GE 116: How Foundr Magazine Grew Its Instagram Account From 0 to 300,000 Followers In Just 10 Months [Podcast]

nathan chan twitter imageHi everyone, today’s interview is with Nathan Chan, founder of Foundr Magazine, an app-based subscription publication that features high-quality interviews with entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, and Barbara Corcoran.

Beyond revealing his process to actually land these interviews with such seeming hard-to-get celebrity-level entrepreneurs, he also reveals the step-by-step process he went through to grow Foundr Magazine’s Instagram account from zero to 300,000 subscribers in just 10 months.

Identifying a Gap in the Publication Market to Launch a Modern Magazine

At it’s core, Foundr Magazine is a subscription-based magazine available on iOS and Android mobile devices targeting young entrepreneurs and startup founders.

Two and a half years ago, when Nathan started the magazine, he looked at publications like Forbes, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and Entrepreneur and knew there was an opportunity for his idea, because the content basis of all of those publications is under the assumption that the reader has already started a business.

When first launching the magazine, Nathan treated it as a passion project which he bootstrapped with $3,000 and only worked on it on the side. He realized he was onto something after six months, and one year after launching it, he was replacing his full-time income with revenues.

What’s surprising is he says he’s never had a problem getting people to pay for their content, and Foundr Magazine is now a six-figure business, based on their subscription revenue model.

However, looking to the future and the goals of turning Foundr Magazine into an eight-figure business, Nathan is thinking of making the content free for three reasons:

  1. In order to increase monthly readership from 20,000 to hundreds of thousands so they’ll be able to compete and make a massive impact, the content needs to be free.
  2. In terms of impact made, free content matters more.
  3. And in terms of leads, a lead is worth much more to them now than just getting someone to pay for the subscription.

The Process for Landing Interviews with Guys Like Richard Branson

Nathan admits that getting interviews with guys like Richard Branson and Seth Godin looks really “WOW!” on the outside.

But when you run a magazine, he says, it’s not as difficult as you’d think. The magazine puts you in a position of authority, so then it’s just a matter of tracking down the gatekeepers and pitching them. (But it also helps if you have a nice angle to play on.)

For example, with Richard Branson, he tracked down his head of PR, and instead of emailing her (like the rest of the world does), he gave her a phone call, because people will take you more seriously over the phone than they ever will over email. He also played on the fact that Richard’s first business venture was a magazine.

After landing Richard as an interviewee and putting his face on the cover, that gave them all the social proof they needed to reach out to more and more influencers, and now it’s not a problem to interview anyone.

Another good tip, he says, is to find the publishers. If someone has a new book coming out, for example, they’ll want press for it. That’s how they landed their interview with Tim Ferriss.

Also, a lot of startups (like AirBNB, DropBox, etc.) all have relationships with PR companies that they pay $10,000 a week to get them press. If you get in touch with those companies and tell them you have a decent-sized readership, you can help make the PR reps look good by giving them another publicity outlet for their clients.

How an Instagram Experiment Turned Into 300,000 Followers in 10 Months

Foundr Magazine launched their Instagram account in November 2014, and since the launch, it’s proven to be a massive growth channel and a game-changer in putting Foundr Magazine on the map.

They first started the Instagram account because they were hiring an intern to help out with some things. Nathan had seen some of his friends killing it on Instagram in the health and wellness niche, so he was inspired to try some things with it.

Nathan fiddled with it on his own, and saw their Google Analytics spike after only posting five times within 15 minutes… so he realized they were onto something.

They had the magazine as their bio link in Instagram, which turned out to be a customer acquisition match made in heaven. After just those first few posts, they made an extra $500 to $1,000.

Now, they get 30,000 clicks per month just to one landing page, and at least 10,000 opt-ins per month, and they don’t really pay for any of it.

The Five Most Important Tactics That Helped Grow Their Instagram Account

  1. Consistency
    • Since launching the Instagram account in November, Foundr Magazine has only missed one day of posting. It’s a little difficult, says Nathan, because you can only do it from your phone and there aren’t any apps that offer true Instagram automation yet. (Even if something is scheduled, you still have to give it approval at the moment of posting from your phone.)
  2. Posting Frequently
    • Nathan posts four to eight times per day, depending on his schedule. The more you post, the faster you grow.
  3. Brilliant Images with Watermarks
    • The images must be good so people will want to share them, says Nathan. And make sure you watermark all of your images.
    • He also said quotes work much better than facts or tips. Quotes are more powerful for sharing, receiving tags, and likes.
  4. #Hashtags, #Hashtags, and #MoreHashtags
    • According to Nathan, you should always make sure you max out your hashtags with things that are related to your niche. If you post 30 hashtags once you post an image (in the comments and not as the caption), he says you’ll notice a big difference in engagement than if you only put two hashtags. It’s a quick win.
  5. Partnership Sharing
    • Basically, you need to get other accounts to share your stuff while you share their stuff in return. Nathan says this is the biggest Instagram growth hack out there. You can build a following quite rapidly and draw a lot of eyeballs to your page.

Share for Share: Paid vs. Organic

Nathan says to think about share for share as a partnership. And whether you do paid or organic share for share depends on the goals of your account.

If you’re bootstrapping, for example, you can grow without paying other accounts to share for you, it will just be a little slower.

But once your past that stage, you can look at the data and decide for yourself. For example, Nathan says that there’s certain accounts they’re prepared to pay because they knows the metrics and numbers they can provide, and they want to explode their Instagram rather than taking things slow.

How to Find Powerful Instagram Accounts Related to Your Niche

Nathan gives two main hacks to use to find power accounts to reach out to and form partnerships with. The main thing to remember though, is to make sure you find a worthwhile exchange in value. If you can’t pay for shares, for example, then you might want to reach out to accounts that are roughly the same size as yours and do a share-for-share agreement.

Creating Consistent Content for Instagram

Nathan doesn’t use a designer for his Instagram image creation, but highly recommends Typorama and Word Swag.

He has a VA in the Phillipines who uses these apps with her iPhone to type in the text of the quote, chose the font, and watermark the image.

The VA creates 50 images per week and loads them into Latergram. When it’s time to publish a post, Nathan gets a push notification on his phone, and he approves the post he wants to go live with the caption already pre-filled.

To help her, he gives her a list of Instagram accounts he likes, a list of images they’ve created that he likes, tells her which apps to use, and has a back-and-forth dialog with her to continually improve what goes live.

After about 12 weeks, he says you can re-use an image. They look for their best-performing posts and use those.

Foundr Magazine’s Remote, Global Team

In addition to just hiring a full-time content marketer, Foundr Magazine works with contractors all over the world.

For example, they have a graphic design and editorial team based in Bangalore, an editor based in Boston, 10 to 20 freelance writers from all over, an audio/video editor in Hungary, and a VA in the Philippines. Looking forward, Nathan says he’d like to hire another VA and a business development guy in the next four to six months.

Getting Sued for Trademark Infringement

After the first four months of the magazine, Nathan got a call that he was being sued for Trademark infringement.

It ended up being a good thing because he changed the name to something much better, but at the time, he though all of his hard work had gone to waste and that he might go bankrupt.

Two Must-Read Books

Influence by Robert Cialdini and The Lean Startup.

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About Eric Siu

Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.

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