Get-rich quick schemes are everywhere these days. Scroll through your social feed, you’ll soon find a self-professed guru bragging about their “system” for making it big and–surprise!–pushing an online course as your blueprint to minting millions. Your lizard brain takes the bait, convinced that mastering the next growth hack will push you over the line into the land of oat milk and artisanal honey.
Easy there, reptile. Trust your neocortex: it knows better. It knows social media is like a funhouse mirror that perverts, rather than reflects, how things work in real life.
Packy McCormick reminded me of this in last week’s Audience Builders conversation. I first became aware of Packy on Twitter in mid-2020, and, soon after, subscribed to his newsletter, Not Boring. One of the first things I read was his bull case for Snapchat, which convinced me to build a position. That worked out pretty well, so thanks Packy! For a free newsletter, I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth.
More recently, Packy’s bullish on Web3, the grab-bag of crypto-creator protocols like currently buzzy NFTs, and ready-to-buzz social tokens, and DAOs:
Spending time learning about and playing with Web3 has asymmetric upside. It’s like playing around in the early days of the internet, except that you get rewarded for just playing. You don’t need to build the next big thing. Participating in the right community, buying the right NFT or social token, or backing the right protocol early brings intellectual and financial rewards.
If you’re interested in that topic, join this week’s Audience Builders with Jarrod Dicker, Zoe Scaman, and Patrick Rivera as we explore the evolving nature of fandom and ownership. And, as with all investment advice, caveat emptor.
In last week’s year-in-review post, Packy detailed Not Boring’s meteoric rise. After an April 2020 launch, he quickly picked up a few thousand subscribers and a top listing on Product Hunt. And clearly it’s Not Boring for his now more than 42,000 subscribers. As his momentum grew, Packy also launched an investing syndicate and built a thriving sponsorship business. All as a one-person team–with some incredible support, I must add, from his wife Puja and brother Dan.
As host of the Audience Builders chats, I keep my guests focused on real tactics that founders and operators can put into action. Packy shared plenty of those, including this crucial takeaway: there’s no substitute for letting things happen organically.
Key anecdote: On a day trip to the beach, Packy and Dan dreamed up a list of over a hundred growth hacks for Not Boring. He tested just a handful. Some worked ok. The rest failed, including the decision to post his newsletters on Reddit and Hacker News. Helicoptering in to self-promote without an authentic presence in those communities, Packy ended up getting shadow-banned with no traction for his efforts.
Instead, Packy doubled down on being genuine. His biggest assets are his writing style, his enthusiasm for the material (his posts regularly exceed 5,000 words), and the community of supporters that has sprung up around him, especially on Twitter You can’t reverse engineer that.
But Packy found newsletter-market fit only after putting in a year of solid effort with few tangible returns. Long before launching Not Boring, Packy took David Perrell’s Write of Passage course. It helped him establish a writing practice, and boosted his writerly confidence. He was ready, or so he thought, to start building an audience.
Packy then spent a full year writing a different newsletter, “Per My Last Email”. After 12 months of consistent output, his subscribers plateaued at 400. Same writer, different format, different subject matter, wildly different results. While Packy developed a regular cadence, he had the self-awareness to shake things up when growth flatlined. So, he pivoted. And things took off from there.
A common refrain in creator-to-aspiring-creator pep talks is that consistency is a key virtue. Put in the work, maintain a regular schedule for your creative output, and you’ll find your audience. But that’s not the whole story.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
– Anon., though often misattributed to Albert Einstein
How does this notion square with the consistency rule? Consistency is, it turns out, pointless without adaptation. Regular production creates enough of a body of work, that you can learn from both your wins and losses, and get better.
Packy’s year of slowly finding his voice in “Per My Last Email” was his own version of the Beatles gigging at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, or Luke Skywalker getting abused by Yoda in the Dagobah swamp. He needed to experience the struggle of slow growth, the pain of searching for something without a destination, to gain the clarity of vision that led him to his current path.
I’m returning to this lesson at an opportune time. Two years after selling Inverse, I recently left to embark on a new journey. I’m not sure yet where it’s going. Packy’s story, and my own experience, reminds me that focusing too much on the endpoint misses the point entirely.
Every journey begins with a single step. Then another. So I’ve laced up my most comfortable pair of shoes, and I’m ready for stride number one. And to let things unfold from there.