Office Hours: I'm the founder of The Profile and was previously an editor at Fortune Magazine. I'm Polina Pompliano.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Polina Pompliano, founder and author at The Profile, a newsletter that features the best longform profiles of the most interesting people and companies in the world.

Prior to founding The Profile, I was an editor at Fortune Magazine where I was the author of Term Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on deals and dealmakers.

I have been an editor at OZY and producer/writer at CNN.

Ask me anything about writing, founding newsletters, growing audiences, and more!

Thanks so much for joining us @polinapompliano!Elphas – please ask @polinapompliano your questions before Friday, August 13th. @polinapompliano may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi Polina!I'm curious about the early days of your newsletter - how did you get traction? How have you gotten such big names to say yes to doing profiles with you?And then how do you sustain growth of the newsletter - I remember reading your Biz Insider story here - Is PR one of your main strategies to grow your list?I'm also curious if you have any advice to share around getting interviews with such important, busy people. Do you do recorded interviews that you transcribe later? Just send the questions via email? Lots of q's so feel free to just answer whichever you'd like! Really big fan of your work. :)
Hi there! Thank you for the excellent questions:1. In the early days, I relied heavily on word of mouth, doing newsletter swaps with like-minded newsletters, asking people with large audiences to spread the word via twitter, and just consistently producing quality content week after week. I would also take 10 minutes after each deep dive to ask myself: "Who can I send this to right now that could help get this deep dive in front of the right eyeballs?" Like David Perel says: Everything that you put out into the world is a vehicle for serendipity. You never know when it might get read by the right person at the right time! (That's what happened to me when Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson saw my dossier about him and promoted it himself!)2. I actually have a syndication partnership with Business Insider, which means that they can re-publish articles that I publish on my website with attribution back to me. I'm not sure how many new subscribers I've gotten as a result of it, but my main strategy is definitely not PR. It's being consistent week after week and growing the community bit by bit. I mentioned in another Q how I employ the "slow bake versus the microwave" growth. 3. I wholeheartedly believe that chemistry can't happen over email. Ideally, I do the interviews in person or over Zoom. The next best is over the phone. The reason in-person is so important is because you can pick up on body language and cues about their personality you could never get over email. The way I persuade busy people to do an interview with me is I try to earn their trust by explaining what my goal is, what The Profile is all about, and explaining why this is worth their time. It also sometimes takes me years of persistence. (I've been trying to get Brandon Stanton for YEARS, and he finally agreed: I hope this helps!
Polina, it's great to see you here! I've been a subscriber of The Profile for many years now (although I have to admit that I'm not reading it as often as I used to when I had more time - sorry!) and I think you're doing a great thing :) Couple of questions:1) Is The Profile more of a quality over quantity business? I take it that most of your subscribers are not paid members, so how does the economy work out? And for those who are paid subscribers - what kind of efforts are you undertaking to make sure they don't unsubscribe (or just stop reading and then unsubscribe)? 2) Are you looking into diversifying the national profile of your subjects? Obviously, you are in the US and the majority of your audience is US-based so it's logical that there is more interest in US personalities but I would personally be interested to see more stories about people from other countries and how success looks like elsewhere. Thank you so much in advance!
Hi Anna -- Thank you for being a subscriber! It means a lot.1) It's "quality over quantity" in the sense that I send two emails per week that are pretty meaty, and there's a lot of information in each rather than sending a bunch of emails with little content in each. But I take the business side of it seriously, and I think a lot about beefing up the monetization. The beauty of a subscription business like The Profile is that you don't actually need a ton of premium members to pay in order to generate significant revenue. I have several thousand people who pay $10/month, $50 to $100/per year, and a few who pay above the $100 per year who want to support it further. My goal is to continue providing additional value to the paying members: Do exclusive Q&As, invite them to a chat where they get access to me + guests, premium posts and deep dives, and invite-only member meetups. I want people to feel like $10/month is a no-brainer for all the member benefits they receive.2) I'm always looking for interesting content regardless of where the subject is based! My most recent profile dossiers have actually been on non-US people (Eliud Kipchoge and Bernard Arnault). The reason you'll find that many of people are based in the US is because the bulk of the dossiers are made up of recommendations from podcasts, video interviews, and profiles they've done. Unfortunately, if they're not in English, it's hard for me to include (for now). But I agree with you that great stories can come from anywhere, and please feel free to send them my way when you encounter ones you like!
Thanks for the extensive answers, Polina! If I see anything interesting on international personalities I'll be sure to send it your way! Good luck with everything!
Hello @polinapompliano it is so great to meet you and thank you so much for your time!First of big big big fan of Term Sheet and clearly you've built something amazing there :) My questions are pretty straightforward 1) how do you define and identify the most interesting people? 2) what's the ultimate purpose and/or vision for The Profile?
1) The people I find the most interesting are the ones whose paths have not been straightforward. In other words, I look for people who have succeeded, failed, learned, and found a way to succeed again. I look for the moments of "How did you handle things when they didn't go your way? What did you learn when you were at your lowest? And how did you re-invent yourself?" A perfect example of this phenomenon is Spanx founder and CEO Sara Blakely: The ultimate mission is to help people improve their content diet. It's sort of a selfish goal because The Profile helps me improve my own content diet, and fortunately, it can also help others as well. In a world of clickbait, it's up to us to become more aware and intentional about what we feed our brains. Ultimately, the information we consume on a daily basis will determine how we think about and see the world. I hope to continue to do that with the articles I publish, and the community that forms around The Profile!
Thank you for sharing!
Thank you @polinapompliano! I’m a huge fan of the Profile. I would love to know your advice for someone looking to get their story out into the world. I gave a TEDx talk this past November and was interviewed by BBC for their Outlook show in March, but there are still so many people who don’t know about Love Not Lost ( I’ve been told I need to write a book to open up more doors. I’m not opposed to that, but I would love to hear your thoughts since you have a lot of valuable experience with producing/editing/writing. Thank you in advance for any advice you can give. With gratitude,Ashley Jones
Hi Ashley! I love this question! I've been given *so* much advice about what to do in terms of The Profile, and I get excited about each idea until I ask myself the question: "Is this the best use of my time, and how will it get The Profile in front of as many eyeballs as possible?" Writing a book could be great, but is it the absolute most efficient way for you to get the word out or are there other less time-consuming ways? Could a weekly newsletter be more effective? What about a podcast? Ask yourself hard questions and try to be as intellectually honest as you possibly can.I can't tell you how many times I've been like, "OMG I'd love to spend 3 weeks doing this one project!" But then I realize that while it may be fun, it does nothing to grow The Profile, and ultimately, does it matter that you have created this cool thing that no one gets to read? Hope this helps!
@polinapompliano thx for doing AMA here! My ? is that I'm at the prototype stage of a Startup that could monetize editorial content instantly w/o ads and w/o removing the user from the article; but I want to build it around publishers' needs; not build it then try selling it to them, etc. Would you see yourself ever doing pre-launch intel (on how you'd like this to work based on your needs, not ours) and see yourself testing with a Startup? If so, how would you suggest they approach companies when building this way (the Lean Startup methodology) so they're respectful and yet not having to cold call asking for the right person? Thx again!
Hi Jo! It's a great idea to try to do market research and tailor the tool to publishers' needs rather than the other way around. I can't speak for other writers, but I'm always open to having conversations with entrepreneurs about new tools they're launching in the creator space even if I'm not actively looking for one. If I were you, I would start the process by choosing one writer, doing a quick informational interview call with them, and then asking them to point you to someone else in their world who they think you should speak with. Talk to as many potential users as possible before launching!
Thx for your answer - my goal was to talk to a statistically 'significant' number (maybe 30-60) which is of course difficult. Would be beyond thrilled if you'd be my first. [email protected] if you can spare 15 mins. Thx again & best, Jo
Hi @polinapomplianoI am looking to get my own online business started, what are some best practices you can share that led you to success? -Tina
Hi Tina -- Congratulations on getting started! Here are some thoughts:1. Be consistent: I’ve learned that the only way you can earn people’s trust is by consistently keeping your word and delivering on what you’ve promised. So no matter what your business is, make sure that your users, readers, or customers know they can rely on you to send your product on time consistently. Don't start something if you're unsure whether you can stick with it on a regular cadence. 2. Stand out by building something original: We only have two choices: create or imitate. Tim Urban once explained just how hard it is to create original work in the face of conventional wisdom. “When you’re trying to create something truly original, you make a bunch of mistakes,” he said. “Originals are a mess.” Remember that true freedom lies in doing things your way. As the brilliant Anna Quindlen said, “Nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great ever came out of imitations.” In other words, make sure that whatever you're working on is original and meaningful. 3. Create inflection points: You know how sometimes it feels like everywhere you look, people are talking about a certain company, product, or newsletter? That’s because momentum is important. Make sure that you're regularly telling people about your new venture, trying to get exposure to media outlets, and staying top of mind. James Clear says, “You can attract luck simply by telling people what you are working on.”
Hi! Thank you so much for getting back to me, this is all very helpful!
Huge fan of the Pomps! 🙌🏽😎🙌🏽🙌🏽
🥰Thank you so much! Appreciate you being part of the crew :)
Hi Polina, your interviews in The Profile get the interviewees to really open up and offer deep discussions. I'd love to know your thoughts / approach on how to ask great questions.
Hi Megan! Thank you so much! That's such a big compliment. I've learned a few things about the art of the interview:1) Preparation is key: I try to consume everything that the person has done in media before the interview, so I can ask questions they hopefully haven't encountered before. Spend a day trying to read, watch, and listen to every interview the person has done. You'll start noticing how they probably get asked the same questions over and over again. During the interview, try to avoid all the obvious questions and get right into the meat of it — their mindset, philosophy, the nitty gritty of their process. The point here is to make them think. 2) Engage in active listening: Most people come prepared with a list of questions they want to go through, and they miss out on being in the moment. By *actually* listening to their answers, you get to ask follow up questions. And I looooove follow up questions because that's where I believe the real magic lies. For example, I was interviewing ex-GE CEO Jeff Immelt about his career when he casually slipped in there that he has a really solid personal life in the face of all the tumult in his professional life. So I picked up on that and got to ask him something he never gets asked: How did you manage your marriage during the chaotic period of running GE? (You can see it here at around 29:30: 3) Dig for anecdotes: Sometimes, the best way to get people to open up in an interview is to offer up a personal experience, which then makes them comfortable to share something more personal themselves. I always say: The first half of an interview is about gaining trust, and then the second half is where the real gems are found. You can't get them to open up without being genuinely curious and asking specific, pointed questions that get them to think of real-life situations that illustrate their point. Most people speak in generic cliches, so you'll notice, a lot of times I ask, "Give me a specific example where you encountered X...." or "What is a situation where you remember applying Y?" Get the anecdote and it makes the whole interview so much better!
Hi Polina, Love your work! What's your advice to grow a following on Twitter? Are there certain topics or formats that you find work best for threads on Twitter? Thanks so much!
Hi Shivani! What I've learned about Twitter is that people enjoy learning and interesting, obscure stories. Be as specific and precise as possible and tell stories that aren't necessarily well-known. (People also really like actionable insights.) Here are examples of my most effective threads:7 profiles that seem like thrillers, but they're all true stories: lessons I've learned from profiles: on leadership:
Thanks so much, Polina!
Hi @polinapompliano, thank you for your time! Would you be able to share some advice on growing an audience from scratch, and how you approach distribution? - Julia
Hi Julia! Absolutely. Because I started The Profile while I was still at Fortune, it had to start solely through word of mouth. I approached it as "quality over quantity." I often thought about Troy Carter (Lady Gaga's former manager) about how he helped Gaga build her cult-like community in the beginning. They developed a philosophy called “The First 50,” which referred to finding the first 50 most loyal fans. Gaga first became popular in New York’s LGBTQ community, so she played four to five clubs a night to make sure that they felt connected to her on a personal level. The ties became stronger, and ultimately, her “superfan” base snowballed into hundreds of millions of fans around the world. Even before she exploded in popularity, Gaga engaged with fans on social media, met them at her performances, and took their feedback. “For us, it’s about, ‘How do we build an authentic audience and grow it very, very organically?’ It’s slow bake versus the microwave,’” Carter says.With The Profile, it was VERY much a slow bake. It took me 2 full years to reach my first 5,000 subscribers. But there were a few things that really super-charged my growth in the early days:— Newsletter swaps: I partnered with large newsletters with like-minded audiences such as Morning Brew and The Hustle to get The Profile in front of their readers. We did a newsletter swap, in which I would recommend their newsletter in The Profile and they would do the same for me. — Find creative ways to offer value: I played "a game" on Twitter that showed off the value of The Profile AND gave people value by personally responding to their requests: — Interview interesting people with large audiences: One of my most popular Q&As was with James Clear. By interviewing him on my platform, I also got access to his audience and people who were interested in his work. You always want to think about how to get out of your existing network and into other people's networks.I hope this is helpful!