Stacked Marketer

A niche newsletter growing into a digital media company.

Multi-year plans are overrated. You sometimes have to take it step-by-step and adjust your path along the way.

With Stacked Marketer turning 4 years old, I wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect. In April 2018 Emanuel Cinca (aka Manu) launched this project and what started as a niche newsletter for affiliate marketing became one of the main daily reads for full stack marketers around the globe.
 

In an industry where success is oversold and stats are massaged to paint a picture nicer than reality, we wanted to be different and transparent from day one. Especially on topics like unique open rates and clickthrough rates we regularly share our views

However, we wanted to take it a step further and that’s why we decided to publish our thoughts and numbers in our yearly annual report right from the first full year of operations in 2019. Not only does it generate transparency in an industry that is often lacking it, it also forces us to put our thoughts and goals „on paper“ which keeps us accountable. If you’d like to learn more about Stacked Marketer, you can take a look at our last years‘ reports here:

In Q1 2022 we already outperformed our full year result of 2020 which makes us optimistic to reach our targets laid out in the recent annual report. It shows that it is possible to both grow quickly (50% growth in subscribers in just three months) while doubling revenue and profit. With 30k subscribers and more than 15k daily opens we are entering new territory and scale.

Our main focus is to increase daily unique opens and not artificially boost subscriber numbers (including removing inactive Apple Mail Privacy Protection users who show as always opening). The graph shows our 4 year development of subscribers and daily unique opens. What started with around 100 daily unique opens in April 2018 became 16k in April 2022.

We have assembled an incredible team, The Crew, currently counting 11 members. With experts around the world, enjoying a fully remote work setup, we are set to become the leading platform for performance marketers.

How did we get there?

With a background of three years in affiliate marketing and after all that knowledge we gathered about digital marketing, Manu (founder and creator of Stacked Marketer) thought it was time to focus on our own product instead of running campaigns for others. He had the idea of a „daily newspaper for affiliates“. The affiliate marketing industry is a rapidly changing one and it’s really tough to stay up to date with all the changes on various traffic sources and ad networks. 

After a quick „beta version of a newsletter“ that Manu put together internally, he shared it with industry friends to get direct feedback from (super) affiliates to see whether there was interest in the concept. And there was. After a few weeks of iterating the daily process and sending a newsletter to industry friends, we launched the project publicly in mid April 2018 under the brand WHAT THE AFF (wtaff.co). You will see the domain forwarding to Stacked Marketer now – we decided a brand name change was necessary to reflect the broader audience we acquired after the first year and to make it easier to verbally share (double-u-tee-eff-eff-dot-see-oh is a mouthful).

Getting off the ground

The goal was to get traction quickly and many affiliates to subscribe for the daily newsletter. It was pretty clear to us that the newsletter would stay free but once we had enough eyes on it, we could open a sponsored slot for partners. And here again, we started early with known partners when we were running affiliate campaigns ourselves to get feedback about our sponsored placements and gave them good deals to present their services. 

So just a few weeks after launch we already started generating revenue, albeit small amounts. We continuously improved the newsletter, our ad placement and consistently increased revenue while also growing our list.

Betting big on one event in Asia

In December 2018 we decided to bet a lot of resources as a main sponsor of an affiliate marketing event, one of the biggest at the time. Basically our entire team (4 members) back then went to the event with the goal of onboarding many new partners and also generating buzz to see new subscribers coming in. 

Long story short: it didn’t work out as planned and results were underwhelming. However, we won the kart racing side event and went deep in the beer pong tournament. So maybe it was a win after all 😀

Our next steps

After 4 years and getting from zero to one, our next chapter will be scaling our operations. Next to our daily newsletter we launched Insights in 2021. A subscription model to get access to a community of top marketers and deep dive reports on what strategies and tactics currently work where our experts dive into the inner workings of successful brands. This is a great add-on to our content machine and supports our ad based business model we follow in the daily newsletter where we offer three ad placements. 

We have no fixed assets and the main value drivers are smooth operating processes, a highly skilled and complementary team and a brand that marketers trust. We will always protect that brand and hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards. Our growth is financed exclusively by our own cash flow which allows us to make independent decisions and think long term. I personally think we set the foundation for continuous growth and we planted seeds that will compound for years to come. 

At the same time, we will always stay alert, maybe even a little bit paranoid, and make sure to always innovate to stay ahead of the competition. Complacency has to be avoided at all costs and it seems like a smart idea to follow Amazon’s mindset where It’s always day 1.

Maybe in the future we will write a book about remote work and the full story of Stacked Marketer. Manu and I have been working on various projects for more than 9 years and we’ve got plenty of content!

Our learnings and some advice

1) Don’t make assumptions, test everything.

We learned it the hard way when developing a software tool in 2013 and 2014 where we didn’t get early feedback from potential customers. In affiliate marketing, from 2015 to 2018, we learned that it pays well not to have any assumptions and test everything: copy, creative, angle, offer … 

Now, at Stacked Marketer, we don’t make multi-year plans or overthink new products. We tested plenty of content formats within the newsletter and outside of it. We tested a job board, and a podcast which now are shut down. We then launched Insights that continuously sees iterations.

2) Undersell and overdeliver.

Not the other way round! Deliver what you promise, that’s the only way to build up trust and a good reputation with partners and customers. 

It might be tougher in the short term but if you are playing the long game, it’s the way to go if you want to build an enduring company.

3) Build a sports team.

We think about our Crew as a pro team, consisting of experts in every field. We want to hire the best, that way every team member knows they are part of a great journey and we give them room to further develop their unique skills. We have each other’s backs, as there will always be unforeseen events happening. 

While you can’t plan for them, you can be prepared how to handle those situations. We communicate openly and regularly (yes, that actually is possible in a fully remote setting!), treat everyone fairly and acknowledge the team as being the most important part of the company. 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg

There are many other reasons I am very optimistic about this project and space that don’t fit in a memo. I am happy to chat with anyone in my network either online or in person next to a cup of coffee in Vienna. Hit me up if you are in media, marketing or just want to exchange ideas.

22. April 2022