Case Study: How The Hustle Built An Email Newsletter Audience

In 2016, a team of hustlers started an event called Hustle Con, for nontechnical entrepreneurs in the San Francisco area. Then they created a newsletter.

That newsletter is now a business unto itself. The firm sends six issues of The Hustleper week — five weekday editions and a special issue on Sunday. It has 900,000 subscribers — “the makers, builders and doers of society — people interested in shaking things up,” says John Necef, head of growth for The Hustle.

Those readers have doubled in number in the past year, and now generate an open rate of 40%. And why wouldn’t they? The newsletter features graphics, sub-heads and irreverent copy on business. One recent story, on “heritage” chickens, ends: “Cluck Off, Whole Foods.” The Sunday issue, started earlier this year, is devoted to longer-form journalism.

How does The Hustle monetize this growing success? Ads in the newsletter — though with one key difference from other e-letters.

“We write all of the ads ourselves,” Necef says. “From the end-user perspective, the ads are so intimate and informative, you can’t tell the difference.”

The newsletter may be just the beginning of a larger enterprise. On the table are ideas for paid subscriptions, products to help people get better jobs, industry research offerings and an AARP-type community for a younger generation. There may be other events: the company already has a conference for women called 2X.

Like any email startup, though, The Hustle had to deal with aggravating issues like deliverability.

“There are certain email vendors that are good for getting something up and running, but you reach a point where they can’t handle the nuances of deliverability and control — life or death for us,” Necef says. “We want to have the same open rates at 5 million that we have at 1 million.”

Also, a brand could end up with a shared IP address with some vendors, causing its deliverability to suffer.

After some false starts, The Hustle signed on with SendGrid. First, SendGrid provides a dedicated IP address. It is also able to scale — no small thing when a list grows by 525% during the migration.  

“SendGrid has a high-quality API, that we were able to plug into directly, which gives us a lot of control, from how we send our email, what time cadence, over what period of time,” Necef says.

His team also has “access to raw data related to the email that it is difficult to get from other vendors. We’re able to be more sophisticated in our understanding of how the email is performing and make better decisions.” 

The result of this arrangement: The newsletter now has a consistent inbox delivery rate of over 99%. In addition, the unique open rate has increased by 18%. Plus, The Hustle saw a 46% increase in its advertising CPM.

Why is email the chosen delivery vehicle?  “On news websites, readers have to take the action of going to the site and clicking on, whereas email comes to them,” Necef concludes. “And retention rates are unbelievably high.” 

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