Kristen Hawley started writing a newsletter before newsletters were cool.
Having spent time covering food and restaurants for consumer magazines in NYC, in 2009, she uprooted, moved to San Francisco, and started covering the tech industry as a journalist.
After spending time building up Chefs+Tech, a newsletter that originally started as a side project, an acquisition offer by a larger media organization fell into place through a mutual friend.
Kristen was gracious enough to answer a few questions that delve into her focus on creating great as a catalyst for organic growth, the process of selling her first newsletter, and her new newsletter project, Expedite.
Spotting an opportunity
[After moving to San Francisco] I saw early signs of a big shift in the restaurant industry toward digital technology, and realized no one was writing about it. I started Chefs+Tech as a side project, sending it to my friends — most worked in the tech industry at the time — and it slowly grew into something larger.
Newsletters are far more popular than they were seven years ago, so I try to make every Expedite issue informative and additive — I don’t want to repeat the same stories that a reader will see everywhere. Instead, I try to add to the conversation, or move it forward in some way. If I offer new information each week, people are much more likely to open the email. The biggest shift for me has been realizing that when someone signs up to receive Expedite, they’re giving me permission to talk to them. They want to hear what I have to say, and I shouldn’t be afraid to take a position on a topic and share my own opinion.
The power of a strong network
The CEO of Skift put out a public call on Twitter asking for writers who covered the restaurant industry. He and I have a mutual friend, and the friend introduced us. We met, and quickly realized we had similar goals and approaches. In that sense it was an easy decision, and in hindsight realize it was definitely the best thing that I could have done for both my career and the newsletter.
Negotiating the sale
I didn’t launch a newsletter to sell it, though that was certainly a happy ending for C+T. I had a relatively small but very engaged readership at the time of the sale, so my main interest was being able to propel the content and thought leadership to a larger audience. Given that priority, a sale to a larger company with marketing and growth resources made the most sense. In terms of the deal, it was a cash acquisition attached to a full time job offer, so I had multiple negotiation points. But I will say the process was very smooth, and I felt they respected my interests.
After a few years at Skift, the company’s leadership decided to pull back on restaurant coverage and folded the project, eliminating my position. I couldn’t imagine stopping my work, so I restarted my own newsletter to continue reporting and writing about the industry. I would have been able to use the Chefs+Tech name, but chose to rename it. I really wanted a one-word title this time around.
Moving forward and monetization will follow
I don’t have a business model or current plan for monetization. I’m a writer and editor, and Expedite is how I explore new ideas and topics while connecting to a passionate audience. It opens professional doors for me — mostly writing for other publications — and I’m happy to have the artistic freedom to explore ideas as I see fit without being beholden to clicks or advertisers. Monetization is not off the table for the future, but I’d only do it in a way that respects my readers and feels authentic. I haven’t figured out what that looks like yet, though I have some ideas.
The newsletter process and finding inspiration
Expedite is definitely not a full time job for me right now, and the bulk of my time is spent reading, researching, and writing. I have a handful of growth-related partnerships, but my priority is producing a weekly newsletter that my readers find valuable. I believe organic growth will follow — it worked for me the first time around!
I still use Twitter to find most stories! My process is fairly low-tech; a weekly Google doc where I drop ideas and links for inspiration. One of the cool parts about covering an industry that just about everyone uses is that inspiration can come from everywhere. I read stories all over that inform what I write about in Expedite, so I try to keep my eyes open as much as possible, all the time. I also send myself a lot of emails in the middle of the night.
Expedite is Kristen Hawley’s new newsletter project that covers the restaurant industry. The newsletter is for anyone who is interested in technology who loves dining out. Sign up to receive Expedite here.
Kristen’s must-read newsletters:
Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Fortune’s Term Sheet by Polina Marinova
Dave Pell’s NextDraft