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How Max Voltar uses Buttondown to run his keyboard empire

MVKB's 'Banana Mat', live now!
MVKB's 'Banana Mat', live now!

Can you tell me more about MVKB, your project, and how it originated?

The name MVKB is actually my nickname, Max Voltar, combined with keyboards. Max Voltar has been my alias for more than two decades now. It originated when I needed a cool username for Twitter and I happened to like the band The Mars Volta. During the lockdown, I picked up the hobby of building custom mechanical keyboards. Being a designer, I quickly moved from assembling components to designing my own and even getting them produced. However, the audience for this project was quite different from my typical software and design community on Twitter. Hence, I needed a different name for this project, and that's how Max Voltar Keyboards was born.

Can you talk more about transitioning from a software design community to the mechanical keyboards audience? Did you have to adjust your approach or online presence?

Interestingly, the transition was quite liberating. I've been involved in product design for a long time and was well-known in that community. But when I began my keyboard projects, I had to start from scratch. I worked hard to establish myself and over time, Max Voltar Keyboards became a known name within the keyboard community. It's funny when people realize that the same person they knew from the software design world is now making keyboards.

A render of MVKB's upcoming 'Eraser' series
A render of MVKB's upcoming 'Eraser' series

Was there anything you wish you had done differently?

That was a combination of putting all my effort into making sure that the designs I came up with were really good, and having to learn 3D design just so I could render my projects as realistically and attractively as possible.

There was also a lot of socializing involved with existing community members trying to get closer to them, trying to learn from them and also just get exposure through them, that kind of stuff.

And email is just like the most accessible common ground.

Speaking of socializing — talk about your email presence, why you started it and what your goals were.

The mechanical keyboard community is very splintered: Discord, Instagram, definitely some big subreddits, but not as much Twitter or Bluesky or Mastodon.

So I set up the Discord server, set up the Instagram account, was active on Reddit etc, but it felt like I needed to offer another way for people to stay up to date with the projects that I was doing.

And email is pretty much the most accessible common ground. You have an email address, you put it in on my website(I make sure to have a form on every single page). So whether you come in on a homepage or you come in looking for a specific project, there's a super simple form where you can put your email address into, click a button, and then you're signed up basically.

It was about making sure I covered all of the different angles, but it's still splintered; there are still a lot of people who didn't subscribe to the newsletter. So whenever there's news, I have to go over the list of places where I need to share the news. Post here, post there, post yet somewhere else, keep up with comments....

But the cool thing about the emails is I add a note at the end of my newsletter every month saying "Hey! You can reply to this!", and people are pleasantly surprised! "Hey, what? There's a human behind these emails? and I can reply and then they will email back?!

"Scanner", one of MVKB's first drops.
"Scanner", one of MVKB's first drops.

Totally makes sense. Why did you end up choosing Buttondown?

When I realized I needed a newsletter, Mailchimp was the first platform I considered, primarily due to my past experience with startups using it or something similar, such as Campaign Monitor. However, when I opened the Mailchimp UI, it was quite daunting to get started. I had absolutely no idea where to get started.

What I desired was a simple way to capture people's email addresses, send out emails, and allow them to unsubscribe easily if they grew tired of the emails.

So, I asked for recommendations on Twitter for a user-friendly, straightforward mass email platform. Among several suggestions, Buttondown was the most mentioned. This popularity was likely due to the community I was a part of. I was drawn to the signup flow, which was straightforward, asking only for the name of the newsletter, a username, and a password. I thought, 'this is going to be good.'

The simplicity of Buttondown was appealing. While there are some additional features, they are tucked away nicely, allowing me to access them if I want to, without making the interface cluttered. Most importantly, everything I needed was right there in the main UI. I could log in, write a newsletter, check it, send a draft to a friend for review, and then hit send.

For me, Buttondown is simple and gives me insight into what people are most interested in. I use it as a sort of interest check. I tease projects on Twitter or Instagram and add the link to that page. Then I see signups coming in. Depending on the number of signups, I decide which projects to push through to production, as it involves a lot of work.

The reality is revealed when I see what people are actually clicking on and signing up for, versus their stated preferences!

Once you launch or share with some friends, celebrate the small wins. There's never going to be a big 'ta-da' moment when the project is over. Pay attention to and celebrate the positive things along the way.

Is there anything you wish Buttondown did better?

Two things:

  1. The information architecture could be improved in some places. For example, I have my list of emails, and I have to use a button instead of being the main target to read it or go to edit mode.
  2. Another feature I would appreciate is an automatic stats email sent a few days after an email goes out. I could log in and look at the stats, but I enjoy automating these things and getting them in my mailbox.
A render of MVKB's incoming 'Ink' series.
A render of MVKB's incoming 'Ink' series.

Do you have any other advice for those considering starting their own project of a similar scope and ambition?

Any project you undertake experiences a significant low in the beginning as you're ramping up. There are dozens of new skills to learn and it's easy to get distracted by thoughts like 'Will this ever make me any money?'. It's so important to make sure that you're having fun doing it. For me personally, I have the most fun when I'm learning new things. At the start of a project, there's a lot of learning - keep it fun. The hard work doesn't stop there though.

Once you launch or share progress with some friends, celebrate the small wins. There's never going to be a big 'ta-da' moment when the project is over. Pay attention to and celebrate the positive things along the way. Eventually, you'll reach a point where you have to decide if you want to continue doing it for fun or get serious about it. Obviously I went full "I'm serious about this" mode with my keyboard stuff, but it changes things. It brings a lot of pressure and changes your approach to the project. Make sure it's worth it.

Often, it's better just to keep it as a fun project and stick with it. Have it be a stress-free haven where you can get excited about your side project after maybe a less exciting day job. Treat it as a form of therapy, a way to make yourself happy. That's my big advice.

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What customers say about Buttondown

Overall, Buttondown has been terrific to work with and I recommend them for anybody who's thinking of starting a newsletter or moving over like I did.
Andy Magnusson
Customer Engineering Leader
Wanna know how good Buttondown as a product experience is? I upgraded to Basic before sending the first email, and then upgraded again two days later.
Zak El Fassi
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Mailchimp lost me due to their inferior product and the nightmarish merry-go-around experience with their overseas support team. Buttondown won me over with their superior product and second to none customer service.
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Your support is amazing and I deeply appreciate how available and helpful you are. I LOVE being able to turn tracking pixels off. I didn't even realize this was an option when I signed up and am SO HAPPY to not track people.
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Very happy with Buttondown, works smoothly, it's very configurable and I love the minimalist design of the UI. It makes me focus on my writing. Plus, I'm super happy to support independent software and I should mention - the support I receive whenever I have a question is warm and quick :)
Martina Pugliese
Data scientist and storyteller
I just tested the RSS to Email feature for one of my blogs and it was incredibly easy to set up. It took me about 30 mins to figure out the same feature in Mailchimp.
Nicolas Bernadowitsch
Blogger
This long weekend I fulfilled a long-standing promise to myself to switch my RSS-to-email provider from Mailchimp to Buttondown, and it’s been such a great experience. It’s cheaper, more flexible, less cluttered, and it’s run by Justin Duke who is just delightful and answered a bunch of my questions over the weekend (even though I asked him to please not!).
Rian van der Merwe
Director of Product at PagerDuty
I've been wrangling half a dozen tools to get my stuff up and running recently, almost all of which had some hiccup. Buttondown had zero. It did everything I expected and needed the first time.
Catherine Cusick
Self-Employed FAQ
I, like almost everyone else I've seen talk about Buttondown, am IMMENSELY happy and impressed with your customer service. It turns out we can have nice things, which is really refreshing.
Ed Yong
Staff writer, The Atlantic
Email makes the world go ‘round, and Buttondown is how I manage it all for my keyboard projects.
Tim van Damme
Founder, MVKB
It's a truth, that should be more universally acknowledged, that Buttondown is the best newsletter software. Simple, does exactly what it sets out to do, and reasonably priced.
Noel Welsh
Founder, Inner Product
Buttondown is the perfect fit for my headless newsletter use case. And I contacted support with some specific requests and Justin responded within 30 minutes with great answers and a nice pinch of charm.
Sam Roberts
Software engineer, Tamr
Hands down the easiest way to run a newsletter - and the free version is generous!
Javeed Khatree
SEO expert
With API and Markdown support, you can build workflows that make it so easy to write.
Westley Winks
Peace Corps
I’ve never enjoyed writing newsletters as much as I do with Buttondown.
Kevin Lewis
You Got This!
Buttondown remains the easiest thing I use regularly, and I am grateful for that.
Casey
Journalist
It's a humble app doing a common job but with end users in mind.
Si Jobling
Engineering Manager
Buttondown has been an amazing experience for me. The service is constantly being improved and customer service is the best. My newsletter with Buttondown has grown from a fairly small list to over 15,000 subscribers, and it hasn't broken a sweat yet.
Cassidy Williams
CTO, Contenda
I switched over to Buttondown from Mailchimp because of the difficulty I had with Mailchimp's campaigns, so Buttondown's easy and user-friendly system has been a genuine breath of fresh air.
Jessi Eoin
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The killer feature for me: Buttondown will take an RSS feed then automatically slurp up the content (in their words) and then send it to our subscribers. Job done. They seem like a good company too, so I’d say this is a winner.
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Devin Kate Pope
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Anton Sotkov
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Software engineer
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Jacob Ford
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Enter Buttondown, Justin Duke’s lovely little newsletter tool. It’s small, elegant, and integrates well. And it is also eminently affordable.
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Chris Mead
Improv teacher
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Keith Calder
Film & TV Producer
I’d also like to add that @buttondown is an absolute joy to use. Hats off, Justin!
Elliot Jay Stocks
Creative Director, Google Fonts
Shoutout to @buttondown and @jmduke for building an amazing bootstrapped product for newsletters, all while being very open to feedback and connecting directly with customers 🙏 Easily one of the most enjoyable product experiences I've had.
Den Delimarsky
Head of Ecosystem, Netlify
if you are looking for "newsletter tool for hackers" i tentatively believe the answer is @buttondown full api, compose in markdown, good docs for setting up domain auth, simple subscribe form HTML that you style yourself (or not)
Brian David Hall
Author, Your Website Sucks
I really like @buttondown as a blogging platform, it has the simplicity of Substack but the corporate culture is less toxic.
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Extremism researcher
I worked with @buttondown and asked for some new payment support beyond the supporter single tier / pay-what-you-want options. Justin was great and built it in just a couple days.
Dan Hon
Author & consultant
I write nonfiction and I use @buttondown buttondown.email/Changeset - indie, GREAT personal customer support, very nice default styling, all the options I want including ones to protect my readers' privacy
Sumana Harihareswara
Open source maintainer
I use @buttondown because it does exactly what I need (manage subscribers and send markdown emails), not more and not less 👍 As a bonus it's made by an indie dev which I love!
Max Stober
Founder, GraphCDN
If you’re considering running an email newsletter, or if you already run one and are considering a change of provider, I highly recommend @buttondownemail. Super-easy app, very fair pricing with a generous free tier, and exemplary support. 💯
Peter Gasston
Technologist and speaker
imo @buttondown is easily one of the best-designed services i’ve used in recent years, if you have a substack you should really consider switching!
Kabir Goel
Engineer, Cal
Thanks for getting me excited about email newsletters again.
Garrick van Buren
I'm very thrilled that I can just write in Markdown without having to deal with email builders and all that crap.
Parham Doustdar
Thanks again for all the help! You’ve really turned something super complex into something super easy – sending new issues is as simple as firing off a text message.
Kartik Chaturvedi
Thanks for creating a simple way for people who want to, like, put words in a hole and have it sent to people... I am just thankful that something just nice and human exists on the internet.
Emmanuel Quartey
I tried 3 other newsletter services today and I felt like wanting to rip my hair out. They were all painfully slow. I'm so glad I found Buttondown.
Mohamed Elbadwihi
I’ve found Buttondown to be a great fit for my workflow and have been delighted by all of Justin’s thoughtful features and improvements to the product.
Michael Lee
Like seriously, so many lovely little easter eggs in one could-be-boring service.
Alexandra Muck
I just switched over from Tinyletter and I'm really excited to have found a place to host my tiny newsletter that doesn't seem like it's assuming everyone sending newsletters is an email marketer / growth hacker.
Tessa Alexanian
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Ekfan
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Oliver Holms
As a developer who has hated every email system I've ever used this is so nice.
Drew Hornbein
I wish I still wrote a newsletter just so I could use buttondown again. It’s like that.
Steven Kornweiss

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