- The Internship That Started Everything
- The Newsletter Business Plan to Help Students Get Jobs
- Knowing It Was Time to Sell the Newsletter Business
- Selling the Intangibles That Made the Business Special
You’ll gather and share countless data points when selling a newsletter business. From your audience to your content to the money you make, every stat and trend contains insights serious buyers will want to know. But you can’t capture everything that makes your newsletter special inside a data room.
Yes, financial buyers might salivate over your web, customer, and traffic metrics. Strategic buyers, however, can be more interested in the things you can’t easily quantify. And in this case, Joseph Choi, founder of Tech Pod, believes the intangibles often tell a better story.
When Joseph sold Tech Pod, a newsletter and media company, he emphasized brand loyalty and testimonials over open rates and click-throughs. Why? A responsive and engaged audience was worth more to his buyer, a Series A recruitment startup, than any stat he might’ve pulled.
A year earlier, Joseph discovered a blind spot while interning at Salesforce. He and most of his peers had assumed you needed at least an engineering background, if not a degree, to work in tech. But what about the non-technical roles? How did one get on those recruitment paths?
Joseph and his cofounder, Vicky Liu, launched the Tech Pod newsletter to help young professionals break into the tech sector through roles like sales, marketing, and operations. By 2022, Tech Pod had earned a following of over 10,000 subscribers and over $2,600 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
But monetizing students wasn’t easy, and after graduating from college, Joseph’s priorities changed. He’d moved to San Francisco to join Google’s Associate Product Manager (APM) program. With a promising career ahead, could he still give the Tech Pod newsletter the time it deserved?
Realizing it was time to move on, Joseph and Vicky decided to sell their newsletter business. Only one challenge remained: finding a buyer who understood the value of their audience as much as they did.
The Internship That Started Everything
Joseph grew up in the Midwest where he excelled in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. His family had urged him to continue down the STEM path at college, but its challenges had become too familiar, and he craved the novelty of other disciplines.
“It gave me a big high to solve people problems because I wasn’t naturally as good at those growing up,” Joseph said.
Compromising, Joseph traded computer science for economics at the University of Michigan. He’d solve people-oriented problems while still flexing his mathematical muscles, and between classes, apply what he’d learned to building ecommerce businesses, and later, Tech Pod.
“I’d always enjoyed building side projects throughout college,” Joseph said. “Entrepreneurship drew me in because I’d never liked the idea of gatekeepers. Investing time in classes only gave me a grade, but a project I had ownership of would scale with the effort I put in.”
Joseph thought he’d said goodbye to a career in the tech sector when he’d abandoned computer science. But after securing a business operations internship at Salesforce, he stumbled upon a path into big tech that few people knew how to access.
“When I posted on LinkedIn about that internship, many people didn’t know that path existed,” Joseph said. “If you’re an engineering or computer science grad, you’re bombarded with opportunities in tech. But I discovered a black hole on the non-technical side, so I started talking about it on LinkedIn during Covid lockdown.”
When the pandemic forced most classes online, student communities coalesced around topics like job searching and career development. Joseph realized his experience at Salesforce might be useful to these communities so he began participating.
“I posted on LinkedIn about my personal experiences in recruiting and working in the tech industry. And then I started doing a lot of coffee chats with students, volunteering my time to help them with cover letters, resumes, interview processes, and so on.
“It was essentially user research for understanding what kind of content we would want to curate for the Tech Pod newsletter.”
The Newsletter Business Plan to Help Students Get Jobs
A student himself, Joseph understood how a lack of career advice can hinder personal and professional development. Hundreds of people had asked him about getting non-technical roles in Silicon Valley companies, and he needed a more efficient way to distribute his advice.
A newsletter that consolidated what he knew might fill that knowledge gap in a structured way, so he began clustering his thoughts into topics that he published via Substack.
“The newsletter content strategy evolved into a set of modules. It would include a job-seeking tip such as networking, writing a resume, recruiting mindset, and so on. Another module would feature a role many didn’t know about, such as sales operations.
“Then we’d include a resource like an event or program. This is often where we’d include sponsor messages. And then finally, job postings. People loved job postings as they revealed what was out there, how to apply, and so on.”
The newsletter eventually grew to over 10,000 subscribers. Rather than charge students, Joseph pursued sponsorship deals with companies that understood the student audience and offered them relevant and valuable services.
Many sponsors came through Swapstack, a marketplace that connects sponsors and newsletters. Some were recruiters or companies looking to hire, while others were edtech providers offering courses or tech communities like On Deck.
“We got a ton of inbound from Swapstack and our LinkedIn page,” Joseph said. “Our SEO was doing well, driving traffic to our LinkedIn company page where potential sponsors would see our partnerships email in the headline. That way they could find and work with us easily.”
Joseph’s decision not to charge students for the newsletter would afford him a big advantage later when selling his business. Offering free advice kept subscribers and engagement at superlatively high levels – an audience worth a lot of money to the right person.
Knowing It Was Time to Sell the Newsletter Business
How did Joseph and Vicky cultivate such strong brand loyalty? Partly because they were students themselves and familiar with the problem. But they also cared more about solutions than their subscriber count, offering various initiatives to guide students towards better careers.
“We ran many different programs to help our audience,” Joseph said. “First, a mentorship program where we matched dozens of tech employees with mentees. Then we ran a fellowship program where we helped people grow their LinkedIn following and personal brand. We also hosted live events. All of which created a lot of brand loyalty.”
But elevating the business would require a lot more work than either cofounder could invest. Joseph had moved to San Francisco after graduating to join Google’s rotational marketing program and didn’t have time to experiment with the newsletter. Plus, he was tired of seeing its sponsors make more money than he could extract from it.
“The nature of a media business is that you give up your margins for the products you advertise,” Joseph said. “I kept thinking, What if I built a product and advertised it in newsletters like ours? That’s probably the direction that I’m going for the next project that I work on – a product that scales differently than media.”
Decision made, all that remained was to find somewhere to sell Tech Pod. After hearing of Acquire.com on Twitter, Joseph listened to Andrew Gazdecki interviewing exited founders on his Startup Acquisitions Stories podcast. That was enough to convince him to list on Acquire.com.
Selling the Intangibles That Made the Business Special
Next, Joseph had to prepare his business for acquisition. He wrote a business summary that included performance metrics, how much maintenance the business required to run, its growth potential, and so on. Importantly, the process taught him how to sell the business to a buyer.
But of all the things he believed made Tech Pod special as a business, brand loyalty was key – an intangible asset that isn’t always easy to define with metrics.
“Brand loyalty is harder to measure with data alone, but it was a big part of what we used to sell the business. We argued that it’s not just a newsletter with these engagement stats but a brand that our subscribers truly cared about.
Students were loyal to Tech Pod because it helped them get jobs and internships. People would write these glowing testimonials weeks after the mentorship programs ended and still accredited Tech Pod when they landed their first big role in tech.”
But Joseph had to start with a realistic valuation. After researching common multiples for media businesses, they realized they couldn’t ask for much more than one times revenue. They applied that multiple to their average monthly revenue, multiplied by 12, rather than applying it to their run rate. A logical approach when your income is variable.
With the asking price finalized, Joseph prepared to field buyer inquiries. The response was enthusiastic, especially from micro private equity investors who’d run the business as part of a portfolio. He received several offers above his asking price from these financial buyers, but it was a strategic buyer that appealed to Joseph the most.
“This buyer was from a Series A recruitment startup who’d seen testimonials of our people landing jobs at big tech companies. They wanted to help mid-career talent find jobs, so this was going to be a strategic acquisition where they’d grow our subscribers, continue helping with career advice, and when roles became available, turn those subscribers into clients.”
Joseph negotiated, taking slightly less cash in return for the better story he could tell his subscribers. With hindsight, Joseph wishes he’d leaned into his intangible value a little more. The buyer was acquiring clients that could collectively be worth several times what they paid for Tech Pod.
“Our business was inspired by Morning Brew,” Joseph said. “Alex Lieberman said that when selling to advertisers, his sales team focused on the audience. That they’re the next generation of business leaders, and if you capture their loyalty with your brand now, they’ll be customers for life, and you can’t put a price on that. I could’ve stressed that even more than I did with Tech Pod.”
Nevertheless, when the deal closed, Joseph was happy to see his loyal subscribers in safe hands. Now he’s an exited founder at just 23 years old, unburdened by a business he can’t scale and free to pursue his career at Google.
For the moment, Joseph is content and enjoying life as a young graduate in Silicon Valley. How long before he picks up the entrepreneurial mantle again is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure this isn’t the last success story we’ll hear from Joseph Choi.
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