The beehiiv Story: Chapter 1

Celebrating the wins, internalizing the losses, and everything in between.

Exactly one year ago, we launched beehiiv into the world with this tweet.

Fast forward to today—we’re a team of 12, scattered across 3 countries. The business is quickly approaching $1m ARR, growing an average of 55% MoM since launch. We’ve sent over 275m emails to date, and are on pace to send 70m this month alone (to give a sense of trajectory).

beehiiv is now home to thousands of the most popular publishers and content creators around the world. And we’ve done all of this while entering one of the more competitive industries around—going head-to-head with deep-pocketed, venture-backed startups, and others who have been around for a decade or more.

From the 10,000 foot view, it all looks amazing, and I couldn’t be happier with the progress we’ve made in such a short period of time. But I’d be remiss not to acknowledge how difficult it’s been to get here.

This past year has been full of the highest highs I’ve ever experienced, and lower lows than I had ever thought possible. Sometimes, within the very same day. And while this journey is only just getting started, I wanted to take some time to reflect and share how we got here and where we’re going.

The Inspiration

I joined Morning Brew back in 2017 as the second employee, in a classic “wearing multiple hats” role that spanned product, engineering, and growth. I’m forever indebted to Alex Lieberman and Austin Rief for the opportunity and freedom they gave me to build and experiment with very few constraints.

The goal was simple—grow the newsletter.

So, I only spent time building things that actually moved the needle:

  • A referral program to incentivize readers to share with others

  • An SEO-optimized website so we could capitalize on search traffic

  • Social share capabilities so every story in the newsletter was easily shareable

  • Dashboards to analyze and assess every single acquisition channel

…to name just a few. A little over a year later, we had gone from roughly 100k subscribers to over 1m.

At that point, the attention shifted towards other initiatives to streamline our operations:

  • A custom-built CMS specifically optimized for newsletters

  • A custom ad management platform to facilitate the dozens of weekly ad placements

  • A data pipeline to derive deep granular insights about our audience and growth

Before you knew it, the Morning Brew machine was as well-oiled as ever. We launched several additional newsletters, surpassed 3m subscribers, had a few dozen employees, and had a totally bespoke tech ecosystem that fueled everything and really made the gears turn.

But other newsletter operators weren’t having the same success. They were piecing together a Wordpress site, copying and pasting content into Mailchimp, trying to run a referral program via Airtable, and had zero insight about their audience.

While not everyone could replicate the witty and conversational tone, or the brand that made Morning Brew so special, most struggled to even get their newsletter out the door, or to establish any sort of momentum with their growth.

And thus, the vision for beehiiv was born; I just didn’t know it yet.

The Founding

My co-founder, Benjamin Hargett, was the first person I ever hired. He became the first full-time engineer at Morning Brew and was one of the smartest, most thoughtful people I had ever worked with. We spent two years together in the trenches building a lot of the tech described above.

As I was departing Morning Brew in 2020, we hired Ben’s friend, Jake Hurd, as the fourth engineer to join the team. Ben raved about Jake’s engineering chops, and the two of them would go on to build a ton of tremendous things and really become experts in the newsletter ecosystem.

The three of us ended up reconnecting in late 2020. A few conversations later and we committed to spending nights and weekends building what would eventually become beehiiv.

google meet

First Google Meet to discuss the idea, winter 2020

Anyone who’s ever moonlit a project before knows exactly how draining it is to pursue. Closing your work laptop only to open your personal one and work late into the night. Most weeknights, and most weekends. We did this for nearly ten months and managed to just barely keep our sanity.

saturday brooklyn

Random Saturday in Brooklyn working on v1 of the app, spring 2021

Then, sometime during the summer of 2021, I ended up reconnecting with a mentor of mine, Andrew Platkin. Back at Morning Brew, I was a 24 year-old self-taught developer who was running an engineering team with no oversight. Austin was smart enough to tap his investors, and one of them connected us to his friend Andrew to be a “technical advisor” and lend a hand when needed.

Andrew never asked for compensation from Morning Brew; rather, he was just genuinely eager to help his friend. I ended up sending him a few dozen “I think I f@cked something up” texts over the years.

I didn’t appreciate how special it was at the time, but he would drop whatever he was doing at his full-time job, spring into action with little-to-no context, and resolve whatever I had managed to mess up within a few minutes. He saved my ass a few too many times.

When I reconnected with him in 2021, he was, coincidentally, looking to leave his company and join another startup as CTO. When that opportunity fell through, I pitched him on beehiiv and asked if he had any interest in helping out. We didn’t have any money to pay him, but he agreed to spend two months building alongside Ben, Jake, and I to evaluate if it was a good fit.

Meanwhile, I spent all of July attempting to raise money as we continued to build beehiiv as a side project. Twitter had acquired Revue not too long before, and Facebook had just announced Bulletin. Most investors had little faith we could compete with “big tech” … or the existing players, for that matter.

We finally ended July with a term sheet, and the rest of the $2.6m seed round quickly came together after that. I left Google to take the leap full-time in August. Ben and Jake joined me in early September, along with Andrew, who had agreed to join as CTO.

We had a team of four engineers, a bit of capital, and a really ambitious goal to dominate email as a content channel.

The Product

The playbook was never to follow those who came before us. We had years of first-hand experience building and scaling Morning Brew and wanted to bring those capabilities to the masses.

We obsessed over the user experience—finding the right balance between simplicity and offering all of the bells and whistles you could imagine. We had a strong initial roadmap and intentionally left a ton of wiggle room for initiatives generated from user feedback.

Here are just a few of the things we’ve launched in the past year:

Plus, there are dozens of other features that you can find here.

When you have a clear vision, and a remarkable team, it really just comes down to execution. And I prefer to let our users be the judge of how we’re doing there…

The Team

The most fulfilling part of building beehiiv has been the opportunity to spend time with so many incredibly talented and thoughtful people day in and day out.

Team standup, October 2022

Team standup, October 2022

There have been countless late nights, dozens of 5am fire drills, and everything you could possibly imagine in between…but the ability for this team to take everything in stride, lean in, and continue to deliver at such a high caliber has been remarkable to be a part of.

I consider myself so fortunate to call these people teammates.

And I’m even more fortunate to have Ben and Jake as co-founders. Their selflessness and willingness to work longer and harder without ever once complaining or making a single excuse has been the purest form of leading by example.

Also, a shameless plug that we’re actively hiring engineers.

The Lows

On the morning of Friday, April 29th, Andrew slacked the team that he wasn’t feeling well and was going to lay down for a bit.

That was the last time we ever heard from him.

That same friend who had initially connected us years earlier at Morning Brew called me the next day to deliver the tragic news.

The profound sadness and emptiness that ensued was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life. Andrew was brilliant. He was the kindest person I had ever met. He was our X-factor. And he was supposed to spend the next few years of his life building this thing alongside us.

I’ll share what I wrote in our monthly investor update just a few days later:

It’s hard to put into words to express the immense pain, sorrow, and uneasiness I’ve experienced the past 24 hours since learning of the sudden passing of our CTO, Andrew. Andrew joined Ben, Jake, and I last June and has worked tirelessly to help make beehiiv what it is today.

Truthfully, CTO doesn’t nearly do it justice as to what he meant to us—a friend, tremendous teammate, unique talent, and a mentor to many of the engineers on the team… to name just a few. It only took a couple days before I’d receive a message from a new hire, “this Andrew guy is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

It’d take a book to truly express the gratitude and appreciation I have towards just been given the chance to spend the past 10 months building this alongside him.

We last spoke on Thursday for nearly 2 hours—catching up and discussing the future of the business. The genuine excitement and passion he shared was contagious, and it absolutely wrecks me to know he won’t be around to lead and see it come to fruition.

First and foremost, on behalf of the entire team, our thoughts are with his family, friends, and loved ones. It really puts things into perspective and makes it unbearable to even have to think about the business at a time like this.

Mustering the courage to join our Monday all-hands with one less square present, and to lead the team forwards without him, was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It still haunts me to this day.

Tactically, he had more domain knowledge than anyone else on the team. He was leading our two largest and most time-sensitive initiatives. And we had just begun to experience our first real scaling issues.

But more importantly—we had just lost a tremendous friend and someone I loved.

We immediately fell behind on all of the top initiatives users were so desperately clamoring for. The app was experiencing considerable performance issues, with no clear path forward. Everything felt like it was crumbling down around us, and all of the momentum we had worked so tirelessly to build felt like it could completely go to waste at any moment. All of this stress and anxiety in addition to going through the most profoundly terrible experience of my life.

I’ll never forget how remarkable of a response the team had during those first few weeks. Ben literally taught himself a new programming language in three days in an attempt to resolve the performance issues. And every other person on the team stepped up in a major way, too, to pull us through that.

We made the easy decision to accelerate Andrew’s equity and allow his mother to purchase the shares, making her a meaningful shareholder in the business. I’ll never take for granted the fact that she trusted us and wanted to be a part of the journey that Andrew had helped create. Knowing she owns that piece of the business is a large part of what drives me to be so passionate about building this into something meaningful.

my desk

My desk

The Future

It’s not how you start–it’s how you finish.

We’ve been so fortunate to attract such talented people to join us on this journey.

We have a remarkable group of investors who believe in us, are supportive, and to be blunt—mostly stay out of the way to allow us to do what we do best.

We have countless early adopters who joined beehiiv before they probably should have, and showed tremendous patience and trust in us as we built a platform specifically catered for them to succeed.

I’m thankful for all of those things. But none of them mean anything unless we can continue to execute at a high level and make beehiiv 10x better than what it is today.

Knowing what I know about what’s on the horizon, I can promise you the best is yet to come. Here’s to year ✌🏽 and the many more to follow.

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