a16z Podcast: So You Want to Launch a Newsletter: Tips From Writers


This episode, part one in a two-part series on the Creator Economy, explores the process and economics behind creating an independent newsletter. In this candid conversation, host Lauren Murrow talks with four Substack writers—an artist, a technologist, a journalist, and a clinical researcher-turned-psychedelics scholar—about how to find and foster an audience, the calculus behind going paid versus unpaid, the pressure to produce, and financial benchmarks for making a living from newsletter writing.

The pandemic has prompted a reckoning within traditional media  and, in parallel, a surge in the newsletter ecosystem. On Substack, readership and active writers both doubled from January through April. The newsletter hosting platform now has more than 100,000 paying subscribers.

This episode reveals the behind-the-scenes experiences of four newsletter creators, all of whom launched roughly within the past year:

Software engineer Lenny Rachitsky, most recently a growth product manager at Airbnb, whose tech-focused dispatch is called Lenny’s Newsletter.

Artist and writer Edith Zimmerman, creator of the Drawing Links newsletter, which chronicles her life and musings through comic-style illustrations. 

Zach Haigney, an acupuncturist and researcher whose newsletter, The Trip Report, explores the science, policy, and business behind medicinal psychedelics.

And Patrice Peck, a freelance journalist—previously a staff writer at BuzzFeed—whose newsletter, Coronavirus News for Black Folks, highlights the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the black community.

Listen to the end of the episode to hear more about Patrice, Zach, Edith, and Lenny’s top newsletter recommendations:

Patrice’s newsletter recs:

The Intersection by Adriana Lacy

Beauty IRL by Darian Symone Harvin

Carefree Black Girl by Zeba Blay

Maybe Baby by Haley Nahman

Zach’s newsletter recs:

Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Sinocism by Bill Bishop

A Media Operator by Jacob Cohen Donnelly

Off the Chain by Anthony Pompliano

The Weekly Dish by Andrew Sullivan

Edith’s newsletter recs:

The Browser by Robert Cottrell

The Ruffian by Ian Leslie

Ridgeline by Craig Mod

Dearest by Monica McLaughlin

Why Is This Interesting? by Noah Brier and Colin Nagy

Lenny’s newsletter recs:

2PM by Webb Smith 

Li’s Newsletter by Li Jin 

Alex Danco’s Newsletter by Alex Danco

Turner’s Blog by Turner Novak

Next Big Thing by Nikhil Basu Trivedi 

Big Technology by Alex Kantrowitz

The Profile by Polina Marinova

Everything by Nathan BaschezDan ShipperTiago Forte, and Adam Keesling

Not Boring by Packy McCormick 

Illustration: Edith Zimmerman