Long before landing a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Media List in 2018, Alex Lieberman, ’15, and Austin Rief, ’17, toiled away in an East Quad basement imagining ways to provide concise, witty snapshots of the day’s top business stories to their contemporaries. Today, the duo’s wildly successful business bulletin, Morning Brew, stands among the largest daily newsletters in the U.S. It boasts some 1.5 million subscribers, a 20-person (and growing) team, newly launched twice-weekly missives covering retail and emerging technologies, and major corporate advertisers like Microsoft and Charles Schwab. Lieberman and Rief recently shared details on how their time at U-M propelled their entrepreneurial endeavor.
Make productive use of your time. With a full-time position at Morgan Stanley awaiting him upon graduation and only two classes on his senior-year fall calendar, Lieberman devoted his free time to helping other students prep for job interviews. Doing this, he discovered there was no engaging way for students to monitor top business news. He responded by launching a newsletter—albeit a rather archaic one consisting of a PDF attached to an email—that shared snappy recaps of the day’s top business stories. Leiberman called it Market Corner. “When I got to Morgan Stanley, I wanted to be in a position to contribute immediately and starting the newsletter, keeping abreast of business news and the markets, allowed me to make effective use of my downtime and better myself while helping others in the process.”
Take initiative. While a sophomore business student, Rief was one of the earliest subscribers to The Market Corner, which they later renamed Morning Brew. Intrigued by the newsletter, Rief reached out to Lieberman and offered to help. Together, they evolved the concept into its present-day form. “If I didn’t send Alex that first email, then I wouldn’t be here today,” says Rief. “I had no idea this would ever grow into a business, but I did know I was interested in being a part of it.”
Start with a passion. Lieberman and Rief were passionate about making Morning Brew the best business read for millennials and pledged to help subscribers “become smarter in just 5 minutes.” Absent that shared passion, Lieberman says Morning Brew would have struggled to become a sustainable effort. “If you don’t believe in what you’re doing and are not fully engaged in it, then you can lose patience and become burned out quickly.”
Choose quality over quantity. Rather than spreading himself thin across numerous activities over his time at U-M, Rief largely focused on being a dedicated standout with Morning Brew. “I could have been involved at a surface level in many things, but instead I attached myself to something I was passionate about in Morning Brew and worked relentlessly at that.”
Leverage the smarts around you. At U-M, Lieberman encountered many intelligent, savvy professors and actively worked to strengthen relationships with those he admired. A marketing professor who ignited Lieberman’s interest in branding and consumer psychology, for instance, ended up investing in Morning Brew. To this day, four years after Lieberman left Ann Arbor, the professor continues to offer mentorship and guidance. “There were teachers who profoundly impacted me, and I made a point of trying to build genuine connections with them. If I didn’t do that, it would’ve been a missed opportunity because those relationships have turned out to be immensely important.”
Appreciate the experience. U-M’s alumni base, faculty ranks, and student body are filled with thought leaders and change-makers. Lieberman urges students to take pause, appreciate the opportunity they have at a top-flight university, and thoughtfully consider how they can be active contributors to the world around them. “You should be proud, but you should also embrace the responsibility to maximize the opportunity in front of you. This only comes your way once.”
Daniel P. Smith is a Chicago-based journalist. In previous issues of Michigan Alumnus magazine, he has covered U-M alumni entrepreneurs, including Five Guys Burgers and Fries founder Jerry Murrell, SkinnyPop founder Andy Friedman, and business mogul Sam Zell.