The Newsletter OS road to success

Janel, the founder of NewsletterOS, talked with us about her experience with building and launching Notion-powered products.

Janel, welcome to NotionFamily! We’re thrilled to have you here for our very first interview! To begin, please introduce yourself: Where are you coming from, what’s your professional background?

Thanks for having me! Hi, I’m Janel. I’m a maker, marketer and writer based in Barcelona, Spain. I’m passionate about building products, reading & writing newsletters and creating with no-code.

When and why did you start using Notion? What you loved the most about Notion when you began using it?

I discovered Notion earlier this year from a YouTube video and thought, “cool, this looks like Evernote on steroids”. I had been an Evernote Premium customer for a long while but I made the switch gleefully.

I love Notion because it’s a great productivity tool that makes it so easy to get organized. I use it to create wikis for the things I’m learning and manage parts of my life.

How did you come up with the idea for Newsletter OS?

I actually made it for myself! I started writing a curated newsletter, BrainPint earlier this year.

I realized that between curating, writing, promoting and trying to monetize my newsletter, there was a lot to do. I needed to systemize the process to get organized, save time and prevent myself from getting burnt out.

I built an Operating System in Notion to help me manage my newsletter and streamline my workflow. I also used it to store all the quality resources I unearthed in the journey, in case I needed to refer to them again, or wanted to share them with others.

This is an example of how BrainPint’s Operating System used to look. Newsletter OS is an upgraded version of the original Operating System.

When did you decide to execute the concept? Did you conduct any market research before making your decision? What kind of signals encouraged you to give it a try?

I’m part of LaunchMBA, a community that encourages makers to launch 12 projects in 12 months. I was looking for something to launch in October.

One night I had an epiphany that I had already created a useful product. I decided to upgrade the content in my OS, add in more information, resources, systems & workflows and put it up for sale. I’ve been influenced by Jack Butcher’s “Build Once, Sell Twice” philosophy and thought this would be a perfect info product.

I spend a lot of time in newsletter communities like Newsletter Crew, Newsletter Geeks and Newsletter Creators. Through my experiences interacting with other newsletter writers, I sensed that there would be a demand for a structured resource that pulls together useful information and helps others systemize their workflows. People have asked me for tools & tips to help them grow their newsletters, and ideas on how to monetize them.

I validated the idea by putting up a pre-order page with a sample of how the product looked. I got $1k in pre-orders in the first 24 hours and went, “Ok, game on!”

How long did you work on the Newsletter OS before it was ready for launch? What were your toughest obstacles while developing the system?

Since it’s something I originally built for myself, I had already spent a few months collecting information & building out the architecture before I even got to the pre-order stage.

I often say I spent more than 150 hours on Newsletter OS, but in actual fact, it might be 200+ hours.

I didn’t face any particularly difficult challenges in creating the product itself. I’m very used to creating systems & playbooks so it was easy! I think the design of the logo / gif for the Product Hunt launch was probably the most tricky part for me, and my friend Oskar stepped in to rescue me!

I know that some customers who pre-ordered Newsletter OS hadn’t even used Notion before so I created detailed instructions on how to use the slightly more advanced sections to help them out. I had multiple people review Newsletter OS and provide feedback before I released it as I wanted to make sure that everyone (even total beginners) was able to use it, and that the product met their expectations. 

Tell us about your launch.  How did that go? Was that in line with your expectations and what did you do to advertise the product and acquire customers?

I launched my pre-order on Twitter on October 19th, and officially released my product on October 30th. My pre-order & official launch surpassed my expectations! I thought the product might take off but never expected it to get the traction that it did. I had a relatively high conversion rate at the pre-order stage (14% conversion rate from Twitter).

I launched Newsletter OS on Product Hunt on November 19th. As it was my first time launching anything on Product Hunt, I didn’t know what to expect. I set a target of 50 sales, which I achieved. I was blown away by how many customers took the time to leave a review in the comments. It really warmed my heart.

Even though I didn’t manage to place in the Top 5 products of the day, I was the #1 most commented on product of the week. There is a trickle effect from the Product Hunt launch that has carried on till today. Fun fact: Since the day I launched my pre-order, I’ve not had a day pass with 0 sales!

My customers mostly come through Twitter & word of mouth. I’m constantly experimenting with new distribution channels as well. I’ve created a long list of places where I can distribute Newsletter OS and I’m working through it at my own pace.

If you could go back now, what would you do differently with the launch?

This is an interesting question. Maybe clone myself during launch day? Haha. As a solo maker, I gave it everything I got. I was so exhausted after. I think if I prepared more copy ahead of time, I might have saved myself a little more time and energy and managed to get my product in front of a wider audience.

I’m very proud of my efforts though, and thankful for the support my community has given me. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Your most important advice for creators developing their first Notion-powered product right now?

Actually I have 3 pieces of advice for creators:

  1. Validate your product with a pre-order page. Don’t pour hundreds of hours into making something that you can’t sell.
  2. Before you launch it, make sure you get a few trusted & honest friends to help you look through and give you feedback. They’ll help you catch any errors and tell you if something is confusing before you put it in front of customers.
  3. Build in public and share your progress, so that others can learn from your successes and failures.
What are your plans for the future of Newsletter OS?

The goal with Newsletter OS has always been to help empower newsletter writers to start, write, manage, grow and earn from their newsletters. I’ve got a few exciting initiatives brewing in my head to help me achieve that. There’s a ton of opportunities but I want to focus on the most impactful ones instead of rushing after shiny things. Watch this space in the next month or two.

I’m also working on spreading the word about Newsletter OS and getting it in front of more potential customers.

Beyond Newsletter OS, I would like to work with other creators to build out different operating systems in new niches.

Can you recommend any webpages, courses, communities, or anything else that helps you to continue progressing and learning?

I love this question. I’ve drawn so much strength from various communities I’m in. A great free resource is Indie Hackers, where you can discuss your ideas, share your progress and build relationships with others who are building things.

I also am active in a few paid communities: LaunchMBA, Pro & Ness Labs. These communities have been really supportive during my launch.

If you want to learn how to be a creator, I highly recommend joining the Ness Labs community. Visualize Value is another good one that I’ve recently joined.

I read widely (yes, obsessed with newsletters) so I pick up a lot of knowledge & curate the best resources in my newsletter, BrainPint.

I really admire Marie Poulin & Khe Hy’s work with Notion, so I recommend checking them out if you’re keen to learn more about how to organize your life in Notion. I also need to mention Dan Shipper’s Superorganizers if you want to learn how smart people organize their lives!

Thank you for your time, Janel. You were a delight to talk to. Good luck with all your businesses, and we look forward to following your work.

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