Written by: Jim Wrubel Published on: Apr 19, 2021 Last updated: Apr 19, 2021
Tools Used In This Recipe
Before you begin
Before starting this recipe you should have the following steps already completed:
- Sign up for an account with an email service provider (This recipe uses Mailchimp but you could also use ConvertKit, Revue, or any similar tool).
- If your startup has registered a domain name already, configure it to allow email from the service provider you select.
Can't I just use my personal email instead? If you are sending update emails to just a few people, a personal email is fine. But when you start sending updates to several dozen people, you risk having your personal email address being flagged for spam. We recommend setting up and using an email service provider early in your startup's life because it's a critical tool for your business' success.
No entrepreneur is successful on just their own effort. The best companies rely on a network of supporters and well-wishers for connections to customers, key hires, experts and mentors, and strategic advice. As your startup journey progresses you'll meet lots of people who can help you with these items. But you're unlikely to meet them at the exact moment you have a need, so you'll want to build a mechanism to keep in touch with them as your company progresses. A periodic company update newsletter is a great way to do just that.
A newsletter isn't only helpful for companies that are following a venture investment path. Even if you are bootstrapping your startup or you are working on a side hustle, a newsletter is a great way to communicate with your supporters, backers, and well-wishers.
Why do I need a newsletter?
You should be sending a periodic newsletter on behalf of your startup for a few reasons:
- It helps keep you accountable for your startup's progress. Sharing your goals is a powerful way to keep you focused on achieving them and it gives you an opportunity to reflect on your company's progress.
- It's a light-touch way to keep your startup top-of-mind with your backers.
- It helps you cast a wide net for help solving the challenges your startup faces.
Who should I send it to?
This newsletter is different than one you would send to customers and prospects. You'll be sharing sensitive information in this newsletter like current and forecasted revenue, operational challenges, risks to the business, and the like, and these things aren't appropriate to share with customers in most cases. This newsletter should go to anyone that has an interest in your company. Some examples are:
- Friends and family with whom you've shared information on your startup, especially if they have made an investment in the company.
- Other founders and members of your Board of Directors (if any) and senior leaders you bring on over time (As your company grows you'll need to decide if it should go to everyone in the company or just to specific levels of management)
- Mentors and key contacts in your industry. These people may be able to offer advice and connections when you need them, and sometimes they will decide to join your company as opportunities arise.
- Current and prospective investors in your startup. When meeting with a prospective investor, even if they decide to pass on your company it's perfectly appropriate to ask them if you can add them to your newsletter. Investors tend to be driven by FOMO so if your company starts showing strong growth you are likely to find yourself fielding calls from them. A newsletter update is the best way to keep them up to date on your progress. Also, many investors will still try to help with company requests shared in newsletters. Since investors can only financially support a small percentage of the companies they meet, they will frequently try to help with advice and connections the ones that they viewed positively but couldn't push an investment through.
When should I send it?
How often you send a newsletter will depend on how frequently your organization changes. For a pre-launch startup, or one that's just making its first sales, weekly updates might be appropriate. Once you find product-market fit it may be more appropriate to send monthly updates, and well-established companies might only send quarterly updates.
The best time of week to send an update is Sunday mid-afternoon. Some investors will spend a few hours Sunday evening reviewing email as they prep their schedule for the upcoming week, so if you time your newsletter to arrive shortly ahead of that you'll be one of the first things they see. Since email clients use a LIFO model, for investors who don't prep on Sunday you'll still be near the top of their inbox when they start work on Monday.
What should it say?
There's no standard template for investor newsletters and the information you include may be different for startups with different business models or different stages of growth. Regardless of the details there are two things every investor update newsletter should have at the start:
- A one-sentence summary of what the company does and a one-sentence key traction metric designed to get investors excited. For a Software-as-a-Service company it could be annual recurring revenue. For a physical product company it could be unit sales, either lifetime or over the past year.
- A tl;dr summary of the email body. Investors may not have time every week to review the detail so a 2-3 sentence summary of key points is helpful.
Writing style matters almost as much as content in an investor update newsletter. This isn't the time to start your novel, or to get philosophical about your business. This is also not a good place to voice frustrations or to speak negatively about any individual or business. Use headings and lists rather than paragraphs, and use bold and italics to call attention to key points.
Newsletter content (detailed version)
Below are the section headings and typical content for a detailed update:
- Product. List any key features or improvements to the product.
- Traction. Depending on the type of company the metrics you list here can vary, but always include both absolute numbers (we achieved this amount in sales) and also growth as a percentage (we sold this % more this period compared to last period). Note that traction for some types of companies may be better expressed as product usage than revenue. For example an app might list its Daily Average Unique users.
- Financials. For investor-backed companies at a minimum list cash on hand, monthly spend (burn rate), and how many months the company can operate given the cash it has (runway). Also if you are raising money at this time, list the amount you are raising, what fundraising round (seed, series A, etc), how much is committed from investors so far, and a link to your investor deck.
- Team. List new hires, promotions, role changes, or other updates to staff.
- Highlights. Use this section to communicate and celebrate successes.
- Lowlights. Use this section to communicate losses or challenges.
- Press/Media. List any articles, news, or meaningful social media posts featuring the company or key employees. List them with the title of the article and source, and include a link to the content.
- Asks. If there are specific things that your newsletter subscribers can help with, list those here.
Newsletter content (simple version)
While the version above is designed to highlight all the key aspects of your business, early-stage companies may not have meaningful updates for some of these sections. A shorter newsletter that follows the Agile daily update method can accomplish the same objective with three headings:
- Accomplishments in the past [week|month|quarter] List important accomplishments as bullet points. You'll draw from the same categories as the detailed template, but you won't need to include an update for sections that aren't relevant. Make sure you update the heading to reflect the relevant time period between your updates.
- Plans for next [week|month|quarter] List the goals your company has for the next time period. One benefit of this format is that you can use the last newsletter's plans section as the basis for the current version's accomplishments section.
- We need help with This section can be used for your specific asks; introductions to customers, candidates for open positions, connections to mentors or experts in specific areas, etc.
There are other recommendations for update newsletter format, like this one from Leo Polovets. Ultimately you'll want a version that works best for your startup, but these are fine places to start.
How should I design it?
There are a few universal best practices for company newsletters and you should follow them to maximize open rates and help your recipients connect the newsletter to your company:
- Always have the newsletter come from a real email address, ideally one of the founders. You want replies going somewhere that you can be sure you'll see them. Don't use no-reply@ or catch-all email addresses.
- Use [Your First Name] at [Company] as the 'from' name for your newsletter address. You likely have 60-80 characters to use here so you need to be concise.
- For the subject line, start with an emoji. Emails with a subject line that starts with an emoji have significantly higher engagement. Make sure you put the emoji at the start, not the end of the subject line.
- Include your tl;dr text as an email preheader to improve performance on mobile.
Implementing an investor update newsletter on Mailchimp
Let's set up an investor newsletter using the popular email service Mailchimp. We're using Mailchimp because of its popularity and because it has a free tier, but the processes we describe here should apply even if you use a different email service.
In Mailchimp, lists of related contacts are called an audience, so the first step after logging in is to use the navigation to create a new audience for our investors/supporters.
If you have never used Mailchimp before you'll be prompted to create an audience (note that the free tier only allows one audience, so you will need to upgrade to use Mailchimp to email both investors and customers).
Click the Create Audience button. You'll be prompted with the Audience details screen:
For Audience name you can use [Company Name] Supporter Newsletter (replacing [Company Name] with the name of your company), or anything that will help you identify this audience. This field is visible to people on the list, so consider that fact when you name the field.
For Default From email address you should use your email, or the email address of a senior member of your company, like a founder. Do not use no_reply@, info@, or any other generic email here. You want any replies to go to someone who can effectively react to them.
Use an email from your startup's domain name, not your personal email. Make sure you have configured your domain name's DKIM records as well.
For Default From name use the format [Your First Name] from [Company Name], replacing the parts in brackets with your name (or the name of the holder of the email address you used) and the name of your company. Be as concise as possible because most people will receive your email on a mobile device and if this is too long, the end will be cut off.
The next section includes a space for you to indicate how an audience member signed up. This information is required to be included in all bulk emails (in the U.S.) due to laws intended to prevent spam email.
We suggest using You are receiving this email because you are a supporter, investor, or backer of [Company Name]. Thank you for being part of our journey. But you can customize this for your specific situation (replace [Company Name] with the name of your company though).
This text will appear in the footer of emails you send to your audience.
The next section includes a few settings for this audience. These can be changed later. In the Form Settings section, you don't need to check the double opt-in because you will have gotten positive confirmation directly from the people you add to the email.
Don't add people to this newsletter without their permission. Just don't. You don't want to risk them marking it as spam and preventing deliverability to the rest of your list.
If your startup is located in a country that follows GDPR, you'll need to check that option.
For the next section, Notifications, we recommend checking the box to notify you when someone unsubscribes. If you see someone has unsubscribed and aren't sure why, reach out to them to see if things have changed or for any feedback on the frequency or content of your newsletter updates.
Adding a subscriber
Once you've created your Audience you can start to add subscribers.
Always add yourself to your email list, and send a copy of your email to your address first as a test before sending it to your entire audience. Sometimes you'll catch errors that you didn't see when building the list.
Click Add a subscriber. On the next screen you can enter demographic fields for the subscriber. The only required field is email but if you have the subscriber's name, add that too.
After the demographic fields is a section to add tags. Tags can help you identify sub-groups in your Audience, and if you want to send different versions of your update newsletter to different groups, you can use tags to do that. We recommend adding a tag called Draft Recipients (include yourself, any other founders, and formal advisors) that you can use to send a draft of your newsletter for feedback. If you want to set up a newsletter for financial backers and a different one for regular supporters you could do that too. If you have used a Crowdfunding platform to build your business you might want to tag those backers separately.
Check the This person gave me permission to email them box so that Mailchimp doesn't send an opt-in email to your subscriber.
When finished, click Subscribe.
Creating and sending your company update newsletter
To send your first company update newsletter you'll need to use the Mailchimp menu. Select Campaigns, then Create campaign. To save time, set up an email template first. This way when you are ready to send your update newsletter you can start from the template and only need to update the information that's recent. To get started click Email template in the Campaign types overlay.
Mailchimp will present a list of template layouts. Only the basic ones are available in the free tier, so select 1 column - Full Width because you want your newsletter to be simple and easy to review.
Selecting an email template will open a visual (WYSIWYG) designer. On the left you'll see a preview of the current email with default copy in place.
On the right you'll see a list of 'blocks' of content types that you can add. Most of these are more relevant when you are designing emails for marketing, although if you recently created or updated your product marketing video you might want to embed that here, and there's a content block for that.
There is an additional table that allows you to access and update the default visual styles (colors, fonts, and text sizes) but for an update newsletter the defaults are fine.
Start by replacing the default logo with your own. If you hover over the logo in the left panel you'll see some edit options. The logo is a content block, and you can move it, edit it, duplicate it, or delete it.
Click the Edit icon. Mailchimp will display a panel on the right to allow you to edit the contents of the block.
Click Replace. This will take you to Mailchimp's media asset library. Any graphic you upload will be saved here so you can re-use it in different templates. Click Upload to open a dialog to select your logo from your computer. Once you have selected your logo you'll be returned to the template with your logo now shown in the template.
In this case the image selected is too large for the template and might cause problems. You can edit the logo manually to reduce the size, but Mailchimp includes a basic image editor that can take care of the problem. So if you get this warning while designing your update newsletter, you can click Let's fix it . This will open the editor and Mailchimp will already have made the suggested change so as log as everything looks okay you can click Save to make the change.
Also on the right panel, click Link and in the box labeled Web address, enter the address of your website (including the https:// part). Then click Insert. Next click Alt and enter a description for the image; [Company Name] logo is fine.
If your logo stretches the full width of the preview screen, drag the image display size slider until it's about halfway, so it doesn't overwhelm the content.
Now hover over the default text block and click the edit button.
As you can see the default editor comes with a lot of the same features that popular word processors like Microsoft Word and Google Docs do.
Replace all the default copy with your company summary and key traction metric. Click Save & Close. Now hover over that content block and click the duplicate icon. Click the edit icon on the duplicated section and enter your email summary.
Now hover over that section and click the duplicate icon. Start adding the individual sections of your update email. Make each section a separate block, and use the duplicate icon to add new ones as needed. For the body of the section just add a single bullet (you'll add details when you send the specific update - this is just the template). When you are finished, each block should look something like this:
You can use an emoji lime the one shown to highlight sections if you wish, but it's not necessary. Enter your updates for that section as a bulleted list, and if you don't have meaningful updates for a section in a given time period, just remove it.
At the bottom of the template are links to social media. If you have active accounts for any of these and want to include them, edit the block to link the images to your accounts. At the bottom of the template is a footer with what might seem like cryptic text. This is added by Mailchimp to comply with various regulations, and if you are using their free plan you are required to include a referral link, so just leave this section as-is for now.
In the upper right is a menu with options to preview your template and to send a test email.
Click the preview option. Mailchimp will open a screen that shows approximately how your email will render in a desktop and on mobile.
Click Save and Exit to complete this template. You'll be prompted to give the template a name.
Sending your first update
In Mailchimp each update is called a Campaign. You can either start from the campaign menu and select the template you just created, or from the Templates page you can click the Edit dropdown and select Create campaign .
The Campaign builder allows you to specify the recipients, from address, and subject. It'll be pre-filled from your template so you should only need to update the parts that change in each newsletter.
First select an audience. Most often this will be the one you created above, but you could use this field to send to a sub-group. This form will allow you to select members of the audience that have a certain tag, for example.
If you have been collecting and entering names for your contacts, check the Personalize the "To" field option.
The From field should default to the email address that you used to log in to Mailchimp, but you can change it if needed. For the subject line, follow the guidance above to add emoji and the update timeframe as needed. For preview text use your one-sentence company summary.
Now click the Edit Design button next to make the changes needed for this newsletter. Mailchimp will open your template and you can use the edit button to make any updates necessary for this specific update. Lastly, click Schedule in the upper right. Set the email to deliver some time on the upcoming Sunday afternoon (or if it happens to be Sunday afternoon, just click Send).
Sending your next newsletter
You did a lot of work to get your first newsletter set up. When it comes time to send your next update, you can use the previous one as a template. Find your last update in the Campaign list and use the Edit menu to select Replicate. You can then follow the same steps you just went through to make any updates for the new period.