The best open source software projects, like a well-run society, are as transparent as possible. Public access is the default. Very few things are private. This means documentation, reporting, numbers, and debates are all open. Good decisions require all the facts.
We adopt the same approach at Console. This means we share everything internally, from key stats like revenue to discussing ideas and problems.
However, there are some limits. Where we are not the sole stakeholder, we default to private. For example, personal issues relating to our team would be private. Being transparent helps build trust, but that trust also means using discretion.
We also want to share our progress publicly, and this blog post is the start of that. Every month I will share how things are going as we build Console.
The first Console newsletter went out on 24 Dec 2020. We ran through our full editorial process and composed the email as if we had real subscribers, but it was only sent internally. This allowed us to test all our processes.
We created a checklist of key items to verify before each email is sent. This covers things like checking the links, verifying open-tracking is disabled and that the email renders correctly. Two of us independently run through this before the message is sent. We've made a copy public if you want to use it yourself.
We sent another newsletter the following week - 31 Dec 2020 - to do a final internal test before the first public version.
Holding page & friend subscribers
The website holding page went live at the end of December 2020. Using the new.css theme it provided a short description and a way to subscribe. We manually contacted around 20 of our techie friends that we thought might be interested in receiving the newsletter and in early Jan 2021, we had our first subscribers.
We also set up our social media accounts and I quietly updated my various profiles (Twitter, blog, GitHub, etc) to include links to Console.
The first public edition of the Console newsletter went out on 7 Jan 2021 to 44 subscribers. Almost half of these were organic signups who had stumbled upon the website and were curious about what we were building. Some people had spotted my profile changes, found the site and subscribed!
We wanted to have a proper website before we started to promote the newsletter. The initial version of the website was ready on 19 Jan 2021 but it was not yet responsive and was missing a few graphical finishing touches like a favicon. We waited until these were finished a few days later before we were happy to start telling more people. Our audience is made up of experienced developers which often means you only get one chance to impress!
In the meantime we had been writing some blog posts behind a password protected Ghost instance. The website and blog both went live on 23 Jan 2021.
We have now sent out 4 Console newsletters. Our editorial selection happens on a Wednesday and emails get sent out on Thursday mornings (UK time).
We're also publishing a new blog post every week. These are about what we're doing internally, behind the scenes at Console. Our post last week - Porting a serverless chatbot from Python to Rust - was included in This Week in Rust which helped bring over 1,000 visitors to the blog and several new subscribers.
At my old company, regularly writing about how we were doing things - particularly technical challenges - was one of the most effective ways of spreading the word. We intend to the do the same thing at Console. It takes a long time to build up traffic from search and referrals, but writing things people actually want to read is the best way to create a long-lasting brand.
Sharing within my network
With the website live, I made the announcement that I was working on Console full time to my network on LinkedIn, Twitter, and my blog.
The response on Twitter was minimal, resulting in just a few subscribers. My blog performed better and has been a consistent source of a few new subscribers per day since I added the link at the beginning of Jan.
LinkedIn was another matter. I used three status updates to maximise reach: a text post with the link to the website, an automated update from my blog post the following day, then I announced a job change the day after. These three updates resulted in almost 3,000 feed impressions, 50+ likes, and over 50 new subscribers.
Our short term key metric is "number of subscribers", but this will very quickly be joined by "retention". In the long-run, number of subscribers is not the most important metric. We are only successful if our subscribers find the newsletter interesting.
As we have just launched we have no idea which channels are going to work best. This means running a lot of experiments to see how much traffic they generate, how many visitors subscribe, and whether they find the newsletter useful.
We have started running test ads on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook. Each platform is very different so we are experimenting with keywords, audience, and ad text. Our goal is to find a strategy that can run in the background to help us find a baseline of regular traffic at a reasonable cost per subscriber.
Focus for February
In February our primary goal is to grow the number of subscribers. We will continue our paid marketing experiments and start analysing retention.
Paid ads are just one component of our marketing strategy which will also include longer form articles and research. We are still working on these and hope to release the first in March. The groundwork (writing, coding, website building) for that will be happening in February.
We are also working on a more customized version of the blog theme, the "about" page for the website (which currently links to a blog post), and our own template design for the email newsletter.