Interviewing the Curators — Lon Riesberg of Data Elixir
This is the first in a series of case studies looking at Curated customers and their publications. Why do they publish? How do they find their links? How did they grow their lists?
Tell us a little about yourself. What’s your background and day job?
I’m a software engineer and really like working with data — especially in an interactive, exploratory way. I had been at a university Space Sciences Lab for a decade, working entirely on NASA projects. That was super interesting and fun but I had become restless and really needed some new challenges.
I ended up leaving that job with the launch of a NASA mission I had been working on called the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission and started Data Elixir.
Why did you create Data Elixir?
The Curated platform came along at the perfect time for me. I was between side projects when Curated’s beta became available and curating a newsletter looked interesting. It also looked like something that could work as a side project alongside a full-time job and possibly eventually replace it. I liked that.
I read a ton anyway and “data” was the obvious topic for me right at the start. It’s the main subject area I pay attention to and I’ve been curating a personal collection of articles and resources for years. Doing it for a newsletter was just a more disciplined approach to what I was already doing.
I’ve been curating a personal collection of articles and resources for years. Doing it for a newsletter was just a more disciplined approach to what I was already doing.
What are your main sources of links and inspiration when finding content for your publication?
My main sources come from well tuned Twitter lists, Hacker News, Reddit, the New York Times, Washington Post, Technology Review, and the Wall Street Journal. I like to read and Data Elixir has been a good excuse to do more of that!
You’ve seen incredible growth, from 0 to over 10,000 subscribers in only 7 months. How did you make that happen? Did you have a plan to get the word out?
No, definitely didn’t have a plan! I had no idea how to build a list and that became a side project in itself. At some point early on, I ran across Hiten Shah’s SaaS Weekly and discovered growth hacking. From there, I started devouring articles and experimenting with things along the way.
My biggest growth happened in January when leaving my day job started to feel imminent. I had been running some Twitter ads and while I was tweaking the wording after work I decided to let them run continuously as long as they were doing well. I was growing by 200 subscribers a day in January! It eventually petered out but by then Data Elixir had a pretty solid base and the growth made it easy to stay motivated to find great content. Ultimately, that’s the key. Without great content, subscribers will be hard to get and without subscribers, there aren’t advertisers either.
The growth made it easy to stay motivated to find great content. Ultimately, that’s the key. Without great content, subscribers will be hard to get.
Have any new opportunities presented themselves since starting Data Elixir?
Yes, lots. I’m in the middle of a very large and talented community and Data Elixir really puts a spotlight on me. Along with invitations to several local meetings and events that were new to me, I’ve been approached a few times with data-related consulting projects. So far, they haven’t been great fits but my sense is that once I start looking for opportunities, Data Elixir will make them easy to find.
Did you try any other publishing software before Curated? If so, how have you found working with Curated compared to other tools?
No, not really. I’ve played with WordPress but that was quite a bit different. Curated is great though! I don’t have any reason to look elsewhere. It’s intuitive to use, it works very well, and I really appreciate the personal touch that Dave and his team bring to the platform. They really care about Curated.
What’s one curated publication that doesn’t exist that you would read?
Hmmm. Probably lots! Sometimes I read the paper and I think that it would be really great to have a newspaper that just focused on good news and dropped everything else. I’d read a newsletter like that. Call it the Happiness Project or something.
Do you have plans to start any other publications?
I don’t have plans to start anything new but now that I have an idea what it’s all about, I see new publication possibilities all the time! Ultimately, I’m interested in getting back to software development — especially data viz work. I ran Data Elixir alongside a job for several months just fine and expect I’ll be doing that again sometime in the near future.