🛸 Overlooked's 2020 Annual Review

Overlooked #50

Hi, it’s Alexandre from Idinvest. Overlooked is a weekly newsletter about underrated trends in the European tech industry. Today, I’m sharing Overlooked’s annual review: my learnings, my goals for next year and some analytics. It’s also the first issue in 2021! Happy new year! I wish you all the best for this new chapter of our lives!

In this issue, I’m sharing publicly Overlooked's 2020 annual review. I started this newsletter in January 2020 as a side project. I've sent 50 newsletters. There are now more than 1,400 subscribers. I took the time to dig into my metrics and I have discovered insightful facts about running a weekly newsletter. I will also share topics I will work on in 2021 to bring Overlooked to the next level.

I have the quantitative metrics but I would also love to have qualitative feedback from my readership. If you could fill this 3-minute survey, it would be super helpful to make Overlooked a better experience for all readers. 🙏

3-Minute Survey

Overlooked would not have been a success without its readers! I would like to thank you personally for being part of it as a reader, as a commentator, as an advocate, as a co-writer and even as a business partner for some of you. I'm always grateful to receive feedback from readers and it's a pleasure anytime I've got the chance to meet a new reader.

Part I - Quantitative Metrics

Before jumping into the data and for the sake of transparency, I want to bring you on the other side of the table and show some screenshots of the Substack interface for writers. You have three main sections:

  • A general dashboard gives you access to general metrics for every newsletter published in the past with the number of views, the open rate, the click rate and details on the number of clicks and opens.

  • A view with the data usage on every newsletter. I know exactly who has opened the newsletter, how many times someone opened it and how many times someone clicked on links.

  • A view with every reader’s data usage. Similarly to the newsletter data, I know the number of newsletters you have opened in the past and how many times you have opened and clicked on a specific issue.

Honestly, I think that Substack gives a level of granularity on user data that is too deep. I don't need that much data on my users to run and improve my newsletter. For instance, I don't care that my colleagues don't read all the issues of my newsletter or that my dad has opened more than 100+ times my newsletter on Animal Crossing (true story!). The privacy of my reader is not as protected as it should. A good recommendation for the readers who care about privacy would be to use an anonymized mail address to subscribe to the newsletter or to read it in a newsletter reader app like Stoop.

When you export all the data given by Substack and you make some basic formatting and formulas, you obtain the below table. I'm not 100% confident on the data gathered. I did several tests with individual users and I discovered that the data on opens and clicks can be either under or over-reported. Moreover, all the issues that are too long to be read in most mailboxes have inconsistent data.

I even have an anecdote on data inconsistency. I've always thought that my Venture Chronicles series was not appreciated by my readers because they have an open rate lagging between 25% and 35%. I decided to write in February, May and June shorter editions to ensure that the series was not under-performing because of the content. I discovered that it was the opposite: the open rate was beyond 60% and it was the most loved series in my newsletter. Anyway, I believe that is still relevant to take a step back and understand the data because trends appear despite inconsistencies.

Like any other type of media (music, movies, video games), newsletters are also in the business of blockbusters. You see that most of the views come from a limited number of editions. These editions drive the growth of subscribers. I write every issue hoping that it will become a blockbuster. My rule is that any article published on Overlooked should be the best article ever written online on the topic discussed. It's not always the case but it's a goal that I'm trying to reach every week.

At the same time, I'm convinced that the weekly frequency is key to become successful. I was inspired by French Youtubers McFly & Carlito to choose this cadence. Their Youtube channel has skyrocketed when they decided to publish a new video every Sunday at 10 am.

The idea was to create a rendezvous with their audience with the funny ambition to replace the Sunday Mass. In the newsletter game, the weekly cadence increases the chances that a post will go viral. Moreover, part of the audience growth is linear. Publishing an article every week is a way to grind slowly but surely subscribers.

When I analyse Overlooked's most successful issues, I see several recipes for success:

  • Collaboration is key for creators. 7 out of the 10 most read issues have been written in partnership with other people (thanks to Maxime, Thibault, Ariel and Clément). It's a good way to piggyback a third-party audience, to increase the quality bar to publish a post and to come up with original ideas.

  • Nothing replaces hard work. The most successful issues were all issues that I have worked on for several weeks. Sometimes, I write posts during the weekend but they are never as good as the ones that have maturated for a longer period of time.

  • It works when you talk either about original topics (goPuff, collectives, pricing benchmark for mobile apps) or topics that you know better than anyone else (breaking into VC, Roam).

The other two metrics that I follow are the open rate and what I defined as the percentage of hardcore readers. These two metrics have decreased over time since the launch but I think it's too early to draw any conclusion.

  • The open rate is the percentage of subscribers who will open a given issue. An open rate above 50% is considered to be good.

  • A hardcore reader is someone who opened 5+ times a given newsletter. I look at the percentage of hardcore readers in comparison with subscribers. I consider that I have a product-market fit when a sub is a core reader of a given newsletter. The idea is that if I can reach out to them to talk about the topic and they should be super happy to have a chat.

Part II - Improving the Venture Chronicles Series

In 2020, I picked one piece of news per day and wrote a short comment about it. The idea was to talk about something that stroke me in the tech industry. As I told you, it's a series that is working quite well and it's also a good mirror of the content I read and the topics I'm interested in. I think it's also worth sharing some stats and ideas around this series.

When I take a step back at the end of the year, I covered mostly funding rounds, news related to the VC industry, exits (M&A and IPO), founders interviews and pieces giving startup advice.

Below are also the most mentioned topics in this series. I mostly covered my favourite thematics: investment themes (Mobile Apps, Creators, Food, Finance, Crypto, Newsletters, Social, No-Code, Jamstack, Ecommerce), favourite funds, news related to the VC industry and favourite large tech companies (Snap, Revolut, Apple).

When I look at the sources, I discovered that Techcrunch was ultra-dominant but that I also focused on finding unique sources coming back to the original source (a press release) or finding first-hand commentaries (under the label corporate / personal blog post).

This exercise was useful to discover my bias towards certain sources (esp. Techcrunch) and thematics. Another insight is that I'm still consuming information in a way that is too passive and as a result, I tend to cover thematics that I'm not that interested in just because they make the headlines (e.g. Mobility, Facebook, Insurance).

In 2021, I will try to diversify my sources away from Techcrunch. I will also become a more active news hunter. I will double down on the topics I love. I will also start to cover topics that I want to build knowledge on (Underground US venture firms, Education, Bottom-Up Sales, Gen. Z, Stripe).

Part III - What's Next for 2021?

I don't want to tease upcoming topics. I love the randomness of this newsletter. I want you to be surprised when you receive it in your inbox. Moreover, I don't have any subscriber target that I want to reach in 2021. I'm doing this project as a side hustle because I love writing on topics that I'm interested in. I would write even if I had no reader. I'm lucky to have some readers but I have no masterplan to triple or quintuple my audience in 2021.

Nevertheless, I can share some qualitative objectives for the upcoming year:

  • Have a better understanding of my readership. When I look at the background of my subscribers, I have identified four different personas: entrepreneurs, operators, investors and students. I believe that you all share a similar interest in tech. In 2021, I would like to understand the respective benefits that each segment has in reading Overlooked. My qualitative survey is the first step in this direction

3-Minute Survey

  • Double down on certain topics that I have already covered in 2020. I don't view my writing pieces as polished works of art but as checkpoints to share ideas about an open-ended investigation on a given topic.

  • Collaborate with other people on certain pieces. I want to work with people who are used to writing content but also help people who have strong knowledge of a certain thematic to write down and share their ideas to the world. I love playing the Socrates and helping brilliant minds who are not used to write to give birth to their ideas.

If I had more time, I would try to turn my readership into a vibrant community. Moreover, I would try to build a tech media based on a collective of independent writers and using all the new communication formats (podcasting, videos, social media, newsletters etc.). Obviously, I would also dedicate much more time in distributing the content (I guess that you have seen that I'm not the best content manager in the world). Unfortunately (or fortunately?), it will remain a side project - because I want to dedicate most of my time to the job I do and I love.

I need side projects to find a good personal balance but I believe that it's important to do them for fun. You don't have to spend your time seeking performance in anything you do. You don't have to measure and optimize anything you do. Sometimes, you have to let it go.

Thanks to Julia for the feedback! 🦒 Thanks for reading! See you next week for another issue! 👋