In this episode, we try something a little bit different! In a new async interview format, Allie chats with Lesley Sim, creator of Newsletter Glue!
This episode was sponsored by Ninja Forms. Ninja Forms is WordPress form building simplified. Build beautiful, user friendly forms that will make you feel like a professional web developer. No code required.
Allie Nimmons 00:00:02 Welcome to the Underrepresented in Tech podcast, hosted by Michelle Frechette and Allie Nimmons. Underrepresented in Tech is a free database, but with the goal of helping people find new opportunities and WordPress and tech overall
Allie Nimmons Hi there, everyone, Allie here. Welcome back to another episode of the Underrepresented in Tech podcast. In this episode, we’ll be trying something just a little bit different. We’re interviewing Lesley Sim, creator of the Newsletter Glue plugin. Because it was tough to find a way for us to be on a call at the same time, Lesley has kindly agreed to an async interview. So let’s get right into it. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do with WordPress?
Lesley Sim 00:00:48 Hi, I’m Lesley. I run Newsletter Glue. We are a WordPress plugin that lets you publish newsletters from inside of WordPress. We help you halve your publishing time by publishing newsletters the way you would blog posts and double your distribution because all your newsletters are not only sent to your subscribers, but also published live on your website where your blog visitors can view them as well. And that also means that all your newsletter archives are now SEO friendly too. So Newsletter Glue. I run the business and marketing side of things. Um, so basically anything that doesn’t have to do with the actual development work is my responsibility. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed actually is getting better at product design. Um, it’s something that I hadn’t done before and actually found myself really enjoying it. Outside of Newsletter Glue and WordPress, I, I don’t know, I’m a human being. I live in Singapore. I like reading scifi and fantasy. One of my favorite authors is Becky Chambers. So I think if you haven’t already read her books, I highly recommend them. And if you have, then I think that you immediately have a good idea of the kind of person I am. Um, yeah, that’s me.
Allie Nimmons 00:02:29 Tell me about the journey you went on creating Newsletter Glue from the first time the idea popped in your head to its launch.
Lesley Sim 00:02:37 So Newsletter Glue is actually a pivot from our original idea. Um, the original WordPress plugin that we worked on was a membership plugin. So my co-founder whom I met, um, on the Indie Hackers forum, he’s been building, he’s been membership plugins for the past 10 years or so. And the membership plugins he’s built has, you know, over a hundred thousand active installs to date. So he decided he was going to set out on his own and build a membership plugin because that was what he was really good at. Um, and as anyone who’s ever tried to start a business, or more specifically a plugin business, knows the tech, the code is just a small part of what makes a business run. Um, so when we started working together and tried to market the plugin, um, we quickly found out that, you know, despite the fact that it was a really great plugin and he’d put in everything that he knew from the past 10 years of building membership plugins, um, the market was too mature and our plug-in was not differentiated enough to help it stand out.
Lesley Sim 00:04:05 We had a really hard time getting off the ground. It also didn’t help that it was my first time marketing a WordPress plugin. I didn’t have a reputation in that space. And so when I was reaching out to people, there was a lot of, “Who are you? Why should I care or believe or trust you?” So we ran into a lot of problems and couldn’t get the membership plugin off the ground. Um, and we were actually thinking about closing the membership plugin and going our separate ways, but in the course of building and working on the membership plugin, we built an add-on, which allowed you to send posts as emails to subscribers. Um, it was kind of like a small add on, and we just did it because Substack at the time was blowing up. Um, and to be honest, I wanted that feature for myself.
Lesley Sim 00:05:06 So when it came time to discuss shutting down the plugin, um, I wasn’t too sad about, you know, shutting down the plugin, but I was sas about losing that particular ad-on because like I said, I’d been using it for myself. I use it to send my own newsletters and I didn’t know where else to go to find something similar. Um, and it was then that I realized that if I was sad about losing the plugin, then there was probably lots of other people out there who wanted something like that and couldn’t find it. And that, um, I guess that inspired us to pivot and try to turn that tiny feature into a full blown plugin. So, you know, given that it was the second time around and given we learnt from a lot of our early mistakes, uh, I committed to doing everything differently.
Lesley Sim 00:06:02 Um, from the start I tried to build in public, tell people about my journey. Before we built the plugin, we started, or I started, posting about it in Indie Hackers forums, Facebook groups, Slack channels, just kind of asking people if the idea of Substack for WordPress resonated with them and if they’d be interested in trying out our plugin, if we decide to build it. And the reception we got was completely different from the reception we got from our membership plugin. So with our membership plugin, I kind of did the same thing, but I didn’t build in public as much. Um, I DMed people a lot more and I got a lot of, “Who are you? Why should I trust you? I haven’t heard of you before.” The second time round I, um, posted more publicly and that I think made all the difference.
Lesley Sim 00:07:04 So we had many more people interested and, um, many people who are signed up to, uh, you know, be beta testers, or even just set up to kind of share their thoughts on their struggles with Substack or their views on writing their own newsletters. And, um, yeah, given how different that reception was, it gave us the confidence that there was something here. Um, you know, it was clear that people wanted it and didn’t know how to get it. And that gave us the confidence to move forward and create Newsletter Glue and make that our key businesses instead. And it’s been going good so far.
Allie Nimmons What was the biggest challenge and getting Newsletter Glue to where you wanted it to be?
Lesley Sim I love this question. I haven’t heard it before. I think the biggest challenge is, has been myself like, um, so every founder, I think, attacks a problem based on, you know, their own worldview, their own experiences, their own skill set, um, you know. To put it another way, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like nails.
Lesley Sim 00:08:26 And I think the biggest challenge for any founder is kind of letting go of their biases or their, um, natural tendencies and allowing themselves to be more balanced. So in my case, I tend to be kind of more nitpicky, more perfectionist. I like tinkering with design and I want the user to be really good all the time. Um, and that on one hand that is like a great traitt and skill set to have, but on the other, if I’m spending way too much time nitpicking over the minor details as a small founder, you know, I’m just never going to get everything that I need to get done. And so learning to let go and to balance that out with speed has been, um, a challenge for me and something, you know, a good challenge cause I always enjoy, um, becoming more well rounded. And not just speed, but also learning how to market and sell better.
Lesley Sim 00:09:42 So like if you asked me, I think one of the important things about any marketing campaign is having, you know, a well-conceptualized, um, campaign, good copy, good design, but also like the promotion side of things, how like understanding customer psychology, understanding, pricing, understanding, um, all the different elements that you need on a landing page. So like, that kind of stuff I’ve had to learn as well and kind of balance out that kind of, um, sales journey, promotion, pricing type stuff with the, um, design stuff and copywriting stuff that I’m more comfortable with. Um, so those things have been a great challenge to me. And again, it’s like a challenge that I’ve really embraced and really enjoy solving. And I particularly like it when it’s like, you know, something that I’m loath to do, but then the founders who are kind of the opposite of me, the ones who are really good at the promotional pricing, coming up with campaigns, making it really tempting for customers, but then like, they tend to be not so good at design so that when they challenged me in a certain way, I’m like, “Oh, I hate like but I know that I have to do it.” I really like it when that happens. And it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed for myself and enjoy going in that direction.
Allie Nimmons 00:11:19 This being the Underrepresented in Tech podcast, we do like to highlight underrepresented folks and the work that they do. Have you experienced any setbacks or challenges as a woman launching this project?
Lesley Sim 00:11:32 This is a tricky question because I don’t know what I don’t know. So I can’t tell you, you know, how much easier it was when I first launched this project as a man versus how difficult it now is, because I feel like I’m now suddenly a woman. So like I can’t, I can’t tell you that. It’s impossible for me to see. Um, so again, I can’t tell you how many challenges are directly attributable to the fact that I’m a woman instead of a man, that I live in Singapore instead of somewhere in the US or in Europe. I can’t, you know, I can’t speak to any of that. Um, so I guess what I’ll say instead is that I haven’t personally approached it, um, any differently. I think I had the luxury of growing up in a very kind of female empowered household.
Lesley Sim 00:12:30 Um, the school that I went to was an all girl school and we were kind of always, um, it was very opposite of, uh, “be a lady, be a housewife,” type of school. It was very like, “You can be the CEO, you can be the surgeon,” type of a school. Um, I mean, that was never explicitly said, but that was kind of the culture of the school. And so growing up, I never really saw myself as inferior to men. Um, and I think that that’s helped a lot. Um, just kind of having that as the starting frame. I think I’ve also been lucky, to the extent that you can call it lucky, to have started this business, you know, in the post “me too” era in 2022, where people are a lot more conscious about these things. Um, and you know, I know it’s not perfect, but in one of my jobs, you know, I would have a boss who would be down in the bar after work. And he’d pause the conversation to ogle at a woman and proudly say that he was pausing the conversation for that purpose and find it really funny. Um, and all the men at the table would laugh together as well.
Lesley 00:13:57 I have had those experiences as well. And, you know, it’s nice that we are in 2022 and at least for me, those experiences have seemed to happen less often. So yeah, I can’t say that I experienced any setbacks for this project in particular. Um, and I guess I’m, I’m glad for that. It’s sad that we have to be glad and thankful for something that should be, you know, standard or is standard for the opposite sex. So that’s a bit sad but I guess there isn’t much we can do about that except for keep chipping away, keep calling out things where they need to be called out and hoping that, you know, next generation doesn’t even have to be grateful for it because they don’t even realize it’s something that is different or needs to, you know, needs noticing. Um, yeah.
Allie Nimmons What advice would you give to any other women in the product space who want to launch something new?
Lesley Sim 00:15:14 This is a difficult one because on one hand, you know, just going back to the previous question, on the one hand, the most correct and most ideal advice would be, you know, the exact same advice that I would give any man who is coming into the same, you know, product space who wants to launch something new like, that’s the ideal, right? That there’s no difference. Maybe the advice that I would give is for females or for women to not try to seek out women specific advice, because that’s probably not a healthy starting approach. You know, if it turns out that you’re facing a lot of discrimination and it’s really frustrating, or you’ve like talked to a male tech bro and they completely undermine you and, you know, condescend you and stuff like that, then like maybe some woman’s specific advice and women mentors who are women would be called for it at that point.
Speaker 1 00:16:18 But I think like if you’re starting fresh, um, it’s probably better to go into it without that baggage or without that fear and just kind of, you know, do you. And so with that in mind, I think the number one piece of advice that I can possibly give is to get to know people in your industry. Hang out where they hang out, make friends, because it’s one of the things that takes years to develop and it pays dividends for years to come after that. Um, yeah, so like, you know, when I first started out building in public, being active on Twitter, being active in the Post Status slack group. It was awkward at first; there’s always the cold start problem, but now I’m friends with a whole bunch of WordPress plugin founders, and I’m able to talk to them at any time and it’s easy to see feedback and that wasn’t something that happened easily or could be. It’s the product of showing up every day, talking to people, helping them out, providing them with value and just kind of chipping away at it and approaching it, not so much as like, ah, this is a strategic partner that I’m going to schmooze for a year or something like that.
Lesley Sim 00:17:52 Like that’s not the way that I would approach it. I think it’s just kind of making friends, hanging out that would lead to something that’s more sincere. And long-term, I guess, so, yeah, that’s, that’s the advice that I would give. And with all that being said, if you’re a woman in WordPress and just getting started who wants to get help or just wants to chat and are finding it intimidating to reach out and get to know people in the industry, feel free to reach out to me. You can DM me on Twitter at @lesley_pizza, or find me on the Post Status Slack group. Um, I think I’ve just Lesley there. Yeah. Just reach out, say hi, I’ll be happy to help however I can and if I’m not the right person to help, I’ll be happy to make an introduction to someone who’s better equipped to help you and help you get started. Get started meeting people in the industry. Yeah. Reach out! I’m friendly or least I try to be.
Allie Nimmons 00:19:00 If you could go back in time, what’s one thing that you would have done differently in your journey with Newsletter Glue?
Lesley 00:19:09 Um, I don’t think there’s anything that I would have done differently. I think I made a lot of mistakes and then I learned from them and I think that’s pretty much the way these things go. Yeah, I don’t think I would really have done anything particularly different. I guess that it’s probably more of an indication that I haven’t made any gigantic mistakes yet. I imagine, um, once I do it will be different and I’ll have something different to see. Um, yeah. I think everything so far has kind of just been a part of the journey and, um, it’s something that I’m enjoying.
Allie Nimmons 00:20:00 What’s next for Newsletter Glue? Can you tell us anything about your short-term plans or your wildest hopes and dreams for this plugin?
Lesley Sim 00:20:09 Ooh, so it’s really hard for me to be specific about the short term plans, because as much as I would love to share everything, um, it’s hard because, you know, when you reveal what you’re planning to build and then it takes significantly longer than you expect it to because that’s how things always turn out. Then people get disappointed, or they get upset, or they might have purchased the plugin with the anticipation that a feature would come soon. And then, um, you know, it ends up taking six months to a year longer than you expect. That can be frustrating for people. I don’t want to do that, um, to anybody. Um, so instead, I guess I have to keep it necessarily a bit vague, um, which is frustrating in its own separate way. What I can say is that I really want to a build more powerful set of publishing tools for people.
Lesley Sim 00:21:10 So, you know, we have some pretty large news publications using us right now and it’d be cool to give them the tools to do even more cool things for specific segments of their audience spaces, or give them tools to help grow their newsletter better, or help monetize the newsletter better. So that’s all kind of stuff that we have in the works and I’m pretty excited about. Again, I wish I could share more detail, but, um, I don’t think it would be good for anyone if I did. The other thing that I want to talk about is integrations. So, we have a whole bunch of plans for integrating with more email service providers. If you have one, you know, please request them, but also we are starting to integrate with plugins as well. So whether those are learning management system plugins or e-commerce plugin, we went to help people who are building businesses on WordPress to be able to send newsletters more easily, rather than having to hop back and forth between WordPress, where you’re already spending all your time in and are really familiar with, and then like hop to, you know, MailChimp, for example, where you’re less familiar and it’s frustrating and it takes a long time to send an email and you end up just kind of not doing it, even though, you know, that it’d be good for your business.
Lesley Sim 00:22:46 So we’re hoping to help integrate with more plugins and make it easier for people who are using those plugins to send emails. You know, whether that those are activation emails for when you have a new member on your membership site, or when you have a new customer on your WooCommerce site or you want to send, um, you know, your latest sale. We want to make all of that easier and something that you can do inside of WordPress. So that’s something that we’re starting to build out. Hopefully we’ll start launching some pieces of this this year but it will likely also extend to the next year as well. In terms of my wildest hopes and dreams, I think this comes back to one of my fundamental viewpoints on newsletters, and that is that it’s kind of a core distribution channel for anyone who wants to grow a blog or any kind of publication online.
Lesley Sim 00:23:54 And so my wildest dream is to become the Yoast for newsletters in the WordPress space. And what I mean by that is that when someone wants to start a blog for the first time or any kind of online publication, one of the first things they do is, um, you know, with their fresh WordPress install is the install Yoast because they understand that SEO and search engines and Google is a core and obvious distribution channel and it’s something that they just kind of have to do. And so, I hope that they don’t just install Yoast, they also install Newsletter Glue because they understand, you know, okay, this is a new blog. I have to number one, be SEO friendly, but number two, also have to start collecting subscribers and sending them out emails because not everyone’s going to visit my blog all the time, but most people are going to be much happier getting an email update from me in my inbox.
Lesley Sim 00:24:56 So yeah, I just want to be the default newsletter option for people and for people to understand that that’s just, you know, the normal way to do things and to do it and then get on with it because they don’t have to think about it further than that. Um, yeah, that’s my wildest hope and dream for the plugin. Thanks, Allie, for having me on! This was great. I really loved your questions. They were really insightful and thoughtful. Before I go, I also wanted to give a shout out to the Underrepresented in Tech jobs directory. Allie, I think you replied to one of my tweets, um, with that job directory when I was looking to hire a marketing coordinator and I ended up reaching out to people there. And, um, yeah, I found that the people on there were really good and qualified, and I think that it’s an excellent resource and I would definitely be looking to hire more people from there in the future.
Lesley Sim 00:26:02 And I hope more people check it out as well, because like I said, I found the people there to be really good and qualified. So if you haven’t already, you should submit your jobs there and also your resume because I think it’s a great resource. Finally, if you’re looking to get in touch with me or find out more about Newsletter Glue, you can, um, follow me on Twitter. I’m on there a lot at L E S L E Y_pizza. So that’s lesley_pizza, and you can find Newsletter Glue at @newsletterglue, um, and also our website URL is newsletterglue.com.
Allie Nimmons 00:26:43 Thank you so much to Lesley Sim for doing this little experiment with us. I really hope that you, as the listener, found something inspiring and worthwhile in this episode. We’ll see you next week.
This episode was sponsored by the following companies: Ninja Forms. Ninja forms is WordPress form building simplified. Build beautiful, user-friendly forms that will make you feel like a professional web developer, no code required. If you’re interested in sponsoring an episode, using our database, or just want to say hi, go to underrepresentedintech.com. See you next week!