More degrees of freedom than you realize

I can barely contain my excitement about Dan Oshinsky’s new website, which is here: inboxcollective.com Some context first, before I explain what I find so exciting about Dan’s site.

Context: Dan Oshinsky is leaving a job as Director of Newsletters at The New Yorker, and setting himself up as a consultant helping clients with… newsletters. 🙂 I find several things interesting about this:

  • Head start thinking

  • Leverage thinking

  • Out of the box website thinking

Head start thinking

There’s a time and a place for re-inventing ourselves and our careers. And then there’s a time and a place for identifying what your head start is (in terms of expertise, access, credibility, or all three) and building on that head start. This is doubling down on your advantage.

A job at a famous publication where you focus on a specific, important part of the publication’s operation (newsletters) is kind of a big head start. It gives you expertise, access, and credibility that could be quite valuable to a consultant. Dan O. would be leaving a big asset on the table if he focused on some wildly different form of expertise in his new consultancy. The access he has from his job might be portable, but the expertise and — to an extent — credibility is super-focused on newsletters for a big media company is not so portable.

Leverage thinking

Dan O. leveraged his job at the New Yorker by building a platform for himself while at the job. It’s impressive how quickly he pulled this off.

In January, 2019, Dan launched a “side project”, which was an email list called Not a Newsletter. Here’s the announcement he posted in Feb 2019. I don’t know anything about Dan’s subscriber numbers, but I do assume he’s doing fine in that department.

I do know that everything about how Dan ran Not a Newsletter was unique and thoughtful:

  • His email marketing software didn’t distribute the email content. Instead, his list was a means to notify subscribers that there was a new Google Doc where they could read the newsletter content, and link them to that Gdoc.

  • The newsletter published on a monthly schedule. The content was 100% worth the wait, every time.

  • The infrastructure around the email list was very minimal. The landing page where you sign up for the list has always been quite minimal: signup.notanewsletter.com/ The aforementioned delivery method is beautifully simple: a monthly broadcast notifying your list that there’s a new issue of the newsletter living in a Google Doc. This moves so many tedious little issues off of your “need to care about” list and onto a cloud provider’s “need to care about” list. Dan didn’t need any authority to come from the infrastructure around his email list (no testimonials on the opt-in page, for example); that authority came from his position at the New Yorker, which he leveraged very well. It makes me think of how Ben Orenstein similarly leveraged his job at Thoughtbot.

Out of the box website thinking

It’s probably not that surprising that Dan O’s website for his new consulting firm is actually:

  1. A domain name (inboxcollective.com)

  2. A redirect on that domain name that sends visitors to…

  3. A Google Docs slide deck.

I find this soooooo refreshing!

It’s lean. No CMS to deal with. No website template to deal with. No elaborate information design to deal with. No obligation to build out pages on the site (ex: an about page1) just because they’re expected.

It’s gutsy, but gutsy in a way that matches the cache of Dan O’s authority and brand. In other words, it’s gutsy, but appropriately so for someone leaving a position at a famous company and setting up a consultancy where (I imagine) part of the value proposition will be challenging clients to think differently about email.

It’s on-brand. Using a Gdocs slide deck creates a sort of “family resemblance” with Dan’s Not a Newsletter publication, and reassures Dan’s prospective clients that they can expect more out-of-the-box thinking from Dan if they hire him to consult for them.

Wrap-up

Should we all ditch our websites and redirect our domain names to a Gdocs slide deck? No.

But we all should:

  • Be aware of our head starts

  • Be thinking about how to leverage those head start(s)

  • Allocate our marketing resources in creative, efficient ways, ignoring convention where it serves us or sends the right signal.

Happy Tuesday,

-P

Notes:

  1. Yes, sometimes an about page is hugely valuable. But other times it’s not, but how comfortable are you with shipping a website without an about page, even if it’s not pulling its weight?
    If you’re not comfortable doing this, it’s because of the weight of the cultural expectations around websites.