Newsletter Crew March 13, 2020

Moving from MailChimp to Substack

John Saddington @8bit

I’ve been using MailChimp for quite a while for a small newsletter that I launched in July of 2019.

[Follow the project on IH!]

So far, it’s grown very slowly, a few new subscribers every week. I have no plans on intentionally growing it fast or any of those things.

Instead, I’m trying to take the next few years to learn what it really takes to keep a newsletter like this going strong—I don’t even know what “strong” means, but, I’m willing to find out.

Writing a newsletter is hard. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve started and stopped a handful of times over the last decade and I’ve struggled to maintain one for more than a few years—I’m not entirely sure why this is the case because the 99% of that thing is writing and I kind of know a thing or two about that.

But, there’s something very, very powerful about the medium of something and what it really means. McLuhan has a few famous words that ring:

The medium is the message.

Perhaps the medium has been the problem, which, is why I’ve recently changed from the 🐵 (MailChimp) to Substack, which presents a much more simple interface—much, much closer to that of a blog:


This might do the trick! I’m tired of wrestling with design; all I want to do is write stuff. Maybe I can get out of my own way and do just that.

Now, I just need to make sure that I don’t quit.

  1. 2

    this is great - and very helpful! I had a couple of follow up questions:

    -> I have a blog where I already update transcripts from a podcast - I use Mailchimp to send out summary. if I moved to Substack, can I still maintain the main transcripts on my website?
    -> I have an email collection popup on my website - can that lead to Substack?

    any other things I should be mindful of if I'm considering moving to Substack?

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      sounds like you should be able to do just that. give it a test... it's free to try!

  2. 2

    Hey @8bit, how you doing man?

    How does the change feels by today?

    I am thinking to move colors and fonts newsletter to substack... any opinions?

    The chimp is just too much...

    This is the newsletter.

    Thank you so much and have a good one

    1. 2

      still very, very good. not looking back!

      1. 2

        Hey Jhon!

        Thank you for answering, I moved too and I also did better just after 6 hours of sending it...

        More opens, more engagement, already more click through.

        Thank you for the post!

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          of course! rock on!

  3. 2

    Hey again John, I've been running blogs since 2015 and used Mailchimp/similar initially, before Email Octopus briefly and (most recently) Substack which I moved to in October 2019.

    I'm loving it - for a serial-tinkerer like me it's been great to focus just on the content, as well as introduce the 'intentional' community elements (e.g. discussion threads on Substack vs noisy FB group), and of course the paid/free feature, plus the ability to send blog posts as newsletter. I've been impressed by their vibe, their mission and the changes they're constantly introducing, plus their response times to queries.

    The only downside I can think of is I can't control everything exactly the way I want it (e.g. removing the 'you're on the free list - become a paid subscriber now' footer note that gets sent to every person on my free list) though, on balance, that's probably good for me and my perfectionistic tinkering, anyhow :)

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      you're right. the limitations with the design... can feel cramped. but, i still think that's a feature, not a bug / limitation.

  4. 2

    I'm also self-debating to switch from MailChimp & MailerLite to Substack to cater to the ultra fans' need for my startup and side project. Keen to know how's your experience so far and how readers react? @8bit

    1. 1

      they have really liked it. i've had better click-throughs already and already gotten some direct feedback that validates that i've done this right.

      my small audience honestly could give two-shits about the platform... which is a great reminder that over-optimization early-on is a big no-no!

      don't scale until you're ready. with 200 readers... i have NOTHING to scale! keep it simple.

      1. 1

        That's good for you @8bit

        Indeed, maintain your early adoptors!

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          i'm going to try. i'm not entirely sure who these people are though and why they've subscribed...

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            May or may not be significant. But have you tried to use Facebook audience insight and lookalike audience to estimate the demographic of your subscribers?

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              i personally detest facebook (but not against my wife using it).

              so.. i don't even have an account.

  5. 2

    I dont really get substack to be honest. It is used to publish your newsletter?

    1. 3

      it is a simple email newsletter system. yeah. nothing really outstanding other than it's currently very trim and very simple to use, which, at this point in my life, is what i want.

      1. 1

        seconded! Exactly why I switched to there.

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          this is me giving you a high-five:

          1. 1


  6. 1

    Yes, if you're a writer or publishers, Substack works great.
    If you're a business... it's a bit of a square in a round peg.
    If you're curating news... it's hit or miss.

    1. 1

      this breakdown is useful. thanks!

  7. 1

    Hi there, thanks for sharing this. I have a small audience on about 200 subscribers on MailChimp, and I'm considering switching to Substack. What would you say are the main differences between the two platforms? What I like about Substack is that you can see a nicer looking archive of posts and that readers can interact with the posts with likes / comments, vs. the stand alone email in Mailchimp.

    1. 1

      i mean, i've shared them above... most important, though, is that it works for you.

      if you find yourself spending more time on the stuff that fundamentally doesn't matter (like the design of the newsletter) then you're doing this wrong.

      the newsletter was built for you... not you for the newsletter.

  8. 1

    Substack looks like they’ve got something going. The transition from mass followed to a few ultra fans has been quite interesting. I see this company growing. Perhaps there is room for another competitor in this space?

    1. 3

      It will soon happen. We are working on ManyLetter. Currently at the alpha stage, preparing for the launch.

      1. 1

        can't wait!

    2. 3

      well, here's the truth.

      i tried substack. i quit it. i didn't like it.

      but, then, i came back just today. they changed up their product and made it better.

      so, there's that!

      i just tried convertkit. i hated it. but, that might have just been unlucky. they had major outages and stuff when i first signed up.

      1. 1

        hey John, interesting. I'm curious to know the gap in time between you leaving 1st time and joining 2nd time...

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          it was about a year+ at this point... i don't think 2 years.

          honestly, it hasn't changed much.

          1. 1

            thx =]

  9. 1

    Impressive. I’ve never actually tried any of this newsletter thing, I’m a game dev maybe I can give it a go but if I have to start, how do I ?

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        wow, you mean you wrote this for people like me or specifically for me.

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          you inspired me! i wanted to write something long-form for you... but realized that i had already written something!

          so, i edited it, and drafted/published it here...

          THANK YOU for the INSPIRATION!

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            Wow, okay thanks to you too for taking the effort!

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              of course! i'm glad to have done it!

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                I've actually just gotten an idea of doing a small tuition for code learners for free. I in fact made my first post too about it and if it works out and people show interest im going to try out this newsletter thing and share some heavy knowledge around programming, so thanks for in a way inspiring me too!

                1. 2

                  omfg! yesssss!!!!! go for it! love that initiative and execution—keep it up!!

    1. 1

      OMG, yes!

      you could easily sign-up for a free account @ mailchimp or substack and just go. i mean, there's nothing to it. i'll write something up and maybe it can help... one sec...