Nathan Baschez's Success: Scaling to 52K Subscribers

Learn how Nathan Baschez scaled to 52,000 email subscribers.

What you'll learn in this article:

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Every is the writing collective and newsletter for everyone; its team of writers covers topics across industries, roles, and interests. There's something for everyone, which is how the community has surpassed 52,000 members in just one year.

With experience hailing from Substack, Gimlet Media, and General Assembly (in addition to founding a number of his own companies), it's only natural that Nathan Baschez, co-founder of Every, has coined the ultimate resource for writers and creators. In just a year, the community has grown to over 52,000 subscribers.

But Every isn't reserved for just writers and creators. In his own words, Nathan calls Every “A writer collective covering every industry and job role, every broad theme and niche interest in business.” No matter what you do or who you are, there's information and inspiration aplenty to gain as a member of Every's growing community or as a creator on the platform. From marketing to tech to entrepreneurship to astronomy, even, Every's vast creator platform keeps things topical and actionable for its readership.

Every was born from a love of newsletter writing; Nathan's co-founder and CEO Dan Shipper was previously writing his own newsletter, Superorganizers. Loving the process but not the lack of infrastructure and platforms available to scale these types of publications, Nathan and Dan created Every. It was a bundled approach; the functionality of Substack with the inspiration of a newsroom floor. Every gives writers and podcasters everything they need to retain a brand voice, grow their audience, and join a collective of like-minded creators. Subscribers to the platform can access a wealth of information and find creators they love.

Nathan's existing experience in media coupled with the lessons he's learned over the last year in scaling Every have rocketed him to an authority in the virtual learning community space and how to create, market, and scale to your audience. What's so interesting about our conversation with Nathan is that he's currently in the process of scaling Every and launching his first course. We really got to dig into the steps he's taking and the lessons he's learning, which is different from our other learning empire interviews but nonetheless insightful.

Here are six lessons other founders and operators of virtual learning businesses can take from Nathan's journey.

6 insights from Every co-founder Nathan Baschez on launching, marketing, and scaling your learning community

It takes time and patience to roll out new features

Nathan and Dan drew a ton of inspiration for the look, feel, and functionality of Every from virtual learning titans like Tiago Forte. They want Every to be a complement to the cohort-based courses they plan to offer, but they're working their way into course design by first perfecting the Every platform and newsletter members know and love today.

A lot of the same things that might get you to read someone's writing or subscribe and pay money to read their writing might also get you interested in their course. Of course, it's a different format, it's a lot higher intensity, and you need to have some very specific transformation that you're promised,”
Nathan shares.

After a year of rapid growth, Nathan and Dan are finally putting more emphasis on the formal learning opportunities they can offer. Nathan shares “The reason why we haven't done it until now is just focus. It's really hard to get a good newsletter out every week, so we wanted to get that right.  There's still so much to get right there, even. We're still a little bit premature to be starting with courses, but we're starting very small.”

In the process of creating new features or courses, it's important to learn in inspiration or a specific type of intent. Who's the audience you're speaking to and what do you want them to learn? Nathan expands on one idea he's had for the Every audience:“I was writing a specific piece, and I noticed that this would make a good course; it felt like there was so much deeper to go. The idea of the course in the piece is that there are a lot of people who, when starting a business, want to analyze the market and figure out how the industry works before they enter the industry. Or if you already have a business, you'll need to take a step back and look at the broader ecosystem around you and figure out specific usage and strategy to learn your market power and your pricing power. There's a lot that goes into that: why some people or some businesses have such pricing power and are profitable and durable and why, for others, it's a lot harder for them to really charge more than what their costs are. I thought that was a really interesting topic.”

But building lessons or courses for your audience goes beyond seeding that intention and building a curriculum around it, hoping people will walk in the door. Every has succeeded in first building an audience and earning their trust by providing value through the newsletter and the platform. Now, they have an opportunity to create additional learning experiences.Nathan says “Once you have an audience and their trust, and they're wanting to learn from you about specific topics, it's a lot easier to promote a course to that group than it is to start with a course and be like ‘Now how do I find an audience?' It's better to have something else that you can do that actually builds the audience.”

Intention is critical to building a community that thrives on education and experience. What do you want people to learn and why? Read how Sarah Lacy of ChairmanMe answered those important questions.

Let past learning experiences guide course and community design

Coming from some of the biggest names in tech and media like General Assembly, Substack, and Gimlet Media, Nathan credits a lot of Every's quick growth to employing learnings from his previous roles.

Nathan recalls “At General Assembly, I was building a free way to learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript online. A normal course costs anywhere from like $4,000 to $10,000 or $12,000 and it's a serious commitment. People probably want to do something first to establish trust and get warmed up. So basically, I built this online free thing that anyone can use. When you're doing it, it will tell you, ‘Hey, if you want to go deeper, we have other courses.' That went super well.”

“The big lesson from that is, if you have some free online content or tool that establishes trust and builds a relationship, then you can an upsell from there. That's a lot easier than going directly to the upsell.”

Between General Assembly and Gimlet Media, Nathan created a company called Hard Bounce. There, he learned how to make a dollar stretch further to achieve the same value.

“Focusing on unit economics is a big thing, because we had this visual mobile storytelling format that was really expensive to make, but it was cool when people liked it or felt like it was a really good experience,” Nathan shares. “But it was just way too expensive to do. That's what nudged me towards lower cost higher revenue things. Because yeah, people get a lot of value out of courses, so they're willing to pay a lot. And writing is more on the same order of magnitude of the value created as the visual tactical stories that I was creating at Hard Bounce. But writing is so much cheaper to create. So now, I write rather than create these visual tactical things, because it's just easier. It's a lot easier for me to do every week.”

Nathan's resume of experience is as impressive as it is extensive, but the core lesson for other founders and operators of learning communities here is to let your previous experience guide you and how you design your course. Just because you're setting out on a new business venture in virtual learning doesn't mean your past experience is null; in fact, any previous lessons learned around marketing, business development, even data science can be leveraged to help you understand and build core facets of your business.

Teach members to do, not just listen

Many of the greatest minds in learning share the philosophy that members are more successful when they're taking an action rather than listening to theory. Nathan is experiencing this duality of learning — striking the balance between teaching valuable lessons and letting members really sink their teeth into curriculum — as he builds out his own course that now starts in September:

“I think people probably tend to feel better in a course setting when they feel like they're doing something rather than just listening. There's got to be some degree of listening, but I want to make sure it strikes the right balance. To do that, I plan to split the course.”

We've learned from founders like Hyrise's Dominic Blank that there's a huge impact in creating small groups of members to create more intimate learning experiences. Every's inaugural course will follow that same idea:

Nathan shares “Basically, I'll split people into groups, and they'll have a small group that they're working with. And ideally, those are people from similar areas of expertise. I'm not going to split it randomly so that the people who are talking to each other have intelligent things to say about the specific topics that they're interested in. The goal of each session (there's five sessions) will be attached to a step in the process of analyzing the market.”

No matter how the course is operated, whether members learn altogether or in groups, synchronously through live courses or asynchronously on their own, there's an innate responsibility all founders and operators share to ensure their members are learning actionable, tangible material rather than listening to lectures on theory with no guidance on how to apply it. It's one of many exciting opportunities that separates virtual learning as a budding industry from traditional education.

‘See, Do, Teach' is Bloom Institute of Technology's philosophy, and it's why they're one of the most prominent and successful coding bootcamps in the world. Read about their teaching philosophy here.

Make your content relevant and specific to encourage shareability amongst your audience

Despite rapid growth and increasing interest in new offerings, Every's audience has always suffered from what Nathan calls “a lack of clarity.”

“I'm proud of how fast we've grown. Some of our peers have really big newsletters, like Lenny and Paki, but I think we've always suffered a little bit from lack of clarity around what exactly this newsletter is. When you're a bundle, you're a little bit less specific than a single thing. We're kind of more broa – you would think that we could grow faster to reach more people because we're more broad, and maybe we can in the long run, but being sharp early on really matters” Nathan says.

With that insight in mind, the Every team is in the process of strengthening their positioning and subsequent content to be more specific and relevant. The shareability of their content thus far has gotten them to that over 52,000 member mark, but with more pointed content creation and distribution, they're hoping to continue that growth trajectory.

Nathan shares “The main thing that's worked is just having articles that get shared around. The only way to really do that is just to have them be good. But within that, there are some types of “good” that are more shareable than others, as we've discovered. It's important to talk about what is on people's minds. If people are thinking about something and you have something new and smart and good to say about it, that's always going to be more shared and do better for growth than something that is sort of out of nowhere.”

As a marketing strategy, creating better, more specific content is applicable across every channel, too. Your audience is inundated with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of messages every day. Being concise, clear, and thought-provoking is the key to sticking out in crowded inboxes and getting your message across to your audience. Consistency is also critical, but as Nathan points out, not always great for retention:

“Consistency is really good for growth but sometimes, it's kind of bad for retention, because the same content over and over again can be boring. People want novelty. Balancing those things is really hard. I don't think that there's a great, easy answer, because I definitely think we have to, to some extent, sacrifice the consistency for the novelty. That's made it a little bit harder to be like ‘What is Every all about? It's not as simple as working with one type of person, you know, but I think we retain people pretty well. People end up staying loyal, becoming subscribers, and reading every week, because they can't explain exactly what they get from us in some way. It's a variety of things, but they really like it.”

Create free content (and accept that not everyone will convert)

“Before I even go into it, I just want to label that I think that, like, 80% of what's going to determine our success is the writing that we end up publishing, which is just a function of how good we are as writers and editors and how good we are sourcing writers and editors. All this other stuff is easy if you get that right. If you don't get that right, none of this other stuff matters,” says Nathan.

He leans on his Substack experience and undergoing variations of that pricing strategy to the Every pricing model, with free content being the first and most critical step into Every's community and subsequent paid offerings.

WeAreNoCode gets members started for free first, too; that way, when they do move forward with purchasing a course, it's because they're really invested. Read about their strategy here.

Candidly, Nathan admits that this model can make it really hard to prioritize content and the writers who make it.

"It always sucks to press publish on something and know that it's like not going to go out to nearly as many people as it could because the free list is always going to be 10x bigger than the paid list, even if your conversion rate from free to paid is really good.”

In Every's case — and in many virtual learning business' case — there is still more value in converting existing audience members from the free content they're enjoying than there is in spending marketing money, resources, and time trying to convert people from scratch.

Fit educational opportunities into your business model, not the other way around

Founders and operators of virtual learning businesses often try to create a business model out of a virtual learning course — and it works, in some cases. For others, creating a business model by delivering a product, good, or content works better as the foundation, then adding on a feature like a cohort-based course is simply another extension of an existing business. For Every, the latter has been true, but it was easier to accommodate the course because there was a business to fit it into.

Nathan shares, “I mean, the content is already inherently super educational. The reason you read our content is because you're an ambitious person who wants to advance your career, right? You're learning why this business works this way or how to deal with a tough situation with a colleague or whatever. The thing about cohort-based courses is that they're just a natural extension of your existing business. You take something that you could want to read or learn about it and you show up, have a set of things you can teach, and you bring people together who can meet and interact directly with the person who wrote the course to really learn it.”

This model is the exact inspiration for Nathan's upcoming inaugural market analysis course, and he hopes it will be successful enough to replicate with other posts or articles in the Every community.

"Not every post is fit for a course, but they're in the same thematic of things that are interesting to people that they may want to directly know for themselves. There's stuff around finance, management, fundraising — it all just depends on how this one goes.”

Gauging the success of the market analysis course will help Nathan and the Every team unlock more learning opportunities and marketing channels to help find potential members. But if the business' current success is any indication, we're sure Every will be launching valuable, educational courses to its over 52,000 members in no time.

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The Learning Community Playbook by Disco
Published on
August 25, 2022
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