Was Randy Cassingham the first member of the Creator Economy?
In 1994, he launched This is True, one of the first email newsletters, and grew it into a thriving business.
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Randy Cassingham’s coworkers didn’t believe anyone could make a living on the internet, much less from sending out emails.
One could hardly blame them. This was in 1994, back when most people barely even understood what the internet was. At the time, Cassingham was a technical publisher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and one morning he showed up to work excited about a new business idea that had sprung into his mind the night before: a free email newsletter. “They’re looking at me like I’m an idiot,” he told me. “They asked, ‘How can you make money by giving away this stuff for free?’”
Cassingham was undeterred, and he promised to return in a few days with a more formal business plan. “So I printed up several copies of my business plan and gave it to these people who were doubtful,” he said. “After they read it, they said this isn’t going to work, you’re not going to make any money. They assumed that because I gave it away for free, there was no income potential, even though I said in the business plan that I could publish books, I could syndicate this to newspapers, I could sell advertising. They just didn’t see it.” The document even projected how long it would take for him to generate a full-time income: two years.
Soon afterward, he launched This is True, a weekly email roundup of weird and quirky news stories. And two years later, almost to the day, Cassingham quit his job and moved to Colorado. By that point, This is True had tens of thousands of readers, had sold thousands of books, and was syndicated to newspapers all across the globe. Cassingham had been featured in outlets like The New York Times, LA Times, and Newsweek, all of which wanted to explain to their readers what the internet was and what people could do on it.
Flash forward almost 30 years, and it’s no longer considered crazy to think a creative person could generate a living on the internet. Hundreds of thousands of people who work in what is often referred to as the Creator Economy collectively take home billions of dollars every year. And though it’s impossible to definitively pinpoint the first creator to crawl out of the internet’s primordial ooze, Cassingham is certainly a contender.
Why did Cassingham think he could build such a business, especially when many of the basic tools of internet commerce didn’t even exist yet? He had to figure it all out himself, and in the process he helped influence innovations in modern email marketing. He walked me through his journey in a recent conversation.
Let’s jump into my findings…
It all started with a corkboard
Today if you want to launch a newsletter, you use one of the hundreds of email service providers that range from Mailchimp to Substack. But in the early 90s, there were no ESPs; in fact, it was still difficult to send messages outside of your own organization.
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