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Thanks to You for Year 2
A most sleepless year
This was, if I’m totally honest, a sleepless Year 2 at House of Strauss. And no, it’s not because the Cavinder Twins got mad at me. The good news is it’s also the year in which I started to sleep better. The other good news is it’s also the year in which I started to work harder.
On this day, I launched the House of Strauss Substack two years ago. There was a lot of nervousness leading up, this palpable sense that my entire career was on the line. Having asked out of my 3-year deal at The Athletic, I was making a bet that this would work. If it didn’t? Well, regular readers of the site will understand that getting hired by ESPN wasn’t exactly an option. I’d be in the wilderness, self-consigned, with a family to support.
Thankfully, on August 23rd, 2021, I got traction immediately, netting 188 paid subscriptions and 2,153 total subscribers. That was mostly thanks to the controversial (though it shouldn’t be!) Nike’s End of Men essay, which was over 5,000 words and not exactly a repeatable trick.
It was a fine start, but sort of analogous to getting a great push off the swimming pool wall. That result was encouraging but it was far from a destination. Or, to use a different metaphor: This machine would move only if I pedaled.
And so I kept pedaling, and tinkering and figuring out what it means to run your own business. What topics would I regularly cover? How much would podcasting be a part of what happens here?
I was lucky to get help from my editor Royce Webb and super producer Anthony Mayes. By the close of Year 1, I felt like I’d really had it figured out. The site was growing fast, and I was in control of its direction. Through some incredible confluence of factors I’d escaped the media ecosystem, never to return. The future was to be a protracted victory dance.
And then my second son was born.
You can gird yourself for Additional Kid, or at least tell yourself you’re prepared. Depending on economic or familial circumstances, maybe you are. I was not. We were not. We were nowhere close. I could cite surprise external factors as to why but I don’t mean to bore anybody. This is just something millions of people go through now that we raise children in a less-than-communal setting and most people work full-time.
The baby was happy and healthy, which is the most important thing by far, but there was that classic challenge of staying up at all hours, combined with the necessity of giving our ebullient older boy his necessary attention. After that, with reserves depleted, there was the matter of giving this site the force it needs. I went into the newborn situation fairly naive, in a way. We’d had a baby before, and I knew that having another would be difficult, but tried to simply pretend away the issues with a stoic front. I would somehow, someway, remain just as productive as before. Mind over matter. Stiff upper lip. Then the reality of cumulative sleeplessness set in, combined with a few bouts of sickness that kept my older boy home from preschool.
The once robust growth of this site stopped. I knew the blessed reason but it made the outcome no less frustrating. I had all these ideas, a million of them! I just couldn’t get enough rest or quiet moments to execute them, and I really didn’t want to put out substandard work. The experience brought me into confrontation with my limitations. I’m a big believer in not making excuses for yourself, but I also couldn’t just positive mindset my way out.
At a certain point, when you’re struggling, you start to doubt whether you can ever recapture what once felt like second nature. You can tell yourself you will, maybe even believe it, but until you actually pull it off? There’s going to be that nagging fear that this is the beginning of an inevitable end. Your career stopped right here, even if it technically waddled on a bit afterwards.
Thank God we got some short-term help, which was a) at no small cost but b) worth it. The experience gave me some perspective on what it’s like to go through a new addition like this absent any sort of assistance. Kids are incredible. They’re always worth it. They’re also the most impossible thing you never regret.
Eventually, the newborn settled into being a more manageable baby. Not only that, but he’s a great baby. I know I might be biased, but he’s legitimately excellent. He’s now both joyful and calm, or at least he was until I jinxed the situation with that sentence.
For me, his settling precipitated a slow easing back into form. Ultimately what got me there was The Model, a goal I manage to adhere to most weeks.
What is The Model? It’s pretty simple: Two written posts and two podcasts within the week. I narrate my written posts as well, but that endeavor is less creatively demanding, so it’s easier to summarize the job as “2 posts, 2 pods.” If I make it to Sunday night having completed this task, then I have succeeded (though I prefer to meet the goal by Friday). Not only do I feel good about completing the task, but also more justified in my business. I get that $9 a month is pricier than some other newsletters, but few are putting out multiple articles, podcasts and narrations every week. If I can do all that under one umbrella, it’s differentiating beyond the content itself.
The Model was perhaps a counterintuitive response to lessened bandwidth because it’s a commitment to doing more work. I recently went on Meghan Daum’s podcast and she relayed that the production level gives her a sort of contact anxiety. Funny enough though, The Model is what allowed me to relax. Once I knew my benchmarks going into every week, I could work towards achieving those goals. Before it was a lot of, “Hmmmm … I should write a thing … or maybe podcast?” Back then I was less productive and more anxious because I didn’t know what I should be doing.
Once “2 pods, 2 posts” became my short-term goal, I felt relaxed about actually having a direction. Not only that, it allowed me to be zen about the results. Now, I don’t get caught up so much in whether an individual post earns a lot of subscriptions or a few because I know that, on balance, I’ve done my job. If I do my job every week, the results will add up for the customers and for myself.
Structure brought freedom. Focused work brought relaxation. I also believe that the system allowed the podcasts here to gain momentum. It’s a competitive space, but I think we’ve got an impressively eclectic guest list and conversations that aren’t happening elsewhere in sports media if not media overall. Doing two a week allowed for a kind of rhythm and a lot else fell into place.
Oh ya, and I’m still doing the narrations of every article, including this one. One of the reasons I charge more than some other writers ($9 a month, or $99 a year) is because I’m writing, podcasting and narrating as a one-stop shop. As the cable bundle dwindles, the House of Strauss bundle remains strong.
In Year 2, which began with a few months of struggles, HoS revenue grew 37 percent overall. It’s an outcome I like for selfish reasons but also because it can be put towards future projects. I can still say whatever I want here and have a family, which is not to be taken for granted in modern media.
So does running House of Strauss remain the “best job in America,” as I’m prone to saying? Do I feel differently after half a year or so in the jackpot? Yes and no. I still love doing this, just as much as when it started, and I intend to put a lot of life force behind connecting with my customers to the best of my abilities. That said, after consulting with my boys, running House of Strauss has, happily I might add, been relegated to second-best job in America. Can’t wait to see you all in Year 3 …
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