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Nick Ang

What I learned asking 120 people about my writing

About a week ago I sent out a letter to my subscribers asking them to tell me one question: Why are you subscribed?

I wanted to find out what kind of people were on the receiving end of my nascent personal newsletter:

  • What drew them to subscribe?
  • What did they like so far from reading the newsletter and blog?
  • What did they dislike?
  • Who are they?

I learned several things, so I thought I’d write them for sharing, in case you’re ever in a similar situation wondering what the hell you’re doing with a newsletter.

Everything is a funnel

I sent the email to 120 subscribers, of which 80 opened, and 6 replied. A funnel!

This supports something I read recently about the 1% rule, which says that in any internet community, 1% of people will create, 9% will contribute, and 90% will lurk.

In the case of my newsletter community, I’m part of the 1% creating the blog posts and newsletters. The 6 people who responded are in the 9%. And the rest form the 90%.

Actual stats? 6 replies out of 80 opens equates to 7.5%, which is in the ballpark of the 9% contribution figure. Claim supported.

(I first read it in Sahil Lavingia’s The Minimalist Entrepreneur, in the chapter where he laid out how to leverage internet communities that you belong in to find an interesting problem to build a minimalist business to solve.)

The learning here is mostly “this reinforced my perspective that everything is a funnel, so put in more at the top.”

If you want to know, ask

The second thing I learned is that we live in an incredible time where if you wanted to know something, the only thing standing in your way to getting an answer (or many answers) is to ask.

The internet and the ubiquity of personal email addresses have made this feedback channel entirely cost- and hassle-free. All one needs is to find the courage and ask.

Courage is in short supply, though. I hesitated a while before sending that vulnerable newsletter, leaving the draft to ferment overnight. I almost didn’t send it, but I’m very glad that I did.

Had I not sent that newsletter out describing how blind I was about who was there enjoying which things I wrote, I would still not know. If you want to know something, just ask!

People read this blog because they connect with me (and maybe it’s true of yours, too)

This is an insight I uncovered from talking to the few people who replied (and I haven’t even responded to everyone who replied, so who knows what other insights may spring up). Most people said something to the effect of “I read the stuff you write because I know/feel like I know you personally.”

I laughed to myself in the face of this insight. It’s really obvious now that I’ve heard it. People read what I write because we are, at some level, connecting. It’s about shared interests, like in our case, communicating well, technology, leadership, and tools for thought.

You know what I thought initially? I thought people read my stuff because I was helpful. But as one friend who replied to the newsletter put it:

… “help” needs to be seen in the context of an existing need.

You can only know that need if you know your audience and their context, then you can decide how to deploy your knowledge and perspective in a way that is meaningful to them. Otherwise, the “help” you give may not be very helpful to the receiver.

Since I had no idea about the audience I’m writing for — hence the vulnerable letter — it means that I correspondingly have no idea who I think I have been “helpful” to. So if I were helpful to anyone, it has always been incidental.

What I know is this: all along I’d only been writing about things that I found interesting. The only other requirement I imposed on myself was to put in the effort to let others who may like the same things stumble on and enjoy reading my perspective about those things.

And guess what? This approach has managed to attract 120 like-minded people from around the world to my mailing list, which I only started at the beginning of 2021. You may not think it, but 120 real people who put their email addresses down is a big number to me. It means something!

Right, so the thing I learned here is that people read you because of you.

Two rules for fearless writing

Now that I know that people read my blog because it’s written by me (wow, that sounded strangely grandiose yet intimate), I feel licensed to write whatever I want.

To be honest, with this experiment behind me, I feel like that kid at university again who wrote thinking nobody was reading him; except this time, I know some people are reading me and yet it matters very little as long as I keep to two basic rules:

  1. Write what I’m interested in.
  2. Try and write something that is fun to read.

Number 1 keeps “me” in the writing. Number 2 makes reading “me” enjoyable. Boom. This should be added to Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life!


If you ever have feedback for me, send me an email.

Thank you Jonathan, Sébastien, Masha, Kaiying, Flince, and Judy for replying to my email!


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