Forgive me, but this post is going to be rather meta.
Substack is clearly taking off:
In addition to writing here, I also love following other Substacks.
It seems like every week I come across another Substack that is intelligent and insightful—and then my afternoon is lost reading everything that author has written.
But how could I keep track of the Substacks I liked (aside from overloading my email)? How could I find new and interesting Substacks focused on topics I care about? Was there a central database of the Substacks I found interesting?
It turns out, there wasn’t.
So I built it.
Introducing… Discover Substacks!
In this post I’m going to lay out:
Why I Built Discover Substacks
The Building Process
My Hopes for this Site
1. Why I Built Discover Substacks
Sure, Substack has their own leaderboard (I guess?), which doesn’t help at all. I came across a few other “Newsletter Discovery” platforms, many of which were potentially serviceable, but they didn’t excite me, nor showcase the specific types of content I wanted.
I wanted a place to find only Substacks (elitist!), around the topics I cared about (business, technology, investing, etc.).
Marie Dollé (who has her own Substack!) has written extensively about the burgeoning newsletter space, including this phenomenon of Newsletter Discovery.
There is a lot here! But these tools just didn’t work for me.
So like any good entrepreneur, if you’ve got a problem, solve it! And if other people dig it, awesome. If not, I still have something cool that I find personally useful.
So here’s how I went about building Discover Substacks this summer.
2. The Building Process
A. Identifying content
The first step was figuring out if there was enough content to justify building a platform. So in Notion (great tool, happy to discuss further), I started making a list of Substacks I could feature. I also listed a primary descriptive tag, and if it was free or paid. (Yes, I know almost all paid subscriptions include some free content. But for our purposes, if you offer a paid tier, you are considered paid.)
Here’s how the list looked after an hour:
It became pretty easy to list Substacks I knew of or could find quickly. Very soon, the list swelled to twenty. I had something.
B. Hiring a Developer
A lot of people have to-do lists. I have to-do lists. But one of my favorite things is my “to-start” list. Businesses, projects, creative endeavors. Big. Small. There’s a lot going on in my to-start list.
A bottleneck for all these projects is always finding a good and reliable developer. This project can’t be too hard, I thought. Let’s go find somebody.
So I turned to Upwork. Here was the job description:
After interviewing (chatting?) 4-5 candidates, I had my guy: Adeolu.
First and foremost, I was looking for a developer. But design aptitude was very important. I didn’t want to hire a designer AND a developer.
I can be a decent product lead, hacking my way through something reasonable. But I needed someone to take my thoughts and ideas, turn them into good design, and then ultimately, a really good, usable site.
C. Working with Adeolu
To get started, I sent him some directory/listing sites that I thought could be a good starting point to emulate. After digesting, he proposed:
We work using 3 milestones:
1. The design look of all pages, homepage, user form fill page, your review page, login and upload page for directories and topic tags to be displayed on the homepage.
2. After approval I begin the relationship database, coding of the pages.
3. Final overview and correction of minor changes and publishing for production.
We were in business!
A quick note on branding: I care about branding. I care about design. I’ve had 2.5 startups. I spent a lot time working on the names and brands for those. This is not that. This is a side project. It’s not like I spent a lot of time working on a name here!
Regarding a logo, I wanted a typewriter/newspaper vibe. I quickly found an open source typewriter icon and font.
For color, I didn’t want anything too bright or flashy. The vibe of Longform.org seemed in line with that what I was going for, so I signed that red/maroon color right up!
Logo + Color =
And just like that, our branding exercise was done!
Adeolu’s first pass on designing the site got a lot of things right, including most importantly the left side tag architecture and the card layout:
Then as Product Lead, I got to work. I responded with this design direction:
Clearly the final product evolved, but this design absolutely formed the foundation.
Around the margins, we went back and forth over many design and functionality decisions including how the left side navigation should look and work, design of the cards, design of the tags, best way to present the opening header, placement and purpose of the “Suggest a Substack” function, the About page, and more.
To peel the curtain back a bit, here are two examples to illustrate how the design transformed:
Left Side Nav
All these design and functionality decisions, big and small, led us to this final version:
Ultimately, I’m very pleased with how this (1.0 version) turned out. You might notice it’s optimized for web, not mobile. This decision was based on my personal usability preference. If there is enough enthusiasm and momentum, this can absolutely evolve to a 2.0 version, which could be mobile optimized.
3. My Hopes for this Site
This part is pretty simple. I had a problem with discovering Substacks that I personally wanted to find and read. If you have an itch, scratch it! So I’m already excited. I’ve already won. I have a site!
The cherry on top will be if others like it, too!
I’ve found a very smart, thoughtful and curious community on Twitter these last few months. I’m hopeful that this group will enjoy discovering new Substacks with me.
Additionally, I hope this can be a service to the writers. Some writers have already built up large audiences. Some, like me, are getting started. It would great to be able to feature Substacks, large and small, introducing writers and publications to new readers.
As you’ll see, I feature Substacks that write about Business Strategy, Digital Innovation, General Technology, Personal Stock Holdings and Stock Market Commentary. This list can and should evolve! This was a first attempt to best group the 30+ Substacks I’m launching with.
I’ve also come across a few Substacks I wanted to feature that didn’t fit into any one particular bucket. So I made a “This is Cool” tag! That’s the kind of fun we are going to have here. This is not some sort of definitive list. This is something I built for myself that I want to share. I hope everyone appreciates that. I hope it will evolve and grow based on your feedback and suggestions!
I hope you’ll like using Discover Substacks as much I enjoyed making it! If you find new Substacks you like, tell them Discover Substacks sent you!
I also hope you liked reading about how and why I built DiscoverSubstacks.com. If you did, we’d love to have you subscribe to Musings by Mazwood. We aim to be respectful of your inbox and post occasional weekly portfolio updates, market commentary, company deep dives, and occasional experiments like this one. We hope you’ll join us!