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“Editing your own work is so freaking hard.”
- Ali Abouelatta, First 1000
Ali Abouelatta started the First 1000 newsletter as a way to meet people in the “startup world”. With plans to move to the US from Egypt as part of his Masters program, he figured a startup-focused newsletter was his best bet to get his foot in the door.
Here are Ali’s thoughts on creating a passion project as a way into the startup ecosystem:
On his research process: It usually starts with what I call “absorb phase” that’s from Mon to Thurs…I am just listening to and reading everything about the company I plan to cover in my downtime.
On deciding what to write about: Every time someone signs up…I send them an email asking what companies they want me to cover. I now have a backlog right now of around 517 different companies.
On staying motivated: I have a notion document literally called “A reminder why you do this”…I have dozens of screenshots there…of memorable moments...from writing the newsletter….every now and then I go back to it…and be like…this is it.
Before first 1000, I had a running excel file where I put in YouTube links from interesting founder interviews…ones I should come back to. The thing about this excel sheet was that A LOT of the links there were founder interviews before their companies really took off. Patrick Collison when he was 14, Travis when Uber was in 3 cities…etc..etc
There was something different about those interviews…they were raw, and full of insights (right before the PR people came in). In parallel…I also had a Substack registered for a year and the idea was to interview people who made the switch from big companies to startups and just highlight how that process was like….but I just never really published anything.
I thought it was a cool idea in theory but wasn’t really attracted to it. So one time I was in a startup Slack community answering some questions in the growth channel….and then sort of every third question was about acquiring early customers. I had the excel file of interviews from the early days so I was just using that to answer people’s links about how other companies got customers early on. Then I was like this is what I should write about on my Substack...and haven’t looked back since.
As for my research process… it usually starts with what I call “absorb phase” that’s from Mon to Thurs.
I am just listening to and reading everything about the company I plan to cover in my downtime while working. I take light notes in Roam.
On Thurs night I start constructing a timeline of events and see where the big holes are and start doing more targeted research.
Friday I start on the outline and first draft. Then after the first draft I do a little bit of reading of other stuff that has been written about the company on Medium/Substack/..etc I try to leave this till at least I have a full draft ready so it doesn't pollute my thinking and writing process.
Saturdays morning is draft 2. Then as the evening kicks in I start doing the last final edits while watching a movie or something. I try my best not to make it feel like work. Then at around 1-2 am it’s all good to go. I schedule it for 9:19 am on Sunday and go to bed and I sleep like a baby for 9-10 hours.
Every time someone signs up…I send them an email asking what companies they want me to cover…I have a backlog right now of around 517 different companies….I don’t necessarily pick the most popular one….but I use it as an assist.
What I try to do is cover different strategies each week. One week it’s partnerships. One week it’s referrals. One week it’s PR. Etc.
So when I find myself doing the same thing for a few weeks…I try to go back to that requests table and pick a company who I know did this one strategy i didn't touch upon at all…and is different than my most recent issues
My favorite issues to write so far have been:
The “goal” of starting a newsletter was to meet people in the startup world here in the US. I was living in Egypt up until 4 months ago (but I knew I was coming like a year before that because I was doing my Masters here).
Over time that changed to build a distribution channel for startups serving startups. Basically if you think about who reads my newsletter…it’s early stage founders and people working in big tech companies who are going to start a company in a year or two. My goal is to be the best ROI distribution channel for any company/creators who are explicitly serving those early stage founders.
This is nowhere close to what First 1000 is today…but that’s the goal.
I have a notion document literally called “A reminder why you do this”. I have dozens of screenshots there of memorable moments…from writing the newsletter….every now and then I go back to it…and be like …this is it.
Also seeing your numbers go up really helps with motivation.
As for if I ever stopped writing a piece…YES…SO MANY TIMES actually…I think I have 8-9 unpublished pieces that I invested 10-15 hours in each. You just know it’s not good enough or there is nothing unique there.
I love Workspaces - it’s actually really light and fun to read and different than a lot of other stuff out there.
Some other really unique newsletters out there that I love:
It would take me 9.6 years to cover all the company requests I have to date….so I think so yes…There is no shortages of interesting companies.
The thing about GTM or early stage growth is that it is continuously changes. What worked 3 years ago wont work today and what works today wont work tomorrow. A big part of why something works is novelty and as it becomes an industry standard founders start getting more creative with their launches and acquiring those very first users.
Ohhh I am big on Travel…before Covid hit I would travel every 3-4 months to random places. I
take extended breaks from the newsletter where I have 2-3 guest posts in a row every 6 months or so.
It’s really important to be able to switch it off for a little bit every now and then and having a nice little audience makes it easy to find amazing smart people who are willing to takeover for a week.
So right now, I get around 80-100 new signups per day just organically. I think there is a really big opportunity in organic search especially for what I write about that I just never took the time to optimize for and fuel…so that’s next on my plate.
Besides that, I think another big opportunity is Twitter. I haven’t really been that active on Twitter but I plan to spend a lot more time there.
I think thats plenty to try to do right over the next 3-4 months.
I have not. I think community is really easy to do…and very hard to do right.
From personal experience, I am part of 7 very niche online communities and I am only kind-of active in one (which has only 60 members). The value of a community diminishes as it grows and most creators end up either ignoring them and let the value evaporate or invest more time/money/energy into running continuously as it grows. That’s not a fight I am willing to endure.
I think right now it’s mainly time. It was really easy to spend 40-50 hours a week writing one piece during the pandemic but now since I have also been traveling a little bit over the past month has been really challenging.
Also the bots started creeping in and now I have to spend so much more time doing (boring) fraud detection stuff.
Finding that one person whose entire life revolve around the thing I need help and getting on a 15 min call.
That’s rough! I think would probably be designing those incredibly efficient furniture. Like the tables that turn into chairs and beds that roll up on your wall…etc
THOSE ARE FUN!
So I call First 1000 my weekend job. Most of the work I do there starts on Friday morning and ends late at night on Saturday.
The research part I do while working or doing other stuff (its mostly just listening to youtube videos).
Going full-time is unfortunately is not a possibility for me due to “visa-related-stuff.”
AN EDITOR. I soooo desperately need an editor.
Editing your own work is so freaking hard.