S2 | E1 — Hamish McKenzie (Co-founder and Chief Writing Officer at Substack), on the Future of Media, Navigating the Culture Wars, and Empowering Creators.

S2 | E1 — Hamish McKenzie (Co-founder and Chief Writing Officer at Substack), on the Future of Media, Navigating the Culture Wars, and Empowering Creators.

Diaspora.nz — profiling the founders, innovators, and leaders of the great Kiwi expat community.

Hamish McKenzie is the co-founder and Chief Writing Officer at Substack.

Substack is building a “new economic engine for culture” — enabling writers, podcasters, and now video creators to publish and monetise their content directly through subscriptions. Today, newsletter creators on Substack have over 35 million active subscriptions, including 3 million+ to paid content. The Company has gone from strength to strength, reaching near “verb” status synonymous with online newsletters— and most recently raised capital at a $650M valuation.

Before Substack, Hamish was Lead Writer at Tesla — going on to author “Insane Mode: How Elon Musk's Tesla Sparked an Electric Revolution to End the Age of Oil”, and a journalist writing for publications in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, the UK, and the US. Hamish hails from Central Otago and attended the University of Otago.

In today’s episode, we discuss:

  • Hamish’s journey from NZ to the US, key influences and inflection points

  • Substack’s role in the future of media, and how they see the vision unfolding

  • Building Substack, and challenges along the way including culture wars, content moderation, and echo-chambers.

  • How AI is changing content creation, and how they’re gearing up to support creators in a future dominated by

  • lessons, insights from his time at Tesla, working with Elon Musk, and authoring “Insane Mode”

Where to find Hamish online:


(00:00) Intro

(00:57) Building “a new economic engine for culture”

(02:29) Hamish’s journey from Otago to journalism

(05:57) Covering China, the Olympics, and Tencent

(06:51) The disruption of social media

(09:15) How Substack started

(12:20) Substack’s business and pricing model

(19:26) Winning culture wars

(22:50) The controversy of content moderation

(26:24) Why Elon tried to nuke Substack

(28:50) Working for Elon and Tesla

(30:00) Substack’s thesis

(32:17) Solving echo-chambers

(33:23) How Notes is taking on Twitter/X

(34:16) Why AI won’t replace content creators

(35:49) How to help Hamish

(37:06) Hamish’s recommended Substacks

(38:14) Outro

Some of Hamish’s recommended Substacks for Kiwis

Around 20% of New Zealanders live outside of New Zealand. This is our “Diaspora” — and it’s one of the world’s largest, per capita.
Not only is it large, it's insanely talented… early in their lives and careers, many of New Zealand’s most ambitious individuals realise— if they want to make a dent in the universe, they need to get out there… to study abroad, get the experience, build relationships to help them win on a global stage.
Today, those estimated ~1M expats include some of our finest talent. They are founders, top operators/execs at industry leading companies. They are scientists and researchers working at the frontiers of science: artificial intelligence, synthetic biology; global leaders in business, culture, and society… entrenched in all corners of the world, walks of live… largely “heads down”, doing their thing.