What do you get when you combine two hot trends—crypto and newsletters—plus two serial entrepreneurs and a tried-and-true playbook?

The answer: An email list of 250,000 subscribers and a sale just 10 months after launch.

That’s the story of Milk Road, a crypto news newsletter created by Shaan Puri and Ben Levy. The pair launched the business in February 2022, and sold to Bitfo, a media company that operates several cryptocurrency websites, by the end of that year.

Puri and Levy are both serial entrepreneurs and have started other companies in e-commerce, e-sports, and a live-streaming product that failed. In early 2022, they were looking for a new project and decided to pursue a subject area they were both passionate about: cryptocurrency.

Their idea was to create a newsletter on the topic, but not something that would be stuffy or hard to understand. Instead, their daily newsletter—named Milk Road— would serve as “a smart friend showing you one or two cool things a day that’s going on in crypto and explaining it in simple, plain-Jane English,” Puri explained in February 2022, shortly after launch, on the My First Million podcast.

Puri co-hosts the podcast on the HubSpot podcast network with Sam Parr, who sold newsletter company The Hustle to HubSpot in 2021. Puri has said he applied Parr’s playbook for growing The Hustle, which focused on business news, to Milk Road. He chronicled the building of the company for his large audiences on both the podcast and Twitter, undoubtedly helping to fuel the newsletter’s growth.

The earliest version of Milk Road was a Google document the pair sent to friends for feedback, and a simple logo of a milk bottle created on the fly in Canva. They spent $2,000 to get the milkroad.com domain, Puri said on the podcast. And they used newsletter platform Beehiiiv to build a simple website that played nicely with their daily dispatch and allowed the pair to track referral activity.

Just three weeks after launch, Milk Road had more than 16,000 subscribers, Puri said on the podcast. That’s a rate of more than 750 readers per day.

Milk Road: A one-year experiment with explosive growth

Levy and Puri knew writing a daily email newsletter could begin to feel draining quickly, so they gave themselves a year to experiment with Milk Road.

Their first few months of the experiment took off like a rocket. Ironically, part of their early success came from showcasing failure.

Early on, they wanted to do something to get the attention of crypto enthusiasts and would-be readers.

In spring 2022, they put $1 million in a public crypto wallet so Milk Road readers could watch the investment develop in real time. Even as the value of that investment crashed 70%, they continued to see signups multiply. “Lesson: crazy stunts are good. But wear a helmet in case you crash,” Puri tweeted.

Losing so much money may have been painful, but the founders said it fed into their ultimate goal with the project: “To have the most fun, no matter what the price of BTC is,” Levy wrote later in a tweet. BTC is the ticker symbol for bitcoin.

In less than six months, Milk Road had gained 100,000 subscribers and a 45% open rate, Puri shared on Twitter, well above the industry standard of about 34%. When its sale was announced in December 2022, Milk Road had 250,000 subscribers.

How paid social contributed to Milk Road’s growth

Yet it was paid social—running ads on social media platforms—that drove most of the early subscribers. The team leaned heavily on Facebook and TikTok, said Matt McGarry, a growth marketer who focuses on paid media and worked with Milk Road. Facebook ads drove more than 150,000 subscribers at a cost of $1.00 -$1.30 per subscriber, he said on The Copyblogger Podcast.

Having an accessible referral program also helped, according to Tyler Denk, co-founder and CEO of Beehiiv, the email service provider Levy and Puri used to build Milk Road. If a reader referred a single new subscriber, they could get a report Levy had written called, “What 12 Crypto Whales are Betting On.”

“Sure, you could attempt to poke holes and argue that people could easily download and share that PDF with friends,” Denk wrote in a blog post about the growth and sale of the newsletter. “But if you wanted that PDF, it truthfully would take you a lot less time and effort just to refer a single person to sign up with your link than to text your 13 group chats and see if anyone already has it.”

Along with its simple referral program, Milk Road integrated polls, a Beehiiv feature, into its newsletter each day to give readers an easy way to share their thoughts. That constant feedback, Denk noted, gave the team—which grew to include at least one writer, a social media specialist and an ad salesperson—real-time insight that could help tailor content to readers’ interests.

With a quickly growing audience, the team then monetized by selling advertising in the newsletter.

How Shaan Puri and Ben Levy sold their newsletter on crypto news

Despite continued rapid newsletter growth, Puri asked Levy on Slack one day: “How much would you sell this for right now?” He recalled the conversation on a December 2022 episode of the My First Million podcast.

“I don’t know,” Levy responded. “Do you want to sell it?”

“That’s not what I said,” Puri wrote, asking again for a number. They found themselves aligned on an amount.

Puri said they should act on his impulse and see if they could sell Milk Road.

“I’m good at starting things. I’m good at finding the ‘something’ from nothing,” Puri explained on the podcast. “But taking the ‘something’ and just fine-tuning it day after day, making it better—which is where most of the value is created in business—is not something that I get super excited about.” If he and Levy held onto Milk Road for a few years, it could continue to grow, but Puri knew he might not have the same excitement to work on it.

Coincidentally, the same day Puri mentioned selling, Levy started a conversation with the co-founders of Bitfo, Kendall Saville and Mike Wittmeyer—not about a sale, but about a potential partnership to drive referral subscriptions to Milk Road.

Saville and Wittmeyer had been curious about creating a “NerdWallet for crypto” to add to Bitfo, their portfolio of cryptocurrency sites that included EthereumPrice.org, BitcoinPrice.com and PlaytoEarn.online. But they realized that instead of building something from scratch, a better option was already sitting in their email inboxes each morning, Saville shared in a tweet.

Milk Road not only had word-of-mouth reach from newsletter evangelists—it also had search reach that would be complementary to the websites the Bitfo team was already running.

“Google has really moved toward rewarding brands that users are actually searching for,” Wittmeyer said on the My First Million podcast in December 2022. “Milk Road is being searched hundreds of times a day. And that’s such an indicator to Google [that] humans are interested in this brand.”

Though the two teams hit it off quickly after their initial conversations, the negotiations that ensued were a “roller coaster,” Saville tweeted, that happened to take place at the same time the crypto market was crashing hard. Saville recalled that twice, it appeared the deal would fall through.

Plus, there was an additional delay, the buyers said on Puri’s podcast: Wittmeyer had a noncompete regarding gambling content from a previous project, and Milk Road had hosted a gambling sponsor at one point. That information was discovered after they’d agreed to a sale, during the due diligence process.

The deal ended up closing in December 2022, just 10 months after Milk Road launched. The sale price was not disclosed, but it included shares in Bitfo, Saville told us in an email. Investor Suleman Ali tweeted that it was an “8-figure outcome,” but we were unable to confirm that.

Puri declined an interview request for this story, and Levy did not respond to a request.

Puri will serve on the board for Bitfo, where he said he’s excited to learn from Saville and Wittmeyer as they grow the brand. Levy will continue to work on the Milk Road newsletter, Saville said in an email.

Meanwhile, a new website for Milk Road has already launched to include not just day-to-day crypto news, but resource guides as well. And Puri says he might have time to launch the Milk Road podcast he’s had his sights on.