Lenny Rachitsky, former Growth Product Manager at Airbnb and founder of Lenny’s Newsletter, joins Stew Fortier to discuss how to use your newsletter to scale your expertise and help thousands upon thousands of people.
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Lenny attributes much of his success with Lenny’s Newsletter to the fact that he really only writes about topics that intrinsically fascinate him. “ When you're writing about things that you're interested in or genuinely curious about, there's a much higher chance people are also going to be interested in it. And, more importantly, the content is going to be good.”
It’s okay to trust your gut instinct and write about the topics that you’re naturally drawn to. “I think the classic advice is pick a straightforward niche and become really good at that. If I was smart, I'd pick just product management or just growth or just startups but I don't want to spend all my time on one of those things. I'm just not interested in any of those so deeply where I want to only think about that all the time.”
Lenny warns against the trap of molding your content to respond to perceived reader demand. “You can easily get pulled into doing things that other people want you to do and write about things that other people want you to write about. I find the more interested I am in a thing I'm working on, the better it is. I try to write about things that I'm really interested in with just a bit of input from others on what they are looking for. Don’t write only things people are asking you to write about, because then your writing just turns into another job.”
It can be difficult to cut through the clutter on the internet, and in Lenny’s point of view, the only way to stand out is to outperform everyone else. “There's so much content out in the world and so much free content, that the only way you stand out is if you're better than all of those other ones, and not just a little bit better, but like, ‘oh, wow, this is so good.’ That's why it's so important to focus on writing something really good, and not just good enough. You'll just get ignored.”
It is clear after talking with Lenny that he prefers to focus his time on the quality of his writing above all else. “I spend very little time in distribution, partly because I find that the better the writing, the more it spreads. Most of my growth has been word of mouth. So I spent all my time basically on the writing. The better your content is, the more people will talk about it and share with their friends and subscribe
While Lenny didn’t lean into an aggressive, intentional growth strategy, he does acknowledge the utility of platforms like Twitter in growing your audience. “I think the main thing that helped with getting the newsletter started was just just nuggets of value on Twitter. I try to think of a valuable independent nugget that I can include from that post that can live on its own as much as possible. So either I pull out a cool story, or an image, or something like that.” Social media outreach strategies should always focus on delivering value. “I did have a lot of luck and success because people with lots of followers on Twitter shared my stuff early on. And I think they did it mostly because they found it really valuable, and they were excited about sharing it. It wasn't me trying to encourage them too much.”
Lenny’s emphasis on quality writing is hard to miss, but sometimes begs the question, “well, what does quality look like, exactly?” In response, he explains “I always come back to whether what I write is actually going to be useful for somebody, or whether it’s superficial, high-level stuff.” , When asked which of his posts tend to resonate the most with his audience, Lenny replied, “I'd say it's the things that are concretely valuable to people that they can take and use, not a bunch of fuzzy ideas.” Lenny avoids pontificating in his writing whenever possible.
Even though it may seem counterintuitive, Lenny recommends starting each piece with a clear articulation of the value offered. “The more you give away all your goods from the post immediately, especially on Twitter, the better it does, because, to your point, nobody's going to read it normally. If anything, they will read the beginning. And then they're like, ‘oh, wow, this is cool!’ And then they will read more because of that.”
There are a number of questions Lenny asks himself as he’s editing his articles. He asks himself whether the content is interesting, whether it tells a good story, or if there are areas he can cut down. Most importantly, he asks himself if what he’s writing is honest. “ I think a lot of people like to say things that sound good and smart, but I find that the best stuff I write comes from lived experience and things I actually believe to be true.”
Lenny swears by a dual-device editing system to polish his writing before publishing it. “Looking at your writing on a different device is really important. I think it kind of tricks your brain into seeing things again for the first time. Every time I send it to my phone and look at it, I'm just shocked by how many things I've missed and how many typos it still has.”
In the beginning of Lenny’s Newsletter, Lenny attempted to respond to three user questions per week and keep up with the demand from his email list. “What I've learned is that even if I could do more and include more topics, I shouldn't, because I should save those for the future. You have to keep this sustainable.” Even if you can write about four distinct topics this week, doesn’t mean you should.