2023’s biggest lessons

Hey Alexa play “Reflections” by MisterWives

Hi, everyone! Today’s Smoothletter is dedicated to the one, the only Tishya Dua (she’s totally fine, this is just her last day at Smooth). 

We first met Tish when her high school internship program brought her to Morning Brew. At the ripe age of 17, she knocked our socks off with her intellect and intuition. With some time to spare before her consulting job started, she joined Smooth last year to help on all things operations, and she has been an absolute asset to the team.

Tishya, you’re one of a kind and we’re so excited to see all the wonderful things you do, perfectly worded emails you send, and operations you improve. We’ll keep your desk warm!

—Kinsey, cofounder and head of editorial

2023 In the Rearview: A Few Reflections

She’s so me coded

TW: Sweeping declaration incoming ❗

2023 was the single most transformative year of my life. I barely recognize the version of me whose hair literally fell out (s/o to my alopecia areata squad) over the stress of building Smooth.

Because these days, we’re cooking with gas. In the last year, I’ve learned so much from a team that’s become unbelievably resilient, wildly capable, and more creative than any group I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. And my hair grew back!

So today, I’m sharing a handful of learnings, inspired by conversations with this bonkers talented team, that have helped me to become a brand new b*tch (in a good way) this last year. After all, it’s been almost exactly three years since Josh took me to Carbone and pitched me on starting what would become Smooth—a reflection or two feel in order. And maybe some spicy rigatoni.

Nothing is as easy or as hard as it seems. Far too many narratives in entrepreneurship and media are sanitized (s/o to Josh for reminding me how great of a word that is) to the point of uselessness. No, the sky isn’t always falling. But also no, success is not as simple as just writing good newsletters. There are infinite inputs toward both success and failure—the only option for anyone who wants to maintain their sanity and build a strong business is to focus on what you can control instead of the narrative you’re worried might control you. (TYSM to Josh for inspiring this one 🙏)

Your personal life can put your professional life into perspective. Gushy, but so many pinch-me moments happened in my personal life this year that helped me to remember…nothing we do at our computers is really that serious. We take it seriously, of course, and we feel proud of the work we do. But the emails we type and the meetings we lead are just one way (and probably one of the smallest ways) we’ll be remembered long from now.

Related: Entrepreneurship is not a personality. I hope this one speaks for itself.

Fundamentals are the building blocks of success. One of my focuses for 2024 is scaling our content services business to do more, take bigger swings, and continue to support our creators in putting out the very best content. It’s become abundantly clear that we won’t even be able to sniff at the kind of scale we want if we’re not militant about practicing good fundamentals. For example:

  • Teaching a writer how to formulate a really spectacular story (the fundamental skill) means the editor spends less time in the margins → which means the editor can edit more newsletters → which means the newsletter offering can expand to a full-fledged, multimedia content services offering → which means Smooth can service more knowledge creators…and the cycle continues. (TYSM to Jenna for inspiring this one 🙏)

You have to separate hype from value. Collectively, our attention spans are dwin—oh look, an Instagram notification! Where was I? Right—attention spans are shrinking, which means hype cycles come and go quickly. We’ve learned the difference between participating in a hype cycle and taking advantage of momentum, and it lies in where you assign value.

Is value derived from the social cachet of your work? That other people are talking about it and interested in it? 

Or is the value derived from the focus of your own unique vision? The path you see yourself going down—the longevity, the scalability, the true essence of what you're building? Bet you can ID which one we prefer. (TYSM to Jenny and Josh for inspiring this one 🙏)

Niche, niche, niche. Your voice, singular as it may be, is not a competitive advantage. Your niche, however? That is the moat that protects a content creator from falling victim to the internet’s phasic taste.

Hiring is hard. We grew from 5 to 10 full-time team members this year. The biggest learning there: Hire smart people who are comfortable with ambiguity, train them obsessively, and get out of their way.

Find serious people. Shocking from someone who literally just wrote and deleted the sentence “So much of building a successful business is curating good vibes,” but I mean it. We’re a team of people who are prepared to show up to work with purpose and self-awareness. We have fun and we're kind, but work is not a playground. We hold ourselves to a high standard—the best thing we can do is to help those around us get better every day. (TYSM to Jenny for inspiring this one 🙏)

Bottom line: It’s fun to engage in reflection at the end of a year, but I’m fully aware that many of these “lessons” will make me laugh 12 months from now. And I welcome that! Because I want the Smooth team to accomplish so much in 2024 that we redefine what an audacious goal really looks like.

Here’s to another year of living, laughing, loving, and building Smooth. 🥂

  • Cash App launched a zine called Bread. Imagine telling your great-great-grandmother that sentence.

  • We launched a really cool series with The Publish Press: Our 2023 Staff Picks of the most innovative creators this year.

  • YouTube is the most popular social media platform for teens.

  • Jenny told Inbox Collective about how we’re shaping the future of newsletters and Josh was on The Creator COO podcast to talk about why creators need operators.

#digibuzzcodevoxious is a term we coined back in our Morning Brew days—a portmanteau of Digiday, BuzzFeed, Recode, Vox, and Axios. Obviously, the year was 2018 and the interest rates were zero. But still, the sentiment of “interesting media trends and news” remains. So the name stays.

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back in your inbox one more time this year with a special holiday Smoothletter next week. Best of luck to everyone trying to get it all done before grown-up winter break. See you soon!