How Dickie Bush gained 40,000 followers in less than six months

🗝 The Keyring // 011

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🗝 This is my monthly issue of The Keyring, a format of this newsletter that features someone impressive identifying the tools, methods, and frameworks they’ve used to make progress in their careers.

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There’s never been a better time to build a large and engaged audience. But, that doesn’t make audience building any less daunting for those who are just getting started.

To illustrate how it can be done, I wanted to use this month’s Keyring to profile someone who’s managed to grow a Twitter following remarkably quickly using a series of tactics that are available to anyone.

I originally met Dickie Bush back in November when I was tweeting out screenshot essays as a way to bolster my writing habit. He had the sharp idea of using the format to build a community challenge, which he’s since turned into a cohort-based course called Ship 30 for 30. Watching the dedication he’s put into building the course while still holding a full-time job, has been nothing short of inspiring.

I’m excited for you to learn Dickie’s perspective on:

  • 💡 Generating creative ideas

  • 📈 Growing an audience on Twitter

  • 🤔 Useful principles from investing

  • 🐣 How to build a following from scratch

  • ⛰ Why “full-stack builders” will shape our future

and plenty more…

You’ve grown an audience on Twitter remarkably quickly. How did you do it?

In July of 2020, I started posting threads with summaries of books I was reading and podcasts I was listening to. I was already taking these notes, but I found that adding an extra five minutes to polish and publish them created unlimited upside.

Through sharing these ideas, I attracted a small group of people who were interested in similar things. Attracting a small audience creates a flywheel you can use to grow faster. Every idea you share leads to some kind of reaction from your audience that you can use as a signal of what to write about next. 

Twitter is the perfect place for an “iterative” approach to audience building. Any time I had an idea for a thread, I would start by trying to summarize it into a single tweet and gauge the market reaction. If the idea resonated, I knew it was worth writing something longer. If it flopped, I saved myself hours of time. 

And this process also works in reverse. If you tweet something off-the-cuff that resonates with your audience, you can explore if it’s worth expanding. For example, the idea for my most popular thread that received over 44,000 likes came from a standalone tweet that received a strong reaction from the market. 

With this framework, it became a game of iteration. I kept a tight feedback loop, consistently tweeting and letting the market help me decide what to write next. I ended up writing a mix of viral threads on broad topics like using Twitter and copywriting, while also writing more tactical, niche threads on building a writing habit. The viral threads helped bring more followers in, while the tactical threads kept them coming back.  

If someone wanted to build an audience on Twitter starting tomorrow, what would you advise them to do?

I would suggest they start with curation. Follow the 5-10 people who tweet about topics that interest you and start reading some of their older, evergreen stuff. Content on Twitter gets lost and is hard to organize. So you can easily add value by curating someone’s best tweets and threads without expecting anything in return.

This does two things for you. First, you're going to interact with a ton of high-quality ideas just through the research and curation process. That alone is going to get you thinking more about what you're really interested in. And second, you will naturally build a small audience of people who come to you as a trusted curation source.

That’s what kicks off the flywheel. You now have a small group of people with which you can interact, experiment, and engage. The scale of the internet guarantees that if you can attract a group of 50-100 like-minded people, you can attract 50,000-100,000 of them.

More tactically, I would say start tweeting 35-50 times per week. This sounds like a lot, but the nature of Twitter's algorithm rewards this type of output. Twitter is incentivized to share engaging tweets and threads. The more people that like and retweet something, the more people Twitter will show it to.

Every tweet is a free option with unlimited upside and little downside- if you write something great, it will get shared 10 times over. But if you publish a dud, it's basically swept under the rug.

How do you get new ideas about what to share?

The beauty of having a creative outlet like Twitter is that every idea you encounter is sharable. 

And what I've found is that writing and publishing one idea always leads to 10 new ones. Every time I publish something new, I brain dump a bunch of new ideas that are related to what I just wrote.

On top of that, you can generate hundreds of ideas by paying close attention to the comments, likes, and retweets. It can help you pick up on the signal of what your readers are really interested in.

Walk me through a normal day/week. How do you spend your time?

For the last ~12 months, I've been living at home with my Mom working remotely. Since my Mom was quite at-risk for COVID, I really didn't do much socially for the last year.

As for the day-to-day, my normal day starts at 4:30 AM. I try to have two things done before I let the rest of the world in: 60 minutes of exercise and 60 minutes of writing. That’s the only way I feel in control of my day.  Those are also my two favorite things to do.

From 8 am-5 pm, I am heads-down focused on the market. My days are a mix of reading about the market, thinking and putting my thoughts together, or coding a new tool or algorithm to help my and my team's investment process.

When the market closes, I'll summarize the day and then shut off screens for a bit. I'll eat dinner with my Mom, talk about the day, all of that.

And then for the last ~2 hours of every weekday, I'll get caught up on Ship 30 and make sure everything is running smoothly.

The weekends are when I do most of my Ship 30 work and most of my writing and idea generation. I love waking up on Saturdays and Sundays and writing for basically as long as I can, which sometimes ends up being 5-6 hours. Then I'll go for a ~3-hour walk with no agenda, which is where I come up with basically every idea I've ever written about or executed on.

Since your day job is investing, I’m curious whether there are any principles from the investing world that you use in day-to-day life?

Two principles immediately came to mind when I read this question.

Zooming out. The investing world is full of noise. Newswires will try to fit a narrative to every price swing, because that's their job. But only about 1% of what the news reports is important for the long-term picture.

So when there's volatility in the market, I step back and ask if the long-term picture has changed. And I try to do that in my day-to-day life as well. When I find myself caught up in something short-term, I'll ask if it will matter in a year. And just like 99% of the news in markets, the answer is no 99% of the time.

Premortems. Every time I put on a position in the market, there's a horizon I expect to hold it for - usually a month, three months, or six months. And, as part of my process, I try to fast forward to the end of that horizon and imagine a world where it didn’t work. Then, I'll brain-dump ~10 reasons things might have gone wrong to identify any potential blind spots and stress test my thesis.

I try to do that in my day-to-day life as well. When I start a new project or set a new goal, I'll fast forward to the end and imagine myself falling short. Then, I will identify the reasons that could potentially lead to that failure, and try to put a system in place to prevent them from doing so.

Who are three people in your field whose work you admire, and why?

  1. Mark Cuban

  2. Chamath Palihapitiya

  3. Tim Ferriss

My ultimate goal is to own an NBA team by the time I'm 45. But I also want to have a damn good time on that journey and share what I learn along the way.

These three guys are great examples of that. They found something they loved doing that the market rewarded them for, and then they spent years building, executing, and documenting as they went. 

These are three examples of what I'm calling the Full-Stack Builder - entrepreneurs, investors, and media companies, all in one package. And I think builders like this are the ones who will shape our future.

What are three books that have made you better at what you do?

  1. Atomic Habits by James Clear. A book that does one thing: helps you start doing the things you're saying you're going to do.

  2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. A book I find myself revisiting almost weekly - especially when I start to take myself too seriously.

  3. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. A book on creating systems in your business that you can also apply to your life. It's one of those zero-to-one books that forever changed the way I operate. 

Five Takeaways

Here are five insights you can take from Dickie to make progress in your own career:

  1. With an extra five minutes of polishing, you can turn your notes into something worthy of publishing.

  2. Curation is a great way to get started on a platform like Twitter because it has a low lift and allows you to build a small audience of people who come to you as a trusted curation source.

  3. Every tweet is a free option with unlimited upside and little downside.

  4. By paying attention to what readers are liking and retweeting you can get a better idea of what will resonate.

  5. When you start a new project or set a goal, fast forward to the end and imagine yourself falling short. Then, try to put a system in place to prevent those catalysts for failure.

A big thanks to Dickie for sharing his journey. If you want more of Dickie’s insights, follow him on Twitter here.

If you enjoyed this issue of the newsletter, I'd really appreciate it if you could forward it to a friend, family member, or colleague who you think might like it too.

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Until next time,