All right folks, therapist's pep talk has been internalised and anti-anxiety pills have been popped. Here comes the moment of truth. Today I am announcing a vital, slightly scary, and incredibly exciting campaign that will let you – my readers – determine the future of Sanity by Tanmoy.
Welcome to Mission 1k.
PART 1: What is Mission 1k?
Mission 1k is a campaign to reach 1,000 paying readers and make Sanity by Tanmoy financially sustainable by December 31, 2021.
Sanity by Tanmoy is my full-time job, not a vanity project. I am 100% committed to making it sustainable and keeping it independent and ad-free. Also, mental health storytelling serves public interest, so I want to make sure most of the content here is accessible and not locked behind a paywall. Getting to 1,000 paying readers will help me achieve all this without being bogged down by survival worries.
On top of this, I have big plans — exciting new projects based on reader demand that I want to start working on soon (more on that below), but I need the funds to help me bring them to you.
Is this doable? Yes! For instance, if each of our ~250 current paying readers gets just 2 of their friends to join them, we can achieve our target in a canter. And if you are a free subscriber who has been waiting for the right time to go paid – please do it now?Support my work now
Here's some awesome news to get you going: Sanity by Tanmoy has just crossed US$1,000 in monthly recurring revenue. Organically. With zero marketing budget. In the middle of a pandemic. Sure, it isn’t a huge number. But for a non-tech, non-business publication based in the global south, it’s a pretty big milestone. And it makes me want to believe we are onto something special that could really take off with a little bit of push.
5 ways you can help this mission right now
- If you are a free subscriber, do upgrade to a paying subscription now. Then get at least 2 friends to join in. If you are based outside India, you can subscribe in US$ via PayPal.
- If you are already a paying subscriber, I am banking on you to be my ambassador. Share this article with friends, spread the word on social media, get your family and friends to join in. Know someone who can help amplify this campaign? Send this article to them or connect me. Feel free to get creative :)
- To donate any amount from India, use my UPI ID: sanitybytanmoy@okicici. Do mention 'Sanity donation' in the payment description.
- To donate any amount from outside India: use my PayPal link. Do mention 'Sanity donation' in the payment description.
- If you represent an organisation and want to buy group subscriptions, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know any organisations that should be reading Sanity by Tanmoy, let me know so I can connect with them.
*It’s a bummer that Ghost doesn’t yet allow gift subscriptions. If you want to gift a subscription, write to me and we will figure out a way.
What you can expect for your support
Apart from my eternal gratitude, you get:
- Early access to my podcast, RAW.
- Quarterly roundtables with me and the opportunity to shape my editorial agenda.
- Limited edition e-books containing the best of Sanity by Tanmoy.
- Discounted access to events (here's one from earlier in the year that I used to mobilise funds for Covid relief in India).
- Digital thank-you merch.
New stuff your support will help fund
I have so many ideas, but here are a few of my priorities:
- Commissioning reportage, essays, and art from new writers and artists from underrepresented communities in the global south, and paying them fair rates.
- Exploring a rudimentary team.
- Two new storytelling projects: i) A fellowship to support outstanding writing at the intersection of climate change and mental health.ii) A collaboration with readers exploring the connection between food and mental health. Details soon.
- Tailored events and workshops for students, policymakers, and lived experience advocates.
- For every 10 paying readers, I will gift one free annual subscription to someone who would benefit from it but can't afford it. For 750 new paying readers, I will give away 75 annual subscriptions worth US$5,250.
PART 2: Everything you need to know about the past, present, and future of Sanity by Tanmoy
I'm sure you have questions. How much does it really cost to run Sanity by Tanmoy? How much money have I made till now? What am I planning to do with the money I raise? Am I getting obscenely rich? As a solo creator, I swear by transparency with my supporters (see my half-yearly report for more), so I will try to answer all these questions here.
I am not a finance geek though, so please don't hold me to Big 4-level accounting standards. What I present here is a snapshot of where I am and where I need to be in order to keep doing this work without spontaneously self-combusting.
In the following sections you’ll find:
📖 A bit of my back story.
🤔 A note on why I am launching Mission 1k.
💰 What it costs to run Sanity by Tanmoy.
🧑🏾💻 A breakdown of the labour I put into this work and the challenge of pricing it.
🤑 My income from paid subscriptions and donations so far.
😶 The income shortfall that I need to meet to stop burning through my savings and worrying about survival, and focus on doing my best work.
🫂 How I arrived at the magic number of new paying readers we need.
⚠️ What happens if I don't meet the target by December 31.OMG I love this update but let me become a paying supporter first
The back story
As regular readers will know, I started Sanity by Tanmoy after suddenly losing my job eight months ago. Within 100 days of launch, it became one of the top 6 paid health-related newsletters on Substack – and the only non-western title on the list.
Some rather cool things happened after that. I was selected for the Entrepreneurial Journalism program at the City University of New York and profiled by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Business Insider. My manifesto for Sanity by Tanmoy even made it to the The Syllabus.
All this validation is sweet. It proves that our time has come. Independent mental health journalism that focuses on structural issues (not '7 ways to beat stress' listicles – no disrespect, listicle-makers); rooted in the non-western world; honouring lived experience as a legitimate form of expertise; and 100% funded by readers – this combination is no longer an absurd fantasy.
In August, I moved on from Substack to build my own full-fledged website. This is by far the wildest move of my professional life, and the love the site has been getting has convinced me it was worth it.
Today, Sanity by Tanmoy has grown into a community of ~2,000 subscribers from across the world, over 12% of whom are paying supporters. The free-to-paid conversion rate is higher than the average for newsletters. It means when people read my work, they want to support it – and that's why I'm hopeful about Mission 1k.
Why Mission 1k now
These past eight months have been a miracle. But they have also been nerve-wracking. I am lucky I had some savings that I could use to underwrite the time I needed to get Sanity by Tanmoy off the blocks, alongside meeting my family's essential needs, paying rent, eating, paying for insurance, and generally staying alive. Occasionally, I picked up other gigs to supplement my income. But this is unsustainable and a one-way ticket to burnout. I’ve been there before, and I have no desire to go back.
Building a platform that has no reference point can get intensely lonely. Writing and editing articles, recording podcasts, cutting basic videos; relentlessly marketing all this work so it doesn't sink into oblivion; site maintenance; customer service – doing all this solo makes me feel hopelessly inadequate on some days. I am super happy to work for myself, but I do want to work with other, smarter humans at some point. And I want to pay them fairly.
I need to cut out distractions so that I can tell more stories, and do a better job of it. Getting to a healthy base of paying readers will help me focus with my full being on my mission: producing mental health journalism we can all be proud of. Telling stories no one else will. Supporting new voices.
So, here's my plan: Starting today, I am doubling down on Sanity by Tanmoy. That means focusing only on building this platform, without expending time and energy on multiple gigs to pay bills. I want to do everything I can to take Sanity by Tanmoy as far as it can go, together with all of you.
Reaching 1,000 true fans – not millions or tens of millions – is a bit of a cliche in the creator economy, but it's a formula that works. There are many reasons Wired editor Kevin Kelly came up with that number more than a decade ago. The reason I like it is that a thousand loyal supporters of your mission can guarantee sustainability. And sustainability is my #1 priority right now.
Mission 1k is the first critical step towards a ‘saner destiny’ for this platform. I've no qualms admitting that this goal feels terrifyingly ambitious, and my imposter syndrome is baring its fangs as I type these words. But I have to believe. It helps that earlier this week my friend Shaheen Pasha, who runs the extraordinary Prison Journalism Project, roared past her crowdfunding goals in a matter of days on the back of amazingly devoted supporters.I am in. Let's get you to your target.
Now let’s dive into the fun part. Numbers!
What it costs to run Sanity by Tanmoy full-time
I've divided this section in two parts: cost of partners and tools, and cost of my labour. The below chart tackles the first chunk of costs. It does not include the fees that platforms like Stripe and PayPal levy on every transaction or any future appreciation.
Annual cost of partners and tools = US$6,678 or ~INR5 lakh
Any estimate of the time I invest in Sanity by Tanmoy is iffy, because I am known to mumble 'critical psychiatry' and 'intersectionality' even in my sleep these days. (I know, I need to switch off. I'm working on a leave calendar and will share it with y'all soon.) Anyhoo, here's a pie chart on how I spend my working hours – when I am able to stick to 9.5 hour days.
How do I price my labour (writer + editor + podcast host + image editor + engagement editor + business development executive + customer support officer)?
There's no point being fake modest about this: After 15 years of slogging my butt off and reaching a certain level of financial security, having to justify why I deserve a decent livelihood is mortifying.
Journalists are horrible at thinking like entrepreneurs and properly valuing their skills, but thankfully people smarter than me have already established some benchmarks. Here's how WTF Just Happened Today founder Matt Kiser estimates the cost of his labour:
Kiser even applies something he calls 'risk adjustment' to his salary calculation. What a star.
Now, reliable Glassdoor salary estimates for my unconventional profile in India are impossible to find. But it is possible to arrive at a conservative ballpark of how much it could cost me if I had to hire even part-time, high-quality help for all the different roles involved in running a serious, well-oiled website.
(Good to remember that the radical newness of what I am trying to build means it is virtually impossible to find ready-made talent to fill these roles, and I have to invest significant time in training people. Plus it will be non-negotiable for anyone doing these jobs to align with our community's values.)
Annual cost of my labour (factoring in a substantial haircut compared with my salaried days) + paying for an editor + engagement editor + business growth executive = ~USD50,000 or ~INR36 lakh.
(PS: If you are still wondering – no, I am not getting rich doing this.)
Income from paying readers so far
My current monthly recurring revenue is just above US$1,000.
Including donations, between December 2020-December 2021, I am projecting ~US$15,000 from paying readers.
Stretch target by December 31, 2021
The below graph is self-explanatory. The deal is simple: the closer I can get to this target, the more I can focus on building Sanity by Tanmoy full-time/work towards getting some kind of team in place.
Best case scenario by December 31, 2021 = ~US$42,000 or ~INR30 lakh in new reader revenue.
How many new paying readers will help meet the goal?
Technically, 500 to 600. It's a range because of currency differentials between Indian subscribers who pay in Indian rupees and international subscribers who pay in US$, as well as the difference between monthly and annual subscription rates. (Monthly subscribers end up paying a little more on an annualised basis.)
While the vast majority of my paying readers stay with me, I'm taking a stretch target ... because inevitably, some will leave. That stretch target is adding 750 new paying readers by the end of the year, or about 6 new paying readers a day.
Combined with the current ~250, this will take us to 1,000 paying subscribers (or thereabouts, depending on final churn). It will mean I don't have to worry about putting together another time- and energy-guzzling growth campaign too soon.
New paying readers I need to onboard every day leading up to December 31, 2021 = 6.25.
What happens if I don't meet this goal by December 31, 2021?
As I said, this is a terrifyingly ambitious goal. But December 31 is by no means a hard deadline. It's a stretch target, and deliberately so. I will modulate my plans depending on the response this campaign gets. So keep the contributions coming, and I will keep you updated.Support my work and help make it sustainable
Hopefully all this has convinced you to act! Here's a reminder of what you can do right now.
- If you're not a paying subscriber, join now.
- If you are, send this newsletter on to at least two friends who would like my work, and tell them why they should subscribe.
- Share away on social media.
- Make a donation via PayPal, or via UPI if you are in India (sanitybytanmoy@okicici), and kickstart my campaign.
That's it, good people. With the launch of this campaign, I am asking you to help decide the future of Sanity by Tanmoy. If you have any questions or bright ideas for me, just reply to this or drop me a line: email@example.com.
And as a reward for reading this entire pitch, please enjoy this peek into the mind of a solo entrepreneur.
This pitch was improved manifold by the wisdom of Imogen Champagne and Shephali Bhatt, dear friends and supporters of Sanity by Tanmoy. Special thanks to my wife Seetha and sister-in-law Meghana for asking probing questions. Any mistakes are of course mine, not theirs.
If you are interested in the creator economy and the power of transparency, I highly recommend these two posts: