First 1000 by Ali Abouelatta

"It is my personal blog, not a business."

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Today’s guest is who is the creator of , the newsletter diving deep into how founders got their first 1000 customers.

Ali grew his newsletter from zero to 60K subscribers in less than 3 years with no audience. How? He worked and experimented a lot!

However, despite the huge e-mail list, he doesn’t monetize his newsletter.

He sees his newsletter as his personal blog that helps him find answers to the questions he struggles with. It is not a business for him and doesn’t seem to be in the near future.

Ali already wrote two detailed articles about all his experimentation, growth hacks, and what works and what doesn’t. I highly recommend reading these two pieces that every indie newsletter creator should study carefully. I think both are masterpieces providing a lot to learn and explore.

He is currently working on another article where he will share all the secrets behind how he grew from 10K to 60K subscribers in a detailed way. So stay tuned for it. In the meantime, you can also check out Chenell Basilio’s great deep dive on “How First 1000 grew to 60K”. 

Considering all these resources, I didn’t ask Ali to explain growth tactics again in our interview. Instead, we discussed some of his key strategies, how he approaches his newsletter and his creative process.

He gave me a lot to get inspired by.

Now, passing the mic to today’s creator, Ali Abouelatta.


This is where Ali writes those incredible First 1000 articles. Great set-up, right?

And have you noticed the note Ali left for you on his desk? :)


🛠 Tool Stack


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

For sure. I am an associate product manager at Duolingo, but before that, I was in school doing my master's in Human-Computer Interaction. First 1000 is a journal that happens to be open to the world.


How and why did you decide to start First 1000?

I started First 1000 for many reasons. But I continue to do it because First 1000 became a tool to help better synthesize information and develop my own tools and frameworks about how I think and view the world.

I wanted a small enough scope to focus on and I am infinitely curious about it. Hence the 0→1000 customer journey angle.


You reached exponential growth after the second Product Hunt launch. 

How did you maintain this upward trend?

There were many things that happened to continue building on that spike, launching referrals, investing in SEO..etc Mostly, I think the momentum from the success of the product hunt campaign kept me going in writing more and trying to write better.

The referral system is very important in your growth system.

How does it work? What are your biggest learnings regarding the referral systems?

I actually created my own referral system because what I wanted to do, “exploding referrals” did not exist elsewhere.

Exploding referrals are when your referral counter gets reset at the beginning of every month, so you only have 30 days or less to access some research I did or get a shoutout or something of that sort.

My biggest learning is the power of catering your features to your biggest advocates. Everything around my current referral system design is how can we get the people that referred 50 people to refer 100 or 200 vs. trying to get everyone to refer 1 or 2 people. The latter is spammy, has a low ROI and is much more complicated.

Do you recommend guest posting?

Guest posting is a way to accelerate building your online credibility. It also helps with trust and forces you to think outside of the constraints of your newsletter, which is a fun challenge. I do recommend it.

You also have a landing page.

When is the right time to open a separate website?

I did this because of the product hunt launch, it was not a very tactical decision.

Now, most of my traffic comes from my own domain, which is good and gives me optionality down the line.

In terms of SEO, I think Substack does a very good job there, especially now that they give writers control over the SEO terms to include for each post. It would definitely be much harder to replicate that on your own.

You start your newsletter with a small base on social media (380 followers on Twitter).

How do you leverage social media to grow your newsletter / strengthen your personal brand?

I am still trying to figure out social media. I am not particularly good at repurposing content from one platform to another. However, with Twitter, what I found is that;

the more authentic you are and if you treat Twitter as a microphone to amplify the conversations you already have on a day-to-day / week-to-week basis, it can be a very magical place.

Regarding growth efforts, what would you do differently if you had a chance to start over?

I would have spent (a lot) more effort on writing better pieces than trying to growth hack.


Why don’t you monetize your newsletter?

Because it is my personal blog, not a business.

If you think about it, email newsletters are really not that different from social media. Sure, some people monetize their social media, but other people like me want to have a medium to express a part of themselves.

That medium is writing, and I want to express some of the questions and answers I am constantly struggling with and put them out to the world.

Do you plan to monetize in the future?



Why did you choose Substack? Pros and cons?

Substack is awesome!

They are investing heavily in all their tooling for writers (which I love), and the platform keeps improving. I started using them because I saw Andrew Chen’s investment memo and the mission and direction of the company resonated with me.


What is your typical weekly process from creating to releasing a new issue?

I have set hours every day. One in the morning 7-8 am and one in the evening 7-8 pm.

In the morning, I read and do research, in the evening, I synthesize and write. And then, on Sundays, I spent 8-12 hours putting everything together.

Having a very rigid, constrained schedule works for me.

What is your weekly newsletter content distribution plan/system?

Just hit send.

You have a full-time job as an APM in Dualingo in addition to writing First1000. 

How do you manage your time?

Quality of time >> quantity of time. 

I try to measure the quality of time I spend every day. I keep a running log with a 1-3 rating. Over time, it made me much more cognizant of how I allocate time and spend it.

Writing down 1-2 sentences every day about what I did and a rating from 1-3 allowed me to understand my pitfalls better and iteratively try to improve.

As far as I see you don’t release an issue every week all the time? What is your approach to consistency?

Consistency is very important. Not being consistent over the past 9 months had its toll on my growth metrics and engagement in general.

But, sometimes, I need to take better care of myself, avoid burnout and deal with other things in my life. Life happens sometimes, and I hope my readers will understand.

As for formats, I like to think of First 1000 as my online journal that happens to be accessible to the internet. I write to answer questions I am struggling with or topics that occupy a huge part of my brain’s battery. Sometimes the answers to these questions are not found in a single company.


How did writing First 1000 contribute to your life personally?

People, people, people.

I met so many amazing people through the newsletter that I would never have in a million years. It still blows my mind.

What is the biggest AHA moment along this journey?

The biggest aha moment was when I woke up one day and found someone who had joined the newsletter I did not know. That was probably week 2 or 3, but it was such a big moment for me.

What is the most challenging part of writing a newsletter and how do you handle it?


I take extended breaks. If I am not feeling it, I can take 1-2-3-4 weeks off until I start itching and concocting new issue ideas.

Can you tell us one big mistake along your newsletter journey?

One big mistake I made along the way was to optimize for what I think people want to read. That was horrible. I hated writing those pieces.


You already have a huge list with 60K subscribers.

What is next on your newsletter journey?

The next step is 100k! When I started First 1000, I set a goal of 100k subscribers in 5 years.

That is my focus until 2025.


What would it be if you had the right to give one piece of advice to aspiring newsletter creators?

Just do it!

What are your favorite newsletters that you can’t wait for the next issue?

  • The workspaces of creative individuals

  • Lenny's Newsletter: A weekly advice column about building product, driving growth, and accelerating your career

  • Stratechery: Analysis of the strategy and business side of technology and media, and the impact of technology on society

  • Robinhood Snacks: The daily 3-minute newsletter with fresh takes on the financial news


Thanks for having me. This was awesome!

Thank you so much, Ali.

Watching you build your tribe with 100K subscribers will be exciting!

🔗 Where to find Ali Abouelatta and his work

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading.

If you liked reading this, don’t be shy to click the ❤️ button on this post and leave your comment (so that more people can discover it on Substack).

See you next Sunday.


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