Substack Copied Me... and I'm Cool with It 😎
It never feels good to be copied. I'm here to convince you otherwise.
Hey all! Bit of a different kind of post this week. The last week has been bumpy for me and I wanted to share my experience with you in the way I know best… by writing!
Last week Substack started rolling out their new Press Kit & Media Asset feature. After publishing your newsletter, you may see an email containing a set of images and social media content:
If you are a user of my site, Newsletter to Socials, you may already recognize this feature. This week has been a mix of emotions, but overall I’m happy and motivated as ever to be copied by Substack.
My Side of the Story
Now you may be thinking to yourself “copied???? How do you know!” and that’s totally fair. Hear me out. This story has lots of twists and turns so buckle up!
I want to preface this story by saying that I think Substack is an amazing company and I love being a part of this community. Substack’s Media Assetts is an incredible and much-needed feature for the platform. I truly want nothing more than the platform to continue to thrive. I just wish I could have been a part of it.
🛠 Building Newsletter to Socials
My dream is to help writers and marketers with content creation using tools that I build. If I could quit my job and do this day-in and day-out I would because it is what I love. There’s no better feeling than building something and watching people get value in using it. I’m lucky to have discovered this passion.
For the last few months, I’ve spent 30 - 40 hours a week working on Newsletter to Socials on top of my full-time job at Stripe. Because I’m not (yet 😉) full-time, I’ve woken up at the crack of dawn and have pulled all-nighters to build this site. I’ve gotten the chance to meet some amazing writers and truly provide value to growing their publications.
Newsletter to Socials is a tool that turns written content (newsletters) into social media content (image, tweets, etc)
🎉 Substack Takes Notice
From Substack’s Office Hours and being active on Twitter, my site quickly became noticed by Substack. A few employees signed up and one even messaged me on Twitter requesting a quick demo for her personal publication.
I thought it was awesome to garner attention from the platform that I am building for, so I shared everything I had. A few Substackers even became active users - an amazing accomplishment for me!
🤯 A Crazy Coincidence
At a social event in San Francisco I met a PM @ Substack. I told him about my site and to my surprise, he knew all about it! He said the CTO of Substack had talked about my site in their internal Slack multiple times. I was overjoyed and dreamed that this could perhaps lead to support, a partnership, or even an acquisition!
The next day the CTO Chris reached out to me on LinkedIn and we chatted about some possibilities. Unfortunately, that next week Substack laid off a large portion of their company and talks stalled out. It was still an amazing experience to be recognized and it lit a fire under me to build and grow more now than ever.
Last month, Substack released an “auto-share to Twitter” feature; something incredibly similar to Newsletter to Social’s autoposters. Each time a new issue is published, automatic posts will be made to your social media - a huge time-saver for writers!
While this feature concerned me, it was a natural next step for Substack. If anything, I felt validated and didn’t spare another thought.
🪧 More Signs
Around this time, Newsletter to Socials was starting to be discussed on Twitter. One of the founders of Substack began liking tweets related to Newsletter to Socials, and even followed me! A good sign that I was on the right path.
☕️ The Tea
Recently, another Substack employee joined Newsletter to Socials. When someone signs up, I always do my best to read their newsletter, learn about them, and see how I can best help! This time, I stumbled upon a newsletter that seemed to be used for Substack’s internal testing. There I saw the testing for a bunch of recently released Substack features, including the Twitter auto-share feature, prior to it being publically available.
⚠️ If someone from Substack sees this, you should probably make this a private newsletter!!!
I found it super interesting to see Substack’s future roadmap… until I got to this post:
My heart dropped. This is the core feature and value of Newsletter to Socials and it felt like everything I had worked for was about to be replaced by an integrated Substack feature.
I’m a pretty optimistic person and like to give the benefit of the doubt. Was this really copying? I had to convince myself, but after reading the internal testing newsletter, I noticed certain features were starting development not too long after Substack employees came in contact with me. The same features that I had built for Newsletter to Socials.
When you pour your soul into something, it’s hard to not feel exploited when things like this happen. It felt almost as if they had dangled a carrot over my head by reaching out and being excited about what I was doing - only as a way to find out more about my tool. You’d think with the number of run-ins I had with Substack, Press Kit would’ve come up at least once.
This stuff happens all the time. I understand it’s all part of the game. I just didn’t think it would ever happen to me.
Queue an existential crisis
🔭 Looking Forward
In the days following, my dread slowly turned back into motivation. I, a 23-year-old fresh out of college, had independently designed and built features that Substack saw and decided were right for them. It’s still crazy to think about!
For me, this is blunt and direct idea validation.
I truly believe that content conversion is something we will see more of in the coming years. The folks at Substack seem to also agree and understandably so. Getting Substack’s content on every platform, regardless of medium, is surely in the company’s best interest.
As for Newsletter to Socials, I am still ahead with many more features like customization, scheduling, and smarter text selection. If in the future Substack manages to fully replace my tool (which won’t be easy 😉), then there are many other platforms and content marketers that could benefit from what I have to offer. Ecosystems that don’t have the incredible backing and support that Substack gives its community. Newsletter to Socials is only step one of what I intend to build. There are so many other forms of content conversion that are next.
I can’t wait!
It's unfortunate this happened this way. I think substack could've given you a tip of the hat in rolling out these features. But I don't think this is the end of the world for your mission.
As you pointed out in an earlier edition, a lot of substack's auto post features leave a lot to be desired. Substack has basically rolled out "Google maps" on our phones. You're "Waze."
Yes, a lot of people will go with the simple, built in option, but you can continue to bring stuff to the table that the default stuff doesn't. Perhaps the competitive spirit will make both products better. Best of luck moving forward!
I'm so glad that you are taking this in stride and with a positive attitude. Creators always run the risk of having their work copied, but it's important to keep going nonetheless because you can still reach an audience or gain users.
My short foray into screenwriting revealed that regular people, and even large companies, will steal some else's work. It's so common that even a lawsuit is not recommended if you want to continue "in the industry." You just have to accept it as a risk that comes with the territory, and move on with the next project.
The same thing is also true for graphic artists whose designs, and sometimes whole websites, get stolen and sold as t-shirts on the internet. My way to handle that is to create designs that promote my projects, so even if the images get stolen, they still serve as advertisements for my work.
Hopefully you'll be able to find a niche that is not easy to replicate, and/or to be justly recognized for your work.