Showing up for your audience consistently for years on end is easier said than done.
You hear about how it will help you earn a living as a creator, but no one tells you:
- How long it will take you to see results
- How to connect with the right people
- How to know what your audience cares about—and how it matches what you care about
When you see a successful creator, their results often seem like the outcome of a detailed plan. But Khe Hy—the creator behind RadReads, a newsletter and blog about living an intentional life—is living proof that having a plan shouldn’t stop you from taking action.
Khe did the unimaginable: he left his Wall Street job in 2015 without a plan of what he’d do next. Despite that, he did something that ended up changing his life: he emailed 36 people and grew that small list into an audience of 27,000+ people over the next five years.
He built this audience long before he knew if and how he’ll monetize it. When he was ready to launch an online course—Supercharge your Productivity, a premiere class on productivity and life design with Notion—his audience was ready to buy and support him.
Let’s jump into Khe’s story.
How Khe (accidentally) started a weekly newsletter
In early 2015, Khe was working in a high-profile job in finances: a managing director at a Wall Street company. From the outside, he seemed successful—he had money, status, and power—but he was unhappy. He spent 70 hours a week in his office and only took two weeks off in a row twice in 14 years.
He didn’t know what he'd do next, but he knew he had to leave.
Just a couple months before he left, he emailed 36 of his friends and colleagues using the BCC feature on Gmail. On a whim, he shared his favorite reads from a recent vacation, summarizing each item on the list in one sentence.
He sent the second and the third one (and, as you can imagine, many more after that). What made him go beyond that first email? Khe says a few things played a role in this:
- People found it interesting and useful, they started responding, and they wanted more
- He had a lot of fun doing that; he already loved reading, and putting this email together was effortless
- He liked the public accountability and habit formation element of it
For Khe, this wasn’t something he thought he’d turn into a business. He thought he was going to take a break from Wall Street and then start a venture-backed company, and this was a fun, creative project to keep him busy in the meantime. But Khe’s “accidental creator” project rapidly morphed into an all-important safety net:
When you leave a high-profile job, everyone wants to know what you’re doing next. ‘I don’t know’ isn’t an acceptable answer. So this was my attempt at saying, ‘I don’t know, but I have this little thing in the meantime.’ And although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was also my way to create a safety net, to stay relevant to these people, in case I decide to come back or I need help from people in my old world.
A couple months after sending that first email, with about 200 subscribers on his list (which mostly came from recommendations from those first people he emailed), Khe had a weekly newsletter he never thought he’d have. And while his tiny creative venture gave him a canvas to keep expanding into more creative aspects, he soon realized he needed assets like a landing page, a logo, copy, and design.
Newsletter growth experiments and press wins
Early on, Khe didn’t even know of list building as a dedicated activity. He needed a better system to manage subscribers and unsubscribes than BCCing everyone, and he signed up for an email service provider; his first choice was Mailchimp. He did the standard activities to promote his newsletter: send an email, then repost across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter with a simple link drop, but that was it.
Over time, he experimented with other channels, most notably Snapchat, podcasting, writing on Medium, and posting Instagram stories. Khe emphasizes he had no audience on any of these platforms. “Everyone was using Snapchat at the time, so I started to summarize the newsletter there, but it took me 35 minutes to put one story together each day,” he adds.
My attitude for any of these things is just: show up and try it. You’ve got to enjoy doing it. Because you’re not going to be able to do Snapchat stories for five followers if you’re doing it for the validation.
His email list grew slowly but steadily in 2015 and 2016. Then, towards the end of 2016, Khe was featured in Bloomberg (who called him ‘the Wall Street guru’) and CNN (who, thanks to his Snapchat stories, called him Oprah for millennials).
At this point, Khe had around 2,000 email subscribers, and these press wins alone won him around 1,000 and 7,000 respectively, quadrupling his audience (almost) overnight.
Then, in April 2017, Khe appeared on Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s wildly popular podcast, Invest Like the Best. Khe was an early guest—his episode was only 31st—but the exposure to Patrick’s Twitter and podcast audience brought him between 1,000 and 2,000 new email subscribers.
Khe says that his experiments with Snapchat, Instagram, and other platforms all helped at the margins, but it was the press and partnerships that really made his list grow.
Looking at these numbers, it’s easy to think Khe got lucky (and that it’s near impossible to replicate these results). He doesn’t disagree on the luck factor, but he adds a caveat:
I tilted the balance of luck in my favor because I’ve put myself out there weekly. I built the engine of serendipity for myself. My email list is how journalists from CNN and Bloomberg found me.
For the first two years, Khe was simply summarizing links. But over time, his own digital assets started to grow around it, including blog posts, podcasts, and interviews. From engaging with readers over email to testing ideas on Twitter, he never runs out of ideas to write about.
He makes it easy for new readers—and potentially new subscribers—to find him.
Craving an email platform to support his newsletter growth and product sales
Since leaving his job, Khe provided for his family using his savings from his Wall Street job. As he grew his email list, he picked up coaching and speaking gigs which extended his financial runway.
Then, in 2018, he launched his webinar, The Fulfilling Path to Financial Independence, and resold the replay after the live event. It was the first digital product he sold—and just like his newsletter launch, it was another thing he wanted to try simply to see where it lands.
Spoiler: it landed well.
His webinar made around $12,000 in revenue, and Khe knew this meant he’s tapping into the market that needs his teaching.
The frustrating aspect of this launch? He couldn’t segment his email list on Mailchimp. He couldn’t see who bought his product. It was hard to differentiate between tags, audiences, and segments, and he couldn’t automatically tag people who clicked on links in his emails.
This was having an impact on my business because I couldn’t communicate with people who bought my course. I needed to sell, and I needed to communicate effectively to sell, and I knew I needed a better solution for my email list.
Khe moved his email list to ConvertKit within the year. He was already a huge fan of the work of Nathan Barry—ConvertKit’s CEO and founder—and connected with the way he runs ConvertKit. “I appreciated the focus on a single vertical and on just getting emails out. ConvertKit supported my goal of frequency, speed, and consistency,” he adds.
Along with this switch, Khe’s next chapter as a creator started when Notion came into his topic mix. His blog always had an angle towards productivity, but it was more about the why than the how. When Notion came out and its popularity grew, it solved Khe’s need for a platform that will allow him to build a custom system to power his productivity. Notion filled the how gap, and as Khe wrote more about it, his audience resonated with it and grew even more—with ConvertKit in the backend of his email list.
Launching a signature course and taking launches to the next level
In September 2019, about 18 months after that first course launch, Khe launched what would become his signature productivity course, Supercharge your Productivity.
This launch brought in around $15,000 in revenue—a fantastic result given that Khe didn’t launch this course with a dedicated plan. He didn’t set a product launch timeline or even send a single launch-specific email.
I launched the first version of the course with a small mention in my regular newsletter. It looked the way a sponsored link would look like in a newsletter, with a small note that I’m launching this course and if you’re interested, here’s the link. At that time, I didn’t really grasp the concept of a launch.
- Khe’s subscribers resonated with the premise of the course and those that became students saw the outcomes they wanted
- Khe found it fun and exciting to serve his community in this new way
His second launch of the same course was similar, with the addition of a dedicated sales page with some buyer psychology infused into the copy.
To take his launches to the next level, Khe knew he needed a more intentional approach to his launch emails. He implemented it for the first time in his third launch, and it worked really well.
Khe’s goal is to always give way more value than his subscribers would expect to get. By doing this, he stays true to his deep intention to give his students a delightful experience from the moment they start learning from him.
This is why, from the fourth launch onwards (he ran six of them so far, around three per year), he added the live teaching element to his launches. He hosts a week of actionable, live workshops based on the concepts from the course, followed by a week of launch emails. The course kicks off right after that.
He finds this approach to launching capitalizes on one of his biggest strengths—live teaching—and experimenting and tweaking his approach to launches allowed him to gradually implement it.
Revenue from Khe’s sixth (i.e. most recent) launch of his Supercharge your Productivity course crossed the six-figure mark.
— Nathan Barry (@nathanbarry) February 26, 2021
How ConvertKit helps Khe grow his list and revenue
Khe’s newsletter, launch emails, student onboarding emails, and post-course feedback emails are all powered by ConvertKit’s email marketing tool for creators.
Here are the main ways ConvertKit helped Khe build an email list of 27,000+ subscribers with a 53% open rate (which includes marketing and launch emails!).
1. Powerful list building
Khe attracts readers interested in topics like GTD productivity method, Notion, and a concept he calls $10K work. For each topic, he offers a dedicated lead magnet (some of which convert at a 12% conversion rate!).
For example, one page on Khe’s website lists his resources about $10K work and features a signup form for a free $10K template at the top:
Another example is a pop-up modal window offering Notion templates on Notion-related pages and blog posts:
Khe also uses dedicated landing pages for any partnerships he does. For example, when he presented a tutorial as a guest on the Keep Productive YouTube channel, he used a ConvertKit landing page to give Keep Productive viewers the free template he talked about in the video:
Khe creates an engaging, two-way conversations with his new subscribers with a welcome email:
2. Automated sequences based on where subscribers came from
Khe has built a wide net of resources to attract his readers. With hundreds of blog posts and dozens of partnerships, he uses automated sequences to send hyper-targeted emails to his new subscribers:
As you can tell by these numbers, this works. Khe’s standard welcome email has a high open rate—an excellent 70%—and other emails based on lead magnets have as much as an 88% open rate!
If we dive into the longest sequence on this list, here’s what we’ll find:
This 10-email sequence attracts engaged, curious subscribers—the open rate remains around 50% even at the end of the sequence, giving Khe more opportunities to build trust with his audience.
3. Automations to nurture subscribers and launch courses
Khe uses ConvertKit’s visual automations to connect different triggers, sequences, and events. Here are some of the automations he set up:
If we look closer into the Notion onboarding automation—one that nurtures subscribers interested in Notion resources—we can see it triggers the sequence we looked at earlier in five different ways (think landing pages and forms placed in different resources):
Khe doesn’t use automations just to nurture new subscribers, but also to onboard new students. With this automation, he updates custom fields for each student who purchased the course with their cohort status and triggers a sequence of onboarding emails—without having to do any of it manually:
(Khe generously shared this entire sequence with us. Click here to copy this automation into your own ConvertKit account!)
ConvertKit makes an extraordinary difference in Khe’s business:
The ability to have that toolkit like ConvertKit at your disposal is so powerful. It takes a business that doesn't even know exactly where it's going and is still able to support it. ConvertKit is dynamic, modular, and easy to use. It really understands and anticipates the needs of people like me. I’m selling and following up. And I can do it in a way that's enjoyable—I log into ConvertKit and it makes me happy to be there.
4. Regular newsletter
Finally, ConvertKit helps Khe do what brought him here in the first place: write and send a newsletter that people resonate with. At the time of this interview, he was preparing his 295th issue, and it doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.
His newsletter is still packed with interesting, engaging reads from others and by himself that encourage subscribers to live an intentional life:
How you can use ConvertKit to build a successful newsletter (and revenue stream)
If you’re feeling ready to take your newsletter and list building seriously, here are some final tips from Khe’s story.
1. Test distribution channels and stick with what works
For Khe, this was press and partnerships. The key takeaway is that he dropped everything that didn’t work (and that wasn’t fun). You don’t have to be on every social media network or create every content format under the sun.
Give yourself time to experiment with different platforms. When you find what works best for you, go all in: use landing pages, lead magnets, and sign up forms to take your audience from readers and followers to subscribers.
2. Consistency is key
Khe saw swift success when he launched his courses because he had spent the previous five years showing up in his subscribers’ inboxes every Saturday. While you don’t have to stick to a weekly frequency, it’s important to have some form of a schedule you can stick to.
If running out of topics is what keeps you from being consistent, you can do what Khe does to come up with newsletter topics:
- Engage with readers and ask them what they want to read and learn about
- Look at click history from your past emails to see which past topics have resonated
- Test ideas on your social media platform of choice; Khe does this on Twitter
- Keep a running list of topics, quotes, and anecdotes that grabbed your attention
- Don’t be afraid to write about an idea you already wrote about, either by rewriting what you already have or taking a different angle
3. Learn how to write to sell
Khe emphasizes the hard truth he had to learn about writing: writing a blog post and writing copy that needs to sell are two different worlds. Because he had a lot of savings he lived off of and wasn’t in a rush to make money, he didn’t take this seriously right away.
Creating and selling are very different skills. If you’re a good blogger, it doesn’t instantly mean you can write good sales copy. I spent too long selling features over benefits before I learned this. So if you want to be a creator and turn your passion into a profitable business, focus on building up your copywriting skills.
The easiest way to start? This landing page copy guide.
Start building your audience with a newsletter
Ready to start (or level up) your email list and earn a living doing what you love? The only thing you need is the right tool. Get your free ConvertKit account and start growing your newsletter today.