Excuse Us While We Pat Ourselves on the Back & Try Not to Burp
Where we came from and why the fuck we're here.
Oh boy, a startup diary for Chill Subs!
Something nags in the phrase 'Startup Diary' — as though we are simultaneously writing a poem from a lovestruck teen and a bucket list that only reads: "meet Elon Musk."
Oh well, we'll give it our best shot.
I get the feeling anyone who loves Chill Subs doesn't have much interest in startups, and anyone into startups likely gives little to no fucks about how to publish a poem.
So, who the heck is this newsletter for?
Well, let's see:
Chill Subs users who are curious how the sauce gets made
Creatives with "innovative" ideas who think starting a company means having to swim in entrepreneur-infested waters
For those who don't know, Chill Subs is a fun idea for a database of literary magazines that turned into a community that has now evolved into a company all in less than a year. As the co-founders, we feel a bit like mold must feel, creeping ever-outward, praying no one notices us long enough to finish our tapestry.
Speaking of, I guess we should introduce ourselves, huh?
We both will be writing this newsletter and since we can only fit so many corporate "we"s into a post before we choke on a parody of ourselves, we'll just label when one or the other is talking - or awkwardly remind the reader in retrospect. (For example, this one is being written by Ben.)
You might say it all started with spreadsheets (a writer’s best friend). While working as a code monkey for different startups and trying not to eat her keyboard, Karina decided to start publishing some of her poems. She made a spreadsheet of magazines, and off she went. Then while out having a beer with her husband, she came up with the idea to take that spreadsheet and turn it into an easily searchable database. So, she did.
Three months later, while working as a content monkey for different startups and trying not to eat my keyboard, I read an interview with Karina in Lit Mag News, where I'd recently had an article published outlining my submissions process, and offered up a link to, you guessed it, my spreadsheet of magazines I submit to.
After emailing back and forth for two-ish months, while our respective trains slowly pulled into “fuck it” station, we quit our jobs and began to work on Chill Subs full time. Since then, the vast majority of ideas, tools, content, and so on that has come out is a result of one of us shooting an idea over to the other and them responding with one of the following: "fuck yeah," or "let's do it."
*OK—so I originally wrote that as kind of a joke, then decided to go looking for it in our messages to make sure we really weren’t that predictable…
Since neither of us has much experience with running a business, we've mostly learned by doing (and shouting “help” at smart people a lot). On top of this, we're annoyingly principled and hypersensitive to making sure our company doesn't come off as another faceless startup where the founders try to milk as much money as possible out of their users before selling to their biggest competitor.
We're pretty sure that this is why no startups have lasted long in the writing community - we're a bunch of overly-sensitive liars who mostly make a living by gussying up content for the very companies we despise. Because: money.
So, while this newsletter is for the curious, it is also for the suspicious (if they even exist - we're probably just projecting here). We want people to know how we create the things we do, how we manage to do it with little to no money, and how we plan to make money (Plan A: write a super cool startup diary).
Also, we've been stunned over and over by the complexities of starting a business: the hidden costs, weird loopholes, and surprising revelations. We've had to learn how to manage an ever-growing community, organize all the shit we've got to do, as well as create a business plan, pitch deck, media kit, advertising campaign, and more.
We had to learn what an LLC was for Pete’s sake — in what world does trying to use a spreadsheet to get poems published lead to having to learn what an LLC is?
We'll also be talking about the people who've helped us along the way, like our designer friend, our social media friend, and our business daddy. And how we adapt our business based on our community's reactions and feedback rather than “Target Audience” surveys or market research (though we did have a whole episode of trying to figure that shit out for the business plan - yeah, still finding bits of my soul in corners around the house).
But, after a year, spending around $3,000 of our own money (with like 50 coffees bought by awesome supporters), Chill Subs has 21,000+ social media followers and hosts profiles for over 6,500 writers, with a database of over 2,100 magazines (300+ run by editors themselves), 1,200 contests, and interviews all over the web. We get over 125,000 views per month without any SEO or advertising (mostly because we're still learning how the heck both of those things work).
We think that's pretty cool.
And we are only a fraction of the way through what we have planned over the next five years - and that's good since because of something called "vested interest" (not interest paid in vests as we originally thought) we're sort of locked in over here. And if you've subscribed, you're now along for the ride.
For curious business types, at times this newsletter will focus on aspects of the literary community. And for writer types, we will often be talking about business stuff - we'll try to make it fun and light but hey, if you're not into it, skip over that week.
(And Mom, just let me know when the five dollars a month starts to wear on your sense of love and loyalty to me and we can talk.)
Oh, how to capture the curvature of a swim captain's jawline while shoehorning in the words 'innovative, synergistic, and decentralized'? Fuck knows.
Hi Ben, it's Mom.... it's fifty, not five dollars a month.... I guess I still need to proof read your stuff :)
I'm a lit mag editor and a software engineer, one of the lucky few to fall into the center of the Venn diagram here! I'm so excited to follow along with the Chill Subs journey!