Envelope #28 (Part 3): The virtuous cycle (and deadline to apply)

Quick celebration: Back of the Envelope has reached 600 subscribers this week!

Thank you for reading and sharing .

By the way, this is the final email regarding the “1+1=3 experiment” that I’ve been talking about – after that, we’ll go back to our regularly scheduled newsletter with mini lessons and tips etc.

  • In case you missed the previous emails, here are Part 1 and Part 2.

  • The TLDR version is that I am starting an online SE-only community site, and I am looking for 5 to 25 founding members to help build this thing together.

  • (Thank you if you’ve already applied to join! I’ll reach out next week.)

In the last email, I alluded that if this experiment works out, potentially there’s a win-win opportunity for SEs to earn a side income. I will explain the how in this email.

And by the way, this community will be called: SEHQ Pro (because it’s a professional community for SEs.)

(Estimated reading time = 5 minutes 😬. Skip to the bottom for an important deadline if you don’t have 5 minutes to read this right now)

The Intersection of Hulu, Defi, and Dropbox

As I mentioned in the last email, the “side income” part is a concept inspired by Hulu, Defi, and Dropbox.

Let me explain.


Hulu is among the first to offer an “ad-supported plan” for its video streaming service.

Basically, you pay a monthly fee to watch the shows. There are some ads/commercials for Hulu to earn additional revenue from advertisers (which helps keep the monthly fee reasonable).

My take: What if we take a similar approach and make it a “sponsor-supported private community.”

The SEHQ Pro members will pay a budget-friendly monthly fee to help support the operation and course/resource creation; paid sponsors will bring in additional revenue to offset some of the cost.

And then we add a little twist by incorporating an element of defi…


In the crypto world, “defi” is short for decentralized finance.

It uses blockchain technology to enable people to make transactions and exchanges without a centralized entity such as a bank (if that just went over your head, don’t worry, that’s not the important part).

The important part is that all of the fees generated by transactions and exchanges are distributed directly to the asset holders instead of a bank.

My take: Similar to defi, money from sponsors will all be distributed to the SEHQ Pro members!

And we’ll also allow sponsors on the Back of the Envelope newsletter (the one you are reading right now) – meaning, as the newsletter grows, more money will get distributed to the members.

But in order for the newsletter to grow, besides writing good stuff (hopefully I’ve been doing that), we also need the readers (you!) to share it. And having some incentives to do that will probably help.

Which brings up the Dropbox-inspired idea…


“Invite a friend and get 500 MB of bonus space” – they have been doing this forever as far as I can remember (it used to be 250 MB).

The referral program helped the company grow from 2 million users in 2009 to 100 million in 2012.

(I still have the email of my first referral – my bother)

Which got me thinking… how can I adopt this concept and incentivize referrals?

How about: For every referral you make to Back of the Envelope, who later joins SEHQ Pro, you’ll earn a 40% commission monthly.

Let me illustrate how this works with a hypothetical example:

  • You share Back of the Envelope (using the link at the bottom of this email) with five cool engineer friends: James, Chris, Mary, Bob, and Liz.

  • James decides to ignore you (not cool after all), but Chris, Mary, Bob, and Liz decide to subscribe.

  • Your referral dashboard will show “4” once they confirm their emails. And their email addresses will be forever tied to your email in the system.

  • Say that 6 months later, Chris, Mary, and Bob find my dad jokes pretty funny and thinks that it would be a good idea to join the SEHQ Pro community to connect with other SEs. So they decide to pay $39/month (hypothetical) to join.

  • With the commission structure, you’ll earn a passive $39 x 0.4 x 3 = $46 per month.

Hope that’s starting to make sense.

The more referrals you make to the Back of the Envelope newsletter (free), the higher the potential passive earnings down the road (assuming building out the community is a success and my dad jokes remain funny).

The SEHQ Pro Financial Model & Virtuous Cycle

Below is what the whole thing would look like in a graphical format. The arrows represent how the money would flow (I didn’t talk about anything on the right side – another time for those):

The cool thing is, by design, an increase in any of the boxes should result in the increase of another box, so it becomes a virtuous cycle of sorts.

For example (the green arrow is the cause, white arrow is the effect):

1/ More Back of the Envelope subscribers = more sponsors would be interested

2/ More sponsorships  = more revenue to distribute and more income for the members

3/ More income (among other benefits) = attracting more free subscribers to become paid members


4/ More members = more discussion, connections, and activities within the membership community -> attracting more sponsors and more members

5/ More sponsors -> more revenue share

6/ And then back to #1 -> a virtuous cycle!

Summing it up

  • If the virtuous cycle financial incentive that I described above intrigues you

  • Or if the “building connections, helping others, and networking” aspect of the SEHQ Pro resonates with you (talked about in Part 1 and Part 2)

click the button below to fill out the founding member application (takes 5-10 minutes).

(NOTE: The application will be closed tomorrow, Friday, at 11:59pm, so I can review them over the weekend and get back to everyone by next week.)

As a founding member, you’ll be able to help build and shape how this community will become, and be part of the beginning of something (potentially) great.

Thanks for reading! Reply to let me know if you have any questions.

P.S. What do you call a polite person who asks structural engineers to design retaining walls?

… a civil engineer.

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