn’t have a sales team — the newsletter largely now sells itself.

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