We sat down with Austin to dive into how to build a modern media company, covering:
- Morning Brew’s key growth levers and ongoing arbitrage opportunities
- Flows behind how his team tests and validates new content verticals
- How he turned a daily newsletter into an omnichannel media engine
“Disco is a no-brainer. It’s one of the quickest investments I’ve ever made, mainly because we’re in one of the greatest headwinds in DTC history since 2000.”
Morning Brew’s Core Growth Channels
Since 2015, Morning Brew has been propelled from a startup run by college students to a staple newsletter in the inboxes of countless execs, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
Austin summarizes the channel mix that enabled this as threefold:
- Word of mouth — Primarily driven by their referral program, which remains a significant method for user discovery for the company
- Paid channels — More specifically, Austin highlights:
- Instagram — As one of the first 100 or so advertisers on Stories, Morning Brew could leverage the channel for massive early growth. According to Austin, their first day saw subscriber acquisitions for the cost of three pennies.
- TikTok — As paid acquisition remains a major tactic for Morning Brew, Austin admits TikTok is worth the industry hype and could be a huge “grand slam.”
- Cross-promotion & advertising — Since their earliest days, Morning Brew bought ads in other newsletters, which continue to generate some of their highest-LTV acquisitions.
As for how his team gauges metrics attached to these channels, Austin explains that Morning Brew places less emphasis on CPA (or cost per subscriber).
Rather, the KPI that’s the name of the game is cost per high-quality subscriber. For instance:
- The Morning Brew team found strong correlations between readers who show high open rates early on in their subscriptions and readers who go on to remain engaged.
- This approach soon became a game-changer in directing cross-promotional efforts.
- By running ads in other newsletters, Morning Brew categorically reaches habitual newsletter readers and drives high-quality new subscribers in the door.
Although CPAs run higher when buying a newsletter ad, those upfront costs for acquiring readers who become high-LTV subscribers are more than a fair tradeoff.
“Growth marketing is manual grunt work. It’s honestly a grind. But arriving early to a platform — for us, that was Instagram Stories — is huge. In the year that Insta launched their ad product, we went from 100,000 to 1 million in readership.”
User Testing & Validation Methods
In terms of growth, Morning Brew has also steadily expanded from its singular newsletter product to something of a media behemoth — encompassing email-based editorial, podcasts, accelerator courses, and merchandise lines.
Austin takes us through a couple of the team’s processes for testing and validating category expansions with their user base.
For Morning Brew’s newsletters catering to industry operators — these are closest to their original daily product, including Retail Brew, Marketing Brew, and Emerging Tech Brew — Austin outlines their rubric that’s been finely tuned over time. Fundamental questions include:
- Is there enough content to cover that won’t lose steam over time and drain resources?
- Is the industry at hand evolving enough that people need to stay on the cutting edge?
- Are there enough folks in the industry who would read an ad-based publication?
- Even more: Are there generally enough advertisers in the space?
Podcasts & Original Content
On the podcast front, as Austin tells it, the Morning Brew team seeks out individuals who generate active user engagement through inimitable creative takes on the industry.
They’ll then only bring on a creator after they’ve tested well with existing readers and listeners.
Austin summarizes Morning Brew’s creative criteria into 2 questions: do people care what this creator is saying, and do we see signs of something that’ll become much bigger with time?
“You have to test to amplify what works and shut down what doesn’t. But Morning Brew also has something we strongly believe in bringing to the world. So sometimes — just build for your vision and see if the audience will come.”