Can you fly that thing? Not yet!

Lessons learned from Matrix, Ness Labs, and Lenny Rachitsky

Matthias Bohlen
6 minutes reading time

This is one of my favorite dialogue scenes in “Matrix” (1999):

(Trinity and Neo are inside the Matrix. They stand on the rooftop of a skyscraper. A helicopter is parked a few meters away.)

Neo: Can you fly that thing?

Trinity: Not yet! (makes phone call)

Tank: Operator?

Trinity: Tank, I need a pilot program for a B-21/2 helicopter. … Hurry!

Tank: (hastily searches program and uploads it into Trinity’s mind)

Trinity: (awaits upload and re-opens her eyes)

Trinity: (to Neo) Let’s go!

Totally determined and with a serious face, she confidently steps into the cockpit of the B-21/2 and flies the mission to rescue their friend Morpheus.

Always gives me goosebumps when I watch this!

Uploading brain content would be great

Like all operators, Tank is a skilled programmer who can provide jacked-in crew members almost anything they need and guides them to and from dangerous events within the Matrix.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to learn anything within 30 seconds, simply by uploading the right “program” into our mind?

Unfortunately, our mind doesn’t work like that. Yet.

The next best thing to do instead is to read, listen and watch writing, audio and video from previous thinkers. Anne Laure Le Cunff, founder of Ness Labs, caught my attention this week because she spoke to my oldest dream (emphasis is mine):

Using the knowledge gained by previous thinkers is also one of the fastest ways to make intellectual progress. To “stand on the shoulders of giants” is to upload these brilliant thinkers’ understanding to your own mind, to build on top of it, to share your new insights, and to keep on fostering our collective intelligence.

And on she goes with examples for 10 impressive women who are, or were, such giants in their thinking. I remember that the list contains Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace, of whom I have been a fan since I was 16 when I learned physics and programming.

Do you want to know who my “current giant” is, on whose shoulders I stand and build the News Bundler startup?

Lenny Rachitsky: My current “giant”

I discovered Lenny Rachitsky on Twitter and noticed he writes a very successful newsletter, with both paid and free issues. On the About page of his newsletter, he says that if I subscribe, I can expect at least 100 issues a year, although he takes 4 weeks off each year to recharge.

Let him speak about it himself:

Every week, I humbly tackle reader questions about product, growth, people management, and anything else that’s stressing you out at the office.

As the founder of newsbundler.com, I’m totally interested in what Lenny has to offer. Already in 2019, he wrote a seminal series about how to kickstart and scale a marketplace business. News Bundler is such a marketplace: It matches newsletter authors who want to make more money, with subscribers who want to spend less.

Lenny’s writing totally resonated with me, especially because he described the “chicken and egg” problem so well. For News Bundler chickens and eggs mean authors and subscribers:

  • When there are no authors with their newsletters, subscribers won’t sign up.
  • When there are no subscribers, authors won’t see a reason to publish anything.

Lenny proposed a 4-step way out of this dilemma, and I could already see me do it:

  1. Constrain the marketplace 🔬
  2. Decide which side of the marketplace to concentrate on 🧐
  3. Drive initial supply 🐥
  4. Drive initial demand 👋

How I approach building the News Bundler marketplace

Precisely describing the chicken/egg problem was already part of the solution, I think. My next steps were pretty straight forward (although not easy):

Step 1: Constraining the marketplace means “give it some boundaries so that you can quickly get to the critical mass for that bounded space”.

For News Bundler, I decided to constrain the marketplace by making it simple, slick, and minimal in design, and by niching down on the possible audience. I want to attract authors who have 500-1000 subscribers first, so that growth will be really attractive for them. I’ll take the big newsletters with 10,000 or 100,000 subscribers later.

Step 2: Which side of the marketplace should I go first? It was pretty clear that it’s the supply side that makes the platform interesting, not the demand side. To get initial supply, I started with a curated directory of good newsletters.

Step 3: Driving initial supply: Once I had put a few newsletters in there, the site was starting to look interesting. Since then, I have been inviting authors to join and add their listing on the News Bundler platform, too. I still ask more and more authors to join, enlist in the directory, connect their email sending systems, and give me feedback about the experience.

Step 4: I made it possible for any user to define bundles and to subscribe to them. Whenever an author now sends out a new issue, News Bundler dispatches the email to the subscribers of the bundle to which the newsletter belongs. This allowed me to test what happens when demand (i.e. subscribers) will hit the platform as well.

I am now connecting the payment systems: Charging subscribers and paying the money out to the authors. In my lab I can see money from test charges coming in and being assigned to the correct bundles. This is a first important step to handle money on the platform. When it comes to money, absolute correctness and transparency are key. Money must neither be lost nor generated. :-) It must be totally clear where it came from and where it went (and why!).

On Twitter, I build in public, i.e. I share every entrepreneurial step along the way, on my personal Twitter account, using the #buildinpublic hashtag.

Please: Connect to the marketplace early!

To prepare yourself to earn money from selling your own newsletter bundles, take the following steps now:

  • Sign up for the News Bundler App
  • Add your newsletter to the directory
  • Connect your sending system (ConvertKit, Mailer Lite, Gmail, whatever)
  • Get back to me with feedback about your experience

This will make you ready for the exciting things to come, and it also allows me to make the software as correct and as easy to use as possible, right from the get go.

Where to find out more

Want your own small media business, together with another author you trust?

Download our FREE eBook called "2 Writers Making Money". It shows you exactly how to raise your income as a paid newsletter author by teaming up with a buddy, selling a bundle of your newsletters, and splitting the revenue.

Set this up once, then forget about it and get back to writing.

eBook

Get your income growth playbook here: