Media Newsletters Are Booming, and Substack’s Co-Founders Lit the Fuse

Adweek’s Publishing Executives of the Year are reinvigorating the flagging industry

Last year, Substack’s only employees were its three co-founders: Hamish McKenzie, Chris Best and Jairaj Sethi. Now, the San Francisco-based startup has a bigger team—it’s up to 18 employees—and even bigger ambitions: trying to do nothing less than reinvigorate the flagging media industry.

To do so, the trio—Adweek’s Publishing Executives of the Year—have built their entire business around what until only recently was an afterthought to many media organizations: newsletter subscriptions.

McKenzie, a former journalist, says for a long time the media business has been in a “defensive crouch” trying to “stave off death,” but Substack and the idea of directly paying writers via subscriptions to newsletters is turning the industry around.



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This story first appeared in the Oct. 26, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.