Substack Podcast #016: Finance with Kevin Muir
|Jun 25|| 18|
We spoke with Kevin Muir of The MacroTourist, a newsletter about trading and investing that aims to make finance fun.
Formerly a proprietary trader, Kevin quit his job at a bank in the early 2000s to start working for himself, and he still trades his own capital to this day. Kevin started keeping a journal about trading, but so many people asked for his opinions that he decided to share his writing publicly. Today, he shares his passion for the markets with a loyal following of paid readers, who love his almost-daily updates on his trading portfolio and breezy, irreverent writing style.
We talked to Kevin about his motivation to write about markets, how he differentiates his content from others in the finance blogging world, and how he transitioned to a 100% paid newsletter.
The MacroTourist, Kevin’s newsletter
Kevin on Twitter
The Reformed Broker on CNBC, a finance blogger who uses Twitter effectively
(04:26) The world of finance blogging
(06:06) How Kevin uses Twitter as a tool for blogging
(08:23) The start of Kevin’s writing journey and how he grew his readership
(15:19) Why Kevin’s writing style is distinct in the world of finance blogs
(26:13) How Kevin came to Substack after experimenting with other writing platforms, including WordPress, Squarespace, and Mailchimp
(35:02) Why Kevin decided to switch to 100% paid subscriptions
(42:27) How paid subscriptions allowed Kevin to learn more from his readers
On getting started:
The one piece of advice I'd give is, just keep producing content, and it's going to go slow at first. But then the power, as I say, the power of compounding will cause it to accelerate.
On keeping a writing schedule:
I always tell them [new writers] to write and write on a regular basis, because one of the things that a lot of people do is, they go and they start writing and then they fall off. They don't bother with the discipline of it. A lot of times people are desperate for content, but what they don't want is for you to go away for two months and then you're back for two episodes and then you're gone. So I always told people to make your schedule and stick to it.
On giving and receiving from readers:
I realized that as people started reading it [my newsletter], it ended up being something I could give, so that I could receive back some information. And that's how it really kind of morphed for the longest time, I said, “I'm just going to write this thing, put it out there, and then I'm going to receive back as much as or all the effort that I'm putting into it.” I felt like it was coming back at me, in more than enough, to pay for itself that way.
You write The MacroTourist, which you described as an almost daily email about markets. From my poking around, it kind of looks like finance with a bunch of memes involved, and very breezy, irreverent style that definitely caught my eye. And it seems like that breezy fun style has also sort of dictated your career path. From what I can tell, you've kind of had a very interesting path of getting here from trading for other people, trading for yourself, and now also writing about trading. So yeah, just diving right into, what is your day job right now? How did you end up here?
Okay, well, in the nineties, I actually was an equity derivative trader at a Canadian large bank. And so, what they do is, we sit around and we make markets for institutions like pension funds, and we trade blocks of stocks. And in my case, I actually traded ETFs like index derivatives and other fancy stuff like that. And I was very fortunate because I got that job in the nineties when I was actually...I hadn't yet finished university. And I got the job because, as my boss told me at the time, there was guys better at computers and there was guys better at trading, but I was the right mix of both.
And back then there was very little computerized trading. And what I was...I had that ability to kind of bridge the gap. And so, I was hired to handle all the index clients and it was a very entrepreneurial firm. And before I knew it, they had gone from me just covering clients, to me trading for the bank, meaning taking positions, until finally I was the basically head risk-taker for the equity derivatives for most of the late nineties, during the dot-com bubble. Then what happened was our daughter was born and she was born with a heart defect that was fixed at birth.
It was one of these things, the wonderful doctors came in and they operated laparoscopically and fixed her problem. But it was one of these moments in life where you kind of sit back and wonder what's important in life. And I decided that there was more than just trading and I wasn't having as much fun because the bank was becoming increasingly like a bank, and less entrepreneurial. So before the market crashed in 2000, I hung up my skates, and I kind of semi quit/retired. So I came home and I thought to myself, "I can go work for a hedge fund or do something like that, but I can also go try trading for myself. And if it doesn't work a year from now, I could go back and work for a bank or a hedge fund and nobody will remember that year."
Well, one year turned into two. And then turned into five. And next thing I know I've gone 15 years, just trading for myself with another guy. And during those periods, it was kind of lonely at times. So I started writing a blog, or it was actually more of a journal when I first started, because one of the things they encourage traders to do is write down your thoughts. And people would phone me up and say, "What do you think of the market?" And I would just say, "You know what? Here, I'll send you off what I wrote to myself." And that's how the MacroTourist was born. And for the longest time it was just a free thing I like to... because I don't work for a bank anymore. And because most research is often boring and not very kind of fun to read, I do like to make it a little more fun. So at the very least, I always say to people, "I hope to make you smile."
I definitely, going through some of your posts, I was giggling to myself... and I don't even understand finance, so it was great. Your goal has been achieved. What is the world of finance blogging? I don't even really necessarily know, is that the right term that you'd use? There are other people that write like you, but what you're doing is so different.
For sure. There are a lot of blogs out there. And one of the things that a lot of people as well do in finance, is that we're big Twitter users, and it ends up being that Twitter is the perfect vehicle for traders and investors, because what you want is basically real time information flowing back and forth. So there's many people that will be on Twitter posting kind of long form, string together 20 tweets that they kind of give their views, and they include charts. And then there's some that go off and actually go and create full-on blogs. There's a very famous guy called The Reformed Broker that's on CNBC, and he originally started as just a broker that wrote a blog, until he parlayed into a million plus Twitter followers, and a job on CNBC.
So it's definitely something that's out there. One of the problems that occurs is that anybody who works for a large firm is often hindered by compliance. Compliance basically means legal sign off, because if you're registered as an investment advisor, it's difficult for you to write. So there's a whole slew of guys and women very similar to me, in that they don't work for anyone but themselves, and are posting information out there like my blog. Although I would say that my style's a little unique, the fact that I'm writing a finance blog is by no means unique.
Did you.... because it seems like you're somewhat active on Twitter as well, did Twitter come before blogging? Did blogging help with Twitter?
No, so I hated Twitter. When I first turned on Twitter, it felt like a fire hose coming at me and I didn't really understand how to use it. And then for the longest time I would write my blog, and I would just put a link to it on Twitter just because I felt like I had to. And then I noticed that some guys would be taking my blog, and taking a couple of charts from there and putting a little sentence or two on it. And they would be getting all these retweets and all this information. And I realized that it was kind of a tool that I could use to promote myself a little bit. And it is frustrating, Twitter is, it's a great tool and then it's also a great kind of almost drug, that you have to be careful of, because you can find yourself getting sucked into a lot of holes that waste a lot of time for no productive use.
So, the way I use Twitter is, originally, it was just a way to get my brand out there. It's still that way. I do say that having a large Twitter following is actually beneficial to traders, because when I need some information or interested in a point of view, I might just throw it out there and say, "Hey, does anyone have this report?" Or, "Does anyone know what's going on with this stock?" And it's really quite helpful that way, Twitter.
Do you find that the people you're talking to on Twitter are similar to the people that are also following your blog, or is it different sort of?
So I have a lot more people that will follow me on Twitter than the blog. So I do find that they are often different, but there is also some huge overlap, but Twitter ends up being a little more fast moving information, where the people that are reading my blog are probably not the type that are interested about every tick and staring at Twitter all day. So, there's kind of more traders that are glued to screens, I would say on Twitter, and then on the blog it would be more, there's still some traders reading it that way, but there's a lot more kind of serious, longer term investors.
If you started writing before you're using Twitter, how did you get anyone to read in the first place? How did you end up growing your audience?
Well, so when I first started writing, I just... as I said, I wrote it for myself, and I just ended up putting it out there because a couple of guys asked for it. And then I said... they kept phoning me back and saying, "Can you send me what you wrote today?" And I said, "You know what? I'll just put it on the internet." And although I had always kind of in the back of my mind said, "It'd be great, if I could do this kind of, and actually people would read it." It was never originally something that I set out to do.
And there hit a point where after doing it, I realized that it was actually, people were reading it and it was just getting passed around kind of by word of mouth, that I kind of understood that it was not only could it eventually be something like what it's turned into, a letter that people pay for, but it was also a great tool in the meantime to network and to learn about markets, and to be able to talk to different people.
So I really used it as a communication tool, because one of the problems was, when I used to work at a big bank, people would give you a fair amount of kind of just, I don't know, respect is the right word, but at least you had a certain sort of authority because you worked at a bank. When all of a sudden it's just a couple of guys sitting around an office banging around SMPs, it doesn't actually air itself to somebody that, if you wanted to talk to an economist at a bank that anyone would bother talking to you. So, I realized that as it kind of, people started reading it, it ended up being something I could give, so that I could receive back some information.
And that's how it really kind of morphed for the longest time, I said, "I'm just going to write this thing, put it out there, and then I'm going to receive back as much as all the effort that I'm putting into it." I felt like it was coming back at me, in more than enough, to pay for itself that way. And so in terms of, how did I do it? It's just slowly. I still remember going from 100 to 200 Twitters and I remember it crossing in a thousand. And I'm sure for... I don't have that many really, when you look at people with a hundred thousand or a million. But it’s just kind of one of those things that the power of compounding just ends up working.
And one of the advice I always give people when they say, "How did you go about doing it?" I always tell them to write and write on a regular basis, because one of the things that a lot of people do is, they go and they start writing and then they fall off. They don't bother with the kind of discipline of it. And so people want to... a lot of times people are desperate for content, but what they don't want is for you to go away for two months and then you're back for two episodes, or three episodes and then you're gone. So I always told people to make your schedule and stick to it.
And in fact, when I first started, I forced myself, at a certain point when I realized it was real, something that I wanted to develop, I forced myself to write every day, no matter if I didn't have anything to write about, I just figure out something to write about. And I remember reading Jonathan Coulton, he’s this kind of independent music guy, and he did an experiment where he forced himself to write, I can't remember, it was like 52 songs in 52 weeks. And he just... he would put it out there for free, and it was something. And I kind of took inspiration from that, because nothing like a deadline of having to write something and publish that day, to force you to come up with some ideas. And not only that, it ends up making you a better writer.
So true. I find myself often telling other writers also, consistency is the most important thing and it sounds really boring, because it just means you have to get into it for a while until someone notices. But it's when people start following you, they want to know that they're going to keep getting something. And personally, I only commit to a monthly newsletter because I can't bring myself to write every day. They really admire that. I think it's like, I imagine if you're writing everyday kind of takes the pressure off too, because you're like, "Well, if this one's okay, then maybe the next one's better or something like that."
Well that's true. You're absolutely correct, that if you do, you're going to have some doubts and then you're going to have some great ones. And the other thing that I've found over the years is, I can't even predict my good ones. Like the ones that seem to resonate with people. There's ones that I have spent ages on, worked hard on, thought, "This is the greatest thing I ever write." And then I send it out there and it's crickets. And then there's something else that I just kind of have a whim and I just polish off something, and it's all of a sudden, everyone's going like, "Oh, that's so amazing. It's so like a different way to think about it." So, it's difficult and I completely agree with you. Just the discipline of doing it, whatever your timeframe is, whether it's a monthly, weekly, daily, just do it and do it consistently.
Do you ever feel like... I guess, who is agreeing to get an email every single day for me in their inbox?
I don't know. Well, maybe it's different, in finance we get inundated with tons and tons of research emails. So, it's actually not that unusual to have somebody write every day. And in fact, there are guys that are right on, even way more than every day. So, it's really... like when we go look, if you were what's called a buy-side trader, meaning a client that's getting serviced by all the big brokers, your email, you might get 500 emails in a day. So, one of the things that I was always amazed about, is that when I would go look at people that would take the time to read it, I was always thankful and very appreciative, because I understood how much competition there was out there, and how many other people were reading it. So, that's one of the things that I never want to take for granted, because there’s so many different people out there that offer such great products, great services and stuff like that. So you should always be appreciative of the people that spend the time to read your stuff.
It kind of takes me back to just thinking again about your writing style and again, not having read a lot of other finance things, but it definitely stands out and it's definitely memorable, because it is just so fun and light and easy to read. And you were saying that, when you went sort of more independent, you had room for yourself, it was another way to help build credibility, which I think is so true. Like when you don't have a company, brand or something behind you, then it's sort of, well my writing and my voice is sort of like your portfolio and builds your credibility, is a culture of people that are into your stuff, I guess I'm sort of surprised that on the one hand it's sort of building your credibility. On the other hand you have this incredibly irreverent style. And so, is it just that people enjoy reading that sort of humor? Do you think like... are you operating in a more buttoned-up kind of world? Is it a corner of finance that's a little bit less buttoned-up?
So, I would say that most finance is less buttoned up than it seems. And especially on the trading side, in fact you would almost argue that there are a bunch of bores, and this is more how you would talk, like how you would speak to each other at bars and how when your traders are speaking. And so one of the things that I guess my writing is also more real. It's almost like the difference between seeing an essay that you hand your professor versus a note you send to your friend. And that's kind of how I would say... and one of the things I will say, is that I've noticed a change in style. So when I first came up with, I put a picture with a meme on the front of each and every one of my posts.
And I took that idea from another guy's blog in Canada, that wrote kind of a real estate blog, but he didn't put any kind of... he didn't tie it into his article and he didn't put any writing over it. He just took a funny picture and put it at the beginning. And I thought, "Well, that's a great idea, but really you should tie it in and try to figure out a way to make it kind of feed into the article." And when I first did it, it was something that very few people in finance, I don't think I'd ever seen apart from this one guy's real estate blog, I'd never seen anyone do it.
And I've noticed that there's more and more people doing it, and to the point where you're even seeing banks and they're kind of the last to do it, they're doing kind of more funny things. So like that, I definitely kind of sense a different tone in terms of, people have become less buttoned-up and there's less formal writing style. And the whole world is going more casual, and finance was probably one of the ones to be last to do that. But I do definitely notice that there's been a trend in that direction.
Has anyone ever been surprised when they meet you in real life versus you in writing stuff?
Well, so my wife always tells me, she says like, "You don't swear in real life. Why do you swear in your thing?" And then she always says, "It's almost like you're trying to be cooler on the writing than you actually are." So she definitely kind of laughs at me about that way. And I don't know, other people read it and they say, "Oh no, that's just like Kevin." So I don't know, maybe I portray something different to my wife than to the guys on the trading desk. But I do think that it's... I think people find it refreshing, because it's definitely more honest and more real than most writing that they're getting.
I can definitely see it also just being the kind of thing that people want to share around, and talk about and forward to their friends and things like that. Do you feel like you have a sense of this point of... how did your list grow to the size that it did? How are people finding it now? Is it now that you do have a more active Twitter presence? Is it through that, how do you find subscribers?
So I do also a bunch of... I have a podcast, there's a bunch of different media type, alternative media finance stuff. And I was lucky enough to get involved in that, and people would phone and ask for me to appear on their podcast. And I remember I was so scared the first time I did it, and I stumbled, and I thought to myself, "I'm never going to be asked again." And then luckily enough, they took pity on me and they asked me to come back. And I just... for the longest time I said to myself, "Just keep doing it until you get better at it." Just like my writing, I felt like the same way, I was like, "Keep doing it until you get better at it, and you will get better. It's like anything else, you practice long enough and you get better at it."
And I forced myself, people would see it and I'd force myself to say yes to radio interviews. So I remember I would go down, and it didn't matter if it was a Saturday morning show, that probably only 200 people were listening to. I forced myself to do it, just so I would get practice speaking. So I've been lucky enough to have a presence in this kind of alternative finance community, that's helped me with getting exposure. And so, that's one of the big things. And the Twitter, I kind of figured by now, everyone that follows me on Twitter, probably knows about what I do. It's not like it's going to be a surprise that they kind of find that I write this letter, but it's just... what it does is, every now and then on Twitter, I'll do something.
I remember I made this one tweet storm, I was on vacation, I had this real big view about something and I made this tweet storm and I made it funny. It's kind of almost like one of my letters, but I did it on Twitter and it went viral. It just got over a hundred thousand people passing it around. And all of a sudden, somebody that had a radio show on SiriusXM, asked me to come and talk about it. And so I went on to that, and then it just kind of, then you get more and it just kind of builds on itself that way. So, the one piece of advice I'd give is, just keep producing content and it's going to go slow at first. But then the power as I say, the power of compounding will cause it to accelerate, and then all of a sudden your first from 100 to 200 Twitter followers is tough. But then from 1000 to 2000 is actually almost easier.
It's interesting to think about all these different interviews, or sort of public artifacts that you're leaving around. It's like people end up finding those later, right? Like someone is probably always discovering some interview you did that was pretty popular. And so every time they find that, it's almost like a passive income for getting more subscribers or something because they're just littered around the internet.
Right. And you know what the problem is? I did this one, it was called Interview With Traders, and I am hesitant to say, because everyone's going to go listen to it. And it was one of my first ones I did and I really wasn't very comfortable. I didn't know how to speak properly. Not that I'm great now, but I was really bad then. And I just... even now, I cringe as I think about it, but I didn't realize it. When afterwards I asked the fellow, "How many people do you have listen to this?" He goes, "I don't know, 60, 80,000." I was like, "What?" I was like, "I just spoke to a football field. Right?"
And to this day, I still have people coming to me and saying, "I just stumbled upon your interview chats with traders." And I completely agree with your analysis that those kinds of things, when you get those opportunities, it stays on the internet forever. They say, what goes on the internet never leaves and stuff. I guess, there's terrible things when something bad stays on the internet, but there's also good things when something good like that stays on the internet.
Do you ever find that you hit plateaus with growing your lists? You were saying, 100 to 200 is hard, getting from a thousand to thousands is easy. Is there a point where just like ... I think we've talked a fair amount now about how to get your first hundred subscribers on it, because it comes from friends and family and you're sort of just passing things around, but then sort of that longer term growth, was there a point where you were just like, "I don't actually know how to get more people coming in?"
I didn't actually think about it like that. I just kept thinking about doing what I do, and I just thought, "Okay, I'm going to do things that interest me and I'm going to continue doing it and hopefully it interests other people." And I just always would say yes to any opportunities and it's definitely lumpy. It doesn't come in a nice smooth, steady plateau, like that one chance freak, tweet storm that I did that. Then I got on to SiriusXM and I was shocked. My Twitter exploded, my followers exploded from that. You'd be surprised. I might've been sitting around kind of incrementally going up, up, up a little bit, a little bit, a little bit, and then there's this one opportunity and then all of a sudden, boom, it accelerates from there again. And now it’s sideways again, blah, blah, blah.
And then the next thing will happen. And maybe one day it'll stop growing, and they'll plateau. And that's so be it and that's life. But at the end of the day, I don't actually sit around trying to do that too much because the way I operate it, I write stuff that I would like to read. And I'm almost just doing it for myself, and then hoping that I'll find my audience that also likes to read it. And I really think that's important because there's lots of times that I've kind of been tempted because I've seen, "That article there, if I did that, I bet you I could get a lot of people that would follow me."
But then I wouldn't really be doing it, things that I'm truthful for and it's not something that would be really me that would be almost like a business that's like, I don't know. I wouldn't want to have my name on that. I don't know how to describe it, but I want to do stuff that I'm proud of, that I believe in. And hopefully, if I keep putting it out there, people will find it and other people that kind of feel the same way as me. I'll find my audience.
I really love that. I think it's also, I feel like having that sort of attitude is what will keep people writing in the long-term as well. Because once you're... if you're thinking about in terms of, well what am I going to do, that's going to get a big hit? Or what are we going to do that other people are going to like? Versus, "I like doing this thing, and I'm just going to keep doing it and write the things that I want to read." And you could do that indefinitely. Right?
Right, yeah. And if my list goes down, like so far I've been lucky that it hasn't, but if it goes down, so be it. And those are my crew. And those are the people that I'll write for. I can't tell you how many times I've been writing. And I'm glad that you find it fun, because I also find it fun and I'm laughing as I write it sometimes, in there thinking about it, I'm like, "I'm making a funny picture." And it just makes me laugh, and I just, I get joy from it. And ultimately, I think that comes through. I think people see that I enjoy doing it and that's important. And above all else, I don't want it to be a job that I'm like, "I got to write again."
And the moment it does that, I'm probably not going to be writing stuff that people really want to read.
Yeah, I love that. And curious, you've been writing since before Substack existed. And now you're on Substack. But when you started, it sounded like it was something you were doing for friends. And so, I guess sort of from an infrastructure perspective, what were you using to ... at what point did you even start collecting email addresses, and how did you start managing that? And then, at what point did you decide to move over to Substack?
Okay. So, you're right. I've done a variety of different platforms. I think, let's go through them all. Probably started on WordPress, moved to Squarespace, eventually went to Jekyll, which is a static blog, and wrote our own... I had my old business partner who would write code for me. Most of the time with the emails, I think I exclusively used Mailchimp. I would tie it into the websites. And so, that was kind of the tool that I used for the longest time, whether it be a WordPress, Squarespace or our own Jekyll kind of statics blog, we would usually send out the emails via Mailchimp.
Now Mailchimp is fine when you've got a small little list that you're doing for friends and family. Once you get to a larger number, it starts costing and it actually starts costing a lot. And it's one thing to write and spend your time for free. It's another thing to be sending out this list and shelling out 200 bucks a month, for something that you're giving away. And so, this is one of the things that I found. I was actually, I hit this point where, I kind of was looking for alternatives to Mailchimp, because I found Mailchimp very expensive and not everything I was hoping for in terms of ease of use.
And I went and looked, and I experimented with Sendy, which is in a platform using Amazon's email sending, but that's complicated. You had to go make Amazon, kind of, instance in the cloud. And although I did figure it all out, it wasn't something that was easy. Then I went and looked at, there was another one that I can't remember what it was called, Sendmail. There's a variety of different, cheaper ones that I kind of looked at. And I'll be truthful, this is how I came upon Substack.
One of my buddies writes a blog on here, and he had sent me something and I liked the looks of the email that he sent and I kind of looked at it and I was like, "What's this all about?" And I read about it, and then I saw that you guys offered the ability to go and to send emails for free. And I thought to myself... And I was like, "You guys said it right there." You said, "Look, if you never charge for your letter you can still send it." And I guess I'm going to end up being proof that your marketing strategy works, because I ended up choosing you guys. That's how it started.
I sent you off my list, and I imported it and I started sending, using your Substack to send off my emails because I was looking for an inexpensive way to send it off. When I first sent you the list, I had unfortunately at one point gotten, I don't know how to describe this. Some Chinese like bot program imported, it went bananas one time and my email list went from 10000 to 30000. And then I thought I cleaned it out, but I hadn't cleaned it out properly. And so when I imported it all, and then sent out my first email list, your tech staff looked at it and said, "A whole bunch of these aren't working right." They were going to some weird address. And I was shocked because here I was, I wasn't paying you guys anything and you guys were taking the time to come and say, "Look, there's something wrong here. There's all these crazy bot ones. Why don't we clean this out for you?"
And I was like, "I really like these guys. This is terrific." And I was just shocked, because literally I didn't ask you, you guys came and said, "This will work a lot better this way." And I thought, "What a great firm." And so I kept looking, and then I hit this point where I decided I was going to pay for it, charge for my letter. And so I had gone back and forth between maybe using Ghost, which is kind of a WordPress platform, that also includes the ability to send off emails. And I was going and looking at it and then I was looking at the whole, how I would go about taking payments. And then I looked at your solution and I thought to myself, "I've already been impressed with their service. Here it is. These guys seem to really know what they're doing, and I can go and turn this on basically overnight, really easily turn this on. And they'll handle all of the billing and all that stuff."
And I think it's more than a fair price. How much you guys take. I think it's completely fair and I thought, I'm giving you guys the benefit of the doubt. I'm going with you guys. So, your marketing of giving this wave, allowing people to send free emails worked completely with me, because I ended up using you in the long run for it. And I can tell you, I've been nothing but ecstatic about the way that you've helped me go through this whole process. I've never charged for anything, so I had no clue when the Stripe payments started coming in. I was nervous about stuff.
Somebody emailed me back and said, "No problem." I had some problems with some visas not going through. I emailed, and it was again taken care of right away. It was a wonderful experience, and I can't tell people enough how pleased I've been with Substack as a kind of a model for me. Because one of the things is that, I'm a single in terms of, I don't work for a firm. I just work for myself. And the time, in terms of billing and all that stuff, is really important to me. I don't have time to do all this. And so, I found it a seamless, wonderful experience, and I'm just so pleased that I chose Substack. I know that sounds a little like I'm doing a sales pitch, but it's true.
I remember one time somebody said, they emailed me and said, "I see you on Substack. Do you mind if I talk about it?" And I say, "You can talk about it anytime you want, because I'm so happy with these guys." It's been so great from that experience. Listen, I still have, just to show that I do have my complaints. The fact that I have to put Substack in the... I can't have a custom domain. I'm sure you guys hear that all the time.
We've heard it, once or twice.
So, I will say, that is my one huge kind of... listen, I actually thought about it long and hard because of that custom domain. And I ultimately said, "You know what? I'm going to not bother. I'm going to live with the domain." And I would highly suggest everyone else do the same and not worry about it. But if we're chatting now, here's another vote for a custom domain.
It is definitely something we've heard from a lot of people, and something that we're trying to solve.
Yeah, fair enough. I get it. There's some bigger issues and it's not easy to kind of do that, but anyway, it's been-
Good to hear, despite that you're still with us, which is awesome.
We're really glad.
Listen, at the end of the day, adding a Substack isn't that big a deal. Just for those technically inclined, I just really pointed, I forwarded the domain so that when you do go to my root domain, it actually goes to the root domain.substack.com. So, it's not like people had to redo their links and stuff like that, it actually can still work. It just doesn't work as clean as it might be.
That's all right. Yeah. Because you used to have the macrotourist.com which was... you had your blog hosted on a separate website. Right?
And then you also did your email newsletter through Substack. And then when you decided to go pay it or add paid subscriptions, you decided to just sort of combine those two things together.
That's right. I just didn't want to bother, I wanted to keep it all one and the same. And I've been really happy with the whole experience. I find it very pleasing to the eye, and it's easy. It's not too complicated. It's very snappy. Some of the, like when you get a WordPress that has too many plugins and stuff, it very quickly kind of blogs down. I've found none of that. I've had no problems with any sorts of not saving, writing half a post and losing it. That hasn't happened at all. It's been nice, it's clean, and it works. And that's the most important thing. It allows me to spend more time writing, and less time worrying about technology, which is ultimately what I was looking for.
That's exactly what we aim to do. I would love to hear more just about, I mean, you decided to launch paid subscriptions, I mean really you just switched completely to paid, pretty recently and so, yeah, I'm curious, after years of writing for free, what made you decide, “screw it, I'm going to go add paid subscriptions?”
So, I did it for a variety of different reasons. I guess at a certain point, I kind of felt like, "Okay, I'm offering enough value that I feel like I should get paid for it." So, and I looked at a lot of times, other people would send me notes and say, "Listen, I'm doing this for... I'm making money on this and you're doing this for free. Can you stop it?" They were like kind of mad at me. So, and it was increasingly taking time, and that was the other thing, as I did it more and more, took time. And I found that there was more and more people that were kind of contacting me as I did it. Whereas at first, it was great when they were contacting me and I'm still appreciative of everyone that ever contacted me.
But it was getting to the point where I was having... I was becoming overwhelmed with the amount of contact that I had, and I had a choice. I could either just stop, start ignoring people, which I don't really like doing, or I could turn this into a business, which was always kind of my dream and my goal. So, I decided just to take the leap of faith and to turn it into a paid subscription. And so far so good. There's been a lot of long-term, long time MacroTourist readers that were very supportive and I'm appreciative of all those who just immediately signed up.
And if they're listening now, thank you very much for your business. It enables me to actually focus more time on it. I feel like my last posts have been better than they ever were, because now I feel like it's a job and I can actually devote more time without worrying about having to make a living as much on the side.
Can you talk to me a little bit of your thinking of ... so a lot of writers that add paid subscriptions, also continue to have some free posts, but you went 100% paid and you just said, "You know what, it's just entirely a fee." I think you used the term a fee-based newsletter. What was your thinking on that, of did you consider doing some free posts?
Right. So, I did listen to that. In fact I see that you guys actually encourage writers to do that. I chose not to, and I'll tell you why. I also chose to do no discounts. And I know that your system offers discounts, and I just said, "No, this is the deal, I don't want people to sign up for a letter and then feel like, if they waited six months, they would've got a better price." So I committed that there's nobody who's going to get a better price, wasn't going to be offering deals later to get more subscriptions.
And then in terms of the free stuff, although I haven't completely kind of eliminated it, I don't think that it's fair to those who are paying for me to do it, in terms of giving it away. And so, it just kind of, it was what made me feel comfortable. It's like I was kind of thinking about it from a point of view of, if I was buying the product, what would I want? And I'd want it to be an exclusive service that I've paid this money for, and I don't want it going out to the other people for a lesser price.
Yeah, that was really cool. And I think it makes sense too, given your particular audience. And it sounds like it's... I mean, I love the phrasing of your announcement too, where you started in respecting your readers’ time. It really came from, to me it seemed like it came from a place of understanding what your readers wanted, what they valued, and doing it in a way that was uniquely yours, and unique to your audience. And it seems to be going really well. So...
Well, yeah, I promised them, I said, over the years when I've collected the emails, I've often said, "You will not get spammed by me. If you're like, basically, I'm either going to be sending you content that I'm proud of or that's it." And so, when I went kind of pay, I decided to send one announcement. I said, "This is the announcement. I'm doing this, these are the reasons I'm doing it. This is what I hope to make better." And I went through my list of kind of improvements, I was going to make to my letter and then I said, "And I won't be bothering you again with, about this."
Because one of the things that really bothers me, as someone who's signed up for these, are those emails that are basically nothing more than just kind of marketing material. And they're kind of half written articles that just end up being teasers, to try to get you to pay for the whole thing. And that just always left me with a bad taste in my mouth. So, I vowed that I was never going to do it. And I've stuck to that philosophy and that promise I gave to my readers.
Love that. How did you decide on pricing? People are paying $35 a month, is that right? For ...
Yeah, so it's $35 a month or $350 for a year. I looked at other people's, basically the competition and even at that price, some of my buddies that also write letters told me I was too low. I did want to go... I didn't want to start too high. I figured that this is the way I thought about it. I can always raise, I don't want to ever lower. So, I kind of thought I'm going to go to my level, that at that point, if it doesn't work at that price, then I don't want it, then that's, I don't want to do it for money. And so, it doesn't matter. And that's how I looked at it.
Now you have to realize though, that my audience is a little more niche than other people, so I'm never going to get the million subscribers. This is just never going to happen for me. It's like I write about very... you have to be very interested in markets to read my letter. And so for me to price at a level where I'm going for a million people, it's just never going to work. I'm just not going to get it. So, I would rather pick something that I think is fair. And as I said, I ended up choosing a level that was comparable. I picked other newsletter writers that do it, and I said, "Okay, that's where they are. I'll go on the lower end." And as I say, I can always increase it later if it's successful.
And it sounds like writing for a smaller niche. It's almost like one of your goals. At least from reading your announcement where you mentioned, you're able to add comments now, because before, when you had free posts, you didn't really want random people kind of coming in, or just sort of having this fire hose of commentators, and feeling sort of overwhelmed by reader requests. And so, having this, having paid subscription sort of, it allows you to sort of focus on this smaller audience of people that are more dedicated, I guess.
That's for sure. And one of the things that I like to say is, that was again, a reason I chose Substack is I was like, "Look, they have comments. It's easy." And in my post that you read, I obviously, I said why I previously didn't have comments because free comments, there's a very famous website in the financial community called Zero Hedge. And Zero Hedge has got many, many, hundreds of thousands of readers. And he used to go and republish my pieces. And over the years, I would often let a lot of people republish it. I was basically, "Yeah, sure. It's free, more exposure for me the better." And so, when I would go look at the comments I was horrified, and it wasn't just my articles.
It was just like, in general, comments, just like, I don't know. It seems to be, it's even worse than Twitter. It was just horrifying. It was like... and although I try not to let it bother me, I'm still human. And so, I never turned on comments because it seemed too easy for the trolls to come out. And so now I was like, "Okay, if somebody's paying and they have an issue with me, then I don't mind them putting in the comments. I don't mind us talking about it as adults and respectful adults." And I think you get rid of all the trolls. And it's not to say people won't disagree with me. I have never had a problem with people disagreeing with me, or wanting to present a different view.
It's just those people that almost just seem like they want to fight for the sake of fighting. And generally those people that do that, they're not willing to pay per month for it. So, one of the things was, it was a pleasure to turn on the comments and I've loved it. It's great. And I get to interact, and get to see some feedback and stuff, with my readers and it's been terrific that way. And it's actually, it's been a kind of, one of the better parts of going to paid, is that I've been able to turn on the comments.
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Definitely something we've heard from other writers as well.
That's good. Yeah.
Yeah. There's something about adding. If you care enough to pay and comment, then you're probably a different kind of person than that.
Right, yeah. I just didn't see us getting rid of the trolls, and that's all... that was just basically it, as much as I try to not let them bother me, they just do. And you're just like... and I do have a funny story though, about trolls on Twitter. So a lot of people block on Twitter. And the thing about when you block is that the other guy knows the other person knows that you blocked them. And I refuse to let anyone know that they've gotten to me. So I just mute them. So, meaning that I don't see what they're doing. So they're just kind of yelling at me and doing it. I kind of get a chuckle thinking about them just yelling into a void.
Because if you block them, then they know they got to you. So nobody ever knows who I've viewed it or not.
I was talking to somebody who says he does the soft blocking a lot on Twitter, where you just, you force someone to unfollow you. And then they get really frustrated. Because they're like, "I thought I followed this person. And then they keep getting unfollowed." But it's not like blocking. It's like, this person blocked me.
I didn't know. You could force unfollow?
I didn’t know that!
I think it's like, you block and then you immediately unblock. I've done it with a couple of people on Twitter.
I didn't know that.
And then they're not following anymore. So, if you want a new, subtle trolling patrol strategy.
That's it, there we go.
Yeah, I mean, so just to sort of wrap things up, is there anything you've discovered since getting paid that was surprising to you? Is there anything you're going to change based on reader feedback? What are your plans for the future?
Well, has anything changed? Well, there have been some things, unfortunately I went paid right in front of this financial crisis, which is kind of like some people said, "Terrible timing." And other people said, "Great timing." And I will tell you that, I have been completely, unitedly going crazy from the markets, because this is really unprecedented times. It's been a hundred, it's been a century since we've had a pandemic. And the markets just don't know how to deal with it. So it's been very busy that way.
And so, I haven't had a chance to really do some of the things that I wanted to do, in terms of putting portfolio recommendations and stuff like that. So, although I've turned on comments and I've done a few other things that I said I wanted to do, my full kind of move into, my kind of end version of my letter is not quite there yet, but having said that, the comments have been very helpful. It makes me understand what people are interested in reading. So, there's been a couple of ideas. I have a list of posts that I want to write, and I kind of just write them down quickly. It's been great kind of... one of the things is that a lot of these people that used to email me and I would take the time to email them back,
I said, "Listen, why don't we do this so everybody can read it?" And it’s not just me and you that are conversing, and everyone can gain from the knowledge. Because a lot of times, listen, the people that are reading my letter are often smarter than me, and actually have much more knowledge, especially about certain industries or certain parts of the market. For me, I call myself the MacroTourist. And the reason is that, for those who don't know finance, it's actually a derogatory term.
And what it means is, it used to be traders that would come in and just kind of wander into something, not really knowing what they were doing, a big macro trade and then they were tourists, and then they would make a mess and then leave. And so, it was kind of part of myself, making fun of myself kind of style, to call myself that. But one of the things is that, when I write about such a variety of different topics, meaning that, I don't just stick to one topic, I basically work on a whole bunch of different things, that there's people who know more and they might read my letter and kind of comment, and give me ideas or give me some more kind of color, in terms of how it's working.
And sharing that with the kind of my reader and my community actually really helps everyone, not just me. So that's, again, why I like the comments so much. And in terms of other things that I'm going to do, no, I actually just... I can't tell you how much I've just been pleased, how easy it was, how great. I'm just going to continue doing what I love doing, which is writing posts and letting you guys handle all the back office stuff.
Sounds good to us. Where should people find you if they want to check out and follow your work?
Well, so I guess, I should give you my Substack email. I mean, our Substack kind of domain. And so, it's themacrotourist.substack.com. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, you can go ahead @kevimuir. You're from San Francisco, so you know all about John Muir.
And so, I can always tell people from the West, because they always ask me if I'm related to John Muir.
And what's the answer?
No, you know what? Muir is a pretty common last name, so I don't think so. It is always fun though, going and seeing your woods and-
Yeah, you got to pretend ...
Yeah, that's right.
These are my woods. Awesome, thanks for joining and chatting with me. It's a really great conversation.
Well, thank you very much for having me and thanks for the great product. I really appreciate all your hard work, and I look forward to being part of your community for some time to come.