How I Went From 0 to 2000 Email Subscribers In 30 Days

2021 Update: The original purpose of this article was to get a job at a startup. To do so, I documented my approach to acquiring 2000 email subscribers in 30 days, and leveraging this as a portfolio piece.

I was able to achieve this in a series of 4 experiments documented below. I then used this portfolio piece to get an interview at a startup, and I got the job. I still believe that the best way for people to break into this industry is to showcase your portfolio, not by getting a MBA or relying on an old fashion resume.

Experiment #1: Acquiring My First 100 E-Mails

Instead of building a product first and then finding customers, I figured my first goal will be to obtain 100 e-mails before I even have anything to offer. I have a rough idea of the vision I want to accomplish, but as Seth Godin says, “Don’t find customers for your product, find products for your customers.”

To do this, I will need to tap into my own personal network and ask if they’re interested in joining my email newsletter (which I don’t have yet).

When starting out a business, it’s important to “Do Things That Don’t Scale” and recruiting your initial customers manually, is one of the most effective ways.

My network may not be my target market, but they probably have friends who are. I’ll be leveraging referrals later on in a separate experiment.


Here’s my experiment…

Objective: Obtain my first 100 e-mails from people who are interested in entrepreneurship.

Time Period: 1 week: November 16-23, 2015



My goal is to get at least 100 emails, since it’s a relatively small number and I have no existing product/content yet. It doesn’t make sense to leverage any of the other acquisition channels yet.

I have 685 connections on Facebook, therefore I would need to get 15% of my friends interested in order to reach my target. 


If successful, my email list will increase by at least 100 because many of my friends will be supportive or interested in what I have to offer.

Execution Plan:

  1. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of everyone I message, their response, and their email.
  2. Prioritize the people who have the highest chance of being interested in my offering (i.e. starting a business with no previous experience). Utilize Facebook’s Graph feature by typing in terms such as: “Friends who are interested in entrepreneurship”.
  3. Send a copy/paste message to 10 random friends in my network.
  4. Analyze response rate and adjust the message if necessary
  5. Rince and repeat until I have 100 email sign ups

Below is a snippit of the message templates and some variations which I will use.



Using the FB graph feature, I identified 17 friends who are interested in entrepreneurship. To my surprise, all 17 of them provided their emails, this was pretty effective. 83 more to go. 

*note to self – remember this if I’m going to use FB Ads*. 


Afterwards, I started sending messages to the rest of my network.

  • 223 people were contacted
  • 142 (64%)  provided their email (as of this moment)
  • 67 (30%) haven’t replied
  • 14 (6%) were not interested

I didn’t have to switch any of the messages up, it seemed quite effective. Here’s one via FB messenger…


And another via text…


I also went to a local entrepreneur meetup on Tuesday, my goal was to collect as many business cards as I could and to send them an email afterwards. Got a few this way too!



  • It’s very important to create a proper spreadsheet to track the people you’ve contacted for following up. There were quite a few people who replied with interest, but never provided an email. I waited a day or two to re-engage these people by sending them a reminder. Otherwise, they may have been lost leads!
  • To help keep track of the people I’ve contacted, I turned my spreadsheet into a sales funnel using the tabs: No Contact -> Contacted -> Closed (provided email) -> Not interested
  • This could very well be a confirmation bias, but it appears that there are quite a few people who want to start a business, but don’t know where to start. I’ll drill into this much deeper with actual interviews and data, but for now…here are some examples:

Follow Up Action Items

  • Repeat the above but to the rest of my Facebook friends list. So far the ones I’ve messaged are those I’m closer with, which may have resulted in a pretty high success rate of 64%.
  • The next batch of people I’ll message aren’t as close to me, thus I’ll assume the success rate will be more around the 30-50% mark. With 462 friends still to contact, I might be able to get 139 to 230 more emails.
  • Once I’ve leveraged up my own personal network, it’ll be time for Experiment 2 and a new goal of gathering 1000 emails.

Experiment #2: Acquiring 1000 Email Subscribers By Messaging Redditors

Takeaway: Sending cold messages to Redditors can be effective but it’s time consuming. I was able to achieve a conversion rate of ~40% by copy/pasting a general message to users asking for permission to provide a URL to my website, FounderOrigins.

Moving forward, I will put this channel on hold because of the risk of getting banned from the targeted subreddits.


Experiment ID #2 – Acquisition (Sales) – Sending Cold Messages to Redditors

Overall Goal: 1000 subscribers

Timeframe: February 29, 2016

KR1 (90%): Weekly growth of 25% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by end of Feb 2016)

KR2 (50%): Weekly growth of 50% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by end of Jan 2016)

KR3 (10%): Weekly growth of 100% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by end of Dec 2016)


Objective: Determine the conversion rate of cold-messaging redditors to gain a better understanding if this is a viable channel.



I’d like to build my subscriber base to around ~200-300 before I start leveraging referrals. To get to that number, I figured the easiest way would be to stick with a direct sales approach.


If successful, the conversion rate will be at least 25% of all the redditors I message. Assuming it takes ~3 minutes to send a message per person (including finding posts, person, copy/pasting/personalizing message)… I’d send 20 messages in an hour, of which 5 people will convert.

Experiment Design

  1. Determine the subreddits that have the highest probability of containing my target market (aspiring entrepreneurs)
  2. Identify recent (<2 weeks) posts that are relevant to FounderOrigins (e.g. business ideas, first businesses, inspiration, etc…)
  3. Skim through the posts and prioritize user comments who have the greatest likelihood of responding positively to my cold-message
  4. Send a message to the redditors asking if they want to sign up
  5. For redditors that express interest, follow up to see if they did sign up
  6. Keep a spreadsheet tracking each redditor who was messaged and their response


In total, I sent 46 messages which resulted in 18 sign ups and a conversion rate of 39%. I timed how long it took to send 3 messages (yes I know, it’s not the most scientific method) which took ~7 minutes (2.3 minutes/message)… 

Here’s the breakdown of the results…

1. Relevant subreddits:

  • /r/entrepreneur
  • /r/smallbusiness

2. Identify recent posts relevant to FounderOrigins

3. I looked for the users of comments that are about:

  • traditional businesses
  • seeking instructions or guidance for starting a business
  • general/interesting comments I can use to personalize the message
  • for example…

4. Sending a message to the users:

  • I wrote the message template with the following things in mind:
  • Not spammy looking – I did this by asking for permission first, rather than self promoting the link right away. The idea being that potential subscribers would be more interested if permission was requested in advanced…see permission marketing
  • Personalize the message – I did this by adding a sentence or two relating to the user’s initial comment on the post. I did this to make it seem like I wasn’t just copy/pasting and spamming users
  • For example…

5. When someone was interested, I would reply with the link to the website. Here’s an example…



  • Based on a conversion rate of ~40% and ~2.5 minutes/message, with this approach I could send ~25 messages per hour… which would result in 10 subscribers an hour.
  • The approach of asking for permission was quite effective, in fact, I got some feedback from some of the users saying how genuine the message was. For example…
  • This isn’t really a learnings for the marketing channel itself, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of interest from aspiring entrepreneurs into “traditional businesses” rather than the whole online/startup types.
  • I’m positive I could decrease the time it takes to send a message by creating some sort of process/assembly line to send messages (e.g. open 5 tabs at a time, copy-paste the messages/subject into each tab, put in the names of each users, send).

Follow-up Actions

I’m not going to pursue this channel for two reasons:

1) It requires too much “input-time” to yield subscribers. 10-15 subscribers/hour is great for starting out, but if I want a minimum of ~25% growth each week, I need a passive method to drive traffic to my website

2) I’m pretty sure there is a “cap” of how many messages I can send consecutively before I trigger reddit’s spam detection and get banned. I really don’t want to risk getting banned from two of the main subreddits which consist of my target market.

I even sent a message to the mod… here was his reply


Experiment #3: Re-engaging Unverified Emails

Takeaway: Sending re-engagement emails to unverified users is an effective method to obtain subscribers (20% conversion rate which resulted in 8 new users).

However, this method will be put on hold for two reasons: 1) I don’t have enough unverified emails to justify pursuing this channel, and 2) I will be automating this strategy with a Drip Campaign in the near future.


Experiment ID #3 – Activation (Email) – Following-Up on Unverified Emails

Overall Goal: 1000 subscribers

Timeframe: February 29, 2016

KR1 (90%): Weekly growth of 25% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by Feb 2016)

KR2 (50%): Weekly growth of 50% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by Jan 2016)

KR3 (10%): Weekly growth of 100% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by Dec 2016)


Objective: Determine the effectiveness of re-engaging unverified subscribers. 



Signing up for my newsletter requires a double opt-in process. Users must perform two steps: 1) input their email to my signup form, and then 2) click on the link in the confirmation email.

After a user provides their email, they’re redirected to the thank you page which provides further instruction to confirm their email…


Currently, 13% of my list (39 people) have not verified their email.


If successful, my email subscribers will increase by 20 people (or 50% of unverified people), because: 1) they’re already interested because they put in their email, and 2) won’t get them all because some may be fake emails.

Experiment Design

  1. Write the email to send out to the unverified users
  2. Export the list from AWeber into a spreadsheet
  • Filter to send the email to only the users who have not signed up after ~2 days
  1. Copy/paste the filtered list and send the email
  2. Wait 24 hours and analyze the results
  3. Reach out to converted users to find out why they didn’t confirm sooner


Writing The Email

I did some Googling and found a pretty good template of a re-activation email, check it out here.

Using that resource as a basis, I will be sending out the below email.


Avoiding the Spam Folder

AWeber doesn’t allow me to send emails to these unverified emails. Therefore, I’m going to export the unverified emails into a spreadsheet and send them via gmail (bcc list).

After doing some googling, it seems like I need to avoid sending over 500 emails a day, otherwise I might trigger gmail’s spam protection. Check out the recommended readings below for the resources.

Analyze Results

Using the Rapportive gmail extension, I’m able to see who opens and reads my email. I can also keep track of which unverified users end up confirming their address. Below is a summary of the results…

  • Follow up emails sent: 40
  • # of invalid emails: 3 (7.5%)
  • # of emails verified: 8 (conversion rate: 20%)
  • # of emails still unverified: 32 (80%)
  • # of emails opened: 24 (60%)

Reach out to converted verified users

I sent emails to the people who verified their emails after my reminder to get some insight into why this happens.

For example…


Of the 4 responses I received, all of them were because they “missed it”. Fortunately, none of the confirmation emails went to the spam folder.


I was expecting a much higher conversion rate but only achieved a measly 20%. A big factor to this is that even though 60% of users opened my email, only 33% of them verified their email. I’m guessing the two likely reasons for this low conversion are: 1) they lost interest, or 2) the copy of my email could be improved.

Based on user feedback, the people who actually converted simply missed my initial confirmation email. This should be an easy fix by automating the re-engagement email after a time period has passed.

I’ll put this strategy on hold, mainly because the percentage of unverified emails is still quite low (8-12%) of my total email list. However, as that number grows, I’ll look into optimizing this channel via a drip campaign.

Follow-up Actions

Automate the re-engagement process by sending a timed email to all unverified emails ~2-3 days after they signed up. To do this, use a drip campaign such as from Unfortunately, AWeber does not provide this capability yet, so I may have to switch.

Recommended Readings:

Experiment #4: Commenting On Reddit Posts

Takeaway: Commenting on popular Reddit posts in /r/entrepreneur is VERY effective and resulted in ~770 email signups in just a couple days.


EID #4 – Acquisition (Existing Platforms) – Commenting on Popular Reddit Posts

Overall Goal: 1000 subscribers

Timeframe: February 29, 2016

KR1 (90%): Weekly growth of 25% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by Feb 2016)

KR2 (50%): Weekly growth of 50% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by Jan 2016)

KR3 (10%): Weekly growth of 100% to my subscriber list (1000 subscribers by Dec 2016)



  1. Increase traffic to my landing page and email subscribers from reddit
  2. Set up an automatic system so I get notified whenever someone replies to me, and when a post has been created with certain keywords


Based on a previous experiment (EID #2), I sent PMs to redditors who replied in a relevant post (sent 40 messages in 1 hour which resulted in 16 signups, or a conversion rate of 40%), I realized /r/entrepreneuris a good opportunity to reach out to my target demographic.

Based on my backlog, this specific strategy is ranked high on my list because of the minimal resources to implement this, and the exposure potential is high.


The whole idea of how this channel works is this:

  • I comment on a “hot” reddit post with a link to my website
  • As the post gets more upvotes, more people will see my comment (i.e. link to website)
  • My website gets more visitors and signups. New signups will read and be impressed by my first email guide..
  • They upvote my comment. Now even more people see it and visit my site
  • Rinse and repeat…


I’m not sure how I can make an accurate hypothesis for this one, but I’ll try…

The subreddit /r/entrepreneur has ~170,000 subscribers, of which ~500 users are online right now (Monday 12PM EST). If I was to filter for the “top” comments of the week, the popular posts have ~400 comments.

Unfortunately, Reddit does not provide the actual “view numbers” of a post. So instead, I’ll apply the 80/20 rule by assuming 20% of redditors actually comment on a post. Therefore, a top reddit post would have 2000 unique visitors. Based on this, my hypothesis would be:

If successful, I will get 40 new email signups because the conversion rate will be 2% (best guess) of the total visitors in a top post.


Step 1) Create a list of relevant topics that I’ll reply to

I only want to comment on posts that are relevant to my business. To create this list, I went through a lot of the old posts and made note of the type of posts that seem to recur. The type of posts that are relevant to my site are:

  • Ideas for side businesses
  • Entrepreneur doesn’t know where to start
  • Local businesses (e.g. pressure washing, landscaping, etc…)
  • Business ideas while in school
  • Low cost businesses

Step 2) Create a system that will allow me to comment on “new” posts

I need to comment on posts while they are still “new” in order to gain early traction to ensure it’s near the top of the comments if it blows up. If I’m too late, my comment will get buried with the hundreds of other comments.

To accomplish this, I’ve used two methods:

Method 1 – Automated notifications by TrackReddit on Keywords

Based on the list in Step 1, I created keywords that would be relevant for those posts. For example:


I would then get an email notification whenever a post is created that has that keyword…


Method 2 – Twice a Day Notification Reminders to Check the “New” Tab

From what I’ve read, the best time to post on Reddit is around 8 to 10AM, and also 8 to 10PM (see:

Therefore, I set two daily notifications at 9AM and 9PM where I will click the “new” tab on Reddit, and scour the list for relevant posts that weren’t picked up by TrackReddit

Step 3) – Create a message template

Blatant self-promotion on Reddit is considered a major faux-pas and would result in getting down-voted to oblivion.

For each post, I’ll try to customize my comment to make it as relevant as possible. At the end of each comment, I’ll add a template description of my business and a call-to-action.

The main thing is to follow permission marketing techniques and NOT to include the link to my landing page. Instead, I’ll explicity ask for permission to include my link.

Once someone replies to my comment asking for more info, I’ll reply to their comment with the link of my website. When enough people PM or comment me, I’ll add an EDIT to my original comment with the link to my website.

For example, here’s the template I prepared first…

message template

Step 4) – Reply to PMs/Comments Immediately and Attempt to Initiate Discussion

To get an email notification everytime someone PMs or replies to my comment, I used Changemon, here’s a guide on how to set it up:


My two main goals whenever someone publicly replies to my comment are: 1) provide a link to my landing page (so both the OP and other people will see it), and 2) obtain a testimonial/social from the OP to gain the trust of other redditors.

Here’s an examples of my replies to accomplish this…


Once I receive enough PMs or replies, I’ll edit my main comment with…

“[EDIT 1] – Received several requests for the link, so I’ll just post it here – [link to my website]”


To date, I have only used Reddit and Twitter (to a small degree) to advertise my website. Therefore, the majority of my web stats are derived from Reddit.

Here are some of the stats:

  • Total Days: 38 (Dec 5 – Jan 11)
  • Total Posts: 39
  • Total Unique Sessions from Reddit: 1837
  • Total Email Signups from Reddit: 768
  • Conversion Rate: 42%
google analytics


1) Do not include link in the first reply

I only did one test but it was enough for me to stop trying. For one of the posts, I included the link to my original comment and got downvoted immediately.

downvoted post

Instead, the best way is to ask for permission to include the link. Once I get some replies of people asking for the link, I’ll edit my original reply with a link to my website.

upvoted post

2) Commenting on Frequent Recurring Posts is Ineffective

Of the 39 posts I commented on, 11 of them were very similar and had the theme of “what are some small business ideas?”

These type of posts were ineffective and only resulted in 8% of the email subscribers. This is probably because people tend to get bored with these type of posts resulting in less upvotes.

Follow-up Action: Remove certain TrackReddit keyword posts to focus on the more effective topics… see below

3) Posts about “Unsexy businesses” and “Young Entrepreneurs Looking for Advice” are Most Effective

There were a total of three posts related to “unsexy/dirty business ideas”. Each of these three posts generated at least 165 upvotes and 225 comments, all making it to the front page.

Unfortunately, I was too late to comment on one of them and missed my chance. However, I was able to comment early on 2 of these 3 posts which resulted in 55% of my email subscribers.

Furthermore, 8 of the 39 posts were young entrepreneurs asking for some sort of advice. These 8 posts resulted in 17% of my email subscribers.

Follow-up Action: Add TrackReddit keywords that target posts with the theme “unsexy businesses” and “young entrepreneurs”


Commenting on posts relevant to your business in subreddits with your target demographic is an effective early-on marketing channel. The most effective method is to follow permission marketing techniques.


  1. Confirmed that /r/entrepreneuris a good platform for my website. Will follow this up with creating posts with valuable content, instead of just commenting on posts. Based on the the type of posts that yielded the most subs, I’ll try to write some guides focusing on “unsexy businesses” and also targeted to young entrepreneurs. I’ll post the experiment/results of this once it’s complete. Also just to be completely transparent, this post in itself is an experiment to determine the effectiveness of posting my marketing experiments in order to drive traffic to my website, while not explicitly linking to it. Of course, I’ll also post the final experimental report of this soon!
  2. Create experiment with a similar “commenting” approach on another platform, Quora. Stay tuned for the experiment for this one too!

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