How we grew Demand Curve to 62k subscribers
I’m feeling nostalgic as 2022 comes to a close and after hitting send on the 100th edition of our Growth Newsletter.
I want to tell the story of how my startup, Demand Curve, has grown to:
62k newsletter subscribers.
Two 7-figure bootstrapped businesses.
Have worked with companies like Microsoft, Ancestry, Segment, Techcrunch, Pilot, Tumblr, and many more.
Launched courses with partners like Sahil Bloom and Katelyn Bourgoin.
It’s incredibly surreal.
In the beginning
6 years ago, I started an agency called Bell Curve with my friend, Julian Shapiro.
(Note: we called it that because Julian already owned the domains bellcurve.com and demandcurve.com. Basically the only reason.)
We wanted to build a boutique agency and lifestyle business.
We never intended to build an audience or become known. We just wanted:
To work remotely (he lived in SF, and I was still a digital nomad)
on cool projects/with cool people
while learning new skills
and having fun
while funding our modest lifestyles.
No desire for large teams, big exits, or 100-hour weeks.
Most of that hasn’t changed. But I can’t believe how it’s all evolved.
What problem were we solving?
Back in 2016, growth marketing was the hottest new kid on the block. Everyone wanted it, no one really knew what it meant or how to do it.
Brand marketing was for losers. Growth & performance marketing was everything.
Fun aside: Now the trend is reversing. Performance marketing is for near-sighted people. Building a cool brand is the hottest new kid on the block.
Julian and I are both programmers turned marketers. It made us perfectly positioned to be data-driven growth marketers.
So we sold ourselves as the bolt-on growth team for startups. We developed their acquisition strategies. We overhauled and rebuilt their funnels (from landing pages and emails to onboarding).
We got our initial clients from Julian’s network in San Francisco, and because he devoted half of his time to creating his famous Growth Guide.
Being a bolt-on growth team is not particularly sustainable. Rightfully so, the client expects you to do everything.
The people who need the most growth help can’t afford it, and their needs are constantly evolving as their product, market, brand, channels, team… EVERYTHING is changing daily.
Having an excellent piece of content (the Growth Guide) that taught people and built trust was an excellent way to attract and warm up leads early on.
When you try to drop an early-stage client, they’ll often ask: “Can you please teach us what we need to know before you leave?”
If you do great work, people talk about you and recommend you to others.
We grew essentially from word of mouth and the growth guide. That’s it.
We did that for about two years.
Enter Demand Curve
After noticing this trend with our early-stage clients, we decided to create Demand Curve to help people through that brutal early stage period, where you:
Don’t know what you’re doing.
Can’t work with outside help.
Don’t have much budget.
We converted and expanded all of our internal training documentation into a course that walked founders through everything we’d do with a client in the first few months.
That course is what we call the Growth Program today.
I’ll skip past the full product journey.
Let’s dive into the meat of why you’re here:
How we’ve grown
Our growth strategy for Demand Curve has always been rather simple.
“Give more than you take.”
We’ve often been told that our free offerings are the best part of Demand Curve. That could mean that we under-monetize, but to me, it means that we’ve been building a ton of brand equity and trust.
Here’s a list of all the free things we offer:
Newsletter – 100 issues of sending 3 unique growth tactics per week.
Slack community of 10k+ members.
Dozens of webinars + community events.
Growth Summit – our annual marketing conference.
Playbooks – deep-dive guides on marketing topics.
Inspiration gallery – 20k+ images from across the top YC and CrunchBase companies’ landing pages and Facebook ads.
Julian’s Growth Guide.
As a result, our largest source of growth is…
Word of mouth
That’s right. It’s not ads. It’s not SEO. It’s not affiliates. Or social media.
It’s just people telling other people about us.
A lot of our traffic is direct or branded search terms.
We’ve put a lot of focus into creating useful stuff, and hope that it’s so useful that people feel compelled to tell others about it.
Whether it’s people recommending our community, our newsletter, content, etc.
Word of mouth accounts for the vast majority of our subscribers and our revenue.
Note this is also how Bell Curve grows. People like Demand Curve’s free content, and eventually trust us enough to want us to do the work for them. Nearly all of BC’s leads come that way.
Let’s touch on some of the secondary ways we grow our newsletter subscribers:
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