Spotlight On: Investing & Finance with Mike of Nongaap Investing
Learnings from one of Substack's most successful investing & finance writers.
In early June, we hosted an interview with Mike of Nongaap Investing to discuss finance writing on Substack. Mike is a former activist investor who writes about investing, corporate governance, board dynamics, and the power of incentives.
We asked Mike to speak in part because he’s a lot of fun, and also because Mike’s an inspiring example of the success we are seeing many finance and investing writers experience on Substack. He’s doing so well that he even turned Substack into his full-time focus and sits among the top paid publications in our Business category.
Linda Lebrun of the Substack Partnerships team hosted an interview with Mike and discussed his journey publishing, growing, and going paid. At the end of this post, we also share Linda’s quick tips for polishing your newsletter.
The interview has been edited for length. You can listen to the full interview as a podcast in this post.
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What surprised you most about what happened when you started writing on Substack?
The biggest surprise was that anyone would even read my writing in the first place.
My goal was just to become a more focused thinker for myself, not for anyone else. To get such a positive response very early in the process was a shock. I’m still shocked, even today, that anyone would pay to read my stuff. I just checked, and I think I’m number two in the Business category. That there are enough people out there that not only want to read about corporate governance but want to read it enough to pay a few dollars a month, remains amazing to me.
What benefits did writing have for your career as an investor?
The forward button for a newsletter may be the most powerful networking tool you’ll ever have. That endorsement is social proof of someone who followed you forwarding your writing on to someone they respect.
I tell folks who are trying to break into the investing world not to wait until they are in an interview or pitching a stock to put themselves out there. Your writing or thinking doesn’t have to be perfect to get started. Think of writing as a journey where you are iterating and demonstrating how you look at the world and how you think of the world. Doing that will help you find other people that respect and align with your own perspective, instead of trying to purpose-build a pitch or a stock thesis retroactively.
It seems that meeting people has been even more satisfying than the business value you’ve seen from your Substack.
Absolutely. I think Substack is an even more powerful networking tool than a business tool for the average writer. You can 10x or 100x your professional reputation as long as you stay authentic with what you’re trying to do. People pick up on that, and you’ll build a real bond.
The people who you really want to reach in life – the really interesting thinkers – everyone in the world wants to get an introduction to them. Few things actually open the door like a thoughtful piece focused on that person’s company or preferred style of investing. If you say something thoughtful, they’re more likely to come to you than they would in any other networking effort. You’re demonstrating that you would be an interesting conversation.
What are key pieces of advice you have for writers who are just getting started?
Don’t be afraid to grow slowly. There’s sustainability when you’re willing to go slow.
I know there’s pressure to build up your subscriber base as quickly as possible. That’s a valid way of doing it, but for me, it was important to not feel like I needed to push all of my writing out at once because that wouldn’t have been sustainable. You need to make sure that you find a cadence that fits your style and your life, because this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Substack is a business, but it’s also a personal development tool, a networking tool, and for me, an opportunity to get better as an investor. You’re going to get better with every piece you put out, and you’re going to slowly build an audience that will hopefully help you push the forward button and spread the word.
Linda’s Quick Tips
Customize the “About” page to explain what readers can expect from you.
Customize your “Thank you for subscribing” email. Consider including examples of some of your best past posts so new readers can dive right in.
Fill out your writer profile to demonstrate knowledge about the topics you cover.
Social sharing helps people know your publication exists. Two helpful, simple tips for promotion: include your Substack link in your social media bios and pin a Substack post to the top of your social media profiles.
Spotlight On is a series of live events hosted by Substack. The goal is to learn from writers across categories who have experienced success on Substack. Join us for our next Spotlight On.
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