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The Power of Writing Online | David Perell

Listen Up! IH - Episode 18


Writing on the internet is one of the most under-utilized under-explored opportunities in the world right now!

👆 That's the number one insight from David Perell - "The Writing Guy"

David is the founder of the online writing school - Write of Passage.

Write of Passage is a 5-week cohort-based course that makes north of $2M in revenue for David.

He teaches students how to write, build an audience and attract like-minded people.

But writing wasn't David's strong suit in school.

He was horrible at it.

Over the years he has honed his writing, attracted a massive audience of more than 200,000 followers on Twitter, and made millions teaching people how to write.

Back in March 2021, he appeared on the Indie Hackers Podcast hosted by Courtland Allen.

They discussed the importance of writing online, the value of focusing on One Big Idea, and his advice on how to write better.

Lessons👇

Write of Passage - The Course 👨‍🏫

Write of Passage is a cohort-based course that helps students learn to write online and profit from the skill.

Students build a system of writing, a portfolio of high-quality essays, a network of like-minded people, and most of all, the seed of an audience they can cultivate with time.

Its alumni include successful indie creators and writers such as Packy McCormick and Andrew Barry.

And the value of the course is not just in the curriculum.

Like most cohort-based courses these days, students derive a ton of value from the community that is formed around the cohort.

That's what Andrew Barry describes in his review of the course -

"...you only get better by writing. By talking about interesting ideas, putting your words down on paper, and receiving feedback on what works and what doesn’t. The WoP community are all in the same boat, so you get this incredible melting pot of ideas and mélange of feedback that had an exponential effect on improving my writing..."

The course makes more than $2M ARR for David, and the curriculum took him years to develop.

But it wasn't easy.

David had a 2.9 GPA in school, he wasn't a good writer at the time.

He says, he got good at writing out of desperation.

Because he saw such value in the ability to write well.

Here's how he describes his transformation -

"I refuse to be bad at this. It's very important and I'm going to get good"

"Good writers are now rewarded like they've never been rewarded before because the barriers to publishing the constraints to getting your ideas out there have never been less. We've actually had a serious order of magnitude shift in terms of the ability for just normal people like you and me to just get ideas out there. That means that writing is an activity with really high returns right now. I said, I'm going to get good at this."

The Future

David's goal is to find a way to write 2 really good long-form essays every year.

His essays are pillar pieces of content that take months to write, and they take 30-60 minutes to read.

My favorite one is Peter Thiel's religion. - It's about mimetic theory, Christianity, and the way Peter Thiel looks at the world. (And it will take you a few days to read!)

David wants to spend 4 months a year selling and teaching Write of Passage. And the other 8 months of writing short and long-form essays.

He wants Write of Passage to become the business school of the future.

Where a few companies come of out it every year.

He feels once you have an audience, it becomes way less risky to start a company.

And his course helps students build loyal audiences.

One Big Idea 💡

One of David's short essays is titled One Big Idea

The central thesis of the essay is that we are better off sticking to one idea and going deep within it rather than jumping from one idea to another.

We are pounded with ideas all the time these days.

In every Tweet, every Ted Talk, every new Book, we feed ourselves with more and more new ideas.

But we are much better off picking one idea and doubling down on it.

David talks about Richard Barton - the CEO of 3 successful consumer tech companies - Expedia, Zillow and Glassdoor.

Richard's 3 companies are different on the outside, but they are mirror images of each other on the inside.

They are all based on a central idea - “Power to the People” - Bring power from the incumbents to the consumers.

That's what Expedia does in the travel industry, Zillow does in real estate, and Glassdoor does in the recruitment space.

All three companies bring information outside from behind closed doors.

They give the power of information to the common people.

That is Richard's One Big Idea.

David himself is still developing his one big idea, but it will be something around the impact of the internet on learning, entrepreneurship, and personal relationships.

Indie Hackers should think about their one big idea, and try to go deep within it. Look at everything in the world from that perspective.

We have heard the quote - "To a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail". The essence of it is, that you can get trapped in a specialization.

David calls it BS -

"...I say BS. I say totally wrong. Build a Thor's hammer and then just go around looking for nails."

The Pseudonymous Future🎭

The Stoic Emperor is a Twitter account with more than 362K followers. It tweets out stoic wisdom for the modern world.

David knows the person behind the account.

He thinks the person doesn't lose anything by not revealing their name.

In fact, the pseudonym gives them the freedom to say controversial things without the fear of social repercussions.

David goes deep into this in his essay - Why you should write Pseudonymously

He thinks we are moving to an age where they will be pseudonymous creators and Indie Hackers.

In fact, AJ, the founder of Carrd is a pseudonymous Indie Hacker

Nobody knows who he is, what he looks like, and yet he makes more than $40K a month from his SaaS business.

The biggest benefit of not revealing your real name is that there can be more than one person behind a pseudonym.

So David can build a brand under "The Writing Guy" in the future, and recruit an entire team to do the work he does right now.

Writing Advice

David believes, everyone should write online, it's a massive opportunity.

His advice to write better - Use stories, analogies, and examples.

Use Stories to illuminate your point. Talk about your personal stories. Talk about the stories of other people.

Metaphors and analogies, what you're doing is this is how we learn. We take ideas from one domain and apply them to another domain. Try to think of new analogies that have never been done before.

Use Examples. You say something that's abstract. People are really good with things that are concrete. Focus on things that are concrete in the world that people can see and have people say, ah, now I understand that. You make an abstract point. You clarify it with a concrete idea.

This is how David describes the value of writing online -

"Words on a page, they have infinite patience. You write something once, you benefit from it forever. It's a hell of a trade."


Lets look at some Insights + Ideas + Inspiration from David

Insights

  • Cohort-based learning is the future of education.
  • Community adds value to Cohort Based Courses.
  • Writing online has infinite upside and minimal downside. Everyone realizes this, so many more people are going to write online in the future.
  • There can be many ways to look at writing courses, another writing course that's doing well is Ship30for30, which is very different from Write of Passage.

Ideas

  • Focus on one niche, and become the "X Guy or Gal"
  • Talk about X, build an audience around it, teach it!
  • Generate Demand for the product you can supply.
  • David Perell does it wonderfully around writing, Jack Butcher does it around visual design and Tiago Forte does it around Note Taking.

Inspiration

  • David wasn't good at writing. But he believed in the value of the skill.
  • He resolved to get better at it, and worked hard towards that goal. And achieved it eventually.
  • And once he became "the writing guy", plenty of new opportunities opened up for him.

Links


Thank You for Reading🙏

Every week, I share the most actionable insights and inspiring tips from Indie Hackers FOR Indie Hackers

Ideas + Insights + Inspiration for building profitable internet businesses💪

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ICYMI: Last Week I wrote about Nathan Barry going from 0 to $28M ARR while building in public

Check out Nathan's lessons in this short Twitter thread -


Thanks to Seth King for editing this post.

Photo credit Scott Graham from Unsplash

Cheers,
Ayush

  1. 2

    Thanks for sharing this article! I am very inspired by such writers who do their work with such passion and quality. Unfortunately, I cannot say this about myself. Writing has always been difficult for me. I recently needed to write a sop letter and turned to this source for help. https://www.sopwriting.org/ I certainly wouldn't have been able to prepare so well on my own.

    1. 1

      Awesome, glad you liked it Jefferey🙌

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