May 3, 2024

1440 Has Built a Big Business Going “An Inch Deep and a Mile Wide”

By: Jim Edwards

The 1440 newsletter has 3.5 million readers, but nothing about it is commercially intuitive:

  • Its coverage is “an inch deep and a mile wide,” CEO Tim Huelskamp says, in a world where niche and specialty are generally rewarded more.
  • It contains no original reporting, even though everyone in publishing “knows” that aggregation lacks the value that drove audiences 10 years ago. Each email consists of about 40 briefs and links to news published elsewhere.
  • And it’s as “unbiased as humanly possible” in a landscape where news media brands often function as readers’ ideological comfort blankets.

Yet Huelskamp’s email — named after the number of minutes in 24 hours and the year the printing press was invented — claims a 60% open rate. It’s growing at a rate of 250,000 new readers per month.

1440 is part of a small group of brands that have found audiences by adopting a nonpartisan positioning. The best-known are Axios and Semafor. 

“If you turn on the TV—especially here in America—at night, it’s wild. During big events, like elections or George Floyd, if you watch those two stations [CNN and Fox], it’s like you’re living in alternate universes. Basically, they tell you what you want to hear, and they only cover what’s convenient to them,” Huelskamp says.

“But I think a lot of really smart people are sick of that and they’re like, hey, I’m just trying to learn about what happened in the Middle East yesterday, and I don’t need to know which side you’re on. Ditto with the abortion rulings. I get it, I have my own position, but I just want to know what happened. Can you help me understand it and not tell me how to think?” he says.

Advertisers seem to like it. 1440 is useful and factual—but it’s also a safe space for brands. Most of their partners are in financial services, wellness, and consumer goods products. A majority of the advertisers are direct-response in nature. 

The company’s 15 employees generate in excess of $1 million in revenues per employee, putting it on course for $15 million-plus in annual revenue.

1440 works aggressively to find new eyeballs for those brands. It has a monthly marketing budget of somewhere just under $1 million, and its cost-per-acquisition for new readers starts at $3 a head. Facebook and Instagram are particularly effective, Huelskamp says.

“I think why we’re different and why we’re winning right now is because the landscape is forgetting about this smart consumer that isn’t in a bubble that doesn’t have a lot of time.”

In a conversation with AMO, Huelskamp used the word “smart” 13 times to describe the audience he is focused on. One-third of 1440’s readers have a graduate degree, he claims. So why would they want coverage that’s “an inch deep and a mile wide”?

Because they’re busy. 

Huelskamp’s background is in private equity, and his co-founder, Andrew Steigerwald, has a PhD and used to work summarising complex scientific material for people on Capitol Hill. Huelskamp explained about people that: 

We want to know a bunch of information. We want to be well-rounded. So we want to know sports and business and culture and politics, what’s going on in the Middle East? But also stuff like fall foliage schedules. This fun stuff that makes you a well-rounded person.

To have that information every morning, it just took us way too long. You had to go to 15 or 20 different websites or newsletters or physical newspapers.

We both just struggled with that same pain point.

But how does that work in a world where aggregation is frowned upon? The big aggregators of yore—BuzzFeed, Business Insider, The Messenger, MailOnline—have struggled to hold onto audiences for reblogged material, as readers moved to niche-interest sites that offered more depth and original reporting.

Huelskamp says the pendulum may have swung too far away from “broad aggregation” to “niche,” making it difficult for readers to stay informed.

“A doctor is reading the New England Journal of Medicine really deep. [But] they [also] want to know about business … the latest company IPOing, the latest trends in AI, they want to know all that, but they’re not reading The Wall Street Journal for 45 minutes. So we serve them those other things that they’re not niche about,” he says.

“What we serve has now become the white space. It’s almost like it went too far to one side and people are like, I’m overwhelmed. I can’t do all this. Can someone just bring it all together for me?”