How Finimize grew to over 1 million email subscribers

It experimented with everything from a referral program to live events.

Max Rofagha didn’t have a background in media prior to launching Finimize. He also didn’t have a background in finance for that matter. It was while conducting research on how to manage his own investments that he saw an opportunity for a daily newsletter aimed at helping millennials become more literate in finance.

Flash forward four years and Finimize now has over 1 million subscribers, a staff of financial analysts, and a worldwide community of young professionals who often meet up for in-person events.

I recently interviewed Max about Finimize’s early audience development strategy, how its subscribers organize their own in-person events, and why he decided to launch a subscription-funded mobile app.

To listen to the interview, subscribe to The Business of Content on your favorite podcast player. If you scroll down you’ll also find some transcribed highlights from the interview.

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This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Why Max launched Finimize

Max didn’t have any sort of background in media or finance prior to building Finimize. In 2012 he launched an ecommerce startup in Switzerland, and in 2015 sold it to a large media conglomerate. He didn’t take an interest in finance until he began getting serious about managing his own savings. “I was in my mid to late 20s at the time, and I did what everybody around me told me to do, which was start saving some money. And I took a chunk of my salary every month and I put it into a savings account. One day I woke up and I looked at my savings account and I realized, fantastic news, I have built up savings. The immediate followup question became, what do I do with those savings?”

Max made an appointment with a financial advisor, but he walked away disappointed from the experience. “The problem was that the moment I walked through the door, they had already laid out all the brochures onto the table. It became apparent that this was going to be a sales pitch rather than them genuinely wanting to help me, and I knew pretty quickly that wasn't the solution I was looking for. And so I went back home and I started to inform and educate myself as much as I could on finance and investing, and then in the evenings I would meet up with friends who were finance professionals, and I would bombard them with all the questions that I had from my self-education throughout the day.”

Eventually it dawned on Max that he probably wasn’t the only person who had this problem.  That realization led to the launch of Finimize in 2016. “It started out just as a side project. I built my own WordPress page and I linked up with a couple of people from my network who were finance experts and willing to produce the content. It was met with crickets, and I realized very quickly that nobody went to my WordPress page. And so I started emailing people, ‘Hey, I have this financial news site I’ve been building, check it out.’”

Over time, Finimize developed a consistent format. “Each issue focuses on the two most important finance stories of the day. We always answer three questions for you: What's going on here? What does it mean? And most importantly, why should you care? And we do this in less than three minutes a day while not using any jargon. And that has been in the DNA from day one.”

How Finimize grew its audience

Finimize today has over a million subscribers. “We’ve pretty much spent nothing on paid marketing. The very first couple thousand users we got from a popular blog writing about and recommending us. We got featured in Product Hunt and that gave us another couple thousand users. We then started introducing our referral program and that really helped boost our growth even more.”

Finimize also developed partnership deals with other media companies like Quartz and Wired in which both sides would mutually recommend each other to their respective newsletter subscribers. “That always really lends itself very nicely because they know that our audience is into newsletters because they subscribed to us and we know that their audience is into newsletters because of the same reason.”

Eventually, Finimize began to roll out other features, including a mobile app and live events. “Our mission from day one has been that we want to empower our users to become their own financial advisers, and we want to give them the tools and the information. So it’s been clear from the beginning that it's not going to just be a newsletter product. One day we decided we wanted to meet some of our users at a bar, and I think more than 50 people showed up. That took us by surprise. We didn't expect that. And so we basically did more events in London, and those then grew very nicely. We started having like 200, 300, sometimes even 400 people show up. We would then post photos in the newsletter, and then people would reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, this looks really cool. Can you do one in Los Angeles?’ Or ‘can you do one in Sydney?’ And we said, ‘we would love to do this because it'd be amazing to travel the world and host all these events, but we can't. But you know what actually, why don't you do this on our behalf?’ And that then gave life to the community in the form of the meetups.”

Finimize’s approach to monetization

There are a few ways that Finimize makes money. One is through its mobile app. “We launched the mobile app in July of last year as a paid subscription product. What you get with it is access to our full content library. You get access to our daily brief as an audio format as well, which is highly produced in our studio in New York. And then you get access to the analyst insights that we publish every single day. They help you spot investing trends and opportunities. And then the final piece is you get access to premium chat groups, and for us, that's one of the things that we really see is driving a lot of value and something that we definitely are going to explore deepening and integrating a bit further into our product. Essentially you get access to chat groups where you can interact with other people; they're organized by geography.”

Finimize also sells native ads in its newsletter. “The most nascent revenue stream that they're working on is our API business. Investment platforms come to us and they want to integrate our content into their platforms, and they can do that through an API, and then they sell our content as a benefit to their customers. We just signed one of the largest asset managers in Asia, and they integrate our content into their direct-to-consumer proposition, and then their users can engage with that content. The reason why they do this is because they want to give their users a reason to open their apps or platforms on a regular basis and drive up that engagement, which then ultimately drives up the business value for their services.”

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.