“If you can find an audience of 100 people, you can find an audience of 1000 people, all you need is time” — Burak Esen
An asset. That is how Burak Esen, the creator of Modern Analects, refers to his five days a week email newsletter, social media ecosystem, and brand. Esen created Modern Analects at a time in his life when the two crossroads of I have a unique ability to provide value to people and I can change people’s opinion of me intersected. That isn’t to say his decisions aren’t meticulous or completely calculated, but it differs from the typical founder approach of trying to solve a problem or apply an existing business model in a new arena. Esen launched his newsletter in 2019 and has slowly built a grassroots community of hundreds of young people passionate about learning finance, real estate, health, books, and psychology. His most popular offering, The Daily Scroll, is a quote followed by some analysis or context ushered by Esen himself distributed digitally through email or social media. While The Daily Scroll touches hundreds of inboxes a day all over the world, Esen isn’t tethered to the idea of a daily newsletter saying “I have the brand, I have the message, but how to convey that message… right now a daily newsletter is the best, but that’s just right now.”
This fluidity in his approach is what drew me to reach out to Esen and what ultimately gravitates me toward his work. His mantra is “what is going to move the needle today…” with the stark undertone that his audience will change, opportunities evolve, and the needle will shift. Esen will be the first to show you how he and his product have evolved: first shifting to creating in public vs. in private, and second shortening his message. Feedback is the name of the game in content creation. As simple as it sounds, the best marketing is the sharing and reposting by your current audience to reach a new audience, and what typically drives sharing is real organic engagement with the content. Esen learned that the best experiment to test if his message is making an impact on his audience is to evolve from a long-form gift-wrapped finished product sent out weekly to a short-form daily newsletter. This has benefitted him in both dimensions. First, more newsletters provide more opportunities for his audience to engage when they would like to (this is crucial because if you only post once a week people are more likely to miss it when it doesn’t fit their schedule or are less likely to engage because of the length), leading to more opportunities for feedback. Additionally, when you choose long-form there is an implied expectation of revision that comes with it. Esen feels that the more important feedback is from his readers, not himself making adjustments, which is why he has shifted to “iterating in public” with short-form. Lastly, Esen feels his current approach is benefitting his writing making it more digestible. “My writing has gotten way simpler…if you can convey your message in the fewest words possible that is the ideal way and optimal for both parties” which is proving to be true as Esen says he “can’t stand to go back and read his old stuff.”
Esen treats Modern Analects as his personal growth story, which is why he set out to share his abilities and grow a community before crafting the perfect business model or monetization strategy. The quote at the top of this article perfectly illustrates Esen’s approach, stay true to yourself to grow an audience of like-minded individuals eager to learn. Whether that is one a day, one a month, or one a year, those aren’t the metrics that matter to him. This is why he uses an opt-in approach to the newsletter, he isn’t forcing it on you or tricking you, but instead, there is real value to be recognized for the individual so they will sacrifice some of their inbox real estate. If this type of value can be replicated at scale then the avenues of monetization could be abundant. Esen has seen success with this strategy thus far with something as simple as a Modern Analects bookmark. Less than two cents to make and over a 250% markup with demand greater than anything Esen expected. It is simple to deduce this to a drop in the bucket or a one-time gimmick but if Barstool Sports has taught us anything, it is that if you invest in growing a passionate community there is a lot of money to be made and value created on scaling these types of edges. The uncertainty is the beauty of entrepreneurship in general but a lesson that is easy to believe and difficult to live. Esen lives this uncertainty with the fluidity in his approach to Modern Analects.
I tend to ignore most advice. It is not something I am proud of, but personal experiences have correctly or incorrectly led me to believe the notion that it is either not applicable to my situation or the person that is giving the advice typically has no idea what they are talking about. But a piece of advice that Esen shared has really stuck with me, which is never let anybody put you in a box and define who you are. He was talking about it in a two-pronged manner: your life and your work. The reason he has been successful is that his process is different (it is not a cookie-cutter approach to content creation) and has worked for him. And the times it hasn’t worked for him, he’ll be the first to admit it and go change it. Additionally, much of the impetus for starting Modern Analects was that his life was being gift-wrapped by people trying to define who he is, I’m more than the “class clown or guy at the party” he’d say. His decision to create a “collection of habits, thoughts, and ideas” has laid the foundation for the breakaway from labels and the quest to define what success looks like for him personally and professionally. This is why he paused when I asked him if he considered himself an Entrepreneur, “In this context yes I guess… but it is not something I let identify me”. He does after all refer to his creation as an asset.