Morning Brew: The Founder's Advice on Launching Your Startup
Updated: Apr 13
March 7, 2023
By: Annette Yang
Last week I had the pleasure to attend a live speaker panel featuring Alex Lieberman, co-founder of Morning Brew. Although I doubt the household name needs much of an introduction, as you all are probably already familiar, Morning Brew is a media company that delivers “the latest news from Wall St. to Silicon Valley” in an exciting, innovative, yet informative way, straight to your inbox each day (Morning Brew). So today I wanted to share an inside scoop on the story of how Morning Brew was built, the pain points and value of entrepreneurship, and the inspiration that led a college student just like you to take a leap of faith, now worth close to $99M (CB Insights).
Courtesy of The Balance
I’m Just a College Student
Back in 2015, Alex was a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business – just like you, attending business school as an undergrad. His idea for Morning Brew spawned from his experiences as a normal college student recruiting for jobs and eventually landing a full-time offer at Morgan Stanley for post-grad. At this point, Alex was also helping out other students with job interviews and got asked the question: “how do you keep up with the news?” Business interviews often require an understanding of current events. When prepping for interviews, students regularly read up on business news sources… and let’s be honest; it’s boring and dense. Alex noticed there was a gap in the media world when it came to delivering news in a way that was engaging and interesting. So he started writing a business newsletter. And as he prepared for his job at Morgan Stanley, he thought it would also be a good way for him to keep up with what was going on in the world as well.
Fast forward, Alex never went back to Morgan Stanley, and Morning Brew has accomplished exactly what it was built to do and is read by millions of readers every day. But building Morning Brew up until this point took a lot of risk from Alex and his co-founder, Austin Rief. When asked how he gained the courage to take his chances on Morning Brew, Alex responded that he asked himself, “what would I regret more?” He could stay at Morgan Stanley and see someone else do what he could’ve done. Or, he could take his chances now, when he doesn’t have the obligations of things like raising a family, and still have the option to make his way back to a trading job if the startup didn’t work out.
Early Stages & Growth Hacks
Alex took full advantage of his college campus as he started to grow Morning Brew. He and co-founder, Austin would go to classes at UMich, pitch their company, and ask students to write their emails on pieces of paper so they could add them to the Morning Brew subscriptions. Why paper? They realized opening up a website and entering emails was too many steps and their goal was to reduce friction as much as possible. After a while, everyone at UMich knew about Austin and Alex. But what about other colleges?
Austin and Alex began to grow this idea of storytellers that could promote the brand of Morning Brew in other colleges, even without the founders directly sharing. And once the college thing became saturated, they began thinking bigger. They wanted to reach people not just in colleges but in workplaces. So they launched what would be the #1 organic growth method for Morning Brew: the referral program.
Courtesy of Forbes
During the panel, Alex spoke in-depth about what it was like growing Morning Brew and how he and his team tried out everything there was in an effort to grow. A billboard on a boat across the Hudson River, having fake conversations with people on the subway, and working with YouTube influencers were just a handle of the growth methods he tried out. He also warned not to follow methods of growth solely because another company did it or is doing it, but to really evaluate the reasoning behind choosing a method to pursue. See what works best for you and focus on those methods/channels.
The Stages of Building a Startup
The majority stake of Morning Brew has been sold off as of the fall of 2020 and the company is still growing rapidly, with current revenues hovering around $15M. Going through the many stages of Morning Brew, Alex summarized the stages of building a startup as follows:
Stage 1: Everything, in the beginning, is sales
Stage 2: Process of building the company
Alex stated that personally, he enjoyed stage 1 of Morning Brew much more than stage 2, which his co-founder had a better knack for. Stage 2 consists of continuing to scale your product, R&D of other products, building processes, building a leadership team, and planning increments that lead up to your long-term vision for your company.
Alex also stated that entrepreneurship is really all about personal growth and self-awareness. You need to know your blindspots, know how to delegate, and know what you’re good at. Growing Morning Brew came with a lot of learning points and Alex admitted to making the mistake of getting distracted from the initial focus when growing the company. This resulted in consequences that were both timely and costly to repair. He also felt a lot of pressure as a founder to do what everyone else was doing, like angel investing. The biggest takeaway from his journey was understanding how to invest in the right people while also staying true to yourself and your company’s core values.
Read more about Morning Brew at morningbrew.com.
Annette Yang is the 22-23 Content Director. She's a Junior studying MCC, Business, and Data Science. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org