Shut Up & Write! Profile

Shut Up & Write! logo.

Shut Up & Write! is a global writing community based in San Francisco that hosts a variety of writing events both in-person and online. 

Founders Icon Founder(s): Rennie Saunders
Founded in Icon Founded In: 2007
Industry Icon Industry: Education
Location Icon Location: San Francisco

Interview With Rennie Saunders

Describe your product or service: 

“Global community that facilitates free in-person and online writing events for writers at all levels.”

Describe your company values and mission: 

“Our goal is to ensure that every writer, regardless of genre or skill level, has access to the community, accountability, and resources they need to be successful in their personal writing goals.”

How are you funded? i.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount: 

“We are funded by a mix of angel investors and community donors, amount undisclosed.” 

How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.): 

“We have a close-knit team spread across the country, with the majority residing in the Bay Area. Most of our team members are full-time employees, with the exception of our development and design teams. Our president started working with us as a consultant in 2017 before officially joining the team in 2020. He brings with him extensive experience developing communities and ecosystems, as well as nearly a decade working in big tech in Silicon Valley. The majority of our team is focused on managing our growing community, which has dramatically increased during the pandemic.”

How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? 

“I founded Shut Up & Write because I was struggling to get my own writing done alone at home. I began researching techniques on how to improve productivity and ultimately decided to start a writing group with the goal of helping my own writing. It soon became apparent that the format I’d invented for my writing group was both popular and effective to many other writers, and the organization grew organically through word of mouth. I knew we had something special when individuals moving away from our area asked to start new chapters of the writing group in their new cities.”

How did you come up with your startup's name? 

“‘Shut up and write’ is actually what my dad used to tell me whenever I had a story idea, so in a way, it’s a tribute to him. I would get excited to tell him about some idea I had for a story, and while he’d listen to me patiently, he’d ultimately respond at the end with, ‘Well, shut up and write!’ Many people believe that being a good writer is a gift you’re born with, but it’s just like any other skill … it takes time and dedication to become good. So when people ask me how to become a better writer, I simply respond with the name of our organization. Our community helps everyone stay committed to showing up and dedicating time to improving their craft.”

Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur? 

“A large portion of my career was spent as a freelance graphic designer and creative director, but I studied management along the way with the intent of doing a better job at being a business leader. After selling my creative agency, I decided to hunker down and finally finish that novel I had always dreamt of writing. And creating this community helped me do just that. But after seeing how much it helped others, I knew my focus needed to shift to supporting others in their writing successes. I didn’t start out on this journey thinking I would become a startup founder, but I’m thrilled that I get to dedicate my time building something that supports so many creatives around the world.” 

Did you encounter any roadblocks when launching your startup? If so, what were they and what did you do to solve them? 

“The entire success of Shut Up & Write is dependent on the support of local volunteers. And those volunteers are spread across more than 350 cities in 53 countries. One of the most challenging aspects is allowing those individuals to create an experience that is authentic to themselves and the local culture while also creating a consistent experience for new members, based on all the research we’ve done on developing successful writing communities. I made sure organizers stuck to the simplicity of writing without prompts or critique, freeing our writers to work unimpeded. This approach allowed me the years I needed to fully hone the method and lay the groundwork for our expansion which we began in 2016.”

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Who is your target market? 

“One of our most prominent mantras is that everyone has a story to tell, and our goal is to ensure that every individual in the world has the tools they need to help write it. Because of that, our target really is everyone. When it comes to creative endeavors, writing is one of the most ubiquitous activities in the world. Nearly everyone has some sort of writing they either need or want to do. In an effort to create the most inclusive community for writers of all genres and levels, we developed a community that supports individuals who have never written before just as much as professional authors who have been published multiple times.”

How did you establish the right market for your startup? 

“Our target is people who have an idea but are unsure where to start. Although a large number of our members are published authors, creating a safe space for the non-journalist/creative writing major to develop a writing habit is our strength.”

 What's your marketing strategy? 

“Because of the simplicity of our model and our incredibly supportive existing community, it’s easy to leverage Shut Up & Write for any writing actively and integrate it with any other services or techniques you might be currently using. As such, every writer should find some value in being part of our free community. In addition to broadening awareness in general, there are limitless opportunities to partner with other writing services and organizations.”

How did you acquire your first 100 customers? 

“The Shut Up & Write writing groups spread virally. Writers who attended our events would enjoy it so much, they’d ask to lead their own groups with the same format. That was how our community grew.”

What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business? 

“Attendance to RSVPs and engagement on our website.” 

What's your favorite startup book and podcast? 

“Joe Procopio (” 

What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation? 

“Radiohead is essential when I’m working on a repetitive task because the melodies and interesting time signatures keep me engaged. I listen to Entheogenic when I’m being creative because it’s the spacy soundtrack to my storytelling, and it doesn’t have vocals to interfere with my writing.”

Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup? 

“Asana and Slack are essential for organization and communication for our distributed team. We lean on them both quite heavily.”

What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship? 

“You only have to work half of a 24-hour day, and how you split up that 12 hours is up to you! Even though you have the freedom to set your own schedule, it’s a lot of work. The surprising part is that you have to do all the work, all the marketing, and all the bookkeeping – but you can also really hone your vision over time by working really hard. “

How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder? 

“Exercise and meditation, and eating well. I need to make sure that everything gets scheduled, even exercise and relaxation. Otherwise, I can lose track of tme and forget to fit those things in.”

What is a strategy you use to stay productive and focused? 

“I always do things with higher long-term value first. I love to play games, but that doesn’t have a high value for work – games are a reward I schedule in after I get my work done. Also, I make sure that I’m paying attention to my daily reserves of energy so I’m not working into the red all the time. If I know I only have a certain amount of energy, I do a high-value thing first, and then evaluate how much energy I have left to get other things done.”

Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they? 

“I had to learn to set up a consistent routine so I could train my brain to get work done. I treat the body like a machine — the machine likes routine, so I can free up the brain to do creative, hard work.”

What was your first job and what did it teach you? 

“I was a graphic artist in a small firm in New York City. I learned organization, how to be methodical, and how to be precise.”


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Founder of Education Startup Shut Up & Write! Shares Their Top Insights

Rennie Saunders, founder of education startup Shut Up & Write!, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.