Help Me Help You Help Me

The Not Boring Referral Program, plus POTW, Links & Listens, and Books, are back!

Welcome to the 567 newly Not Boring people who have joined us since last Thursday! If you’re reading this but haven’t subscribed, join 4,621 smart, curious folks by subscribing here!

🎧 If you prefer listening to reading, you can listen here: Help Me Help You Help Me (Audio)


Hi friends 👋, 

Happy Thursday! I’ve come to love Thursdays - they’re a chance to highlight excellent writers, play with new formats, and, like today, experiment and learn in public. 

One of the recurring themes at the heart of Not Boring is that the internet makes this weird thing happen: you can make money by being really, really big (aggregators) or really, really small (individuals). 

On Mondays, I typically write about the really, really big companies. Over the past two weeks, I’ve written about Zillow, Airbnb, and Snap. Those companies, along with Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, Spotify, Shopify, Slack, Zoom, Uber, and the other established and emerging tech giants are important to understand. They set the stage for what happens in tech, and increasingly, tech sets the stage for the business landscape more broadly. 

I’m using some Thursdays to write about the absolute other end of the spectrum - this small but mighty, 4,621-person strong, $0 revenue newsletter. 

Not everyone loves the inside look! When I sent the post about building a landing page and launching on Product Hunt a couple weeks ago, I got this reply within minutes: 

jesus christ... i want news not the declaration of independence... one more email like this and im unsubbing

Sorry to see you go, man! 👋

For everyone else, I write about what I’m doing to grow and improve Not Boring for a few reasons: 

  1. I’m learning about all of this myself, and it’s helpful to write it down as I go.

  2. It’s far more likely that many of you will start a Passion Economy business like a newsletter, podcast, small software product, or ecommerce store than the next great aggregator. (Although I’m certain a NB reader will do that, too.) 

  3. It’s useful to break things down to a very small level to understand them. “Digital marketing” sounds like a big, hairy thing. “I launched a landing page and referrals and here are five quick steps” is much easier to get your arms around. 

  4. I am a huge proponent of learning in public. It demystifies the process, is excellent for accountability, and we can all laugh at me when things don’t work.

Which brings us to today’s experiment! Thus far, I’ve been asking you to share Not Boring out of the kindness of your heart. Today, we’re launching a way for you to take credit (and prizes) for helping Not Boring grow.

The Not Boring Referral Program

Here’s the TL;DR: 

Each  of you  will  get  an email saying you’ve been added to the Not Boring referral  program and provided with your very own unique link. Just share that link with your smartest friends, family, and colleagues. When they sign up using your link, you’ll get another check on the leaderboard. 

  • Once you get to 10, you are “Verified Not Boring” and you’ll get a shoutout in the newsletter with your name, and if you’d like, a link to your company. Once there are 250 Verified Not Boring readers, we’ll launch something exclusive for that group!

  • At 20, you’ll get three (3) Not Boring laptop stickers, a near-literal stamp of Not Boringness.

  • At 30, you’ll receive a custom Not Boring t-shirt. I tried to design this myself, and it wasn’t pretty. Luckily, a reader who runs a branding and design agency in NYC offered to help. The only way to get it is through the referral program. 

Here’s the longer version:

We are launching a Not Boring Referral Program to acknowledge all of you for sharing, and to encourage you to keep telling your friends! Not Boring is only growing because you have been spreading the word, and we want to make it easier and more rewarding for you to do that.

Substack doesn’t make it easy to launch a referral program, but just like with the landing page, we found a workaround. In fact, part of the reason we launched the landing page in the first place was to enable us to build the referral program.

The Why

Newsletter writers try all sorts of things to grow, but this three-step process feels most aligned with Not Boring - not growth hacky, not spammy, all in this together:

  1. Write good content consistently.

  2. Word of mouth

  3. Launch referral program.

Referral programs work by aligning the incentives of readers and writers, and the biggest newsletters rely on them to grow. Morning Brew generates well over 1,000 subscribers a day from its referral program, which accounts for 35% of net new sign ups. The Skimm gets 20% of its subscribers via referral. The Hustle’s referral program drove more than 70,000 subscribers by April 2018 (and is likely well over 100k now). 

We’ll get there one day, but that’s not what it’s about for now. I’m most excited about the referral program because:

  • People trust you saying good things about Not Boring more than they trust me promoting my own newsletter.

  • I want to recognize and celebrate those of you who put your time and social capital on the line to share what I’m writing.

  • I love leaderboards and I love testing things - I’m giddy to see how this works. 

  • We have an awesome little community starting here, and this is the first small step towards making our community more tangible and real. 

  • We are so close to that 5k goal thanks to everyone here - and I would love to get there today! Then it’s onwards and upwards 🚀

The How

As with the landing page, we can’t build a referral program directly into Substack, so we had to get creative. Luckily, there are really smart, talented people who read Not Boring and are down to help it grow. 

Tommy Gamba is working on Not Boring with me and has spearheaded the referral program, from conception to execution. Tommy identified a tool called Growsurf to run the program, helped think through the tiers, and even set up the automated emails that you’ll all be getting with your unique referral codes. He tried to tie Growsurf in with our Landen landing page, but the two don’t play well together, so we decided to build the referral page on Webflow. For that, we needed to bring in a pro. 

James McNab is a super-talented product designer, coder, and no-coder. Last week on Twitter, I saw a project that he whipped up in a couple of hours and asked James if he would be down to help us with the referral page. The animations, clean look, and usability of that page are all James. (Check out more of his work here.) 

The result of Tommy and James’ amazing work is this referral program and landing page that we whipped up in a few days. 

(Obviously, if there are any issues, blame Tommy and James, not me 😜)

The What

So here’s how the referral program works: if you share Not Boring and the people you share with sign up, you get cool things. 

We’re going to keep the program simple for now and expand it over time. I’m bankrolling this out of my own pocket, so no trips to Hawaii or Teslas… yet 😎 We have three milestones:

  1. 10 referrals: we’ll verify that you’re Not Boring plus include a shoutout in the newsletter for you (and a link to your company, if you’d like).

  2. 20 referrals: you’ll get three Not Boring stickers to stick on your laptop, face, pets, wherever!

  3. 30 referrals is a big one: a custom Not Boring t-shirt designed by our very own Adam Chaloeicheep. (The t-shirt in the image above is a placeholder; the one you’ll receive is so fresh that it’s still in the oven). You can’t buy this T; it’s only available to people who get 30 or more of their smartest friends to subscribe.

If the program is working, we’ll keep expanding it. Once 250 people have been Verified (10+ referrals), we’re going to unlock some community features, and there may even be a special prize for the person who has the most referrals at the end of July… 👀

From now on, when I ask you to share, I’ll have something tangible to give you in return. You’ll be receiving your unique Not Boring referral link in the mail shortly. If everyone here sends that link to just their smartest friend, we can double the size of the Not Boring family! 

Now don’t mind me, I’ll be watching the leaderboard for the rest of the day. Get out there and tweet, e-mail, LinkedIn, TikTok, Slack, or text, and I’ll see you on there! 

(Don’t worry, no one can see your full email; it’s highlighted in green so you can track your progress, like in this screenshot.)

Share Not Boring


Thanks to Tommy and James for making this happen, and to Dan for the edits!


Product of the Week

Newsletter Stack

Dusting off an old feature, P.O.T.W., because Patricia Mou and Phil Hedayatnia built something that I’ve wanted to build myself - a curated directory of all of the best newsletters, sorted by Collection, Topic, or Curator. I’m biased, but I really think that a lot of the smartest content on the internet is happening in newsletters because the ability to build a direct connection with an audience attracts some of the smartest people around. Journalists, operators, investors, parents, and even Chris Bosh are spilling their best thoughts deeply, and Newsletter Stack captures all of that goodness in one place.

There’s a lot of good stuff in there. If you want a place to start, you can check out my Stack.


Links & Listens

🎧 Brad Gerstner - Public and Private Investing| Invest Like the Best

Gerstner, who runs Altimeter Capital, has a dream job - investing in private and tech companies. He was in Google big in 2005, Facebook starting in 2012, and invested in one of TikTok-owner Bytedance’s early rounds. He’s an adherent of Essentialism - the disciplined pursuit of less - and has a highly concentrated portfolio, with up to 75% of the fund in just four or five ideas. That’s how I like to invest, too.

I took copious notes, which you can check out / comment on here. h/t Alex Hardy.

📓 The Next Michael Jordan Teaches Grade School | The Generalist | Mario Gabriele

Via The Generalist, RFS 100, and The S-1 Club, Mario Gabriele keeps putting out great content. My favorite of his recent pieces is this one on whether we will see top teachers make as much money as top athletes. Historically, teachers have played to much smaller audiences than athletes, but that’s beginning to change; and with larger audiences comes the potential for bigger paydays.

💰 $HOLLA: like Zuck Bucks, but better | Holyn Kanake

Speaking of referral programs… as I was putting the finishing touches on this email last night, my friend Holyn dropped $HOLLA - her very own personal token. If you subscribe to her newsletter, retweet or reply to her tweets, or find easter eggs on her website, she’ll send you $HOLLA, redeemable for twitter takeovers, consulting, or even Clubhouse invites. This is the kind of Passion Economy innovation I love to see.

Also loved: Why Figma Wins by Kevin Kwok, Juneteenth and American Dreams by Web Smith, Building a Referrals Program by Lenny Rachitsky, Apple, Landlords, and the Revolt Against Monopolies by Dror Poleg, We are, after all, children by Tina He, and Why Software is More Profitable than Content by Adam Keesling


What I’m Reading

It’s been a while since I’ve recommended a book in here. Here are the four best I’ve read during quarantine, and the one I’m most excited to get started on.

No Filter by Sara Frier

Instagram’s story, from inception to Facebook to today.

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut predicts the impact of automation and UBI in 1952. I’ll write more soon.

The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger

Bob Iger’s rise to the top at Disney, packed with business lessons and stories.

Einstein’s Dreams (PDF Link) by Alan Lightman

Thought exercises on the nature of time from the POV of Einstein’s Dreams.

Up Next: The Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile

My friend Casper, co-author of How We Gather and Not Boring reader (hi 👋), wrote a book! It’s on ritual, which is even more important now than when he started writing.


That’s all for now! I’ll see you on the referral leaderboard, and back here on Monday. Let’s get this thing to 5k!

Thanks for reading,

Packy