From $0 to ~$2.5M ARR in 18 months
The secrets behind Beehiiv's exponential growth and lightning-fast product development
Tyler Denk is the CEO and co-founder of Beehiiv, one of the fastest-growing newsletter platforms loved by thousands of creators, including us at Founder Secrets. Although "fastest-growing" is probably an understatement…
Beehiiv launched just 18 months ago and is already doing ~$2.5M in annual recurring revenue with 30% MoM growth. But what impresses me the most is not their exponential growth, but the pace at which they ship product.
I've been following Tyler since the launch of Founder Secrets, and I literally can't believe my eyes when I get to read a product update with killer features every two weeks.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn some of the secrets behind their lightning-fast product development. And there are indeed a few secrets behind it, so let's dive in.
Tyler's unfair advantage
As Paul Graham says in one of his essays, the very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they're something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way. And that's exactly how Beehiiv began too.
In June 2017, Tyler joined Morning Brew as an engineer and the second employee, long before it became one of the biggest newsletters in the world (eventually acquired for $75M by Business Insider).
At the time, there was no platform like Beehiiv. So, Tyler took matters into his own hands and built all the internal tools that powered Morning Brew's growth, including a referral engine, an ad management platform, and custom solutions to improve email deliverability.
It was there that he realized the need for an all-in-one solution like Beehiiv. He explains, "Morning Brew was growing so quickly, and people started reaching out, asking how our internal system worked. That was our 'aha' moment.”
Tyler not only recognized the need for a newsletter platform, but he also had firsthand experience building it, understanding the requirements of writers, sales, and growth teams. The key lesson here is that the most successful founders deeply understand the problem they are trying to solve.
I've made this mistake myself on the investor side of the table: investing in founders who were more focused on building cool technology rather than actually solving a problem, especially their own problem. So a personal tip: if you are fundraising and have a deep understanding of the problem you are solving, make sure to leverage your unfair advantage. Investors know how valuable it is.
Learnings as a Product Lead at YouTube
After leaving Morning Brew, Tyler spent about ten months working as a Product Lead for YouTube Music. Although he already had the idea for Beehiiv, he wanted to work at a larger tech company and learn from experienced product managers about world-class product management.
And he did! At Morning Brew, Tyler had the opportunity to experiment, innovate, and move quickly. Whereas at YouTube, he experienced the benefits of structured planning and process-oriented thinking. Practically speaking, he learned to adopt a methodological approach to product management, implementing:
1) Product Requirement Documents (PRDs): outlining the goals, features, specifications, employees involved, and potential marketing of a product.
2) Technical Scoping Documents: mapping out the technical aspects, requirements, and constraints to align the development team and ensure the feasibility of the project.
This process helps Tyler communicate ideas effectively, align teams, avoid miscommunication, and optimize time and resource allocation. As he puts it, "If an engineer is going to work on something for a month, we should definitely align from the beginning on what the output should be. There is nothing worse than spending two weeks building something and the end product not being what you expected. It sucks for everyone involved. This is what I learned at Google, and we apply it 100% at Beehiiv.”
There is always a feeling of doing things in a less structured way in small startups, and it's great that Tyler is busting this myth. Doing things quickly is great, but doing things randomly is not! And it's when you combine the fast-paced mindset of a small startup with a process-oriented and structured approach that you can ship features as fast and accurately as Beehiiv does.
Or course, the process is much lighter at Beehiiv than it was at YouTube. Much less bureaucracy, and much faster cycle times. But the process is still there.
The key to efficient meetings
Tyler has a very deliberate approach when it comes to meetings. First of all, he ensures that Beehiiv maintains a non-bureaucratic culture with minimal meetings and a streamlined daily standup routine. This meeting-light approach allows them to focus on building features efficiently.
To further optimize their workflow, Tyler follows the Amazon philosophy of sending memos or PRDs ahead of meetings. He notes, "I make it very clear that team members should read the PRD and add comments before we discuss it at the meeting.”
Tyler emphasizes that if someone did not contribute their comments beforehand, they should not bring them up during the meeting. Reviewing documents in advance allows the team to have more focused and constructive discussions. The key lesson here is that meetings are not the problem, but discussing the wrong things is!
Being a remote team
Another key factor behind Beehiiv's productivity is that they are a fully remote team. Tyler explains that while he enjoys being in person, being heads-down and focused remotely allows him to be more effective and productive.
Another advantage of being remote is having access to a global pool of exceptional people. Tyler says, "One of the most archaic things to think about is restricting talent to a single geographical location. I could not find the 20 talented people that we have on our team located in Los Angeles. I guarantee you that. In addition to that, why would I sit in my car or on a sweaty subway for 30 minutes when I could be doing something else?”
To ensure that everyone is aligned while working remotely, Tyler emphasizes the importance of communicating with the team openly and frequently. This includes sharing financial information, challenges, and goals so that everyone understands the bigger picture and their individual contributions. As Tyler puts it, “Sometimes I worry I am almost too transparent”.
Despite working remotely, Beehiiv has managed to create an amazing and close-knit culture. Tyler says, "I love the team, and we have biannual retreats, meetups, and hang out with each other, and it's great. But as far as where we are now, we need to get things done. We need to build and be focused, but we still have the fun elements mixed in. That's what we're optimizing for, and it works really well.”
Having a clear but flexible roadmap
As a highly process-oriented founder, Tyler always maintains a clear roadmap for product development. However, he also recognizes the importance of not being too rigid with it. He acknowledges the value of listening to user feedback and being open to building features that were not initially planned.
As he points out, "In the creator economy, people are really smart and very creative. They all have different use cases. Sometimes we receive requests for a feature that wasn't initially planned. Rather than resisting it, we try to lean in and understand why users are asking for it. I think this is a huge competitive advantage.”
Striking a balance between focus and flexibility is crucial. It's important to know when to prioritize the most important tasks while also being receptive to valuable feedback that may imply a deviation from the roadmap. That's why users love Beehiiv so much.
We first talked about product-led growth while analyzing Zencastr, the podcasting platform where guests become hosts after being invited for a recording. Then we discussed Forecastr, where founders share their financial models with investors who then refer other founders. It's the same product-led growth playbook, and it works like a charm at Beehiiv too.
Indeed, Beehiiv's users send newsletters to a significant number of people, sometimes up to 100,000 per day. When they send out newsletters with the "Powered by Beehiiv" message at the bottom, that generates a powerful viral loop. It's similar to how Hotmail started with the "Sent from my Hotmail account" signature, which spread the word about the platform.
If your customers use your product with their customers, that's when you can work on designing viral loops. But that won't happen by chance. You should dedicate the time and resources to design, test, and optimize your growth loops.
The flip side of having such a powerful referral engine is that it works both ways. As Tyler notes, "To date, things have been very positive, but this can also work against you. If the site goes down or if our data becomes inaccurate due to some bugs, those same power users with a large audience can eventually work against you. That's what keeps me up and also drives me to ensure that never happens."
The flip side of the coin
The downside of being in SaaS is that there are no days off. Thousands of users rely on Beehiiv to run their businesses 24/7. Expected downtime is practically zero, and any issues or bugs require immediate attention, even if it means waking up in the middle of the night. Tyler says, "At Morning Brew, we were building for our own team, and we wanted more." But be careful what you ask for!
He admits, "Now, I am stressed 24/7. I wake up at 5:30 AM and work until 10:30 PM every day. Weekends are my sweet spot for working, and the swings are for real. We'll have a huge name tweeting about how happy they are on the platform, and I'm on top of the world. Then we'll have another customer who wants a feature by next week or needs to move to another platform, and that feature is just not possible to be there by next week. The ups and downs are extreme. Maintaining a level-headed approach is crucial in such situations.”