7 mins

Friday Feature: Open Source CEO

How a founder built & scaled a profitable newsletter to 28k subs—while running a $10M company.

Sameer Ansari

How Bill Kerr scaled his newsletter to 28K subscribers while running a company.

Meet Bill Kerr.

Bill launched the Open Source CEO newsletter in March 2023.

Fast-forward to December 2023: Open Source CEO is driving impactful sponsorship revenue—AND has grown to nearly 28k subscribers.


But what's even more impressive?

Open Source CEO is not Bill’s full-time “job”.

He writes a newsletter for CEOs because he’s a CEO: Bill cofounded Athyna in 2018 and has been the CEO since 2019.

And he uses Open Source CEO as a separate—but mutually beneficial —media entity where he shares leadership content and deep dives on successful founders.

But how does he balance running his business and growing the newsletter?

In this week’s Friday Feature, you’ll learn how Bill...

  1. Uses pattern interrupts in his content and brand
  2. Grows his newsletter in a quick, scalable way
  3. Manages building two complementary companies

Let’s dive in!

#1 - Using pattern interrupts in content and brand

I’m sure it’s happened to you:

You’re mindlessly scrolling through your feed when suddenly...

You see a unique post.

Your thumb freezes.

You stop scrolling.

The post actually…. got your attention.

Maybe it’s an image of a cow cycling. Or an unusual video. Or clever ad copy like this:

This is a pattern interrupt.

And ever since Bill heard how successful pattern interrupts worked for brands like the Dollar Bear Club, he uses them everywhere.

🧐 Why it’s awesome

Capture attention: Short-form videos have messed up our attention spans (I’m looking at you, TikTok). If your content doesn’t capture people’s attention within 2–3 seconds, it’s as good as dead. Pattern interrupts help you to battle this.

Avoiding content fatigue: The internet is littered with the same boring, bland content format. So “interrupting” readers by doing something unexpected will help increase engagement keeping them invested in your content.

For example, read through this newsletter 👇

It uses eye-catching visuals and infographics to get you to read to the end.

Brand recall: Which newsletter will you remember, the one you read above or a different one?

🙋 How Open Source CEO does it

Right from the start, Bill wanted to create a playful brand.

“We have a very loud brand, a very in-your-face brand, but it's also a pattern interrupt. It's supposed to look dumb. It's supposed to look silly, but it's also kind of cool.” — Bill Kerr

When you visit the OS CEO homepage, the thumbnails immediately draw you in and persuade you to read.

When you visit the OS CEO homepage, the thumbnails immediately draw you in and persuade you to read.

Even Bill's posts are filled with pattern interrupts: GIFs, videos, images, memes, and more.

You can even see the pattern interrupts on Athyna’s landing page.

Did you expect a tiger & hummingbird? Nope.

It's unusual, but that’s the point. A stark contrast to other recruiting agencies:

No offense, here. I'm sure you do good work, Global PEO Services :)

✏️Steal this for your newsletter​

Use pattern interrupts to get new subscribers—AND to keep your current subscribers engaged.

Try this.

Unique landing page design: Every landing page follows the same boring design pattern. Big missed opportunity. Instead, design it so people can’t resist signing up for your newsletter.

Here’s some more landing page #inspo 👇

Bright colors, unconventional cartoons/infographics—all of which end within 4–5 scrolls.

Write unconventional subject lines: Use humor, unexpected achievements (“$1M in 6 months”), and other qualifiers (“The Morning Brew for X”) to improve your open rates, like this:

(Chenell Basilio from Growth In Reverse nails it with her subject lines)

Entertain: Educate, but also entertain. Use funny GIFs, memes, and images to break heavy walls of text. You can also add polls, quizzes, and other interactive elements to keep the reader engaged.

Add unexpected elements: Teasers of upcoming articles, surprise guest authors, or a free video session with you.

🎧 Bonus: Learn more about how Bill uses pattern interrupts in our recent chat →

#2 - Subscriber acquisition on steroids

Like how Anthony Castrio leveraged his network to grow his initial subscribers, Bill followed the same strategy. He DM’ed people and posted on LinkedIn, growing the newsletter to 1000 subscribers.

But the next leg of growth came from two sources:

  1. SparkLoop
  2. Newsletter acquisitions

Open Source CEO grew from 1k to 28k+ readers mostly from these two sources.

🧐 Why it’s awesome

Fast growth: Acquiring newsletters and using SparkLoop are two ways to grow quality subscribers fast.

High scalability: Where organic growth is limiting, paid growth is scalable.

Monetization opportunities: With more subscribers, you can increase your revenue by charging more for ads and adding premium subscription tiers.

🙋 How Open Source CEO does it

First, Bill uses SparkLoop’s partner program to acquire high-quality, engaged subscribers. It helped get him from 1k to 5k subscribers.

The growth was impressive—but those engagement rates are exceptional 😍

After reaching 5K subscribers, Bill started experimenting with acquiring other newsletters. The same strategy his friend Michael Houck has used.

He finds small newsletters with similar audiences.

“We've just acquired an AI newsletter and are about to integrate it. Open Source CEO doesn’t talk about AI, but who subscribes to AI newsletters? Founders, investors, and technology leaders subscribe to them. So my bet there is that, yeah, we don't focus on AI, but we focus on really good content for founders, investors, and leaders in tech. And if we can integrate it successfully, we can get quality subscribers.” — Bill Kerr

After acquiring them, Bill removes cold, inactive subscribers and then migrates the active users to Open Source CEO.

Of his 28k subscribers, 8k came from this acquisition strategy.

✏️ Steal this for your newsletter

→ Sign up for SparkLoop. Scaling from 1k → 28k subscribers quickly is more possible than ever—with a SparkLoop Partner Program, just like Bill Kerr is doing to acquire high-quality, engaged subscribers. (Remember that 78% engagement rate??) Sign up here →

→ Identify newsletters with synergies: Find newsletters in the same or adjacent niches. For example, if you write on B2B content marketing, look to acquire another B2B content marketing newsletter or a B2B social media newsletter. FYI: Flippa just added a “Newsletters” category 👀

→ Integrate the new subscribers with your newsletter:

  1. Run a re-engagement campaign.
  2. Then, email the active subscribers about the acquisition and your newsletter. Explain to them what they can expect from you.
  3. Finally, send them your content.
  4. After ~60 days, see which “new” subscribers don’t engage (open and read the newsletter). Get rid of them, too.

#3 - The formula for running two companies

Bill runs the two companies (Athyna and Open Source CEO) separately.

Both are standalone entities with two separate marketing budgets, balance sheets, and modes of operations.

This way, Bill can flex his creative muscle (writing the newsletter) without deviating from his main job (running Athyna).

🧐 Why it’s awesome

No conflict of interest: Adam Neumann (in)famously invested in office buildings, some of which he rented back to WeWork. Bill doesn’t want such a conflict of interest, so the two companies are separate.

Customized expertise: Bill employs different teams for the two companies. So the employees don’t have to hop between the two entities. Instead, they focus 100% on growing the company they’re responsible for.

Complementary businesses: The main reason Bill’s successfully running both Open Source CEO and Athyna is that both businesses complement each other (more on that below).

🙋 How Open Source CEO does it

Despite being separate entities, Bill has created a win-win relationship between the two companies. Here’s how:

a) Athyna uses its ad budget to sponsor one of every four Open Source CEO’s issues.

“Our head of growth wanted to sponsor my newsletter. So, we put it to the leadership team because I didn't want a conflict of interest where I'm having my cake and eating it. But what we did was we set up a deal where the leadership team knew it came from a head of growth, and Athyna gets 50% off on ad rates.” — Bill Kerr

Athyna gets exposure to 28K+ readers (mainly founders and investors) who may be interested in hiring remote talent or join the company.

b) Open Source CEO gets a predictable revenue source.

✏️ Steal this for your newsletter

Start a complementary newsletter: Share personal anecdotes, behind-the-scenes of your company’s/industry’s growth, and everything in between. When properly executed, the newsletter can be an inbound source for your company, like for Open Source CEO and Athyna.

Similarly, Nathan Barry of ConvertKit writes a weekly newsletter about building an audience, earning as a creator, and insights on scaling ConvertKit to a 9-figure business.

Adding it up…

Bill has brilliantly managed the Open Source CEO newsletter alongside running Athyna.

One of his growth strategies is building free tools (like pitch deck templates, OKR Notion templates, and more) to attract users and turn them into subscribers. He also wants to add a paid membership for readers to access premium content.

But one of Bill’s biggest goals is to become the “Lenny of Leadership content”. With the trajectory he’s been on over the past year, we’re certain he’ll get there in no time.

Here are 3 things to do next:

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