One year of “Borsalino Tests”
It’s been exactly one year since I published my first essay on this newsletter, The Lead Domino. 26 essays later, I want to take the time to reflect on what this project has meant to me.
I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about the future of this newsletter. A few options came to mind, though I haven’t exactly shaped a path forward yet. This anniversary invites me to do so.
My writing initiative originated in part as a fishing expedition to find what I wanted to explore next. Part of its rationale was also to set up an unconstrained space to trap some quality thoughts.
Almost all my readers are friends or acquaintances. They kindly agreed to stay connected with me through this (somewhat unconventional) medium. A few others stumbled upon my publication through an online channel. Then we became friends via the Internet. I loved that!
Though my readership is admittedly modest, it's still large enough to fill a small theatre. Or a proper one, with socially distanced seats. It's also diverse, which adds extra motivation for me to roam across topics and chase down a good time.
I write here because I enjoy it. I have fun, I learn and I built a rewarding way to stay connected with people I care about. Color me unconventional, but this is way better than any social media.
Finally, I am grateful for the opportunity to flex my writing muscle and evolve. Now that I have wandered in public for a year, it’s time for this newsletter to shed its skin. This is grounded on a handful of observations:
I am having fun. Granted, sometimes my schedule gets in the way. I'd find myself scrambling to compose a good enough essay on a Sunday afternoon. But I am still proud of some of my writings, like "Slides and lies". I enjoy this journey, and I have no intention to stop.
The biweekly cadence worked out fine. So far I have never skipped a publishing deadline. I won’t be able to publish more often than this without impacting the quality and length of my essays. A reduced publishing frequency would make it a bit too laid back.
I have published a few bangers. Many appreciated my lists (such as "Advice" and "1,000 things I am grateful for"). Also, genuinely personal and vulnerable essays were always the most read. This provides good insight. It also validates my ability to create a specific type of online content.
Numbers don’t lie. Over the course of 2021, my subscribers flatlined. My open rate has been sinking from a solid +50% to a mere 35-40%. I don’t write for the sake of performance, but it would be naive of me to ignore what those figures are telling me. It’s hard for people to stay on top of things and read all the newsletters. And there are so many talented writers around! It’s time to operate some changes.
A couple of things are now clear to me. The first one is that the newsletter still needs to exist and produce quality content. I will keep writing about many of the themes explored so far.
The most successful essays offered my personal perspective, and a touch of vulnerability. I am moving away from intellectual chicaneries in favor of cleaner takes. It's paramount that I remain true to myself and write about what I care about. I haven’t felt always comfortable publishing edgy, controversial views.
The obvious step from here is to clarify how I visualize the content of this newsletter 2-3 years from now. What would be the best way to organize my writings?
The biggest theme of the newsletter I keep coming back to is human behavior. There’s something irresistible at the intersection of mind, feelings and thoughts. This territory is where the newsletter originated and will always be a key theme of my writings. I also fill this space with my mid-term reviews and readings.
There’s no shortage of great newsletters on tech topics out there. There are likely too many tech writers that jumped on the substack bandwagon in the past couple of years. No one needs more content when we already have talented writers such as Ben Thompson. However, I still want to express some high-level thoughts on tech and science.
I want science & technology to become a more prominent area of my future pieces. We live in interesting times. There are going to be remarkable, more accelerated shifts in tech. As of today, I am interested in the intersection of crypto and consumer.
Also, over the past year I went deep into biotech. This area is a burgeoning field of revolutionary discoveries. Next-generation DNA sequencing is creating a new wave of diagnostic tests for cancer. Synthetic biology allows us to program cells like computers. And we are getting close to bring back the wooly mammoth from extinction. Pretty wild!
The third territory I would love to venture more into is human relationships. This is where I’d need to challenge myself. My essays will need more work, though also offer most reward. "Mythology of Monogamy" has been my only stint in this space. Certainly, it generated a significant amount of interest. There are a few adjacent areas that pique my interest, like modern masculinity and sexuality. These are all topics that also require firm introspection and soft vulnerability.
Finally, I'd love to grow a section on history and philosophy. Essay ideas for this space come from my favorite, most-read authors. If you haven't already, go read something from Matthew Crawford or Kevin Simler. You’ll thank me later. I want to turn this in the most creative section of the newsletter. I enjoyed the creative process that led to essays like "A brief history of blood, sweat and tears". This segment will be intentionally left unconstrained and wide-ranging.
This feels like something I have been looking for a long time. An excuse to cultivate intellectual interests for their own sake. I want to learn and share meaningful stories on compelling topics. I’ll keep building with words to create something intriguing enough for you to feel like spending time on it.
I am content with the naming of the newsletter, "Borsalino Test". For those of you that joined along the way, "Borsalino Test" is a beautiful analogy from the novel "Shantaram" - one of my favorite books of all time.
The "Borsalino" is this wide-brimmed hat made from very particular furs. Now, this piece of art apparently digs quite the hole in your pocket, and there's bound to be fakes. In comes the Borsalino hat test. You roll the hat up into tube thingy, and make it pass through a wedding ring. After emerging from the other side, if the hat is not all crumpled and messed up, you've gotten yourself a deal. If there's creases, you'd better run back and look for the genius who made some quick bucks outta you. Such a clever invitation to authenticity. Pretty cool, huh?
Lastly, a few words on the process of writing. You might not want to hear this, but it's hard business. It doesn’t get any easier over time. If anything, I have now produced more a bit of content that I review periodically to get better at my own craft. I am not short of opportunities to cringe when revising my early work. I am my own biggest critic. I spend countless hours on Sundays editing and chopping sentences away on my drafts.
In this spirit, I pledge to test my drafts through a ring of high-quality standards, so they won’t land on your inbox all messed up and full of creases. If I succeed, rest assured you'll get yourself a pretty genuine piece of writing. Thanks for making this first year so fun.