1440 by Tim Huelskamp & Andrew Steigerwald - Part 1

"We started by sending a minimum viable product (MVP) to 78 friends and family. We ourselves had the pain point, but we wanted to confirm others also craved the service."

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1440 is a daily newsletter with over 3.3 million subscribers and a monthly influx of 200K+ new subscribers!

It is named as one of the biggest and fastest-growing digital media startups that ranked No. 79 on the Inc. 5000 list.

And it all started with an issue that they sent to 78 people.

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting Tim Huelskamp, the co-founder and CEO of 1440, on a video call. What struck me most, among many other things, was his down-to-earth approach and his commitment to giving back to the newsletter community. He consistently emphasizes that the success of 1440 is a collective effort, attributing it not only to his dedication but also to his co-founder, Andrew Steigerwald, and the entire 1440 team.

Given the depth of insights from our interview, we've decided to share it in two parts.

Today, in Part 1, Tim transparently shares the early days and growth strategies that drove 1440 to its current success.

You'll discover:

  • How 1440 embarked on its journey, paying attention to critical aspects in the early days.

  • Detailed growth strategies on different list sizes.

  • Insights into their effective use of paid ads.

Next week, our focus shifts to monetization, performance measurement, key learnings, challenges, and valuable advice for aspiring creators.

I feel incredibly honored to share the behind-the-scenes of 1440 with you.

Join me as we dive into the first part of this enriching journey!


1440 Newsletter Identity Card

🛠 Tool Stack


Welcome Tim. Let’s start with getting to know you.

First, I’m incredibly honored to be here - thanks so much for having me!
I'm the CEO and co-founder of 1440, a daily newsletter helping ~3.3 million Americans stay informed without motives.

I focus on building our world-class team, customer success, finance, strategy, and assist however else I can help our team succeed (growth, product, sales, etc).

Prior to 1440, I spent nearly a decade at a $20B private equity/venture capital fund, investing in scaling companies and providing operational and strategic assistance to our portfolio companies.

Before PE, I worked in technology Investment Banking at Jefferies right out of college. I graduated from Boston College (studied abroad in Florence, Italy) where I studied finance and history. 

I currently reside in Chicago with my better half, Jennifer.


1440 is one of the biggest and fastest-growing digital media startups, with 3.3+ million subscribers and over 200K+ new sign-ups each month. 

But it all started with an issue that you sent to 78 people.

How did you decide to start 1440 in the first place? How did it happen?

We are the core consumers of our product, and 1440 was borne out of our pain as frustrated news consumers. 

We felt the media landscape wasn’t delivering in 2 ways for the busy professional.

First, media (by design) is very nichey-y or verticalized: with publications covering sports, culture, tech, politics, science, etc. To be well-informed across all the verticals, it took too much time sifting through 15-20 products. 

Why wasn’t there an “inch-deep, mile-wide” offering - in a world of the opposite - that provided info from all the verticals to help make us well-informed, interesting humans.

Second, once we consumed media from popular platforms, we felt they often included opinions or motives like who we should vote for or how we should interpret an event. On social media, we had to sift through misinformation and waste time finding quality information. 

It was quite a burden - why couldn’t someone clean all that up and help us learn efficiently?

“So, we set out to “scratch our own itch” and we built 1440, which serves the 1-2 punch of comprehensive, impartial news we were seeking but couldn’t find.”


Which strategies did you use to grow over 3 million subscribers along the different stages of the newsletter?

0 - 1,000 subscribers

We started by sending a minimum viable product (MVP) to 78 friends and family. We ourselves had the pain point, but we wanted to confirm others also craved the service.  

We started sending 1440 once per week. We told ourselves if we didn’t see a 40%+ open rate, and a 10% weekly organic growth rate, we would stop.

After week 1, we saw a 60%+ open rate (which we still have today) and our audience of 78 increased to 91.  So we kept going.

“In the initial quarters we focused on nothing else but the product. 

We begged for feedback (we still do) and iterated on the product as much as possible to deliver for our user: the intellectually curious, busy professional.”

1,000 - 50,000 subscribers

After a few quarters of iterating and growing organically, we thought we had something, so we next focused on “de-risking” the company by working to see if we could grow 1440.

In the early days, we had extremely limited capital, so we focused on newsletter swaps/cross-promos, and we also invested in the giveaways channel via a platform called DojoMojo, which allowed us to drive subs very inexpensively. 

We also continued to see organic/WOM/referral growth

50,000 - 100,000 subscribers

By the time we hit ~50k subs, our audience was large enough to monetize. We started selling ads to brand partners who saw great ROI, and became repeat customers. Given our lean and mean team at the time (and now, still) we were able to generate a small profit and reinvest the revenues into growth (I also pumped a little capital into the business as our quasi-angel investor). 

We focused on Facebook ads and started to see success in acquiring users for $1-2. 

Organic/WOM growth continued to drive users, as well.

100,000 - 500,000 subscribers

We expanded marketing channels and tested ~dozens of platforms: Google, Reddit, Pinterest, Quora, other newsletters, scaled newsletter channels (e.g. LiveIntent), among others.  

This allowed us to diversify our channels away from solely Facebook. At one point, 90% of our paid growth was from Facebook, which presented a concentration risk to the growth org. 

Organic/WOM growth continued to drive users, as well. 

500,000 subscribers - present

Not much has changed on the sources of acquisition front, as we like to lean into where we see success - and we still see ~30% organic/WOM growth and ~70% paid. 

However, we focus on the work required to improve every day at it.  Last year, we made an absolutely terrific hire (understatement of the century?) bringing aboard of new head of growth, Erika. She’s incredibly gifted at growth (among other things) and has our team adding 200k+ subscribers per month (January was 300k!+). 

While we largely focus on the same channels, she’s brought sophistication to our organization and has us focusing on creative iteration and LPO.  Erika partners with numerous creative agencies and focuses on testing quality creative at scale. 

“Last quarter, we tested ~1500 (not a typo) creative ads on the various channels. 

As the platform algorithms become more sophisticated at targeting, creative is the biggest lever brands can invest in, and we invest in quality creative heavily. “

We also focus on LPO strategies to increase our CVR and reduce CPA.

I would like to elaborate on your paid ads strategy, but first, let’s address the elephant in the room. 

During our call, we discussed the tendency among newsletter creators to treat paid ads as if they should be ashamed of using them. Some try to create a perception that organic growth makes their content more valuable. This is something I disagree with. Paid ads are just another way to reach a target audience if you have the resources. In the end, what matters is whether these subscribers are reading and engaging with the content.

Yes, I disagree vehemently (I always wanted to use that word).

“Paid ads for business growth is a fantastic strategy.

While the dream scenario of 100% organic growth through word of mouth is (of course) ideal, the reality is it only happens to a select few companies each year (TikTok, etc).”

For the 99.9% of companies, setting up a strategy where you can acquire users profitably is key. 

In the private equity world (where I come from), going through the work of establishing a unit-economics-profitable business model (e.g. figuring out how to turn $1 of invested capital into $5 is) is the end goal. 

When do you think it’s the right time to start experimenting with paid ads?

I meet lots of newsletter founders who, in my opinion, focus on scale/growth too early. For this business model to be successful, you need to have a world-class product with a multi-year retention rate of users. If you don’t have that - nothing else matters.

“So for the folks just starting out, I would say don’t even think about paid ads until you have a 45-50% open rate and delight and retain users. 

As my favorite VC Marc Andreeseen says: “until you have PMF, nothing else matters.”

Which channel has been the most effective one for 1440 in terms of conversion and acquiring high-quality subscribers?

Highest quality = other newsletters.

Go figure, but folks who already enjoy newsletters tend to open at a rate ~2x of users acquired on paid social. However, without scaled channels (e.g. LiveIntent), buying newsletter placements can be time-burdensome and lack scale.  Also, the CPA tends to be ~2x those of paid social.

Best scale = Facebook/Instagram and Google. 

Both channels offer near-limitless scale and a reduced CPA, but at lower quality. So it’s a constant battle on where to place budgets to optimize long-term unit economics.

In those key channels, what are the key metrics that you track?


“Yes, we review CPM, CTR, CVR, etc as drivers, but at the end of the day, if we’re seeing a high-quality subscriber at a low CPA, that’s all that matters for our business model.”

Note: I do see lots of builders focus purely on low CPA, with no regard for user quality: buyer beware

What are your biggest learnings about applying paid ads to grow a newsletter?

  1. Lean into how you’re unique.

    Most of our ads are around our impartial value prop, in a sea of the opposite on social media. 

  2. “Scratch the itch”

    We’ve found most of our successful ads describe the pain our readers feel (the same point Drew & I had when we started 1440). So we use “creative as targeting” to lean into the pain, and then we state how 1440 uniquely solves the problem.

If you had the chance to travel back in time and what would you do differently in terms of growth efforts?

I wish we would have met Erika earlier.

“The co-founders learned a ton experimenting (for which we’re grateful) but I’ve learned to scale companies truly, you need to hire brilliant people and generally “get out of their way”

Second, early on, we explored various channels - Pinterest, Quora, Reddit, etc.
Looking back, I believe consolidating those efforts into mastery of the scaled channels - Facebook and Google - would have been a more strategic move.

“It boils down to the importance of focus – doing less and diving deeper into the channels that yield significant results.”

👇Continue Reading Part 2👇

  • How the monetization strategy of 1440 evolved over time

  • Key factors in building successful partnerships

  • How 1440 defines and measures “success”

  • What it really takes to build a successful newsletter-led media business

  • Key learnings, challenges and advice to newsletter creators

  • Tim’s favorite newsletters that he looks for every week

🔗 Where to find 1440

👉 Do you want to reach 1,900 newsletter creators & enthusiasts?

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading and don’t be shy to hit reply if you want to reach out to me.

See you next week.


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