How Rowan Cheung Grew His Audience from Zero to 300,000 in 4 Months
The Secret to Exponential Growth on Twitter & beehiiv
Artificial intelligence hasn’t taken over yet.
Do you want to know who is taking over?
Rowan Cheung. He’s a creator who saw the opportunity of AI and pounced on it quickly.
And—his results are exceptional.
In just four months, he’s built two massive audiences. He’s grown his Twitter following up from 1,000 people to 250,000 and his newsletter from zero to 150,000.
We recently sat down with Rowan Cheung, founder of The Rundown newsletter, to discuss how he fast-tracked his audience growth and built a successful newsletter in a highly competitive niche.
Rowan was eager to share how his obsession with AI, combined with his unique content strategy, accelerated his audience growth exponentially. He shared plenty of key insights into his exact content strategy, how he leverages AI to speed up his newsletter creation, and how he automates the sponsorship process.
If you’re looking to start your own newsletter, or you’re looking to tap into proven growth strategies, then keep reading. Rowan’s story is unique in that he tapped into rapid newsletter growth without relying on a pre-built social following. Keep reading to learn how you can build and expand your own newsletter from scratch–even if you don’t have an audience.
The Rundown Origin Story
Originally, Rowan was a former semi-pro athlete in swimming, but his career trajectory took a sudden turn when health issues forced him to quit the sport during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, instead of being disheartened, Cheung saw this as an opportunity to immerse himself in learning about tech and AI, eventually developing an obsession with it.
Cheung's relentless pursuit of learning eventually led him to DALL-E 2, an image-generation tool. His fascination with the technology spurred him to become an active player in the AI space, well before Chat-GPT was introduced in late 2022.
Rowan Cheung’s story is similar to that of many other creators in the artificial intelligence community. He was minding his own business, cruising down one lane, when AI seemed to suddenly merge into his lane and take over.
While many people would be crushed after their entire career and livelihood were put on hold, Rowan didn’t see it that way. Instead, he took the time to stop, rest, reset, and learn something new.
“That's when I found my new obsession with tech and AI,” Rowan shared. “I would say I’m a very obsessive person. So, I spent almost a year learning how to code and design.”
If Rowan learned anything from his success in swimming, it’s that if you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best, no matter what you’re doing.
“Then, I listened to a podcast with Mr. Beast. He said he was studying other content creators, and I'm like, ‘Okay, that's what I’ve got to do.’ I literally spent every single day for a year studying. I couldn't really work out, or train, or do things I normally had to do or could do. So, it was my new obsession.”
“I went to school for kinesiology. I had literally no tech experience at all. So after about a year of learning the fundamentals, and being a little bit immersed in the space, I stumbled across DALL-E 2, which is an image-generation tool.”
“When it first came out, I started playing around with it, and it was a few months before Chat-GPT came out. And it blew my mind. It was crazy. I can just type things in and generate crazy images. And I remember that's really when I got started really getting into AI.”
Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
While many never cared for AI until Chat-GPT was released in late 2022, Rowan was already in the space. He was learning, researching, and sharing everything there was to know with his friends and family.
“I remember obsessing over it, and then reading a lot of the news and trying to digest it all to share with my family and my friends. And they were just as mind blown as I was. That’s when I first got a glimpse of, ‘Oh, maybe I could post it on YouTube or something.’”
When Chat-GPT was launched, Rowan was already immersed in the space. While others were playing catch up, he was already a few steps ahead, ready to pounce on the opportunity to become a creator.
“Then, Chat-GPT came out and then it went absolutely viral. I remember nerding out in it the first day it came out. I was on it, asking random questions—and they're the most basic questions ever. But back then, those things were crazy, ‘How can this answer so quickly?’”
“I remember the first two weeks I was literally showing all my friends. I thought everyone knew about it by then, but no one did. Not a single person knew what Chat-GPT was, and they were all mind blown. And I was like, ‘Okay, now's the time.’ I just started creating content around this.”
Launching a Newsletter on beehiiv
Rowan started realizing that he was the AI expert to his friends and family. He became the AI guy. When he couldn’t stop sharing it with those close to him, he realized there might be an opportunity to share his passion with a larger circle.
“I was obsessing over this for a few months, and no one knew that it was going to change the world. So I had to start creating content about this. At first, I considered YouTube, but then I realized very quickly, I'm not very good (or not good yet) at saying my words out loud in front of a video camera.”
“I'm better at typing it all out. So I decided to start a newsletter.”
“I decided on beehiiv because I was on Twitter, and I saw you guys have really good customer support. You guys were responding to everyone. I'm like, ‘These guys seem awesome.’ So I just got started.”
Rapid Growth: 4 Months to 200,000+ Subscribers & Followers
In an incredibly short period of time, Rowan’s idea to become a creator in the space transformed into a full-time income with hundreds of thousands of followers and subscribers.
He shared, “I started the newsletter in January 2023. I had zero subscribers back then, and my Twitter account also only had like a thousand followers. It was just some friends or people I followed that followed me back.”
“Today, three months later, I'm at 86,000 subscribers on the newsletter, and I'm growing at nearly 2,500 new subscribers a day.”
**As of May 2023, Rowan has over 150,000 newsletter subscribers and 235,000 Twitter followers.**
Engagement Is Rising Despite a Growing Audience
What makes Rowan’s story even more impressive is the fact that he’s getting incredible engagement from his audience. It’s perfectly normal—and expected—that as your audience grows beyond 25,000, to 50,000, and to 100,000 subscribers, your engagement starts to dip.
But, Rowan’s story is different. He’s seeing his engagement increase as his audience gets bigger.
“My open rate is like 42% now, and it's going up. My average click rate is 13.8%. My Twitter account—I'm over 100,000 followers now. Like I said, three months ago I was at a thousand. So, it’s been a crazy ride. But, to be honest, I feel like I'm just getting started.”
Two-Pronged Approach to Content: Newsletter & Twitter
Rowan started his content journey by posting on Twitter. But, he quickly integrated his newsletter into the mix and began building both audiences at once. He figured if he was going to be serious as a creator, he knew that building an email list would be crucial. So, he started pitching his newsletter with a simple call to action at the bottom of his popular Twitter threads.
He shared, “The first 55,000 subscribers were all organic from Twitter, just viral Twitter threads. I started posting on Twitter and I added a call to action on every viral Twitter thread.”
Rowan’s content creation strategy is simple: find the latest developments, news, and insights on AI, simplify it, summarize it, and share it in an easily-digestible way that anyone can understand.
“The content for my online audience was exactly what I was doing with my friends and family in real life. I was just writing down what I was saying to my friends—I was digesting all the cool news.”
“I research for two hours in the morning and I find the coolest things and write threads about it. Then, I put that in the newsletter, and whenever the threads go viral on Twitter, I add a call to action. They all come to my newsletter because they want to learn more.”
Rowan kills two birds with one stone by posting on Twitter and publishing his newsletter on beehiiv. He does the research in the morning, then turns it into short-form content on Twitter and long-form in his newsletter.
“For threads—I try to keep them much shorter than the newsletter. I digest it down into really small sections, and I usually don't go too in-depth on topics just because I find Twitter people don't like to read that much. They want to see more quick things, and I always drive the call to action saying, ‘If you want to learn more, come to my newsletter and I'll go more in-depth on it.’ And I found really high conversions doing that.”
The Content Schedule
So, how did Rowan manage to grow two audiences to hundreds of thousands of people? And—to do it all by himself?
One key is that he came up with a clear content schedule and system. And, he sticks to it.
“I'm actually doing this all by myself, but I use Tweet Hunter. It helps me a lot with scheduling my posts. So, oftentimes, what I do is, I write up a lot of my longer posts on the weekends, and I schedule them throughout the week. And then as the week goes by, when there's really viral news, and really cool stuff, I share that in between as well.”
“So I always have posts scheduled. It's always going to be there, but then I always have more of the breaking news stuff that I'm posting as well and writing in my daily newsletter. I've been doing this full-time, plus overtime right now.”
Obsession: The Key To Standing Out
So, what makes Rowan different from the hundreds of other AI newsletters and content creators? Rowan believes his X-factor is his passion for AI.
“Honestly, I’m just really obsessed with this stuff. I just have a strong passion for it. I was literally doing this research before [starting a newsletter]. I’m obsessed with all of it, and I share all the cool stuff I learn.”
Rowan’s obsession with AI led him to create a handy resource for people to find all of the top AI tools in one place.
“Another thing that I did was I launched a tool database called Supertools. I launched that about three weeks ago. All I did was I added all the cool tools that I share in my newsletter, and I put it on a website. And, I use my existing audience now to promote that. It has a decent amount of users now, and I use the beehiiv embed feature where I can make it so they can subscribe on every single page. That's been huge for growth as well.”
Rowan is using Supertools to provide more value to his audience and become a trusted resource in the industry. But, he’s also using it as a way to drive more newsletter signups to further accelerate his newsletter growth.
He shared, “For my tool database, every single page has a call to action, ‘Subscribe to my newsletter,’ and they can subscribe right on my webpage.”
How Rowan Uses AI in His Workflow
As an AI expert, Rowan’s no stranger to leveraging the tools he shares about with his audience. In fact, one way he leverages AI to speed up and optimize his newsletter creation process is with research.
Rowan shared, “I use Chat-GPT for research. It's been helping me so much in digesting articles. I don't use AI at all to write my newsletter. But, every day I research the top articles and I put them all in a notion document. Then, I take those long articles and I tell Chat-GPT to summarize it into bullet points for me.”
“I summarize it and read through all the articles and news really quickly. And then when I find an article that stands out, particularly, I might go dig in deeper, and then write a Twitter post about it and write about it in my newsletter.”
While Rowan uses a few different tools in his current workflow, one thing he’s chosen not to use AI for is his newsletter writing, as he wants to ensure it remains high quality, and more importantly, personal.
He shared, “I like exploring AI tools, but I don't regularly use a lot of them in my writing because I like the personal touch in my newsletter. I don't want to have it written by AI.”
“Maybe I’m biased because I'm in the AI space and I can literally tell when something's AI-generated. I know a lot of people can't, but I can, personally, so I don't want to be like that.”
Making It Rain Automatically: Self-Service Sponsorship
As a newsletter creator, once you have a large enough and engaged enough audience, you can begin tapping into monetization to start earning an income. One of the most popular and lucrative earning opportunities is with sponsorships: businesses who pay for an advertising slot in your newsletter.
While this is one of the best ways to make money as a newsletter creator, the process can be difficult, timely, and can include a lot of back-and-forth communication to get everything right. But, Rowan wanted to make this as easy as possible so he could continue focusing on creating content for his audience.
He commented, “Right now I have a couple of monetization options. One is obviously the sponsors for my newsletter. Right now, my prices are very, very low, because I don't have time to do any of the outreach, and I'm actually looking for a partnership manager to help me out on that. There's only so much time in the day, right?”
“But I have a sponsors page right now. You can go to it, and you can book on the page to become a sponsor. So I hooked it up to Calendly, and Calendly is hooked up to my Stripe account. So you can book it on the page and have no back-and-forth. Nothing like that. I don't use any Google Docs. You can literally book it on the spot and write your entire copy, and I will put it into my newsletter.”
Rowan wanted to make sure to let creators know that while this strategy can be time-saving, it also means reduced vetting in the process.
He shared, “When you sponsor on my calendar, there's a big warning sign that says it's all subject to approval. So, if I see an ad that I don't want, I could cancel and refund it right away. But, I've never had to do that yet.”
“So that's the way I did that. It saves me a lot of time and the advertiser's time. But, I still think I need to do more outreach, and I like the back and forth, so that's why I want to get someone to help me with that.”
Rowan’s Next 3-6 Months
The future is looking bright for Rowan. He’s already built up his newsletter to a point that takes some people years. For now, he plans to keep focusing on creating high-value content that drives growth.
“I just want to keep delivering quality content. That's the first thing, because I know I've built this audience, and I don't want to let them down now.”
“The second priority is going all in on growth. I want to start doing ads. I want to run 100% of the profits into growing. I know Milk Road was a big success of 250,000 subscribers in a year. I want to see if I can beat that.”
Rowan’s Hiring Plans
Rowan shared how the newsletter isn’t the end goal. Rather, it’s the beginning for him—a way to create a larger brand with more opportunities.
He commented, “In terms of the brand itself, I want to turn this into not just a newsletter, but a whole company that stemmed from a newsletter.”
While Rowan is ambitious in his plans to scale the business into different avenues, he understands that he’s going to need help to get there.
He shared, “So the first thing, of course, is the partnership manager. I'm hoping to find someone that can take meetings with partners and discuss things with them. Then, a writer would be nice too. Someone to help me out with writing, because I am daily writing, and I'm trying to make content on Twitter, and I want to expand to other platforms but I don't have enough time in the day.”
“I’d want a writer and an editor to help me out. As I scale, I want to make sure the quality is good. And right now it's literally just me. So, it would be nice to have other people to look over my work at least.”
Collaboration to Fuel Growth
While Rowan has literally been working as a one-man-show to grow his newsletter and Twitter to over 300,000 people in just a few months, he doesn’t see it that way. He feels that community is at the core of his success, and he recognizes that collaborating with others isn’t just the path to get to where he wants to go; it’s also part of the end goal.
Rowan shared, “This is my first newsletter, so I'm always looking for people to talk to. I’m always open to talking to other creators in the space, whether they're bigger or smaller. My DMs on Twitter are always open for anyone if they want to have a chat or ask any questions or anything.”
He continued, “One thing that's helped me a lot with my growth is meeting cool people along the way. I want other people to reach out to me because I want to meet others who are doing cool things, too. I've met a lot of really cool people, and I have them on beehiiv’s recommendations tool, and everyone benefits. So, I would encourage anyone who is starting a newsletter to reach out to me and to other creators. Everyone's pretty friendly. There's a little community going now. I think you can get so much bigger if everyone just talked.”
If you’re interested in staying in the loop on the latest developments in AI, you can sign up for The Rundown or read some of Rowan’s recent newsletters, like 🤖 The AI wars have just begun... or 🤖 Researchers discover a new planet using AI.
You can also check out Supertools to start playing around with some of the best AI tools available.