An interview hosted by Bailey and Kevin with Fiona Monga, Head of Writer Partnerships, and Nadia Eghbal, Writer Experience, at Substack. We talked with Fiona and Nadia about connecting writers and how they notice, validate, and codify what works on the platform to help writers succeed.
“Community means there's a reason why these people are here, irrespective of the platform.” - Nadia Eghbal
If you haven’t heard of Substack, you will soon. The company is just three years old and growing quickly.
The co-founders came together to see if they could solve a problem: helping writers earn a living directly from their readers. When readers pay writers directly, the founders realized, writers can focus on doing the work they care about most, not what editors, algorithms or advertisers deem valuable.
Substack resembles the email newsletter tools you’re familiar with, but with a crucial twist. When readers subscribe to a Substack, you have the chance to pay the author for their work–maybe $3 a month, maybe $10 a month. With economies of scale, these paying subscribers can really add up for writers and for Substack, which takes a 10% cut of the revenue writers earn. Some writers have turned Substack into their full time gig and earn into the six figures, while others are using Substack as a reliable anchor of income.
We spoke with Fiona Monga and Nadia Eghbal, two of the early team members at Substack who work with the writer community. In their own rights, each have led impressive careers that add dynamic value to the Substack team. Having worked in publishing and at Instagram, Fiona understands how creators connect directly with growing audiences. Through Nadia’s past experience working at Github and writing Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software, she’s developed an appreciation for the power of documentation to scale know-how.
In this episode, Fiona and Nadia share the systems and signals they have in place to notice and nurture best practices on the Substack platform.
Highlights, inspiration, & key learnings:
👋🏻Say hi to Fiona Monga and Nadia Eghbal and learn more about Substack.
📄See the full transcript
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Speaker 1: (00:06)
Welcome to the Get Together!
Speaker 2: (00:11)
It's our show about ordinary people building extraordinary communities. I am your host, Bailey Richardson. I'm a partner at people and company and a coauthor with this guy of get together. How to build a community with your people.
Speaker 3: (00:25)
What's up. I'm Kevin Huyhn cohost for today. Also a partner at people in company. That's our strategy company, where we help organizations start and sustain meaningful communities.
Speaker 2: (00:34)
In each episode of this podcast, we interview everyday people who have built extraordinary communities about just how they did it. How did they get the first people to show up? How did they grow to hundreds, thousands, more members. And today we're talking to Fiona Monga and Nadia egg ball, two of the early team members at sub stack, who work with the writer, community
Speaker 3: (00:56)
Stacks of stacks, of stacks,
Speaker 2: (00:59)
New company. If you haven't heard of sub stack, you will soon. The company is just three years old and growing quickly, the cofounders are two engineers, Chris, best and garage set thee and a journalist by trade Hamish McKenzie. They came together as a team to see if they could solve a problem. Helping readers pay writers directly. When readers pay writers directly, the founders realized writers can focus on doing the work they care about the most, not what algorithms or ad models or editors deemed valuable. So they built sub stack to accomplish that goal. It's an essence of email newsletter tool, but when readers like me subscribed to a sub stack, say Lindsey Gibbs, this newsletter powerplays covering women's sports or Kimberly Rose. Drew's one a day artwork spotlight. I have the chance to pay them for their work. Maybe a little bit like $3 a month or $5 a month. But with economies of scale that can really add up for writers. Some have turned sub stack into their full time gig, solid numbers of others as an anchor of income on the side. So Kev, what's one thing you learned from our conversation today with Fiona and Nadia.
Speaker 3: (02:09)
When we work with clients who are starting communities, we try to instill within them this practice of nurturing. You may have to start this community, but it doesn't mean, you know, or will know what works for all community members. If you're building a community of creators, you might start off by sharing best practices for those creators, from your own experience. Um, but that only works for so long. Eventually you need to work with community members to surface even more best practices. So Fiona and Nadia mentioned this in the interview. How part of their role supporting sub stack writers is to notice what works, validate what works and codify, what works for instance, they learned from writers on the platform that you should make the best piece of writing that you have. The one you worked so hard on, free, not paid, which is a bit counterintuitive. And they notice that this lesson can really help writers start a paid newsletter. They validated it and now continue to spotlight it more widely. And that's just one of the lessons that they've noticed through this nurturing practice. We got into the same theme of noticing and nurturing actually with Lisa and Kyle from creative mornings in episode 16, almost exactly a year ago. But I love that takeaway from today, this idea of really noticing and nurturing when it comes to community building.
Speaker 2: (03:27)
Before we jump in today's podcast interview, I wanted to share quick note. So team PNC are friends of sub SAC. We host our own get together sub-sect newsletter, which you are very welcome to join.
Speaker 3: (03:39)
Speaker 2: (03:41)
Says beyond that, one of the greatest joys of my personal life was that I connected Fiona, who we interview in this podcast to a wonderful man named such an over a dinner party and ended up getting married. And I got to officiate the wedding almost exactly a year ago as well, but that's personal. Hello, Sachin. We love you. But beyond that, we are also going to be mentors for their fellowship program. Last year, we coached their five inaugural fellows, Lindsey Gibbs, Emily at kin Saeed Jones, Sarah Bessey and Amy Vanderpool wonderful writers on how to get clearer about how they can use sub stacks tools to connect their readers to one another, to create a community. And we'll be doing the same this year with their next batch of fellows. If you're interested, sub stack is offering one, $100,000 grant for the top recipient and advances of $25,000 each for four other fellows, you can head to their website to learn more.
Speaker 2: (04:43)
All right, let's jump in Fiona and Nadia. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. We love y'all. We love sub stack. We are stoked to be here. I had to turn down my microphone volume because I'm so excited. Both of you are badasses Fiona. You have worked with one of the best authors in the world. You've worked at pop-up magazine, which full disclosure we've met working there. You've worked at Instagram, Nadia. You've worked at GitHub. You're a genius full intellectual at a very young age. And you're publishing your first book. What drew you guys to work at sub stack, especially as a pretty small team, when both of you joined, why did you decide to go work there? I spent a lot of time thinking about storytelling and books and magazines that hip hop magazine, social media, Instagram. I care a lot about the ability for writers and creative people in general, to be able to have a direct line to their audience and to create that direct line on their own terms and to get paid by the people that care about the most. I love that with [inaudible], anyone can get started, find their audience, connect with their readers and straightaway start creating that sustainable business model for further writing. Nadia, what about you? Yeah. I have two different paths when I think about it. One was being a writer myself and having gone through the experience
Speaker 4: (05:58)
Of the past two years of both writing my own blog. And then I was doing my own independent research around open source developers, which is just this very specific niche topic that I was like building an audience around and just found the whole experience, very rewarding and wanted to help other people also write about strange, weird, specific topics that they excited about. And so that kind of being the place for that. And then also seeing the parallels between having spent a lot of time understanding developers and feeling like they're this underappreciated creative class of people that are often working full time jobs as a software developer somewhere, and then writing open source code on the side and that their passion project, but not really having a way to work on that directly full time. And then also seeing that with other Raiders who might have a full time job freelancing or working at a journalism job, but then not be able to like work on whatever their passion project is in writing and just seeing SAC as a place to both enable more creativity in the world enable more interesting, independent writing and invoices and also make money doing that.
Speaker 2: (07:02)
One thing that I hear both of you touch on is how much you care about people being able to write about specifically what they want to write about like these niche topics or interest areas. Why do you think that's so important?
Speaker 4: (07:17)
One thing that I found just working in book publishing is how many gate keepers there are, you know, who gets to decide, who gets to publish a book and how that gets to be possible. And I love the idea that it can be simple for anyone to just get started and write what they love and tell their own story and to create that story on their own. That idea gets me really excited. And I think with sub stack, just seeing what's happening already is anyone can cut out any niche, anything that they're into start writing about that and connect with the people that love that same thing too.
Speaker 2: (07:51)
Tell me really quickly some of the topics that come to mind of the level of niche we're talking about on sub stack.
Speaker 4: (07:57)
So many amazing ones, there's a newsletter that is about the intersection of food and witchcraft. There is a newsletter that is all about the soccer industry entirely focused on it. Oh, wow. Amazing. I mean, it's unbelievable. Every single niche you could think of. I mean, sports of course, but not just sports specific sports team and the fandom around that. Yeah. Someone was a millennial monk that is like from monastery, which I thought was cool.
Speaker 2: (08:31)
Wow. Alliteration. The,
Speaker 4: (08:33)
When you home from a monastery and that should be the title, it feels like it's like subs, like as a place where you can do better. The more specific that you get in a weird way, just cause you end up having this more focused audience,
Speaker 2: (08:44)
Self Kevin, we need to dial up our specificity. We'll do the workshop with you guys after this. It better be alliterated as well. What about for the founders? We just talked a little bit about why you two
Speaker 4: (08:56)
Decided that this company was where you wanted to spend your time, but what about the earliest days of sub stack? What was missing in the world for the very first folks that started the product and started the company? What insights did they have in terms of the problem that they could solve?
Speaker 5: (09:12)
You know, Hamish McKenzie, one of the cofounders, he is a former journalist and author himself. He really went through the experience himself of being a freelance journalist and hustling for the by-lines and the opportunities there. And also kind of thinking a lot about online advertising and the impact of it on his own writing and with his peers in journalism. And Crispus one of the other co-founders, he was one of the cofounders of Kik messaging app and spent a lot of time thinking about how communities form, how people come together, how they share insights with each other. And the two of them met working on some of these ideas and we're in part inspired by Ben Thompson's Stratec Curry and the ability for somebody who is really good at writing and can find their audience and connect with them that that could be possible for lots of people out there.
Speaker 4: (10:06)
It's just thinking about the journalist angle, because I didn't know anything about journalism coming into sub sec. And I had been attracted to it more as like a blogger. I think about writing this side thing. It's not something I was directly ever monetizing with a subscriber audience, but Hamish's his background as a journalist really helped set and define some of these issues because journalists as professional writers feel these issues faster than people like me, that just of had the luxury of writing about stuff on the side where you have this experience of having to write in a certain way or with certain kinds of incentive models and really feeling the pain of that and wanting the need for an alternative that is more independent and more dictated on your own terms, who are the people that saw the value of this tool at the outset. And how did the founders connect with those folks? Do either of, you know, the story
Speaker 5: (10:53)
Launch on sub stack is bill Bishop who writes a newsletter about China and Hamish knew bill from his days as a reporter in Hong Kong. And bill was planning on making his newsletter a paid one at some point. Anyway, he was just willing to explore what substan offered. He thought a lot about some of the other options out there and step stack the subscription offerings that a lot of it would be taken care of on the backend in terms of customer support, all of that appealed to him. So it was an experiment to launch with bill and arrest that everyone was taking at that time. But at launch, it brought in six figures of revenue. I think that's mostly because bill is a tremendous writer and he had very loyal readers, but it really opened up the door to what might be possible with other writers.
Speaker 4: (11:39)
Even around the time I was thinking about joining subs and talking to people about it. And we've just experienced so much growth even in the short time since then. But I remember a common thing I would hear people was like, well, how many Ben Thompson's are there really strategically is seen as one example, some guy managed to make this work, but how many other people are really going to make that work? And even that made me a little bit nervous when I was thinking about joining sub sec, but there are actually a lot of undiscovered Ben Thompson's out there. And beyond that, I think we should be creating more Ben Thompson's in the world. It's that model starting to bear itself out in broader circles. We're obviously really curious about community building both with digital tools like sub stack or with run clubs or with political causes, activist causes.
Speaker 4: (12:23)
What does the word community mean to the team at sub stack? Do you use that term? We had this conversation. I remember at some point about, is there a concept of like a sub stack community? This is just my personal view, not sub SEC's view, but the idea that I think that's a little bit hard to say a platform has a community. This always rubbed me the wrong way. When people talk about Facebook community as a user, I was just sort of like, well, no, Facebook is a platform in which I find my community. So maybe less familiar with subsets. I feel like when we internally, when we talk about community, we are talking about a specific writer or a specific publication and the community that they're growing on that because it's not just newsletters, but they can also do discussion threads. They have comments and things like that.
Speaker 4: (13:02)
So we can actually see a community forming around a specific writer, but then there's also this broader concept of what does it mean to be a writer on substance. And I think of that sense of community more around we're bringing independent writers together, but I don't really want it to be the substitute community in the sense of, I don't think us being a platform is inherently like a reason for people to get together, but, uh, get together. Um, yeah, I want to feel like community means something like there's a reason why these people are here. Irrespective of us. I think Kevin is quietly crying, tears of joy. As you make that answer, it's amazing to see the community of leaders that are forming around writers and digging into what that means and what are the features and the tools that we can continue to build to help serve that community is something that we're thinking a lot about it's up stack.
Speaker 4: (13:47)
And then the other side of it, the community of writers that are writing on sub stack. And what I love seeing is how so many writers are reaching out to each other to help each other support each other, share insights. A lot of this subscription model at scale is new a journalist or writer, a creative person, running a business on stack isn't in a lot of ways, a new idea. And so I love that the community that's forming in terms of writers, if they're really supportive, one ends up sharing best practices, and that's been fun to be a part of as well.
Speaker 3: (14:14)
Yep. One way to repackage. This is that just because you operate in the Shepard, a platform for creators doesn't necessarily mean that those creators automatically form a community within themselves, but there's an opportunity to, there's an opportunity to equip those creators, those writers with opportunities to get together, to share best practices, to share wins, failures, whatever it is during that process, but just because they use the same platform, doesn't automatically make them a community.
Speaker 4: (14:44)
One of my favorite things about this recently was we've been running these online workshops and there's like always this one guy in the chats who summarizes the presentations for everyone that's reading along with the chat. And everyone's just like a normalcy thankful for this person. Who's like summarizing every single workshop. And I noticed he always puts the link to his newsletter at the bottom of his summaries. And I clicked through and realized that he's on MailChimp and he's not even on some site. And so I dropped him a line and I was like, Hey, thanks for doing all these summaries for all our subset workshops, but you're on bullshit. And he was just saying, he just really enjoyed being around other people that are similarly newsletter writers and thinking about the same kinds of stuff. And he found that talks enormously useful despite being on MailChimp versus subsect.
Speaker 4: (15:26)
And I did just see on the last workshop ran that he finally is making the transition over to sub stack the call outworked. They probably guilted him into that, but I did love that people can feel like they could be part of this community, regardless of whether you're using sub-sect or not. Yeah. I think sub SAC also stands for something you're trying to move writers to a new economy and a new way of being able to support the writing that they're really passionate about. Sometimes platforms don't stand so clearly for something or like a possible future that is different from the current one. And I think sub SAC, there's a, they're there for the tool that you're building and what your company believes in that I can see would be emotionally resonant for people to the point that they'd want to spend time with other folks who also are willing to test and try that new feature out
Speaker 3: (16:13)
This theme of helping writers help each other. You know, we're working at scale, you're working on a platform with a small team. There's only so much you can do with your own time and your own bandwidth. So really tactically speaking, what have been some of the most successful resources or activities that have helped writers help each other? What do you feel like you've tried that has really made an impact in helping these writers support each other on these entrepreneurial journeys?
Speaker 4: (16:42)
We need to figure out. So I'll caveat with that. A few ways I structurally think about it. Like one is how to, can we just increase the serendipity that two writers are gonna run into each other and want to chat or take that conversation somewhere else. So before everything got shut down and we couldn't do in person events anymore, we did run one in person event that helps facilitate that kind of serendipity, where you might be getting together to listen to someone speaker, but it's this pretense to really just be around other people and immersed in other people. And so it's been this interesting challenge of like, how do we replicate that online? So one thing I've been experimenting with has been these online workshops that we do through Crowdcast, just because you have these presenter view, but then you also have a side live chat.
Speaker 4: (17:25)
And so just like really encouraging people, they're there to watch someone speak, but they're also, you know, can talk to each other and chat and discover each other subsets and talk about similar problems. And sometimes you'll see someone and be like, email me about this, or find me here, a bunch of sub stack writer, communities that are just formed by writers themselves and have been shared on there. And that's helped seed their own communities. And then those continue to grow on their own. I think there's a temptation sometimes to say like, Oh, we're going to be the center point of this. And we're going to control the conversation or we're going to have like a sub stack writer community. That's our community run by subsect. But sometimes I think it's actually just like, we're a little bit more of the lubricant or the accelerant. We're just the excuse for people to get together the same room and find other like minded people.
Speaker 4: (18:07)
Another thing that we experimented with is doing these online discussion threads on our own sub stack. Because if you have sub-site publication, you can start a discussion thread and then people join in the comments and talk to each other. And that's also helpful because everyone's name is linked to their subsets. So you just see these great moments of people in the comments, finding each other. There's one that I remember that was like, someone was writing about old watches. And I was like, is there anyone else out there? That's like a watch writer and someone else's like, I write about watches too. And they're just like, great. You know, they both have stuff like publications about antique watches or whatever. And so just being able to make it easier for people to bump into each other and then take the conversation where they wanted to do and empower them to do that on their own. I want to ask you both about your,
Speaker 5: (18:51)
Can you share what your title is currently
Speaker 4: (18:53)
And what you're focusing on right now?
Speaker 5: (18:55)
I work on writer partnerships at sub sec. And what that basically means, I think about it in three buckets, one bucket being, just reaching out to writers who might be interested in publishing on sub stack and talking with them about what it might look like and thinking through the possibilities for getting started, think about that as writer recruiting and another bucket is redder development. That's really working with writers that are already publishing on sub stack thinking alongside them, working with them to develop editorial strategies, maybe at the moment, when they're thinking about turning subscriptions on what that launch should look like, what are the best practices for doing it and just being a sounding board for them to think through that moment. And then the third bucket being programs work. And those are things like the fellowship program that we have at to act the grant program, but essentially what are the support systems that we can put in place to help writers get to the next level with their sub stack or get more writers to start who maybe needed a little nudge to get over the fence and opportunities to do that. And just to put a pin in that
Speaker 4: (20:02)
Fellowship that you just mentioned, sub stack is offering a hundred thousand dollars to one, right?
Speaker 5: (20:07)
And then is it $25,000
Speaker 4: (20:10)
To four different writers?
Speaker 5: (20:13)
Exactly. Right. It's a hundred thousand dollars as a grant for one writer and then four fellows will receive a $25,000 advance and a $3,000 stipend. The stipend is totally no strings attached. And the $25,000 advance is essentially an upfront payment that subset will give, but the writer will in time make that back through their own subscriptions. And if they don't that they don't need to pay us back for us. But the idea is that some of this upfront capital that writer might be able to have, can really supply that peace of mind to focus on how they might get to independence to really feel like they can that sustainable
Speaker 2: (20:48)
Business model on sub stack. And so with the program and the mentorship and the coaching, and of course the capital, we hope that will encourage some writers to really think about it. And I'm excited to see what happens. I am just so impressed by the way that you guys show up with resources for writers, not just tools in the early days of Instagram, we crept back from that. We just were like, Oh, we'll help you use our platform lightly, but that's it. And there are a lot of creatives out there that need capital. The industry is hard. I'm just super impressed, by the way, you continue to do that with writers and support them. Nadia, will you share also about what you do at sub-second what you focus
Speaker 4: (21:26)
I'm focused on our writer experience. A good way to think about that on a high level is how do we help writers at scale? So serving the broad base of writers that are coming to our platform and trying to figure out how to use it and what the potential is, how that translates into the, how of achieving that is being focused on very deeply understanding what the experience is of writers even before they come to sub stack, like what are the things that they need once they're on the platform? What does that journey? And that process look like to get them in a position where they feel successful and happy and inspired by what they're doing. The two pillars that I'm mostly focused on are our editorial and our community. And so the editorial side, I spend a lot of time just looking at other writers and what they're saying about sub sec and how they talk about us to just understand what is the language that writers are using to talk and think about subsect, what is it that they need and creating resources, content, editorial interviews, to inspire and excite them and the community side, being, helping sub-sect writers find each other, connects this idea of being part of an independent writer, community, or people that are just doing something different on subset right now.
Speaker 4: (22:33)
And then also feeling like they can find us and talk to us and we are accessible and not this black box platform for them. I think about those role as being both a lot of external stuff in terms of trying to deeply understand and be immersed in the broader writer community, but then also trying to bring that perspective back internally and making sure that we all have this similar shared sense of what it means to be a writer on subject, whatever
Speaker 2: (22:57)
Have you noticed about what writers want from each other or that independent writer community? What are some of the key insights or offerings that you try to make space for for them?
Speaker 4: (23:09)
Well, it's funny. I think this is pretty similar to what I found in my time at GitHub working with open source developers. And it's probably true for a lot of creatives, but I think a lot of people are just looking for solidarity and support from other people that are going through the same thing as them. I think this is especially true with creative communities because a lot of the actual creation process is very alone. And in the end, if you're a writer, it's you and the screen, even if you're writing with other people, there's some point at which you're just by yourself trying to figure this out. There's stuff that people can learn from each other in terms of tactics. But sometimes I feel like the tactics are almost just an excuse to get together and realize I'm not the only person
Speaker 5: (23:46)
Who's trying to figure this kind of stuff out. I'm not the only person with these same sort of challenges and just be able to like feel excited and sharing each other's wins and Fiona, and these meetings that you take with writers, what do you notice about the big challenges that writers face coming into sub stack are some of the biggest things that you often have to talk to people about to help them find their way on the platform successfully? One of the recommendations that we have at sub stack for a writer, who's starting out, whether somebody is coming in with a massive audience or a small one is often to begin your newsletter as a free one and not to worry too much about subscriptions straight away. And the reason is because by basically making a newsletter that is free and beloved and has momentum behind it, the time when you do turn on paid subscriptions will be a bigger moment.
Speaker 5: (24:33)
You'll see more conversions from your free subscribers, turning into your paid ones. And so I often work with writers on what does that look like to have this free period? And how do you really create that momentum? We spend a lot of time thinking about the publishing cadence. You know what that writer's bandwidth might look like if this is the right time for them to launch another example of a challenge is what should actually go behind a paywall there's this counter-intuitive logic there, which is we find that your best writing, the most polished piece of writing. The thing that you're really proud of, the thing that maybe you worked the hardest on is actually the piece of writing that should be free, that shouldn't go behind the paywall. And that's a challenge because if you've worked really hard on it and spent a lot of time on it, there might be this feeling that you should have people pay for that.
Speaker 5: (25:18)
And I couldn't appreciate that feeling and instinct more, but we find that by making that work free, it really means that your work can be more discoverable. You can find more readers, it's essentially your best marketing tool. And so I think a lot about that. If that's the piece that's free, then what actually is going behind the paywall. And so the logic there is often that it can be more experimental. Like it's like you're writing for your true fans. When you're putting work behind a paywall, it's the insider's club. It's a place where you can be more personal or go behind the scenes a bit more. I work a lot with writers on thinking that through. It's always a challenge, but it's a fun one.
Speaker 3: (25:52)
That's an interesting recommendation. The specific one around how the thing you're most proud of that you're writing, shouldn't be what is paid for. It should be shown up for free. How did you and your team learn that? Is there a process to continue excavating these types of learnings to then reflect them back towards the community?
Speaker 5: (26:10)
We definitely got a lot of inspiration from Ben Thompson, stir tech remodel, having something free that goes out each week and having that be a tool to gain readers and find readers, newcomers people who might not have heard of you before. And then the other part actually just comes from watching writers, do this and seeing the success in it from working with writers again and again, on subsect so far, I've seen it myself that sometimes even just having the ability to experiment with your paywall a bit more and feeling that you're in control and you get to decide and to really try to play with it and learn as you go is a piece of advice I often give and I think tends to work well. And in terms of how you get this to the broader community, Adia has been thinking a lot about that and creating some of the resources on our blog and putting these learnings in place and trying to create that knowledge base. Yeah. There are a lot of things that we learn by spending a lot of time deeply with like one writer or observing with a couple of writers and then starting to see like, okay, does this advice hold for like a broader and broader group of people? And then as we're learning those things internally, then we can codify them into resources that we can share with other people. That's a big part of what we need to do with the content that we create.
Speaker 3: (27:20)
I think when you are working at the headquarters and have visibility into the time to observe, there's an opportunity to see what works and there's a responsibility to see if that holds true and then the chance to codify and create that into resources to better disseminate that out. But it requires a noticing and nurturing feedback loop.
Speaker 5: (27:42)
Yes, absolutely. How do you describe the writers that really see the value in a tool like sub stack? Are there any traits or adjectives that you would use to describe the folks that have a really good product market fit for what you're building? There are so many different kinds of writers on subsets. So I know in this answer, I'm not going to do it justice here, but what comes to mind for me is that writers who are often fairly prolific work quite well. They're thinking a lot about that publishing cadence, this ability to post once a week, once every other week, but they're able to hold that consistency and in doing so, build that relationship directly with readers. In other words, that our reader would be able to look forward to the fact that this is the thing that enters my inbox every Monday or every other Monday or whatever the cadence might be.
Speaker 5: (28:34)
And I think that writers who think really early on about that on the other side of this, a reader is choosing to invite them into their inbox and have that direct access and relationship and connection with the person. Those are the writers that often have really big opportunities and are doing quite well with the publishing model. Yeah, that's exactly what came to mind for me. One, just being the consistency and willingness to stick with it, there definitely a lot of people that come in enthusiastic and intending to write every day and then just fall off the radar. It sounds really obvious and trivial, but just showing up and writing regularly at whatever cadence you said he would write up is a good recipe for success. And then the other thing is soap sec is a place for thoughtful long form writing. And it's kind of hard to generalize on that because people do write about such different topics and have such different styles, but it is a place that rewards deeper thought and reflection. So I think the bar is higher for what that quality looks like because you are asking people ideally to subscribe to what you're writing, if they'd like it. And so you really want to respect their time. One of the big things that I spent time on in the earlier days of Instagram was crawl through platform and
Speaker 2: (29:42)
Look for people who were exceeding the status quo in the quality or interestingness of their perspective. And from our experience, just number of followers or number of likes, wasn't always a great sign for interestingness or educational value. We wanted to elevate certain users to demonstrate what was possible on the platform and open people's minds about what you could do on Instagram. How do you approach looking through the thousands and thousands of people that are using sub stack and pinpointing ones that are really interesting or that you might want to feature or learn from?
Speaker 4: (30:23)
Oh my gosh. Yeah. I have so many different docs. Every time I'm finding things that are interesting. I categorize them. If you had to started a Slack channel where we're just sharing some stacks to watch, and if we find something interesting, it's just a way to have this scrolling ticker of what's possible. Something that we are focusing on now is when we do find these interesting people that we are stumbling upon, what does it mean to elevate them and give them a bit of a platform since we are also a young platform ourselves, we have different channels of what it would mean to give someone extra elevation or just highlight them in some way. One has gone our website. We sometimes feature publications on our homepage. We shared out interesting sub sometimes on Twitter. I started doing a podcast where one of my goals was to feature some of the lesser known voices or just emerging interesting writers and not just the biggest names that everybody knows. So that's been just really fun to dive into some of these stories. So just trying to build out this landscape of what does it mean for us to be able to give someone a platform and amplify their voices? It's still something we're figuring out.
Speaker 2: (31:24)
Yeah. And I would say from the conversations Fiona we've had, there's a difference between featuring someone's beautiful photos and featuring writing. There are more things to take into consideration as a platform, choosing who to feature. A lot of things that are written are in some way, political, or maybe more controversial than a photograph of something beautiful. Would you mind talking about some of the things that you try to keep in mind are some of the things you're weighing about how to do that thing?
Speaker 4: (31:52)
It's something that we hold strongly internally in terms of just our own culture at subsect and also want to project out into the world, is that not everyone at subsect has the same views and we have disagree about things all the time. And we see that as a good thing to have this healthy discourse and engagement and topics, and actively not try to overly homogenize in any one direction or another. We really value that subject is a place for having a lot of different points of view and interests and topics that are being covered on the platform. When you think about stuff that we're trying to feature, we are thinking about how do we share stuff that people can feel connected to regardless of what their background is. And so that does maybe skew towards this higher meta concept of just interesting creative minds. The stuff that I want to share out that will get people excited or things where people are like, huh, that person's really interesting, or, wow. I can't believe someone writes us upset about that. So to me, it's transcends any of these more polarizing differences, but it is definitely a balance that we have to find.
Speaker 5: (32:55)
One addition is because we're a young company and a small team and new in the world relatively to other things. We're also trying to highlight and show examples of what's possible with the model in general. And that also just means different themes. So for instance, that there are music writers that are emerging on sub stack and sharing original music that there's a lot of sports writing happening on sub stack, even though sports isn't really happening in the world right now, or at least in the U S in the same way it was before COVID. And so that audience can find a writer that they love, or a team that they love and the fandom around it and connect directly with it. We just want to be able to show that this is happening and this is possible. And so that some of the people that are pioneers in the space to help elevate them and just to use it as a way for discovery, but also inspiration for people who might want to get started and do something similar.
Speaker 2: (33:49)
I really liked that insight. I remember thinking something similar in the early days at Instagram, which I keep referencing. So please forgive me audience for being an O G over here. But I remember one user that we saw was air and air force reserve, whose job was to refuel airplanes like at thousands and thousands of feet in the air. And he would actually stick his hand out through the airplane wall and hold on to the boom as this boom would take oil to hold the boom steady and make sure it actually attached to the fighter jets and from the window where he laid to see if the boom in his hand was actually connecting. He took photos. And I remember thinking that there was nowhere else in the world that you could see that photo, no one would publish that photo, like a major AP or news story wouldn't and you wouldn't be able to pinpoint that person.
Speaker 2: (34:40)
It was like so specific to mobile photography into this platform. And I feel like there's something about the specificity of the topics that make sense financially on sub stack, but don't make sense in many other business models or other places where people right, that help communicate what's possible because of this new platform that you're building. Both of you have really remarkable backgrounds. Nadia, you've done so much with the opensource community and are writing a book about that. And we will give the information at the end of this episode for everyone to learn about it. Fiona, you've worked with firsthand authors for much of your life, and also at Instagram with a lot of creators. Are there any principles or insights that you learned foundationally in your work that really hold true also in this space?
Speaker 4: (35:29)
Oh my gosh. So many, some of it is just from developers specifically, but I think about my time with opensource developers basically every day, it feels like it feeds into my work a lot. The first thing that came to mind is just this idea of helping people at scale opensource developers have to deal with a lot of inbound from strangers all over the world and a very high volume of interactions. And that's really helped me understand how to help communities at scale as well. So when you're a platform and you have lots and lots of writers, readers, people that just need something from you all the time, how do you actually manage that in a way that is sustainable? And so that's definitely informed my interest in documentation and codifying information into resources and this idea of how do we help writers help themselves when we can't always get on the phone with every single person, even though I would absolutely love to, but at some point it's just not possible. And so what are different ways that we can help people help themselves help each other before we get to the point where we need to have some higher touch interactions? Why
Speaker 5: (36:29)
Thing that I think a lot about is with my time at Instagram, the people using Instagram, there's so many people in the world and the team of people that work at Instagram is much, much smaller. And so how do you do the work? How do you serve as many people and still make it meaningful and feel like you can have that personal connection and really understand the way that communities and sub-communities in each communities are forming. So I think a lot about that at subsect too. We're a small team and there are already thousands and thousands of writers on the platform. How can we make sure to have the one on one connections and the in person time when that's possible, or at least the video or phone time, but how do we scale it out to I've thought a lot about that. And I think from my time in book publishing, I was a publicist for much of that time, working at different publishing houses.
Speaker 5: (37:17)
And one of the scariest times, at least that I found working with writers is the moment right before you publish the book. Nadia is in that moment right now, it's terrifying and I haven't done it, but I have stood by so many writers right before that moment comes. And I think something that you've worked on for a long time or ideas that you've mulled over for a long time, and then you go out and share it with the world. It's incredibly important to feel confident in what you're doing and to find your audience in doing so. And I think that's very true at sub stack as well. Any of the tools or tips that I have working with writers before they launch on sub stack or before they introduced paid subscriptions and asked for money for the first time, these are hard. It's a challenge you're writing, but then all of a sudden you're also an entrepreneur. Also you're a business person. And what are the tools? What are the muscles? I think a lot about how we can continue to work one on one with writers in that way, but also just get that knowledge base, share it with each other so that writers can support each other in a really successful way.
Speaker 4: (38:18)
What are some of the things that are your focus at subsect right now, or the challenges you're facing? What is on the team's mind at the moment?
Speaker 5: (38:27)
One is growing the team. We have a bunch of open roles at stack right now, and we're thinking a lot about what are the muscles that we need to out this team, but how do we stay nimble and stay creative and feel like we can still have a way of working with each other and collaborate each other with a team that enables us to move really quickly because we have big ambitions and we're excited about what's next. It's a challenge to figure out how fast to grow the team and how many people that team should be
Speaker 2: (38:53)
The exciting phase to be in a privilege. I think all of us have worked at companies that are fast growing companies, like even later down the road, but a lot of companies don't get to this space of being able to grow. It's a hard challenge, but privileged one in many ways, Nadia what's on your mind.
Speaker 4: (39:09)
Oh God, exactly the same thing constantly thinking about how do we grow our capacity? How do we add people to our team and people that are as excited about subsect mission as we are, and figure out how we all work together too.
Speaker 2: (39:23)
I'm curious if there is a writer or user an experience that you've had that really brings to life, your reason for working at sub stack. Is there a story you can share with us about someone that really pulled at your heartstrings or an experience you had? That's really struck you.
Speaker 5: (39:39)
One writer who is publishing on sub stack is a woman named Nadia Bolz Weber. She writes sub that's called the corners, and she is in our day into Lutheran pastor and has written several books and create sermons and has a pretty prominent following on Facebook. She's all of these different channels where she's reached audiences. And she started writing on sub stack and really created this feeling of a community where all of those people who had been following her or interested in her work, or maybe were newcomers to her work suddenly had the opportunity to find each other. And she frequently hosts discussion threads. She's the facilitator of a conversation that might be about presence. It might be about how's everyone doing right now during the pandemic, but more than anything, I see it as a place where leaders are finding each other. And I feel really inspired by what she's been able to do to bring all of those people who love her work into one place and then give people the opportunity to find each other. It's just been an amazing thing to watch. And it gets me excited about what other communities might be able to form and what people might be able to find each other when they love, when they love the work of one writer,
Speaker 4: (41:00)
People that come to mind. When I think about stories, come from my own experience, just being a weirdo, blogger myself, and then following and knowing a bunch of other weirdo bloggers that are just strange Twitter types that don't really know how to further define them. But one of them in particular, Bern, Hobart was writing on a medium. When I first discovered him and I found out about him because a friend of mine was really, really obsessed with his writing and shared something with me. And then I became really, really obsessed with his writing. And we sort of know each other, but not really. I just mostly just like obsessed with he follow the stuff he does and actually mentioned to Hamish when I was interviewing subsect and then Hamish ended up reaching out to Bern and encouraging him to come to sub stack. So it's just been cool to see this progression of someone that I really respect as a writer.
Speaker 4: (41:43)
And it was so self-made in so many ways, like he never finished college and dropped out and went and worked at like a top hedge fund is just obsessive about finance and a lot of other topics. But I just have a lot of respect for his self directed path. It's like exactly the type of person that I want to see succeed on sub stack. So seeing him come over and really invest in doing this newsletter and the progression from I'm just going to link to my blog posts that are on another platform to, okay, I'm going to start writing on subsect natively. And then he came to the event that we did in February in New York. And we didn't really even interact much, but I think within like a week after that event, he then announced that he was launching paid subscriptions and has been doing really, really well and has actually just done a lot of really interesting and creative things with his paid subscriber base that are just really cool examples of people using subs that I share out with other people.
Speaker 4: (42:31)
And so it's just been very rewarding to see how this platform can take someone. Who's a really amazing writer and blogger and especially amplify the stuff they do and allow them to have this complete creative freedom and independence to write about what they wanna write about. Yeah. To bring them not only closer to their audience and the audience to each other, but also to pay them like that's awesome. I mean, it's just amazing to do both of those things. I think the internet often promises you only one of those, if you're not a coder and it's so neat to do both, if you want to learn more about [inaudible] dot com, you can also find Fiona on Twitter at F P Monga, M O N G a and vine Nadia online at N a Y a F I a at Naya also grab a copy of her new book, working in public, the making and maintenance of open source software.
Speaker 4: (43:24)
It's the latest publication from Stripe press. That's our publisher to special, thanks to our team. Shout out to magazine for editing Greg David for his design work, Katie O'Connell for help with marketing and wild sound for sound engineering. You can find out more about the work Kevin Kai and I do. As people in company, helping organizations get clear on who their most important communities are and how to build something remarkable with those people. By heading to our website people and.company. Also, if you want to start your own community or supercharge one, you're already a part of our handbook is KFR visit. Get together book.com to grab a coffee it's full of stories and learnings from conversations with community leaders like this one with Fiona and Nadia and final thing. If you enjoyed this episode, please review us or consider subscribing. It helps our episodes get out to more people curious about this for thank you. Talk to y'all