One Month, 10K Subscribers (The Neuron)

See how Pete Huang made it happen

The Neuron, a daily newsletter about the AI space, has amassed a list of 10,000 subscribers in its first month using an unusual strategy: targeting readers by understanding their psychology instead of their demographic data.

The Neuron’s creator, Pete Huang, who goes by “nonmayorpete” on Twitter, describes the newsletter by saying, “The Neuron is meant to help the modern business professional keep up with what’s happening in the field. That’s everything from new tools they should be aware of to recent research breakthroughs to the dynamics of the business and how AI is intersecting with the political world. The intention is to highlight all the top AI stories of the day and give a fun twist to it.”

He and his content partner Noah Edelman use this framework to guide the newsletter’s content.

The highlights you can expect:

  • Creating a memorable brand that's easy to engage with.

  • Moving beyond just demographics and using psychology.

  • A breakdown of their explosive growth.

  • Deep dive on different parts of their 10k funnel.

Let's get into it.

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Creating a Brand

At first, Pete says, he was reluctant to convert his social media presence into a newsletter format. “The newsletter is actually an evolution. I’d been writing online for the previous year or so, and was very explicit about not doing a newsletter. I didn’t see any point in running a newsletter or owning the emails.”

So what changed his mind? ”Certainly, there are some business goals around it. Like, you can start monetizing around it, and you have a lot more control when sending out your product versus relying on social platforms. So that’s one side of it. But I think it’s [also] about brand building in a different way.”

“It’s different when you’re putting your name and face on your profile, and a lot of the value accrues to your name,” he explains. “Here, I wanted to test whether I could build a separate brand and have people know that name over time. Certainly, we’ve seen many examples of this exercise in the past few years.”

Pete cites Milk Road as one inspiration. “The Milk Road journey was such a tentpole version of that. It was a lightning rod for many people to gravitate toward that idea.”

And he’s not alone - several creators cite Milk Road as inspiration. For Pete, it was about more than just great content.

“For me personally, I thought it would be cool not only to nail down the content but to learn how to build a brand and develop loyalty around that. It’s something you can’t really do if you’re just relying on social platforms. So that’s why I started to look into the idea of starting a separate newsletter.”

A Cat-Themed AI Newsletter

Pete has found some creative freedom in having a separate brand name that’s not tied to his personal name. “I think one consequence of posting on Twitter or LinkedIn under your own name is that there’s a bit of pressure. Your friends see this; your potential future employers see this.”

The personal visibility was holding Pete back from expressing himself. “So that made me feel like I need to skew more analytical, or more crisp in my thinking, and I can’t be funny or make posts that are purely about keeping things light hearted. But developing a separate brand, you can choose the tone and the angle.”

“The AI category right now is quite broad. There are a lot of folks trying to write content for it, and each person, each team, has decided on a completely different lens. Some folks are very analytical, very deep, and really want to dig into topics. What we’re trying to do is a bit more lighthearted and friendly.”

That light-hearted feeling extends into the theme and logo of The Neuron. “Our design is cat themed — the idea is that if AI takes over the world, at least we still have our pets, right? So that’s been fun so far, having more latitude to play with this creative idea that you may not be afforded if you were just sticking with your personal name.”

Why a cat theme? Pete mentions Milk Road as an inspiration again. “One of the things they did was to pick a seemingly random concept, this milk concept, and then just go with it. Firmly commit and see what happens. [It shows] you can create a brand around pretty much anything.”

Pete says he saw a lot of other AI newsletters using robot themes and thought, “What’s the exact opposite of that? What is the simplest thing that will have nothing to do with AI, but that is fun and still human at the end of the day?”

“There’s something emotional about having a pet,” Pete says.” It’s just a very human experience. So I decided to put a cat at the center of things. I don’t expect readers to go that deep, but it’s a very lighthearted way to play this particular topic. ”

Psychology vs. Demographics

When it comes to aiming his cat-themed AI content toward an audience, Pete doesn’t focus on a target market beyond basic demographics like ‘ages 25-40, living in the US, Canada, and Western Europe.” Instead, he says, he focuses on what drives people to the subject matter.

He sees the underlying consumer psychology as being composed of two questions. “One is that people have been blown away by ChatGPT and they just wonder, ‘how can I learn about all the cool stuff that’s happening?”

“But there’s another thought that’s not talked about actively, but is in the back of everyone’s brain: Where is this headed? Where is society going in the next five or ten years? And when do I lose my job?”

Pete laughs nervously, but he knows the question is serious. “There’s this sort of fear that you can’t really control, that is just funny to everyone. Everyone shares [the concern]. When do the robots take over?"

"So what I focus on is how to tackle those two things.”

Explosive Growth

People are giving The Neuron’s approach a very warm welcome. Just one month after launching the newsletter, its audience had already exploded to nearly 10,000 subscribers.

Pete is blown away by the rapid growth. “Honestly, it’s going a lot better than I was anticipating. Frankly, I was expecting this sort of number three, four, or five months in.”

He cites several factors he thinks are driving The Neuron’s popularity. “First, obviously, it’s a very exciting time for the space. So, that’s one thing. It’s just good timing.”

“The second thing is being active on social. I’ve been spending a lot of time on LinkedIn and was able to use that momentum to start sharing the newsletter and AI content that has contributed pretty significantly toward this number.”

“And also Twitter. I wasn’t very active on Twitter in this way before, but simply having a presence there — as part of your newsletter, you’re covering headlines. So you’re sourcing stories and topics to write about.”

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How does he use Twitter to promote the newsletter? “Simply resharing those when you spot them on Twitter is useful,” he explains, “and eventually you find yourself being a useful follow for a lot of people on this topic. So I think both [social media platforms] have meant a lot.”

Pete also appreciates the built-in growth tools in the beehiiv platform. “There are some great things with beehiiv. We’ve picked up on recommendations and referrals and such.”

Recommendations have been very useful as a growth tool. Pete says, “I’ve seen that on my side, of course, but growing so quickly in the first month has also meant delivering pretty good results for some of the folks I’m recommending.”

But the connection with other newsletters has value beyond driving subscriptions for Pete. “It’s so helpful just to be in contact with other newsletter writers and creators. You get to share and cross-pollinate with different audiences, and potentially set up future collaborations where you’re tackling the same audience from two different perspectives.”

“So if I’m targeting the modern business professional,” he explains, “and there’s someone tackling a different area, we can cross-post, share content, write guest content on each other’s newsletters, or do ad slot exchanges.“

Social Media: Different Parts of the Funnel

Like many creators, Pete has had to figure out a strategy for differentiating content for the newsletter and social media channels. “There’s actually quite a bit of crossover,” he says, “but I think the framing is [different]. The social version is native to the platform.”

“You can take the same topic and inflect a different tone. Like a different style of telling the same story on Twitter, on LinkedIn, et cetera.” Pete goes on to give some examples. “On LinkedIn, you have much more top-of-funnel stuff. [The question is] how do we get all the people who could be interested in AI to look at this? So we’re not necessarily sharing an update or an AI model. It’s more [likely to be] some crazy thing that you didn’t know AI could do today. Then we slide in: Oh, and if you want more ongoing updates about what’s happening in the field, here’s this newsletter that gives you that.”

The material Pete chooses for social media can be diverse and isn’t necessarily breaking news in the industry. Ultimately, his criteria for social media is to share content that grabs attention. “Headlines can overlap when it’s big fundraising or big deals, like the Microsoft Open AI deal, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s even digging up a very cool video from two years ago that’s still amazing to people. It still attracts attention, so you can use it as top-of-funnel content for the newsletter.”

The Perfect Platform

Pete is glad he chose the beehiiv platform to launch The Neuron. “beehiiv has a lot of things going for it that I think are very attractive,” he says.

“One is controlling your design and branding a lot more closely than you could in Substack. Another is this community of newsletter creators that builds on beehiiv. The range of folks that are writing newsletters and the types of content that exist out there is pretty fascinating. So from just a curiosity standpoint, it’s been really cool to watch.”

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