How The Water Coolest generated over 50,000 newsletter subscribers

When Tyler Morin was in high school, he dreamed of going into journalism, but his parents convinced him to major in finance instead. After graduating, he went into the financial sector, but he never lost his ambition to work in media, and he became obsessed with daily newsletters like Morning Brew and theSkimm. After experimenting with a group sports blog, he pivoted to launching a daily newsletter called The Water Coolest.

The Water Coolest found an audience and quickly grew to tens of thousands of subscribers. I recently interviewed Tyler about the founding of his company, how he found his first advertisers, and why he decided to launch a paid version.

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.

How Tyler first got the idea for The Water Coolest

After college, Tyler began working 12 to 15 hour days in the financial services consulting industry, but he’d always had an interest in media growing up. “My parents kind of said, well, you're not going to make any money doing that. Why don't you be a finance major? But I always had this interest in getting my creative juices flowing. So a couple of years into my career I started a blog —I guess the best way to describe it would be kind of a Barstool knockoff or a BroBible knockoff. And so I started writing about a lot of different things -- sports, dating -- all in kind of this irreverent and fun voice, and it started to pick up a little bit of steam. At one point we had about 30 or 40 people contributing and we were getting in the tens of thousands of views per month. It wasn’t something that was going to be life changing, but it was something I really enjoyed doing.”

Over time, he grew to admire the new crop of newsletter-focused media companies like Morning Brew and theSkimm. “And I just thought, ‘why don't we send some of our blogs out via email newsletter?’ So we started doing some of that and it got us some pretty good traction. I noticed that it was a lot easier to get people to read a blog if they were getting it in their email inbox every day, rather than trying to figure out how to get them to see it on Facebook or Twitter or something like that.”

Gradually, his writing started to shift to career-focused topics and articles about the finance world, and he considered pivoting the entire publication to a newsletter. “That's when we really shifted focus, cut a bunch of the fat, and said we're going to rename it. We're going to focus on business news and professional advice, send them out as newsletters, and go from there.”

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How he grew it to 50,000+ subscribers

Unlike some newsletters, The Water Coolest never had much of a web presence. If you wanted to read its content, you had to hand over your email address. That was by design. “One of the things that we consciously thought about was that we really wanted to be getting into people's inboxes because our ad revenue comes from the newsletter, so we want to make sure that you're not getting our content unless you're signing up for our newsletter, because that's how we keep the lights on.”

This made audience growth tricky since the company’s articles couldn’t be easily shared on social media. “One of the biggest things we did was work with a lot of Instagram influencers right off the bat. And I think it was a bit of luck and a bit of timing. There's a pretty big financial meme community, which is comprised mostly of people who are trading pretty regularly or working on Wall Street. There's a ton of these Instagram meme accounts, and I would say probably about a year and a half or maybe two years ago, these accounts really started taking off. I noticed them right around the time that we were really starting to focus on growth and we had some money to start reinvesting into the company.”

Tyler reached out to several of these meme accounts and developed relationships with them. “They were really great and helpful about getting the word out about us. They were pretty cheap compared to what you'd be paying for Facebook and Instagram ads to reach the same number of subscribers.” The company also built out a referral program that rewarded Water Coolest subscribers who signed up their friends for the newsletter.”

How his team compiles each day’s newsletter

The Water Coolest team gets started on each day’s newsletter around the time the markets open. “We’ll be taking a look at what the big headlines are. We have our roster of blogs that we're reading, newsletters, and then obviously The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg. Our goal is to always figure out what people will be talking about at the water cooler the next day. I'm pretty much, throughout the day, looking at Twitter, Reddit, the stock market, and Instagram to see really what people are talking about and what they're picking up on, because those tend to be the biggest stories that people will latch onto. Something that, say, Elon Musk said on Twitter -- we can get a whole piece out of that because it's so interesting and affects all of these different parts of Tesla and SpaceX and investing.” The newsletter summarizes all this news and it gets sent out at 6 a.m. every day. 

Tyler doesn’t plan to hire traditional journalists or engage in original reporting anytime soon. “I could certainly see us doing deeper dives on companies, so hiring possibly more folks coming out of the finance space who have a better understanding of that world and are able to write in our voice on more specific subjects.”

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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.

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