- beehiiv Blog
- The beehiiv Story: Chapter 2
The beehiiv Story: Chapter 2
Behind the scenes of scaling the company in year two.
It’s been just two years since beehiiv officially launched, and it’s quite surreal to reflect on just how far we’ve come in such little time.
beehiiv is home to thousands of the top newsletters in the world, employs 45 full time employees across 8 countries, and is on pace to generate nearly $7M in revenue this year.
We were recently named the 2023 most promising consumer and creator economy startup by The Information and Business Insider, respectively. And even had our brand featured amongst the bright lights in Times Square (twice).
A few years ago when I initially reached out to my cofounders, Ben and Jake, the vision and opportunity ahead were crystal clear to me. But I never would have expected the growth and success to accumulate as quickly as it has these past two years.
That’s a huge testament to the remarkable team we’ve convinced assembled to make beehiiv what it is today. We’ve built a team of people who all want to be the absolute best at what they do, and more importantly — want to build a platform that empowers and enables others to pursue their passions and dreams.
This post is an opportunity to look back and reflect on all that we have collectively accomplished in year two and the ups and downs along the way. I’ll cover…
our initial gameplan for the year
the GoDaddy debacle
our IRL offsite
how we raised our Series A in a week
the acquisition of Swapstack
and a whole lot more…
My hope is that it humanizes the startup experience and inspires others to build and pursue their passions… because the world is a much better place when more people choose to challenge the status quo.
And because no story starts on chapter 2 — here’s the link to chapter 1 which covers our founding story and first year as a company.
One of my top pieces of advice for any entrepreneur or startup is to send a monthly investor update, even if you don’t have any investors.
For the past 24 months I’ve sent a brutally honest and detailed update to all investors, employees, family, friends, and colleagues.
I think it’s one of the most valuable exercises for a few reasons…
Accountability — there are winners and losers in business, and a way to keep score. I know each month that I will be sharing the core metrics of the business, and I’m way too competitive to allow negative results. Rents due baby.
Communication — at any given time we are balancing a handful of product launches, growth initiatives, talent searches, process enhancements, and more. It’s extremely dizzying, but the update is a forcing function to get all of my thoughts onto paper and organized.
Alignment — we’re an entirely remote team, and it’s far too easy for people to get lost in their own day-to-day. The update communicates exactly what’s going on with respect to every facet of the business and aligns everyone to move in sync.
Top of mind — everyone is busy and it’s difficult to keep in touch with friends and colleagues. But you never know who may be able to assist you or make a key introduction. These updates keep me and beehiiv top of mind (at least once a month) for 250+ people who I value a ton.
Anyway, end of my tangent.
I began the year sending one of these investor updates on January 2nd with a very ambitious goal — $1M /month in revenue by December 2023.
beehiiv only did ~$90,000 in revenue the prior month to end 2022.
So what was the plan to accomplish that?
We were still only a small team of ~12 to start the year, made up of only 5 engineers. The email space is remarkably competitive and dense, and we were the newcomers with the least polished product. The goal was to ramp up the engineering team and continue to build features with the following priority:
What are the features we are missing that are preventing users from migrating to beehiiv?
What features do we offer that are either missing functionality or frustrating users?
What are splashier features, unique to beehiiv, that we can launch and market to differentiate ourselves?
As our product functionality expanded, so would the addressable market.
We didn’t spend a dollar on paid acquisition for the entire first year, but that was set to change in year two. In addition to ramping up paid spend, there were countless initiatives on our big board to expand top-of-funnel, optimize for conversions, decrease churn, etc.
One such initiative we launched in early 2023 was a free 14-day trial, giving every new user all of our premium features.
In year one, we had prioritized building a strong foundation to facilitate future growth. But the time to accelerate was finally here, and we were fully equipped with the right data pipelines and tooling.
Email newsletters > email marketing.
The email marketing industry is absolutely massive, and maybe one day we’ll lean in there. But right here and now we are owning the niche of email newsletters and going to do it better than anyone else ever has. There are countless newsletters being run on platforms built for email marketing. This is an awareness problem, and we were going to address it.
Most SaaS companies are an expense to their users. If you send emails on Mailchimp, you pay them a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per month to reach your audience.
beehiiv was built from day one to be value-additive to our users. Everything we prioritize is to help our users to grow faster and more efficiently, and monetize via subscriptions, premium advertisements, and Boosts.
Our top success metric is simple — how many of our users are making more money from beehiiv than they are paying beehiiv. See above, value-additive.
One of the more infamous stories from the year also cost me several years of my life.
I was in Cabo at a friend’s bachelor party and decided to take off that Thursday and Friday. This was only the second time I’ve taken off work since starting the business (I even managed to work through Oktoberfest somehow but that’s an entirely different story for a different time).
I wake up to Slack messages and support tickets of users insisting their websites are unavailable and not loading, although it seemed only to be affecting a handful of users. The engineering team was entirely on top of it, looking through the logs and debugging things.
Fast forward 6 hours and 10 beers and the issue is getting worse. My drunk confidence kicks in, and I decide to open my laptop and take a look. At this point I am obviously totally useless, so instead I decide to get caught up on emails where I find something from GoDaddy alerting us that they’re shutting down our account on 24 hours notice.
For context, we hosted our DNS (i.e. beehiiv.com) on GoDaddy. We also host websites for thousands of our users on their behalf. Our DNS going down meant not only would our app be entirely unavailable, but every single one of our user’s websites would be too.
Then I received the most sobering message of my life in a DM from our CTO.
It was after business hours, GoDaddy support is non-existent (during business hours too for that matter), and if we didn’t resolve the issue in the next few hours I was certain this was going to be existential.
Around 11pm in an absolute panic:
I tweeted aimlessly into the ether
Sent a code red email to everyone on our investor update list
Texted anyone who had even a remote chance of knowing someone at GoDaddy
Had the team find the contact information of every executive at GoDaddy and email them
does anyone have a contact at @GoDaddy who decided to just suspend our domain without warning
— Tyler Denk 🐝 (@denk_tweets)
Feb 3, 2023
After being on hold for two hours, I was finally escalated to some level of emergency support at 1am where I pleaded endlessly to reinstate our account.
We moved off GoDaddy first thing the next morning and built a ton of new processes, guardrails, contingency plans, etc. to prevent anything like this from happening again.
not gonna lie.
you caused me a lot of stress.
— Tyler Denk 🐝 (@denk_tweets)
Feb 3, 2023
Moral of the story: never take off work.
As a remote company we do a ton of things with intentionality to both foster deeper relationships and make work as enjoyable as possible.
Each year we fly everyone out to do an IRL offsite — some mix of collaborative work sessions, activities, dinners, and more.
In May we all went to Salt Lake City.
Most of the team met each other for the first time in person, and it was so refreshing to work side by side with others and leverage a real whiteboard for once. We also did ax throwing, a day trip to Park City, several tasting menus and maybe a night out at the local reggaeton club.
But the lasting memory of the trip was certainly made on the final night. We were at a Michelin Star restaurant in the middle of a 7 course dinner (with a wine pairing obviously), when one of our engineers from The Netherlands mentioned something about having looked forward to trying Chick-Fil-A while in the US.
He had a flight back to Amsterdam in the morning and Chick-Fil-A was closing in 20 minutes. We were finishing up the last course and my natural leadership response kicked in with the only logical thing to do — Doordash 150 chicken nuggets and fries to the restaurant before they closed.
Was it extremely disrespectful to Doordash Chick-Fil-A to a Michelin Star restaurant?
Was it the right thing to do for our Dutch engineer?
Both of those things can be true at the same time, and we absolutely devoured that Chick-Fil-A on a bench outside of the restaurant.
The Last Supper
There was a noticeable high amongst the team for weeks after the offsite, and I was so happy almost everyone was able to attend.
One of my least favorite things about the startup ecosystem is the praise and attention given to fundraising. Successfully raising a round of funding is a means to an end, not necessarily an accomplishment in itself (especially given the surplus of capital available today).
Our goal has always been to build a profitable and successful business without the dependency of venture capital. I’m not personally a fan of dilution, kissing ass, additional shareholders and governance… or generally introducing anything that could slow us down.
Naturally as we “built in public” and shared some of the success and growth along the way, investors persistently reached out with interest. I always either ignored the outreach or responded that we're prioritizing building a profitable business and not looking to raise money.
But sometime in May I was up around midnight doing my nightly sweep of escalated support tickets, absolutely exhausted, and it just hit me — why am I going out of my way to play this game on hard mode?
That week alone, my inbox had inbound interest from almost every top VC fund you could think of, to which I ignored all of them. Meanwhile…
our engineering team was running on fumes, balancing feature development and fighting fires all the same
our meetings were full of wonderful ideas we didn’t have the bandwidth to execute
and here I was routinely doing a two hour sweep each night in support to keep the queues down
We had just experienced our first marginally profitable month and were growing revenues ~30% MoM. But we were also spending ~$300k each month with only $1.2M in the bank.
At the end of the day my primary job is to ensure the business continues to exist, plan for the unexpected, and live to fight another day.
Spending 25% of our bank account each month and pretending that 30% MoM growth was guaranteed to continue forever was enough to come back down to earth and reassess.
Friday May 12th
I wrote a one-pager to myself with a hypothetical: if we did have $10M in the bank tomorrow, what would we even do with it?
Saturday May 13th
I slept on it, re-read it in the morning, and came to the overwhelmingly obvious conclusion that doing anything else was just purely irresponsible.
We were riding high at the time with a ton of momentum, just had our first profitable month in April, and had almost every major VC expressing interest. We had a real opportunity to capitalize (literally) and take the business to the next level.
I replied to a handful of funds that I was down to play ball and explore what a Series A would look like. That kicked off one of the most intense and memorable weeks of my life.
The benefit of “playing hard to get” was the intent and interest was already there. I didn’t have a deck, I only wanted to talk to decision makers, and I didn’t want to waste time. Monday through Thursday was stuffed with 8 partner meetings across the 3 funds I was most optimistic about.
Friday May 19th
It was the week before Memorial Day Weekend. I was flying to Mexico City and my COO, Preeya, had just gotten to London to work remotely before the long holiday weekend.
We were doing the final rounds of references, and I’ll never forget being in the underbelly of the Mexico City airport at baggage claim, fighting for service, merging in Preeya from Europe, and just kicking off hours of diligence calls all the way through rush hour traffic to my Airbnb.
We received two verbal offers on term sheets that evening.
I already had a date lined up for dinner, and being the gentleman that I am, I couldn’t possibly cancel. Fortunately for her, my Spanish wasn’t nearly good enough to explain the rollercoaster I had been on all day… so I got a much needed breather from discussing option pools and board rights.
Saturday May 20th
There were still a few final details to hammer out on the term sheets.
I think Mexico City is one of the most beautiful and walkable cities — so I put in my AirPods and walked around for hours, making calls to existing investors, cofounders, friends, and advisors.
Here I was on a four-way call, sitting on a bench alone in Bosque de Chapultepec, negotiating the fine points of one of the most consequential decisions we’d make as a company.
Bosque de Chapultepec
The juxtaposition of being all alone in Mexico City in this remarkably beautiful park, while discussing these nuanced deal-terms to raise millions of dollars, was just a total “what the fuck is going on in life right now?” moment for me.
After a few hours in the park we ended up aligning on the last few points and came to a final agreement. Lightspeed would lead our $12.5M Series A.
Just seven days prior I was certain we would never take another dollar from investors again.
But things happen in life, and you continue to collect data and reassess the situation. The leadership team and I were certain this would accelerate the business and put us in a much stronger position to win this market.
Once the wire hit our bank account in early July it was time to really build.
I would describe Q3 as one massive and stressful growing pain. There were so many important hires to make, initiatives to launch, features to build, and processes to put into place. The goal was to do it all, and do it all before Q4 so we could cleanly shift towards execution come October.
There was too much momentum to slow down — I wanted to simultaneously double the size of the team without ever taking our foot off the pedal for a second.
And the team absolutely showed out and performed. There are far too many highlights from Q3 to touch em all, but in summary:
We more than doubled the team from 20 to over 40 employees
We launched a major product update in 9 of the 12 weeks of the quarter
We successfully launched the beehiiv Ad Network in a big way
We acquired Swapstack, a newsletter ad marketplace
We launched a total rebrand
As I mentioned above, we more than doubled the team from 20 to over 40 employees during Q3 — making a ton of key hires in engineering, support, growth, design, and sales.
The additional funds gave us the luxury to identify and address:
roles where a single person was owning what should have been several distinct functions
breakdowns in process due to a lack of bandwidth or a missing role
teams that were stretched too thin to execute at the highest possible level
One of the most prescient things we did was make our first HR hire, Isidora, just a few weeks before the Series A. Prior to her joining, it was a total ragtag effort to hire and onboard new employees. We would have entirely imploded trying to double the team without her.
In Q3 alone we launched the following:
A suite of AI tools in the editor to create and edit text and images
Revamped web builder introducing new themes, layouts, widgets, and customizations for websites hosted on beehiiv
Tons of powerful features to our Automations product including branches, wait until delays, unengaged trigger, updating subscriptions, and more
Email Boosts — allowing users to drop Boosts directly into their newsletter and make thousands of dollars per send
Direct Giphy and Unsplash integrations within our editor
Cohort Analysis for deep newsletter insights
The beehiiv Ad Network (more on that below)
A totally revamped segmentation builder that is remarkably powerful
Simple sending to send to and/or exclude multiple segments at once
…and dozens more that I will save at risk of this list getting too long
Plus the AI launch video was one of my favorite creative initiatives in the company’s history.
I haven’t been shy about the big bet we’re making at beehiiv. At Morning Brew my cofounders and I built an automated platform to streamline ad operations across their suite of newsletters.
At beehiiv — with 800M monthly impressions and growing ~25% MoM, home to some of the most influential and notable writers, talent, and publishers in the world… there is no better place for brands to advertise their product offerings via newsletters.
But as a publisher or independent writer, running a successful ad sales operation is difficult and timely. From collecting and packaging normalized audience data, to outbound sales, copywriting, testing attribution, performance tracking, reporting, invoicing, vendor paperwork, and more… there’s a lot needed to get it right.
And that’s all for just a single newsletter send.
So in September we launched the beehiiv Ad Network so publishers can monetize their newsletter with premium sponsors with only a few simple clicks… all directly within beehiiv.
We’re still early, but the core team at beehiiv has the most relevant prior experience you could ask for. We have a remarkably detailed product roadmap here for the next 12+ months.
And the product is already working — beehiiv has already paid publishers hundreds of thousands of dollars via ads.
Just two weeks after launching the beehiiv Ad Network, we announced the acquisition of Swapstack.
Swapstack was one of the leading newsletter advertising and monetization platforms — home to thousands of publishers and hundreds of advertisers.
They had facilitated over $2M in advertising spend via their ad network across hundreds of campaigns.
Their CEO, Jake Schonberger, joined our team full time as the Head of Brand Partnerships to lead the beehiiv Ad Network. We also brought over their primary Account Manager, Mo, who had fostered years of relationships in the newsletter ecosystem and understood the process and opportunity as well as anyone.
In the span of just three weeks we had just kicked our big bet into high gear…
the product we had been building in the background for months was finally real and available to our users
we just made a huge strategic acquisition
we tripled the size and bandwidth of the Ad Network team
we also brought over Brian who was leading Rev Ops at Morning Brew for the previous several years
When we launched back in 2021, there were far more important things to worry about than our branding, voice, and values. So we shipped the logo and design that we believed to be good enough and moved on with our lives.
beehiiv landing page at launch
Fast forward to this past summer, when one of our interns was tasked with creating some content for our social channels. Instead she came back with “there’s literally no consistency or brand in any of these posts… what am I supposed to create?”
Honestly you gotta respect the audacity. Shoutout Brenda.
She expressed interest in doing some work around brand guidelines, voice, etc., and we gave her the green light.
She led the way, and I pushed back and provided feedback where I could. Collectively along with our incredibly talented designer (shoutout Laura) we came away with something special — something that reflects our core values and aligns with both our vision and the people behind it.
One of the things I love most about this was that we had a summer intern, who was initially hired to do something entirely different, lead this initiative.
I think it speaks to the broader culture we’ve cultivated at beehiiv. Top to bottom, the team is incredibly open-minded, has a bias towards action, and empowers anyone to contribute where they feel they can be most impactful.
It’s been a full two years since we launched, and despite the early traction, we’re hungrier than ever.
The team is still shipping updates like the underdogs we are. In just the past few weeks we launched two massive initiatives…
Automations 2.0 — a remarkably powerful upgrade to our automations product, looking to compete head-to-head with the industry’s best email automation software.
beehiiv Talent — powering the world’s top talent with the world’s top newsletter platform. beehiiv is already home to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Arzón, Josh Richards, Colin & Samir, DEUXMOI, JJ Redick, and so many more massive names.
And to bring it all home — it wouldn’t be a reflection post without taking time to appreciate how special my two cofounders, Ben and Jake, are. None of this remotely exists without both of them being the most brilliant, hard-working, selfless and tremendous friends you could ever ask for.
And regarding the broader team — the gratitude and appreciation I have for being able to surround myself with these remarkable people every day is second to none.
Doubling the team in Q3 means that more than half of the employees have been at beehiiv for less than six months. We’re still in the earliest stages of ramping up, building processes, and getting into a groove.
Just wait til we hit our stride in year three…