austin rief cover photo

Austin Rief: Building & Selling The Morning Brew for Millions In 5 Years, Side Hustle Ideas, & More | My First Million With Sam Parr and Shaan Puri #398

Check out the Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The first copy of Morning Brew (called “Market Corner” at the time) was a PDF attached to an email that was sent out to University of Michigan students 
  • In the early days, Austin and his co-founder Alex would print out the Morning Brew and The Hustle every day and compare them line by line to see which line was better
  • Austin splits up newsletters into three categories: editorial, aggregation, and then Morning Brew for X, and believes Morning Brew for X has the most potential
  • Some entrepreneurs are good at taking an idea from zero to one, and others are better at making private equity like improvements to a business 
  • “I think we may have broken a couple of laws to get our first couple thousand subscribers.” – Austin Rief 
  • Getting an early win in life, such as selling a company for $75M, opens up tons of doors and can pretty much get you in a room with anyone 
  • Austin Rief believes the part of Morning Brew that was not sold will eventually sell for multiples more than the first half that was sold
  • “Becoming famous is awesome. Being famous is cool. And losing any fame is horrible.”Will Smith  
  • Wealth is all about having time, and spending your time how you want to 
  • Austin is a “vacuum” when he hires people with more experience than him; he tries to learn as much as possible from them in a short period of time to catch up to them 

Intro 

  • Austin Rief (@austin_rief) is a co-founder and CEO of Morning Brew, a four million subscriber newsletter on the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley 
  • In this conversation, Austin Rief, Sam Parr, and Shaan Puri discuss the Morning Brew origin story, Morning Brew vs The Hustle, competition and prior hatred for one another, inside baseball for the newsletter business, ad sales, Austin’s strengths, what he did after selling a portion of Morning Brew for $75M, future plans, and more  
  • Check out these Podcast Notes from Austin’s conversation with Anthony Pompliano 
  • Hosts: Sam Parr (@theSamParr) and Shaan Puri (@ShaanVP)

The Morning Brew Origin Story 

  • Alex met his co-founder Alex Lieberman at The University of Michigan
  • Alex was sending a “newsletter” at the time, which was a PDF attached to an email that was sent to a mailing list 
  • The original name for Morning Brew was “Market Corner”

Morning Brew vs The Hustle

  • Austin admits that he used to hate Sam when the Morning Brew and The Hustle were in competition with each other
  • In the early days, Austin and his co-founder Alex would print out the Morning Brew and The Hustle every day and compare them line by line to see which line was better
  • “Write, grow, sell” was the only thing on Austin’s mind for years

The Newsletter Business

  • Shaan just sold his crypto newsletter Milk and had the advantage of knowing Sam and Austin 
  • Austin is pessimistic about relaunching “the next Morning Brew”, a general business 4 million subscriber newsletter 
  • Austin splits up newsletters into three categories: editorial, aggregation, and then Morning Brew for X 
    • Editorial: substackers writing 2,000-10,000 words
    • Aggregation: Morning Brew and The Hustle
    • Morning Brew for X: Same style as Morning Brew but for a specific subject 
  • Austin thinks the biggest opportunity is Morning Brew for X 
  • Find a growing industry, ride its momentum, and create a distinct brand around it 
  • Go for the high dollar amount if you’re targeting consumers, such as a newsletter for Rolex or Ferrari owners where people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on it
  • Business-to-business (B2B) content is also a great route  
  • It is a grind to sell ads on a daily basis for a media newsletter business, compared to selling B2B software that renews on an annual basis 

Ad Sales

  • The ad sales empire in New York City is a black box for people that are not in it
  • The NYC agencies have use-it-or-lose-it budgets in the millions of dollars where they are incentivized to spend  
  • A person working for a big NYC agency has $20M to spend on ads and just wants to spend it in a way where she doesn’t get fired 
  • Ad sales is a relationship-driven game 
  • They’re buying the relationship you have with your audience when they buy an ad

Austin Rief’s Strengths  

  • Austin believes that an undergrad business degree provides a pretty good overview of how to run a business 
  • Sam and Shaan are more “zero to one” guys where they come up with ideas, whereas Austin is better at cerebrally iterating and making private equity type improvements to a business 
  • A founder must understand what the main thing is about their business, according to Shaan 
  • “I think we may have broken a couple of laws to get our first couple thousand subscribers.” Austin Rief 
  • Austin and Alex went to Michigan lecture halls that had thousands of students and *enthusiastically* encouraged them to sign up 
  • The professor would let Austin and Alex pitch their newsletter to the students before the class 
  • Austin and Alex would then manually enter the email addresses, sometimes having several permutations for each email because they couldn’t read their own handwriting 
  • This strategy got them to 15K subscribers at Michigan 
  • They created a brand ambassador program to have their friends execute a similar strategy at other big schools like Penn State, Miami, NYU, etc.
    • This got them to 50K subscribers 

Austin’s Upbringing 

  • Austin grew up middle-class to upper-middle class in Baltimore
  • He thought he knew wealth until he met LA money and NYC money at the University of Michigan, which inspired and excited him 
  • Morning Brew embodied the entrepreneurial “hunger” that is required to start, grow, and sell a business 

What Austin Did With His Newfound Wealth 

  • Austin was sitting in his childhood bedroom with his parents when the wire hit his bank account 
  • It was at the onset of the pandemic and was the most anti-climactic thing ever 
  • Getting a win early in life is so important 
  • Getting an early win in life has allowed Austin to be able to get in touch with anyone or to get into any room 
  • Austin was invited to Kid Rock’s private ranch outside of Nashville
    • A group of 10 tech and 10 music people went 
    • “The whole weekend was out of a movie.” – Austin Rief 
    • Kid Rock’s Nashville bar might be doing tens of millions in monthly revenue
  • “I was so cheap. For the first year and a half of Morning Brew, you didn’t get a company computer.” – Austin Rief 
  • Austin does not regret selling (part of) Morning Brew for $75M
  • He believes that the remainder of what was not sold will eventually sell for many multiples of what the first half sold for 
  • Austin believes it is good to “take half your chips off the table” if you have the chance of making life-changing money 
  • There weren’t any high-end items that Austin wanted to buy
    • He bought a new Acura (brand new!) which has air conditioning  
    • He moved into a new apartment that increased his rent 5x
    • Took an amazing vacation
  • Lifestyle creep is real; Austin is a follower of Ramit Sethi’s work regarding wealth and lifestyle 
  • Becoming famous is awesome. Being famous is cool. And losing any fame is horrible.” Will Smith 
    • Austin feels the same exact way about money 
  • Austin doesn’t have any desire to spend money on things he doesn’t care about 
  • He put about 85-90% of his newfound wealth into “very boring stuff” like benchmark and target date funds, another 5-7% in crypto, and another 5% in venture investing 

Brainstorming Ideas 

  • When the world enters tough economic times, create a business that helps companies save money or that helps individuals generate side income 
  • Simple services like helping companies find part-time talent will come back into vogue and be very profitable
  • What is old is new  
  • “The Morning Brew for AI is gonna be huge.” – Austin Rief  
  • The Morning Brew for AI could acquire all the little ChatGPT side projects, promote them in the newsletter, and scale the usage of their portfolio of tools
  • “I like ideas where the idea is so good that my execution can be a seven out of ten and I still win.” – Shaan Puri 
  • Austin is skeptical to invest in companies building on top of OpenAI because they do not have a moat 

Future Plans 

  • Wealth is all about having time, and spending your time how you want to 
  • Right now, Austin wants to keep growing Morning Brew because he sees a 10x opportunity 
  • Austin plans to travel a lot – he loves traveling 
  • Austin doesn’t want to play in the middle game and hit doubles; he wants to hit home runs or sit in the dugout 

Morning Brew

  • Morning Brew has a lot of remote employees, so there is an ideological balance at the company that may be more representative of the entire country relative to other NYC-only media companies 
  • Austin is a “vacuum” when he hires people with more experience than him; he tries to learn as much as possible from them in a short period of time to catch up to them 

Austin & Sam Working Together 

  • Austin has learned that Sam’s style is not for everyone and that Sam is “admirably abrasive” 
  • Sam’s radical candor is one of the reasons he can grow things so quickly
  • Sam can be intimidating to work with

Shaan’s Storytelling & Podcasting Skills

  • Shaan attributes some of his podcasting and storytelling skills to growing up in Houston where the swag factor was really high  
  • Shaan took classes at the SF Improv when he got to San Francisco 
  • Most people in business do not have experience acting or performing in improv, so it makes sense why they are less effective in situations that require those skills 
  • Watch previous videos of yourself public speaking and note where you can improve
My First Million : , , ,
Notes By Stan Rizzo

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks