🛠️ The Product Person - Issue #5

How Morning Brew grew to 1.5 million subscribers through referrals

Hey Product People 🛠️ Today, I summarize a medium post by Tyler Denk, an early employee at Morning Brew, an innovative business newsletter. He recaps on how Morning Brew built their audience to 1.5 million using their referral program. I break down his story into tips to create your own robust referral program.

Let’s get to the summary…

1st Tip: *Only* start building a referral program for your product when your users already share it with others w/o any incentives.

Creating a referral program for a bad product is like pouring water into a leaky bucket.

The Tech 🤖

Morning Brew built their referral program themselves custom using Ruby on Rails. I don’t want to interrupt the flow with technical specifics, so here are some general tech tips for referrals:

  1. Use a double opt-in process to confirm subs are legit.

  2. Use email validation software to shit-test emails.

  3. Have a list of fake email domains to blacklist.

  4. Blacklist bad actors from referring people.

  5. Block specific IP addresses from submitting emails.

The Rewards 🎁

If you’re incentivizing referrals with rewards, talk to your users: through polls, discussions, etc.

Morning Brew leveraged their private community + email replies to confirm their users wanted their milestone rewards.

2 reasons why exclusive content is a good first reward:

  1. An engaged Brew reader willing to share is interested in more Morning Brew content.

  2. All Morning Brew had to do was add the reader to another email list. No real cost to them.

Why stickers are a great reward:

Bulk order of 10k stickers from StickerMule + envelopes to mail them = ~$1.25 in cost for each referrer.

Divided by 5 referred subscribers = $0.25 cost per acquired subscriber!

A private community is another reward that is of no real cost to Morning Brew.

For bringing in 10 new subscribers, the referrer gets premium content, private community, and stickers…all at a cost of $1.25.

Useful swag like a comfy shirt, coffee mug, phone case, and a warm sweater creates a “walking billboard”. Using your swag creates a public commitment.

He/she will feel compelled to stay consistent, especially after referring your brand to dozens of friends.

The Referral Hub 💡

A referral program needs a “referral hub”— a central place for users to learn about the rewards, track their progress, and use tools to help them share your product easily.

🧠Educate your users about your rewards.

🥕Motivate them to continue after them.

🏃Assist them in the chase.

Some Morning Brew stats 📊

People who shared via email had a conversion rate of 75% on their landing page. Compared to 35% conversion rate from non-email referrals.

1:1 referral channels like SMS & WhatsApp led to 10x more signups than LinkedIn, 5x more than Twitter, and 2x more than Facebook.

Landing Page 🌐

After someone gets referred, the goal now is to ensure that someone becomes a subscriber.

Morning Brew made their landing page minimal and straightforward. Once you’re there, you either subscribe or not. 1 or 0. Binary.

Emails 📧

MB includes a dedicated “Share The Brew” section in each newsletter. It:

  • Informs casual readers of the referral program

  • Encourages more action from active referrers

Ideally, the share section is personalized to a reader’s current status as a referrer.

There are 4 Tactics to generate referrals:

  1. The initial ask

  2. Milestone emails

  3. Nudge emails

  4. Giveaways

The initial ask

The initial ask is when you ask your user to share your product to at least 1 person. This action will make them aware of your referral program and will (hopefully) send them down that funnel. This tactic is very effective at generating referrals in the short term:

Milestone emails are gratifying messages after a user shares for the first time or earns one of your rewards.

Nudge emails are messages motivating users to *continue* to share your product after they've reached, or are about to reach, a milestone.

Giveaways: Having a contest where the more people your users share your product to, the higher the chance for them to win a certain prize (ie. $1,000, MacBook Pro, etc.)

Morning Brew does this every month.


🔥Over 225,000 people referred at least 1 person to Morning Brew.

🔥During the summer of 2018, they had months where they averaged 1,000 referrals per day.

Big Takeaways 📚

  1. Give your users a reason to share your product. To do this:

    • provide value over time

    • incentivize through rewards

    • just outright ask them

  2. Make it super simple for them to share with others.

I want to acknowledge…

Huge thank you to Tyler Denk for writing the awesome medium post that I summarized in this issue.


If you enjoyed reading this Issue, could you go like and retweet this thread on Twitter. Would be much appreciated.

📝 You can read Tyler’s full medium post here.

If you enjoyed this issue, then share it with someone you know that’ll enjoy it too 😉


Thanks for reading Issue #5 of The Product Person!

Question: What topic would you like to see me go into for next week’s issue?
Reply to this email & let’s chat :)