How Abhi Shah Found his First 20K Newsletter Subscribers
Learn how Shah’s Psychology of Marketing is Driving Growth
Abhi Shah is a fresh-faced college junior at Northwestern. But don't let his youth fool you — he’s also a bright young entrepreneur with great ideas for newsletter creators.
Abhi has built a systematic, well-organized system for managing his marketing, content creation, and monetization. As a result, the Psychology of Marketing newsletter he launched last year is growing at a steady pace, capturing the attention of both readers and sponsors.
Abhi shared with us some thoughts about newsletter creation and the strategies that have driven his early success.
Doing What He Loves
Abhi says the idea of launching a newsletter as a business resonated with him for a couple of reasons. "I'd been writing on Twitter for a year, and six months in, I realized two things. One, I love writing more than I expected. And two, I didn't know where I was going with the Twitter audience. Up until June, I was just doing it for the kicks of it — building a network, talking to people — with no end goal or ambition."
When Abhi realized he could leverage his Twitter audience and turn what he loved doing into a business, it felt like a natural extension of what he was already doing.
"I'd been a subscriber to Morning Brew and other newsletters for a long time, so I knew this business model. And I saw other creators starting newsletters and doing well in terms of sponsorships, so I was very curious."
In just six months, Psychology of Marketing has built a subscription base of over 20,000 readers, with an impressive 45% open rate. Right now, the newsletter is adding about 700 new subscribers each week. Abhi credits a half dozen tactics as the keys to his growth, and he shared them with us in detail.
Sidestepping the Competition
According to Abhi, his most significant growth driver has been niching down to survive in a highly competitive space.
"I did a marketing newsletter for one month. It didn't grow at all. It was at 1200 subscribers at its peak and barely touching 30% in terms of open rates."
Abhi recognized immediately that what he was doing wasn't working. "And then I realized I'm a psychology major, very interested in behavioral economics. And when I niched down [to that subtopic], the competitive pool just shanked. I wasn't competing with all these other experienced marketers out there — I think some of them are also on beehiiv. They have massive audiences. They have a lot of credibility in the space, and I knew I couldn't compete with them. So I think that was the smartest move I made. Not even beating the competition, but avoiding it altogether."
Abhi remains committed to his Twitter audience, with a goal of two weekly threads, two daily posts, and engaging nearly every day.
"Lately, I've been experimenting in terms of threads," Abhi says, explaining that he's been inserting a CTA in the middle of the thread, with a link and a message like "If you want more in-depth breakdowns that can't be captured in 280 characters, you should check out my free newsletter." Abhi says the CTA experiment is a success so far.
He's also started writing and engaging with other creators on LinkedIn. "Whatever works on Twitter, I just pull it out, reformat it, and post it on LinkedIn."
"Growth has been pretty solid up until the beehiiv recommendations feature came out. Then it pretty much doubled. So I would say that's been a very stable source of subscribers." In particular, Abhi says the friends he had before he even started writing have been a rich source of referrals for him.
According to Abhi, Twitter giveaways have also been a great growth driver for his subscriber base.
Every month or two, he posts a tweet offering an incentive, such as 40+ Twitter threads on marketing psychology. Followers who want the incentive can like and retweet the post, and they receive a DM with a link that takes them to the beehiiv newsletter page. If they drop their email, they then receive the incentive. Abhi has automated the whole system using Tweet Hunter, a Twitter automation service, so it doesn't require much effort.
Abhi says there are both pros and cons to this tactic. "It gives you a lot of visibility when a lot of people end up retweeting it and liking it, so it can get you a huge spike of subscribers." He's gotten up to 1500 subscribers in a day from this technique.
The drawback is that those aren't necessarily going to be engaged subscribers. "Many of them churn immediately after subscribing because they just want the free database, which is fair. I think it's all part of the game."
But not everyone who isn't engaged bothers to unsubscribe, so Abhi puts a little extra work into keeping his list squeaky clean. "I have an inactive subscriber segment. When people don't open an email in five weeks, I send them what I call a "breakup email." If they don't reply to the breakup saying they want to "stay together," I bulk unsubscribe them. I think that's a good way to keep open rates and email deliverability up while also getting these large inflows of subscribers. I would say 50% or more stick around."
Abhi has been experimenting with paid ads for the newsletter, with mixed results.
"I tried with Twitter a couple of months back," he says. "It did pretty well. I was getting subscribers for around $1.4, which I think is pretty solid for such a specific newsletter. But then I tried again in December, and I was getting subscribers for nine bucks. So that's not worth it, and I've kept it on hold for now."
December is a notoriously competitive month for advertising in general, but Abhi is still determining whether he'll continue with social media advertising. There is another type of advertising, though, that he likes for attracting high-quality, engaged subscribers.
"I've found that investing in other people's newsletters by getting ad slots does really well. It's like recommendations, right? You're meeting your newsletter audience where they are — they actually like newsletters. They read them. So they will probably like yours, and they'll probably be high-quality readers. So I'm trying to do more [newsletter ads] and less Facebook and Twitter. But eventually, when I want to scale, I will probably have to go to Twitter and Facebook."
A System for Content Ideas
Abhi is just as systematic about his content as he is about his subscription growth. "I spend a lot of time on social media and Youtube. So whenever I come across an idea, I have a content database in Notion, so I can quickly capture the idea and put it there, with a link below to where I found it."
The database gives Abhi a categorized list of potential topics. Then, when he's ready to write the newsletter, he says, "I open the database, pick a topic, and write an entire newsletter behind it."
Recently, though, he's been integrating sponsorships into his content selection process along with the needs of his readers and his own interests. "I see [who my sponsor is] and I try to connect the dots. What newsletter topic would connect best to this sponsor, so I can get better results for them while still writing good content that I'm interested in and my audience would be interested in."
A Template for Structured Writing
The weekly writing is also systematized. "It used to take me four to five hours. Now it's taking three hours instead. The biggest change is the beehiiv templates. My newsletter follows a very strict template."
Abhi says he's been surprised to notice that many creators don't use templates because he finds them so helpful in his work. "My newsletter is one psychological effect and three tactics every week. So I follow a very similar format, and I like to keep it that way because it's easier for me to write. And I think my audience also tends to like it more that way. It's more structured."
"In the template," he says, "I have the same branding up top. Then, I have the intro — You'll notice, if you go through all my newsletters, the first four lines are pretty much always the same, except for the effect and the company that I'm talking about. So I'm just changing those two words every time. Below that is the sponsor placement, so I have fillers for that. Insert hook here, insert banner here, and below that [a prompt like] 'Ask a question' or something that I've seen has performed well. I put that in brackets so I'm never staring at a blank screen, which has saved me a ton of time."
The template also includes placement for other regular content elements, like a definition, recommended tools, and a case study (which follows its own template).
Abhi says the template saves him one or two hours every week "because I know exactly what to search for. When I reach this part, I need to find a definition. Then, when I reach this part, I need to find three or four tools to recommend."
The trick is to fill the template structure with unique and exciting content each week. "Basically the entire thing is templatized, but still, I manage to make it different every week, so there's a good balance between unique content and structure. I've spoken to a few readers for feedback, and they seem to like that it follows that same cadence every week."
Many successful creators use this structured approach. It helps readers understand what to expect, makes it easy for them to find what they're looking for, and ensures that they recognize the newsletter and don't accidentally mark it as spam when it arrives.
Even Abhi’s Twitter threads have come to follow a pattern that makes them easier to create. "It's like a hook that builds credibility. [My Twitter thread format is] here's how X company does Y thing. So, for example, Here's How Apple has Mastered Packaging Psychology. And then it's a structured list of five to ten points. And the recent addition of the middle-of-the-thread CTA to subscribe."
Monetization and Sponsorship
You won't be surprised to learn that Abhi also has a system for finding sponsors. "I got this from a friend called Marketing Max. I have that section of four to five favorite resources each week, curated into a list in the middle of the newsletter. That section also includes classified ads. At the bottom, I've started saying that the lines in bold are sponsored ads — grab yours. That connects to a Typeform asking questions like your name, company, budget, and goal. That got me a lot of good inbound options in terms of sponsors."
This leads Abhi to a very interesting point. "What a lot of people don't realize," he says, "is some of your best sponsors are already reading your emails. So these guys already know the value you provide, and they already believe in it."
When he receives an inquiry from a potential advertiser, Abhi creates a personalized slide deck for them. The slide deck is (perhaps unsurprisingly) made from a template. "It's not too different from brand to brand. I add their logo in a couple of places and, for example, if they're a content marketing company (as opposed to a DTC company), I'll show them only content-specific statistics. So the statistics vary from slide deck to slide deck."
2023 and Beyond
In the coming year, Abhi wants to experiment with creating a steady stream of paid content that can be used as standalone products–and, more importantly, as incentives for a referral program.
The content he's eager to get started with right away is a copywriting psychology guide. "It's a paid product for anyone," he says, " but you can get it for free if you refer X amount of subscribers. So it's almost a no-risk play. Even if I don't make money directly by selling it, it becomes part of the referral program and gets people to share the newsletter."
Abhi also hopes to grow his sponsorship roster in the coming year. "I'm starting to do cold outreach for sponsors, trying to find sponsors who are the best fit. Because [when the sponsor is a good fit] they pay more, you can drive better results, and everyone's happier."
By December, when Abhi graduates, he hopes to have 100,000 subscribers and a viable business that can become his full-time job. At the rate he's going, and with the systems he already has in place, those goals don't seem like a stretch at all.
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