top of page

How The Hustle Milestone Referral Program Got 300K Subscribers

Updated: Jul 2

I was driving down the East Park circuit, trying to chase the police away when I saw a roadblock in front of me.

As I continued to drive, suddenly my car slowed down and my screen froze.

I can’t explain the thrill that followed the moment I saw those amazing words — Milestone complete! Roadblock challenge.

I successfully completed my Need for Speed™ Most Wanted milestone that I’d been after, for a long time.

This meant I could challenge a Blacklist racer which was the whole point of the NFS game — beating and becoming Blacklist #1.

Promotional graphic with detailed offers

In 2012, such was my NFS craze which not to brag, made me beat Blacklist #2 and if you ask me why it was clearly the motivation to achieve the milestone goals.

You see, achieving something positive after completing a milestone, be it a feeling or a reward, motivates us to keep working towards it, as per Psychology.

The same psychological principle governs many of our personal life aspects.

One that I can again think of is increasing my TV watch time based on the chapters I completed for my test.

Oh, and not just in personal life but even businesses have seen the benefit of milestone-based campaigns and The Hustle’s referral program is a classic example.

The Hustle Milestone Referral Program

Founded in May 2014 by Sam Parr, the Hustle is a daily newsletter that brews stories every morning on business, technology and the internet, in a bold voice, for its over 2 million readers.

After starting Hustle Con in 2014 as a startup conference, Sam realised it wasn’t ‘The Thing’ for him. He later launched the Hustle daily newsletter as stories and rebranded it to news in 2016.

Promotional graphic with detailed offers

From having 100k subscribers in the first year to 500k in the second to finally 1 million subscribers in the third year, Sam eventually sold the Hustle to HubSpot for 8 figures in 2021.

Upon reading this, you may wonder if they had a secret growth hack and trust me, I did too. So as the recently turned referral program excavator, I dug further and found that The Hustle did do a thing that contributed to their growth — Milestone Referral Program.

Yes! Apart from delivering killer content, the Hustle decided to turn their word of mouth into a referral magnet by offering milestone-based referral programs.

Let’s grab our shovels, and find out how.

The Hustle Ambassador Program

In 2016, the Hustle launched a referral program and called it the ambassador program that spread like wildfire! Why?

Well, in simple terms, it leveraged exclusivity which made people say, “Hey, I want to be an ambassador!”.

For starters, how about we understand their referral journey step by step? Take a look.

Exclusive Content and Rewards

After subscribers sign up, the Hustle would send this beautifully crafted referral email.

Promotional graphic with detailed offers

Let’s break this email down:

1. Personalisation: I loved the way the Hustle personalised their referral program email. It is addressed by the CEO, Sam himself and acknowledges the relationship. It also keeps the exclusivity tight with the Hustle Ambassador community as the highlight referral reward.

2. Motivation: At the beginning of the email itself, they show all the benefits a referrer could claim and if you take a closer look, the rewards are actually motivating. Especially getting a free ticket to the Hustle Con, a premium startup-founders event which otherwise costs $300 a ticket.

Promotional graphic with detailed offers

3. Referral link: The email mentions a unique referral link that a referrer can use to share with friends and even track referrals. The link redirects to a referral dashboard which shows:

  • Various ways to share their referral link

  • Total number of referrals made

  • Overall rewards a referrer needs to collect with

  • Number of referrals remaining for the next reward to unlock

4. Milestone Rewards: This is the main reason behind the Hustle Ambassador Program's success. Readers are offered milestone-based rewards, the value of which increases with referral count. This kept their interest bound and people ended up referring in bulk, trying to reach tiered rewards. Note: Back then, the Hustle occasionally changed the rewards or count.


Milestone Referral Programs

The Hustle is a fabulous example of a milestone referral program that attracted 300k email subscribers and they are not alone.

There are many brands that have built a community of ambassadors based on milestone referral rewards. Here are some that caught my attention.

TheSkimm Referral Program Got 3 Million Subscribers

Founded in 2012, theSkimm is a daily newsletter that delivers daily content right to the inbox on wellness, finance, life, events and so on.

When readers started writing to theSkimm showing their love, they asked them to share TheSkimm with 5 friends which worked.

So they decided to call them Skimm’bassadors and an ambassador program was born in 2015 which got them 3 million email subscribers in 3 years.

Take a look at how theSkimm used the milestone referral program to give tiered rewards to their ambassadors.

  • Skimm tote for 10 emails

  • T-shirt for 25 emails

  • Skimm newsletter shout-out for 50 emails

  • Umbrella for 100 emails

  • Phone case for 150 emails

  • Wine sippy cup for 200 emails

Promotional graphic with detailed offers

Morning Brew Referral Program Got Over 1 Million Subscribers

What started as a college hustle by the Morning Brew founders went on to become one of the top daily newsletter companies with the founders taking an 8-figure exit in 2020.

In addition to the company’s concise and witty content, it’s their powerful milestone referral program that drove them to 35% of over 2.4 million subscribers.

Morning Brew swag is a major part of their referral program wherein subscribers get exciting rewards upon reaching different milestones.

Promotional graphic with detailed offers

Lastly, I want to show how Morning Brew’s strategy of acquiring 33 subscribers for $0.1 as compared to $3 to $5 for paid marketing on Facebook/Instagram.

  • 3 referrals: Free access to exclusive content on Sundays for 3 referrals (CPA is 0)

  • 5 referrals: Stickers from StickerMule for 5 referrals (CPA is $1.25 for stickers + envelope)

  • 10 referrals: Access to insider Facebook community (CPA is 0)

  • 15 referrals: Customer phone wallet (CPA is $2.15 for wallet + envelope)

Need a Referral Program? You Don’t Have to Hustle.

If reading about The Hustle, TheSkimm and Morning Brew referral programs got you feeling like you’d want to have something similar, guess what?

It’s possible with Flyy’s referral program software. All you’ve to do is integrate it in a jiffy and launch your own milestone referral program.

We recently helped DrinkPrime, a subscription-based RO water purifier brand, build the same and your brand could the next.

Promotional graphic with detailed offers

Get yourself a referral program here.



Want to know how Gamified Loyalty can help your company? 

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page