🎯 beehiiv's long-term strategy (with founder Tyler Denk)

Building the next Facebook Ads Manager

Read time: 5 minutes 13 seconds

Today’s breakdown is brought to you by JPD and Mixpanel:

In less than a year, Jira Product Discovery has more than 8,000 customers. How’d they do it? By seeing a gap that needed to be filled for product managers and using customer insights to keep their roadmap focused.

And you can do the same. With Jira Product Discovery:

  • Capture, organize, and sort your ideas and initiatives to identify trends and where to invest

  • Infuse customer feedback and data into your prioritization process to decide what to work on when

  • Create and customize living roadmaps to communicate your plans to stakeholders

  • Connect your discovery work to the delivery work happening in Jira

And do it all in one platform.

Picture this: People are hitting your website, clicking elements, signing up, reading content, downloading resources, bouncing, returning, and purchasing.

But all of this activity is invisible to you.

Wouldn’t it be nice to visualise, analyse, and leverage all of these insights, without a technical skillset?

If you’re building a website or product, Mixpanel is the plug-and-play tool for visualising user activity, and making better decisions.

Thank you for supporting our sponsors, who keep this newsletter free

Today’s email is a project I’ve been buzzing* about for over a month.
< * you couldn’t even wait past the first line to drop an obligatory bee joke? yikes >

It’s an interview with Tyler Denk, Founder of Beehiiv… but not just any old interview.

Here’s a few reasons I can’t wait to hit ‘publish’ today:

[✓] I’m a power-user of the product - Strategy Breakdowns is built on beehiiv, and it’s one of a tiny handful of products I’d candidly describe as ‘exceptional’.

[✓] As of a few weeks ago, I was able to secure a small investment allocation to beehiiv as an early user. Power-user → Super-fan → Investor → Collaborator, is quite the customer journey!

[✓] The chance to chat with Tyler came off the back of an overdue yet timely personal awakening to the power of cold outreach + a first-attempt at an opportunistic DM (story for another email).

[✓] The format of the interview is different to what we’ve published before, and I’m pretty excited about how it’s turned out (h/t to one of the internet’s greatest treasures ‘The Generalist’ for seeding my curiosity on innovating with written content packaging).

[✓] There’s been plenty of other great analysis on beehiiv’s story, but very little (if any) that focusses specifically on their long-term strategic bet. Hint: building an email mega-SaaS is only one part of the equation.

[✓] Founder interviews, concentrated on strategy, are an experimental format for us - but on paper they seem to align superbly with the purpose of this newsletter. Plus, it’s something you’ve been requesting more of.

A few asks we’ve received (and heard!) for more interviews

Enjoy.

Tom

P.S. Our next interview will be a ‘Reader Mailbag’ with Nicolas Sharp, founder of Attio. In other words, you send the questions, Nicolas and co will answer them.

Send a reply to this email with your best strategy questions for Attio (here’s our recent breakdown for inspiration).

beehiiv's long-term strategy (with founder Tyler Denk)

Chess Move

The what: A TLDR explanation of the strategy

Without burying the lede, beehiiv is an email platform that successfully wedged into a crowded market by targeting the high-growth creator newsletter segment.

Currently, most of their revenue is SaaS fees ($10m ARR after just 2.5 years).

But their most interesting, differentiated, and fastest-growing line of business is the Ad Network.

Modelled conceptually after Meta Ads and Google Ads - beehiiv Ads lets brands programatically target, deliver, and optimise their creative campaigns via a suite of scalable self-serve tools.

Rather than injecting ads into a newsfeed or search results, they are automatically served across thousands of trusted email newsletters, which also creates a low-friction revenue stream for beehiiv creators.

As beehiiv’s b2b SaaS customer base scales, so does the b2c reach for its Ad Network. As of Jan 2024, beehiiv creators were sending 800 million emails per month.

💡

Strategy Playbook:
Generate paying customers →
Generate paying customers for your paying customers →
Generate paying customers for the paying customers of your paying customers.

‘Strategy Playbooks’ in hand-drawn Post-It Note form. Y / N?

Breakdown

The how: The strategic playbook boiled down to a few DMs

Tom

Let’s start with this: Meta Ads and Google Ads are *probably* the world’s greatest business models. They have b2c attention AND drive efficient b2b value, both at tremendous scale.

What’s the tldr for beehiiv’s strategy to create the next great ad network?

8:06 PM ✓

Tyler

Newsletter ads convert considerably better than social media, marketers know this.

But there hasn’t been a way to both dial in on your target audience (with confidence) and scale within email like you can on Google or Meta.

Where are bringing 1P data + scale to one of the largest mediums, and building it in a way where advertiser ROI and publisher payouts are both being prioritized.

8:13 PM ✓

Tom

LiveIntent is playing in a similar space - they were making $52m in 2019. That’s impressive scale, but it’s hardly a slam-dunk when you consider other successful ad networks. Even tier 2 networks like Snapchat and Pinterest are both in the $2-5 billion revenue range.

Has anyone else cracked the email ad-tech space in a meaningful way? If not, why not, and what makes this an untapped opportunity for beehiiv?

8:20 PM ✓

Tyler

PowerInbox is a LiveIntent competitor that does something similar, although I’m unsure how either company is performing currently.

When you think of the entire email techstack both from a process and data perspective, they sit in the least opportunistic place: the middle.

They don’t have access to the platform where publishers are actually creating content, and they don’t have access to the data being collected from the email sends. They are simply a pixel that sits in the middle with limited access to additional context, data, or control.

Compare that to beehiiv where we are the initial destination publishers go to actually create and craft their emails. We have all the 1P data about the type of content they create, how it’s performed, who their audience is, etc. We can seamlessly offer opportunities that align with their goals and audience without them leaving their workflow.

8:27 PM ✓

Tyler

We also are the final destination for all data collected regarding the campaign performance and subscriber actions (or inactions).

The vertical integration here is critical to ensuring advertisers see stronger ROI and publishers are being compensated well with opportunities that perform best for their audience.

As to why others haven’t cracked the code, I think most ESPs focus on email marketing and ecommerce (vs newsletters and “content based emails”).

I think this recent wave of content-first newsletters has grown really popular over the past 5-7 years and there hasn’t been a platform to truly serve this audience first (until beehiiv).

8:29 PM ✓

Tom

Can / will the ad network eventually expand beyond beehiiv publishers?

8:31 PM ✓

Tyler

Right now we are hyper-focused on building the best solution for publishers and users utilizing the beehiiv platform.

The answer above regarding the upside of vertical integration explains our reasoning there.

YouTube doesn’t serve ads on Twitch despite similar formats, not because they can’t, but they lose all of the context (i.e. data) for the ads to perform for advertisers and for the processes for users to remain seamless.

8:35 PM ✓

Tom

What’s the biggest risk you see for the ad network to be a success?

8:36 PM ✓

Tyler

I think the biggest risk is internal: execution.

We are attempting to build a world-class ad network, but are also balancing building better editor tools for writers, better automation features, better dashboards and data visualizations, etc.

We are intentionally taking a homerun swing here, and I am confident we can pull it off, but it’s not without risk.

The platform comes first — if the platform doesn’t work seamlessly and provide an incredible experience for publishers, the Ad Network doesn’t matter. 

8:40 PM ✓

Tom

Let’s say everything goes exactly according to plan over the next 5 years. Describe the beehiiv Ad Network product experience for publishers, advertisers, and readers.

8:43 PM ✓

Tyler

For advertisers: it’s the Facebook Ad Manager where you can easily create self-serve campaigns, build target audience demos, tweak your goals, and ramp up your spend accordingly. 

For publishers: it’s having access to dozens or hundreds of available opportunities at your fingertips. Choosing to put it in auto-pilot and monetize without any work, or perhaps curating more premium sponsorships with a bit more effort but potentially higher payout.

For readers: it’s getting the most relevant ads that are actually useful and interesting. Instagram has accomplished this, their ads are so well targeted I don’t even mind them. I actually purchase a decent amount from Instagram ads.

8:48 PM ✓

Tom

Any interesting anecdotes / backstory / conversations that have led to / shaped your vision for the Ad Network?

8:51 PM ✓

Tyler

The biggest anecdote for me is really just my experience at Morning Brew.

I was there when there were just 3 of us with no processes and little revenue. We scaled the Brand Partnerships (i.e. Sales) team to dozens of people, implemented a ton of processes, and I personally built the ad management software that took an advertiser deal from closed won to execution to renewal.

I’ve seen the machine work up close and know how it’s done. I also work very closely with dozens of senders on beehiiv as we continue to iterate and build the Ad Network. I can see what’s working and what’s getting them excited, and our team from top to bottom leans into that type of feedback. 

8:53 PM ✓

Tom

Well I’m buzzing to see where this all goes, and happy to play a small part of the story. That’s all for now - thanks for doing this!

Will aim to publish this ~1mo from now.

8:55 PM ✓

Tyler

Dope lets send it

8:56 PM ✓

Tyler is typing …

Rabbit Hole

The where: 3x high-signal resources to learn more

We have a growing audience of 45,000+ readers from top companies like Google, Meta, Atlassian, Stripe, and Snapchat. If you’d like to sponsor Strategy Breakdowns, see more information here

What did you think of today's edition?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

That’s all for today’s issue, folks!

This one was fun to create. Hope you enjoyed reading it too.

If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re the type of builder / thinker who’d get huge value from today’s sponsors JPD and Mixpanel.

Thanks for being here.

P.S. Don’t forget to reply with your strategy questions for our reader mailbag with Nicolas Sharp + Attio HQ.

Join the conversation

or to participate.