How we started an email list from scratch and got 205 subscribers in 48 hours

Bryan Harris —  Bryan Harris - May 2nd, 2015

Is it possible to pick a topic, build an email list and launch a product in 48 hours?

On Thursday, I started the 48-Hour List-Building Challenge to show you there is no reason you can’t start a list and make money from it right now.

I challenged myself to start from scratch, not use my existing traffic, email list or social channels.

Just follow the blueprint in our new free training, the Advanced List Building Webinar, and see what happens.


48 hours later…here are the results:

Final totals: 205 subscribers and $247 in sales.

All from scratch in 2 days.

You can do the exact same thing.

I’ll show you how.

How to start a list from scratch and get 205 subscribers in 48 hours

The first step was to pick a topic.

I brainstormed the three most random topics that I could think of.

Then I put it to a vote.

The winner?

Hammocking in Nashville.

Two reason I like this choice:

#1: It’s a local business. Which means it’s harder (smaller audience).

#2: It’s extremely niche. Hammocking? Is that even a thing?

Challenge accepted.

Here is what I did next…

Step 1: Manually reach out to 50 people and invite them to the list.

Most people make list building way too hard on themselves.

They start by writing content, creating lead magnets and trying to get complete strangers to join their list.

That’s silly.

Instead, what you should do (and what I teach in the course) is to start by getting Eager Sneezers on your list.

What’s an Eager Sneezer?

An Eager Sneezer is someone you ALREADY have a relationship with who knows people that fit your target demographic.

Your mom.
Your aunt.
Your best friend.

Then you ask them to invite someone they think might be interested in learning more about the topic you’re focused on.

Let me show you how it works…

One of the first people I invited to join my list was my friend Joel.

This is the email I sent him:

Joel is a Sneezer.

He doesn’t live in Nashville but he knows a bunch of people who do.

And since Joel is a Sneezer, he tends to tell other people about new stuff he finds.

This was Joel’s answer to my invitation:

Fast forward: By the end of the 48-hour challenge, Joel had referred 22 other people to join.


I rinsed and repeated this process for the first 12 hours of the challenge.

Church friends.
Family members.
Old work friends.

I went through all of the contacts in my phone and email account, then sent all of them a personal invite.

The results: 46 subscribers in 12 hours.

How can you do the same thing?

Here are your action items:

Action Item #1: Make a list of 5 people you know well (family, friends and coworkers).

Action Item #2: Send each person a personalized invitation to join your list.

Action Item #3: Manually add their email addresses to your list (no landing pages needed).

Action Item #4: Rinse and repeat until you hit 50 subscribers.

Here is another example of a personal invite…

Course member Daniel used this strategy YESTERDAY.

He started with a list size of 0 and ended the day with a list of 48 new subscribers.

So, what happens next?

Step 2: Incentivize your Eager Sneezers to invite more people to your list.

The next stage was to get those first subscribers to INVITE ONE FRIEND to join my list.

Dream for a minute.

If all 50 of your subscribers got just one friend to join your list…it would double in size.

In the course we go through a methodical 3-day process for doing just this.

I didn’t have time for that.

So I jumped ahead to Module 3 where (among other things) we cover marketing giveaways.

I did a quick straw poll to my list to see what item would turn them on.

What product or service did they covet?

Answer = canoes and hammocks.

One hour later, I had this giveaway page up:

Then I announced the giveaway to my new list of 50 subscribers.

The goal was simple: get them to share it with everyone they knew so all of their friends would join.

Here is the email I sent:

The results?

179 people joined the giveaway!


After importing everyone into MailChimp and getting rid of the fake email addresses, I had 205 subscribers.

That ended the first 24 hours of the challenge.

*Note* If you are looking for an easy way to track your email list growth… check out our FREE tool List Goal. It’s super easy to set up and will also help you grow your email list.

FAQ: “But Bryan, you spent $800 on prizes. I don’t have that kind of money. So this method is stupid. I quit!”

First of all, quit whining.

Second, I didn’t spend a dime.

To build a giant email list, a giant business or anything worth your time and effort, there are tons of little obstacles that pop up.

Web hosting.
Web design.
What email provider to use.
How to pay for canoes you are giving away.

Lot’s of stupid stuff. And those things can easily trip you up in the beginning if you let them. Instead, what you should do is focus on your #1 objective. Then, when the time comes, figure out the rest.

Case in point: How am I going to actually give away a canoe and hammock when I don’t own either?

There are a few options…

Option #1: I could go buy them. (Not desirable.)

Option #2: I could use the proceeds I make from my product launch to buy them. (Risky. Don’t know how much I’ll make.)

Option #3: Call 25 local sporting goods store until I find one that will sponsor the give away in exchange for exposure to my list. (Less risky. Takes work. Cold calling sucks.)

I knew I had several solid options. But in the moment none of that mattered. What mattered was building the list and launching a product in 48 hours.

Everything else would be figured out later.

Next week I’ll handle getting sponsors for the canoe and hammock. I’ll make calls. Knock on doors.

And if need be, I’ll sell some of the junk in my garage to pay for it. Problem solved.

Be a problem-solver. Not a whiner.

You have to do the same thing when building your list. Get past the mental barrier of having to know the answer to every question. Instead, focus on execution.

Don’t screw your subscribers in the process. NEVER lie to people. ALWAYS fulfill your promises, no matter the cost.

But don’t get stuck either.

Hustle cures all.

Want 4 step-by-step techniques to get your first 1,000+ email subscribers? Click here to watch our new free training!

Step 3: Successfully launch a product to the list.

This part was tough.


I had no idea how I was going to pull this off when I started.

In fact, I actively tried to figure out a way to bail out of the challenge shortly after announcing I was doing it on Monday.

My normal method of product validation and launching takes 2 to 3 weeks. It also takes having an established relationship with my list.

I had neither.

I had a core group of 50-ish friends and acquaintances and 150 of their friends (who had no idea who I was).

How on earth can I get them to buy something from me?

So, I just talked to 3 people on the list.

I threw out a few ideas and asked which one they would buy.

Option #1: A nice hammock that costs less than $50
Option #2: A guide of all the coolest outdoor locations in Nashville

Option #2 was the winner.

I threw up a quick page so they could pre-order the guide.

Here is what that page looked like:

Then I sent all three of them a link to the page.

Only 1 bought.

Next, I sent an email to the entire list.

Here is the email I sent: 

And by the end of the 48-hour deadline, 13 people had purchased the book.

Total sales = $247.

Total subscribers = 205.

What happens next?

I’m going to take off 3 days in July to make the book.

Then deliver it to my 13 customers.

Here are a few ideas on how to grow this further:

• Do a giveaway for one hammock per month but confine the giveaway to the Facebook pages  for local neighborhoods (attentive, active and extremely targeted audience).

• Write an article in the Nashville Scene (local publication) once per month with a link back to a sign-up form for my list.

• Team up with local Instagram outdoor-focused celebrities (like this guy) and co-promote each other. (They feature pictures from the book, we feature them to our list.)

• Write at least 2 quality blog posts per month and email these to the list to build trust and grow our relationship.

What would it look like if I had 1,000 subscribers by launch date? 

2 months from now, after implementing the four strategies above, my goal is to have grown the list to 1,000 subscribers and substantially increase my list’s trust in me.

What would that look like?

Here is what I would estimate launch revenue to look like as my list grows.

There are several things (like multiple product packages with increased pricing) that can be done to increase these numbers even further.

I’ll be reporting back in the coming months as the project evolves.

Interesting Takeaways From This Challenge

Takeaway #1: Your friends want to help you.

I found it extremely hard to ask my friends and family to do something. It was much easier to ask complete strangers.

But what I found was the people that already knew and liked me were excited to help.

That’s a key insight to internalize. Use that goodwill to jump-start your list.

Takeaway #2: Stuff will go wrong. (My website crashed.)

Doing this challenge was dumb.

I’m in the middle of the busiest week of my life. I’m launching a brand-new product.

Stuff is crazy right now.

I found out 3 hours after I started the challenge that every sale of my course for the previous 48 hours had NOT actually been charged. My shopping cart had a bug. So I had to deal with that.

Then this morning I woke up to my entire website being down.

Here is the point…

Don’t make excuses. It would have been easy to quit. I probably should have.


Takeaway #3: Talk to as many people in person as possible.

Don’t hide behind email.

Instead, pick up the phone and call your friends. Text them. Skype chat them. Facebook Message them.

That was the most effective way to get people to subscribe and pay.

And always follow up.

Takeaway #4: The size of your list doesn’t matter.

I do not recommend selling to your list the day that they join. You wouldn’t do it in real life, so don’t do it online.

Focus on communicating to them regularly to build trust instead.

By skipping that step, my average subscriber produced just over $1 in revenue.

That’s opposed to $10+ per subscriber on my Videofruit list (in which I’ve focused on relationship first and sales second).

Takeaway #5: Do the right things in the right order.

You don’t have to spend years building a list. You can build a list, launch a product and make a profit in weeks.

Just do the right stuff in the right order and it works.

Takeaway #6: Your goal is to not be lazy.

Your job is simple. Execute. Don’t make excuses. Don’t get tripped up on the small stuff.

Stop running from your pain and make your pain your motivation.

If I would have done a better job of executing my plan, the list could have been at 500 subscribers.

The fact is I was lazy. You can outwork me.

What it comes down to is this…

If you really want it… If you really want more time, money and freedom…

To build a business that allows you to do what you want, when you want…

It’s all up to you.

In the Advanced List Building Webinar, you get a step-by-step blueprint. We’ll take you by the hand and show you exactly how to grow your email list and launch a product.

You’ll see exactly how we grew our email list to 120,000 subscribers. And you’ll get the exact same tools, scripts and strategies we used– so you can do it too.

Ready to start?

Watch the free training now.

  • Thomas

    Good Job Bryan, sounds like Noah’s tactic for starting biz and making $1000 in 24 hours. He hustled and contacted friends and acquaintances to get those jerky subscriptions. So, the sales really came from hustlin vs. the list itself? Goes to show you what you can make happen even without a list.

    • Thanks Thomas, Sales were split. 5 came from people I’ve never heard of. 8 were from people I know or kinda know of. Had followup convos with 4 of them.

      Funny you mention it. At least 10 sales of the 10ksubs course have come from live chats with readers. That component never leaves.

  • Thanks for the link Bryan, and the course is kick ass

    For anyone on the fence, our list is still growing as we type this. Not a huge amount, but for a brand new list in a short time its insane.

    Buy the course people 😀

  • Awesome focus and positive attitude. Hearty congratulations for being brave enough to set yourself up for a fall and then proving that your methods work. Question – the fake email addresses show up because you send out a confirmation email that does not get returned or clicked on?

    • Hey Nick. Fake addresses come from people entering the giveaway with bogus email addresses (sometimes intentionally sometimes now)

  • Sue Anne Dunlevie

    Love the giveaway idea. I see you use Noah Kagan’s giveaway gizmo. Do you have an affiliate link for it, Bryan?

    Thanks! Looking forward to Module3.

    • I do. You’ll get it when you get to that part of the course 🙂 (50% off coupon)

      • Sue Anne Dunlevie



  • Great work! Very motivational to get my butt in gear and stop making excuses. I have a tendency to do what you were saying not to do in Step #2, trying to have answers to every question, which often prevents me from taking action. I think the fact that you did this challenge and have specific examples of all the lessons will help me remember these things a lot better. Thanks for not weaseling out of it. 🙂

    • The resistance is a real thing. It’ll kick your butt if you let it.

  • This is brilliant. Good work. Love your email on pre-selling it. Honestly inspired me on something I am working on that I am now going to approach a bit differently.

    • Awesome Daniel! What’s your idea?

      • Just how you positioned your pre-sell email gave me an idea for repositioning mine. Simple tweaks likely to bring about better results.

        • Meant: what product do you want to pressle? 🙂

          • Oh, haha. Mini-Course on how to Sell More Books & Products with Launch Teams. : )

          • I’ll buy that 🙂

  • Good work man. Embarrassing to see my tweet featured up there 😉 but it’s motivating.

    What are your total expenses to grow your list thus far?

    – KingSumo
    – Giveaway
    – Website
    – Mailchimp (unless you’re using freemium)
    – anything else?

  • Dude. Three words: bad freaking ass. So you launch probably your biggest product to date and instead of celebrating with some champagne (well, maybe you did that) you decide to take on a 48 hour challenge to prove the strategies and tactics in said newly launched course actually work.

    As I long time reader of your blog, I know you didn’t have to prove anything but you did anyway. You’ve got stones my man — and you’re a machine. Like Arnie in Terminator.

    Now, go take a well-deserved break and have a champagne or two…or five 🙂

  • Brandon Virgallito

    You are crazy – but this is a brilliant idea, whether is was planned or not. I love this so much that I’m going to do a passive income challenge and stop making excuses.

    I’m amazed by the simple fact that no matter the business or situation the core issues exist for each and every person. You nailed it.

    If anyone has ever looked into network marketing, aka multilevel marketing, and thought “I’m never going to ask the people I know to buy something” then you should see error in that type of thinking through Bryan’s experience.

    You don’t have to sell directly to them but you can get the juices flowing by asking for people to spread the good word.

    If you opened a bar would you not tell everyone you knew about it? Why does anything else have to be different?

    Why are we so scared to share our big idea? Rejection – we just have to get over it. Again, awesome stuff.

  • Kickin A and taking names. Tremendous stuff B!

  • This is pretty impressive bryan – glad that you recommended that the whiners be quiet and figure it out. Not sure it’s enough to get anyone to take action (and that’s really all that matters) but at least you proved it could be done.

  • Drew Laughlin

    This is great stuff Bryan! Thanks for having the guts to do it and then sharing your results. Well done!

  • Bryan – nice work…! you should post some links here to your explorers guide so us readers can see exactly what you did 🙂

  • Wow. Great stuff as always Bryan. Really awesome to see such an in-depth case study on a non-marketing-related product.

  • Hi Bryan,

    Excellent work! It is my first visit to your blog. I enjoyed reading and learned some great tips about email marketing and how can we increase our subscribers fastly and generate sales.


  • shwaytaj

    Bryan, I’m working on building a mailer list for . We have a base of 200 already. But the idea is to build a list of social media enthusiasts, since this is for them. The only caveat is – I need to come up with a compelling giveaway. There are loads of “how to…” guides out there for me to come up with a differentiator. It would be interesting to get some idea from you on this one. What would you perceive as valuable enough to sign up for something like this?

  • Awesome article. I can’t wait to get started with the course!

  • First website: Did it my way…6 months 13 subs
    Second website Screw it, I’ll try Brian’s way… 3 days, 54 subs.
    I give. Brian da man.
    Now I’m just having trouble thinking of a good give away. Any ideas for a fun give away related to personal financial coaching?

    • That’s awesome.

      Follow this model to pick a goo giveaway:

  • Dude this is awesome! I’m using your method and I’ve got 23 emails in about 35 minutes!

  • Awesome Bryan! Really great to see how you start from scratch.

    PS – How old is your iOS? Time to update!

  • Thank you for you post, I fail because I do not know how to build email list for my site Thank to this article, I know how to build email list for marketing.

  • Wow, great post, great strategy!
    I am curious to know what system do you use to run the referrals and the giveaway?

    Thank you!

    • Looks to me like Bryan is using KingSumo for the giveaway/competition.

  • tonyrwhite

    I have a real question – So busy with all your other projects, how do you find time to keep this project going? Wouldn’t make since to do it, then just drop it like a hot potato after you made your point… It grew legs.

  • vlada_pechenaya

    Hey, Bryan. Really cool experiment, well done! Inspirational. I have tech questions- which platform did you use for email ? and which tool did you use to generate landing pages for the giveaway and the pre-selling of the book and “refer to your friends” form/ widget? Can you please point me in the right direction, I am a bit of a novice… thank you, Vlada

  • Golden Weekends

    I admire the execution Bryan. Strong work. I’ve struggled for 4 months with finding the best shopping cart solution to run various informal tests during validation phase. Can you please point me to the best solution? What’s the point of a shopping cart that takes away for example 33% of each sale. I know the point is to validate but the things I’ve tried are simply not scalable.

  • Wow, one of the best articles I’ve read in the past 2 months after getting started in building my own brand from scratch, selling my own products, affiliate marketing, etc. Good to see an Action step that seems realistic and helpful for BEGINNERS. Thank you

  • Victor Crispin

    Now in the waiting list for the 10kSub program. Which I was on the look out for this a while back to get in on it early. Great content. Using your plugin for my goal to grow my list to 150 in 16 days. I know its possible, thank you for the motivation!

  • Роман Оныщук

    Joseph, while this comment is older… A tool I’ve come to love that validates emails on the cheap is

  • Randy Icelow

    Started the challenge yesterday afternoon from work. I’m up to 11 users already and I am just getting started! I am still just contacting my friends, those “eager sneezers.” It is cool to wake up in the morning, check your inbox and have friends telling you “YES” and “sounds cool.” So far I have a great success rate.

  • Olu

    This content is as useful now (in 2017) as when you wrote it.

    Thanks for sharing what works.

  • njwebwiz

    Love this post, even if it’s evergreen content. Now that we seem to be at least 2 years from the initial challenge, I’d love to see an update from Bryan. How much effort (time / money) actually went into producing the book? How large did the list get? How many people actually bought the book? Can you share the numbers and anything else you learned along the way?