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Podcast

How To Build Hyper-Local News Websites (with Farhan Mohamed from Daily Hive)

Learn about hyperlocal news sites from Farhan Mohamed, Editor-in-Chief, and Partner of Daily Hive, an award-winning, homegrown startup that has become one of Canada’s fastest-growing news, current affairs, and lifestyle publications online. 

Editor’s Notes:

  • Update: Farhan is no longer working at the Daily Hive and is currently doing some consulting and advising.
  • Correction: Daily Hive is currently in 7 cities, rather than 5 as stated in the podcast.
Intro

Welcome to the Indie Media Club Podcast. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Indie Media Club. We’re on a mission to help independent, bootstrapped media entrepreneurs succeed, to help people who create, promote a monetize through content do it better. Check out IndieMedia.club to find out more. 

Ben Aston

So today, I’m joined by Farhan Mohamed. He’s Editor-in-Chief and Partner of Daily Hive, one of Canada’s newest and fastest-growing news, current affairs, and lifestyle publications online. And this homegrown startup has been in the top 10 fastest growing media and marketing companies in Canada. 

Ben Aston

They recently hit a 12-year milestone, I think. They’ve got an in-house agency called ID that’s for influences that have in-house digital services and also distribution to monthly readers, which is quite a unique offering. They have high Hive as well, which is a content agency that serves all their markets as well. And they’ve won stacks of awards as well so Farhan. I’m really pleased to have you today. Thanks for coming. 

Farhan Mohamed

Absolutely. Glad we can be chatting. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So for those of people who are listening to this and don’t know haven’t had to come across The Daily Hive and your site and your network, can you just give us a brief overview of who it’s for and what kind of content your create? 

Farhan Mohamed

Absolutely. So we started in 2008 here in Vancouver. And it was very much geared towards everything local, everything happening in your neighborhood, the people, the culture, the sports, the business. And then it turned more into a publication and started focusing on news and hiring journalists. Today, we operate in five cities across Canada and two in the States. And we cover pretty much everything and anything that’s happening in your city. 

Ben Aston

And so when you started it, was that this kind of idea of hyper-local? Does that get you out of bed because it was something that you are particularly passionate about? Or because you just saw that as an opportunity? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah, well, the two founders, they were really seeing that gap in the marketplace, that not enough media—we’re talking about local—and they talking about things happening really around the world and things that weren’t affecting what was happening in your neighborhood. And so even for me, when I came in, that was everything that I saw is that there was still this massive gap where you have these local tiny little blogs who were really doing maybe one article or one post a day. And then you had this mainstream media that was doing so many stories that most of them you’re not really caring about too much. They don’t affect you directly. And so there was that big gap in the market that we started going after and we started to carve that niche out for ourselves. 

Ben Aston

What was your personal background in media and publishing? Tell us about that. 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah. So I worked a few months at Post Media. That was a local paper here in Vancouver and Vancouver Sun and Province. And then before that, I was really just entrenched in the community doing things in social media and marketing. And so for me, everything coming in was about the community. And so ever since pretty much day one for me, it’s always been how do we make the community stronger? How do we tell stories? How do we shine a spotlight on people and organizations that aren’t getting that? How do we tell people that there’s there are others in the community that need help? There are others that are out there just like you and me. And so that was the big one for me. Everything has always been about community and making that stronger. 

Ben Aston

And so in terms of building that community and I guess in line with that building the audience, you talk about, you know, social connectivity. I know social media was a big part of how you kicked things off. But how did you I mean, how do you see how you’ve built your audience? And what are the lessons that someone could take away from the way that you did things? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah, I mean, the biggest thing that we had done, especially early days back, let’s say 2012, 2013, 2014, it was really focusing on our audience and building that relationship. We were trying to do things a little bit differently than traditional mainstream media had done. And so what we tried was to become a friend to people that you would see us at the time as that friend that you told the news to and stories to and you came to for information and what was happening in the community and in the neighborhood and what restaurants were open or where what roads to avoid because that was an accident. So things like that, we were more like that friend. And that’s how we started to grow and build and open that to a line of communication, that it wasn’t just the things that we were publishing. And even to this day, the things that we publish are not only things that we care about, but there are things that our readers care about. And so really watching analytics and seeing what stories are doing well, and you’re looking at feedback and you’re looking at comments and you’re looking at emails that are coming in and you’re really opening up your mind that there are things that you want to get out there. 

Farhan Mohamed

But at the same time, there are things that other people want to know. And so you find that balance between the two that if we’re creating content that isn’t working, that people don’t want to read, that people are not clicking on, then we’re gonna stop doing it. Or we’re going to change the way that we’re doing it. And so really looking at that and opening up that to communication like it said that we are open. We are listening. That we are the voice of the community because you’re telling us what you want. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so in terms of I understand that from a kind of an editorial strategy, you write about what people want to read. But from a kind of tactical audience, acquisition, readership acquisition approach beyond publishing content that people want to read. How did you kind of see your readership grow with it? I know around 2010 in the Olympics, that was a kind of a pivotal moment for you. But how did you, were you using paid media, was it SEO? What was the kind of tactics you used to from day one to drive readership? Because, you know, there are thousands of blogs out there as probably thousands of blogs about Vancouver. You’re talking about a blogger who’s publishing something every week. How did you kind of distance yourself from that noise to acquire readership? 

Farhan Mohamed

Well, like I said, the biggest thing was that we were really listening to people and we were looking and seeing that what is not out there? Where is the gap and how do we go and fill that? And if we can go and do that, then we’re going to see that. We’re going to see people coming in. And so we saw that during the 2010 Olympics that we were going and creating content around what is the culture like and what’s happening on the streets and what are the parties that you can go to and what are the things that you can do if you don’t have a ticket into the stadium and arena and the venues. And so we’re really looking at it like an ever since day one and until today, everything that we do is around creating shareable content that is easily consumable, that, you know, from an editorial standpoint, even the thing that I always say to our team is that the first thing that you have to do is create great content. But at the same time, you have to think about it and say if you’re creating content that you yourself do not want to consume, then you should not be creating that in the first place. Our staff, everyone on our team are our own readers. And so if we ourselves are not going to read it, then we shouldn’t be creating it in the first place. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so so it comes down to this kind of creating great content. And then was it primarily then through word of mouth? Do you think? And that shareability through social chatter that people found it? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah for us, you know, maybe we lucked out when it came to timing that we were doing things where there was that big gap in the marketplace. And so we were filling that gap and we were doing things that no one else was really doing. And so people really took to that because, you know, there’s a product out there that no one else is making that you need in your life and things that you want. Then you’ll want to consume it more and you’ll want to share it more. And so there was a lot of that word of mouth, whether it was, you know, physically offline, word of mouth or word that was online through Facebook and Twitter. Word of mouth. 

Ben Aston

Right. And so can you share, I don’t know if you know this, but like roughly how much of your traffic comes from social vs. organic vs. direct?

Farhan Mohamed

So I would say about five, five, six, seven years ago, it was a drastic number was coming from the social. Majority. And we’re talking like 60, 70, 75 percent was coming on social. Today, that number has come down a lot. Not the number. That’s actually a hard number. But the percentage is coming down because we’ve got more direct traffic that’s coming to the site. People who are coming on a daily basis knowing, OK, what am I going to do when I wake up or I’m heading to work or in today’s day and age, know I’m waking up and I’m sitting on my couch. And so that there’s that and they’re coming to the Web site knowing that there’s going to be new information, new stories, new articles that are out. And then there’s the other part that’s on the organic side and the SEO side of things. And people searching for content as well. So what we’re looking at those three components to see what were people coming from and then what is it that they’re coming for? And then knowing those things, let’s start to adapt the way that we do things in this kind of content that we’re creating now. 

Ben Aston

And so can you take us back to those early, very early days? I don’t know if you were that on day one or not, but can you tell us what happened right at the very begin beginning how it actually started in terms of someone turning it on? Yeah. 

Farhan Mohamed

So I was not there. Day one, I came in a few years then. I’ll tell you what happened when I came in. My expectation was that it was this big organization that had full-time staff and it had people who were working on this constantly day and night type thing. And the thing I realized was that it was this passion project of people who were doing this on the side of their desk. And it was their passion that, you know, they were some were in the school. Some were working. And this was just something that they were doing on the side to make happen. And so there was a real probably pivotal point that we saw right towards the end of 2013, at the beginning of 2014, that we saw that the numbers we’re looking good, that they were heading in the right direction, that we were making enough money, that it made sense to actually turn it into a viable business. And that’s when things started to change for us as we started focusing a little bit more on news and we started to build up our audience and we started to gain the advertisers that wanted to be on our platform. And it was at that point where things really, really turned around and started to head in a different direction. 

Ben Aston

So at that pivotal moment where you’re like, hold on a second, this is a thing was it because of the volume of traffic or was it because of the amount of revenue you were generating or is it a combination of factors? But I think from my experience in building something and having a day job and then, you know, deciding I don’t really need the day job anymore. This could be my day job. What was that? How did you make that judgment call? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah, well, for a few years, I know there wasn’t much effort on the business itself. The goal was just let’s make something really cool and let’s make a really good product. And when you do that and you have those numbers therefrom a traffic standpoint and you see the audience is growing, you start to say, OK, we have something here, but we actually now have to focus on the business side of things. And so we started to develop that side of it. And when you see those numbers going up, you say, OK, maybe it’s time to make that jump and we take a risk. You know, thankfully, luckily, it turned out. 

Ben Aston

So in terms of thinking about that monetization process, because I think a lot of people, maybe they do have a blog or a site and they are nervous about making money from it because they don’t want to, I don’t know, compromise may be the site or their content. How did you do that in such a way that you were comfortable with? 

Farhan Mohamed

Well, for us, in the beginning, it was always around, how do we create an avenue that we can bring in dollars and we can monetize? In the beginning, it was very much these banner ads on the Web site. Yes, it was a little bit of sponsored content. But as we’ve grown, the one thing that we’ve always tried to do is have this hard line in place to say the content comes first and the ads come second. The ads obviously keep the lights on. And so you do need those. But we’re never going to cross that line in terms of, let’s say, where newspapers are at or magazines are at, where there are so many ads and there’s so much everything on the Web site. And so the one thing for us that we’ve done is I myself have done is put a hard line and place to say that no more than 10 percent of our content on the Web site is going to be sponsored. And that’s it’s a hard thing because obviously, you know, if you can increase those numbers, then you can increase the revenue. But for us, it’s always been that the content comes first. The integrity of the publication comes first. 

Farhan Mohamed

We have to make sure that we are crossing over and make some sacrifices and be creative and look at different partnerships and looking and seeing that, how do we do things that make sense are in line with the brand? What organizations do we want to partner with? And how can we do that in such a way that makes sense that our readers aren’t looking at that to say, oh, this is just a blatant add, but it’s actually great content at the same time. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so are the monetization models still the same then, in terms of sponsored content and display ads?

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah. For the most part, they’ve changed up a little bit in terms of they’re just more product offerings now. But we’re starting to look at different ways that we can monetize that. We’re not doing just more ads in front of people and diversify it a little bit. So we’re looking at every possible way that we can bring in revenue while not sacrificing the integrity of the website. 

Ben Aston

Whoops are you still there? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah. 

Ben Aston

Sorry, you cut out for a second. Cool. So in terms of I mean, you talk about different products. Said you mean that you have different kinds of packages? Are you talking about sponsored content looking like different things, like different types of sponsored content, like. 

Farhan Mohamed

Different types, but also different means that we have such a large audience? What is it that they want and taking it from that mindset? Are there things that they’re coming to us for that we could be getting dollars for? And so really just honing in on that and going down to the granular level that what is it that people are coming to us for? And if they’re coming to us for X, then let’s see if we can we can somehow monetize that. So we’re exploring a whole bunch of different ways that we can make that happen. And we’ll see what happens once we come out of this crisis right now. 

Ben Aston

So, yeah, obviously, things have been working pretty well for you as you’ve expanded Vancity buzz into The Daily Hive, into other markets and cities. Can you talk about that process of when you kind of work out, hey, this is a thing that we can replicate and then you’ve got these distinct channels as well, like dished, mapped, urbanized? Can you talk about that evolution and growth and how you made that kind of decision to start branching out? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah, absolutely. So back in 2015, I remember when we were talking about expanding into Calgary, we launched Calgary Buzz. We had a new domain. We had new social channels. We had a new backend WordPress. Like, everything was just a new separate entity. And while it seemed like it was working, as we started to think about more into the future and we have more people in different cities that we’re seeing. When are we when are you going to come and expand into our market next? And when are you going to come and open up in our city? We started to think, OK, well, how do we do this in a better way? That isn’t at launch a new domain and a new brand and have a new backend and have all of these new things. And we said, how did we future proof ourselves? And the best way to do that is to unify into one brand. We renamed it from what we had in VanCity Buzz and Calgary Buzz into Daily Hive, and we realized that this is just the easiest way to do this, that let’s go in with one brand. Let’s go with one domain. Let’s go in with one every. And then as that evolve through 2016, over the next couple of years after that, we realized that we started to have so much more content than we were creating on a daily basis and weekly basis. 

Farhan Mohamed

And so we said that we know that there are people who are coming to us only for one or two or three things. And they don’t want everything else. There are people who want the news and food and business, but they don’t care about sports or vice versa. And so we started to look at that and say that as things are evolving in the way that even society is growing, more and more people want, it is personalization and being able to customize what it is that they’re getting. And so we then looked and said that we have all of these different categories. What if we brand them? And what if we give them their own, their own personalization and their colors and their look and feel and a voice and tone and their own branded social channels at the same time. And so we launched all of these different channels that were very specific to the categories. And we saw more growth on that side because people started to follow certain things for certain things that they liked. And so people who really like food and so they follow dish and they follow it on Instagram and Facebook and they signed up for the Dish newsletter. And it’s just they’re surrounded into this world of food and just. Same thing with sports, which is off-site and real estate and urban development, which is urbanized. And so there are all of these different channels that as we’re moving more and more into the future, there’s more and more personalization that people are having. And it seems to be working. 

Ben Aston

Nice. So, I mean, this all sounds like a beautifully smooth process from its early beginnings to now. You know, you’ve grown you’re in different cities. You’ve gone down into the states now as well. Seattle, Portland. It sounds like a beautiful thing. It’s just been a lovely journey. But I’m sure you’ve had some fun along the way. Can you share maybe what’s gone wrong? Maybe your biggest screw-up and what you learned from it all? 

Farhan Mohamed

I mean, there there are so many. It’s funny because, you know, we are the over the way that we used to say it is that we’re a ten-year overnight success story. It took a long time to get here. And we’re coming up on twelve years this summer. And there are so many things that we’ve learned and so many mistakes that we’ve made, everything from hiring to the types of content that are published to the way that we’ve designed the website or the way that we’ve communicated something. There are so many different things that we’ve learned that we didn’t know coming in. And I think that’s probably been the best part about it, is that, like, I myself have a business background and my two partners also have business backgrounds. And so we’ve come in with this mindset that how do we create something that is actually sustainable and how do we create something that from a business standpoint is going to work. But at the same time, also knowing that this is a publication and there are journalistic standards that we have to live up to. And so maybe five, six years ago, we didn’t really happen to those standards. 

Farhan Mohamed

And over time, we’ve slowly added those in we’ve hired people who have expertise and background in a certain subject matter. And so it just every day, every week, every month and every year that goes by, we continually get better and we continually learn things about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and how it can get better. So I don’t know if there’s only one big screw up. But there are so many of these learning opportunities that come every single day for us. I know for me personally, there is so much that I didn’t know. But at the same time, I look at that as the benefit that I had. I had no idea what would work and I had no idea what would it work. And so let’s just try things. Let’s see what happens. Let’s be a little bit agile and test things out and just, you know, throw the dart, and then we will adjust after that. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, I’m ready. That’s for me, the purpose of the Indie Media Club is to help one another on this journey so that when we’re faced with this situation of having no idea, we have a forum to turn to, to learn from one another and get better at what we do. But one of the things you touched on there was your team and how you made some potentially not sensible hiring decisions, or you realized that the team that you had wasn’t right for the team for the future. Can you talk about how your team has evolved? Because, you know, I looked at your math Ted and you got probably 70 plus people. And how do you structure and how has that changed over the past decade? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah. So in the beginning it was very much content focused and not so many sales. And over time you realize that you need a big sales force that’s going to bring in dollars and keep the lights on and keep the. Business running. And then you realize that you also need H.R. as soon as you hit a certain threshold of a number of people and you need finance because, you know, like I was doing invoice saying my two partners, we were doing it like everything. That’s how we operated. And so you just you start learning and realizing that you need to add people and bring in bringing people who know the things that you don’t know. Because I don’t know about finance. And I know that I know the basics of it. But I don’t know the intricacies of it. 

Farhan Mohamed

So let’s bring someone in who’s got that designation, who can get us better. And then you start realizing, okay, well, our Website can only run at a certain point on the basics. We need to hire developers and we need to bring our product team in. And it would be nice that if we had a U.S. designer who could really focus on the way that things were laid out. And you also need a designer and you feel like you need all of these different things as you grow. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. 

Farhan Mohamed

And so at different points, you hit these different and these different jumps that you have to make and realize that your team has to expand. That’s the way that the business is going. And so that’s the way that we’ve evolved. It’s always been editorial minded and content minded first. And so that team, my team has really grown in that way. And so we start adding in different people and you realize, OK, well, we need someone who’s got a bit more of a journalism background. You need someone who has a little bit more this background in that background. And you start piecing these all together and you get to where we are today. I think we’re almost at 70 people now full time across the board.  

Ben Aston

Yeah. I’m curious because if I’m on my team at the moment, we have 11 people. And I think I find this really challenging because I, I look back and think, hey, well, you know, as recently as three years ago, it was just me. I was running the whole show. 

Farhan Mohamed

And. Doing everything. 

Ben Aston

I was doing everything I was writing, I was invoicing. I was literally doing everything. And now there are eleven people. Do I really need eleven people? And I think it’s really hard as well. Obviously, when it was just me, I was wearing a lot of hats. I stopped wearing fewer and fewer hats as the business grows. But yeah, currently I am financing. I am HR. I am a tech. I am now the managing editor. I’m everything. But then some of that responsibility starts going on to different team members. And I think it’s super hard deciding at what point do I really need this person. I really need a full-time video editor, do I really need a full-time designer. And you make these investments and every time you make an investment, you think, oh, okay, yeah, that that’s working. But then I, I have this big picture view and I’m like, am I just creating a monster here? how did you balance that? Like, am I creating a monster because, you know, an organization starts becoming so big that you start, you know, requiring things like a full-time HR person. Do I really need that? How did you plan that? 

Farhan Mohamed

I mean, it gets to a point where you realize your own weaknesses and it takes a lot to get to. And so much of it is how much are you willing to give away and take off your plate? Because when you do, there’s a certain way that you do that. And it’s probably not the same way that anyone else is going to do it. And so you come to that to that point where you realize that you can’t do everything and it’s just not possible. There was a point many, many years ago where I used to look at almost every piece of content that was going up. That was when we were at maybe 15 or 20 pieces a day, maybe twenty-five. Today we do nearly a hundred pieces every single day. It is not possible at all. So you start to look at these things and you say, OK, I’m not the best writer. I’m not the best editor. So how do we bring in people? At what point do we need to grow it and at what point do we need to scale it? And you start bringing these specializations in. The biggest piece probably is is trying to figure out at what point do you actually need that? And making hires at a place where you are comfortable and you’re a bit safe rather than doing it from a point of desperation. And so you have to have some forward-thinking and you realize and try to guess and estimate where you’re going to go and have those plans. One of the hardest things that we should do is put together these annual plans, because as a member, there is a point where we said, OK, well, when we pass a million views, we’re going to need this X, Y, and Z. And we said this is not going to come for another 12 to 18 months. And so this is where we’re gonna be. The problem was we passed that within three months. And so we started to say, okay, well, now our targets of. Change. So how do we actually make this make sense? And we need to start thinking about things a little bit differently. So maybe instead of annual plans, you make annual. But you also make quarterly plans. And you can start putting these targets in place of these goals in place. And you start really identifying those key moments to say when you get to this point, you’re going to need this. And if you identify that, you lay it all out. 

Farhan Mohamed

I know a lot of times thinking ahead is really difficult. I used to be we used to ask me, where do you want to go in five years? And thinking is not even five years old, so I can’t answer that. So today, even if you were to ask five years from now, that’s really hard. A hard thing to answer. There’s a there’s an easy, easy answer. We want to be in more cities. We want to have a bigger audience. We want. It’s just these big things, these big numbers in the sky. But month to month, quarter to quarter those, those are gonna be very different. And so you have to do that forward-thinking and plan it out and realize, OK, what point can you do these things? And also, you have to trust that others on your team are going to be able to come in and do probably a better job than you were doing there and have that get over that realization. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so as you’ve grown as well, I know you have these three principles, heart, hustle, and humanity. And can you kind of explain how that plays out in the way you work and maybe as you’ve grown, how that’s become important? 

Farhan Mohamed

Well, we’ve always had these, but we’ve always had values, and I think it’s when we started to really put them into place and look at our vision and mission and values and that kind of stuff, we realize that we have certain things that we hold. If you want to be on our team, then you also have to hold these certain values so hard. Hussle humility. Those three things are things that people have to have to live in. You have to have a heart. You have to be compassionate for one another. You have to be able to work your butt off. I always say to every new person that joins our team. When I started, I made a job for myself. I was never handed anything. I came in and everything I’ve done is because I’ve fought for it. And so everyone has to have that mentality. You can’t you can never sit back and assume that things are going to just happen. You have to make them happen. And then you have to have that humility and you have to be human. That you realize your own faults and you realize that we’re all in this together. I feel like the humility part is the big one right now. The heart and humility, especially given everything that’s happening in the world. And our team has never been more challenged that not just working remotely, but the amount of content that’s coming out. And so understanding that we are all in this same thing together. We’re all overwhelmed. We’re all struggling. So how do we help each other out during this time? And at the same time, try to hustle that we can move fast and we can adapt and we can always change. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, and so can you explain a bit about your process and how you create me? You said you’re churning out 100 pieces of content every day, which is a huge amount of content. I’m curious how what that process looks like from strategy or concept through to writing, editing, publication, but also with this lens of remote working. All of a sudden, everyone’s remote. How that’s maybe changed as a result of everyone, you know, self-isolating. 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah, it’s all start with the last one working remotely. It’s probably been one of the easiest things for us because we already had people who are working in different parts of the country. It was a really simple thing for us. We’ve been using Slack for a long time. We’ve been using Zoom for a long time. So this is not new for us. It was just the understanding that you just have to communicate more than you normally do because you can’t physically just say something to someone. You have to type it out. Or if they get on a video call and you just have to make sure that you’re doing that. So that part has been easy. The other part is that we have such a great team on our editorial side. We thought nearly 20 people who are all either writing or editing and they’re finding stories. They’re sending them for and they’re pitching them to their editors. They’re creating that content. They get submitted. So it’s a really simple process, to be honest, where if you’re a writer, you have your editor or manager. And so you’re going to find a story or pitch it to them. Once you get the green light, you create it. You get submitted to our copy editors. Once they publish it, it goes for someone to put it up on social. So it’s a very simple process, I think. 

Ben Aston

And do you have any tools to manage that process of the pitch into like a project management tool?

Farhan Mohamed

So this is my funny one. We’ve tried probably every tool out there. We used Trello for the longest time. We tried to use Airtable. A couple of years ago, we started we just went back to the basics. We made a Google spreadsheet. And we have nearly 20 people who draw all of the stuff that they’re working on every given day into that spreadsheet. It’s color-coded. It is not pretty. It is the easiest thing for us to use. And it’s been really good. The hardest thing for us has been because we’re in multiple cities and people working in different parts of the country in some cases around the world. It’s so hard to know what everyone’s working on at any given point. And so we made that decision a couple of years ago where we had teams that were working in their silos. And everyone it was really just completely boarded off to everyone else. 

Farhan Mohamed

And we said, okay, we’re going to put all of that aside and everyone’s going to treat them, treat each other as one big team. And the easiest way to do that is to have one central database where you saw all the stories that were coming. So for me, if I see a story or if I get a tip or get something, the first thing I’m going to do is look at that spreadsheet and see if anyone is covering that first. And if I don’t see it, then I’m going to go and I’ll pitch it or I’ll sign it. And so it’s a really simple way to know exactly what’s coming, exactly what someone is working on. And it really just gives that big transparency into what’s there and what’s on the table. And once you can do that, you can be transparent with one another and you can have a team that’s transparent. It really creates this bigger sense of camaraderie and understanding and trust. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, that’s interesting. We’re currently using Trello as a way that way back when you were a while ago. By thing, if maybe it’s different in so far as we’re working primarily on evergreen content. There’s not so much the visibility in terms of Hey, is this story being covered or not? It isn’t so much of a big deal. It’s more around, hey, how is this aligning with role content strategy and where does it fit into that? 

Farhan Mohamed

Oh, I wish we could just add, to me, Airtable is Google spreadsheets on crack. I wish that we could just get, you know, five percent more so we can have a bit more details into each of these cells. But alas, here’s where we are now. 

Ben Aston

I think we are constantly evolving our publishing board and it changes every few months as we kind of it hits this point where this is no longer working guys. Well, and but what we’ve been able to do with Trello is that some integrations you can do so with different content types. It creates all the different fields and. Different automation that does different things when things are moved in between different columns. So I feel like it’s getting better. But then it reaches a point where it’s like, hold on, this isn’t working anymore. So let’s see how long that lasts for. 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah. 

Ben Aston

I mean, you’ve talked about it. Yeah. Google sheets. Any other tools that you use that you find particularly helpful. 

Farhan Mohamed

The biggest one is Slack for us. Pretty much everything is done over that. We got plus the Google suite is pretty much all that we need from a content creation standpoint. There’s a collaboration that can happen if you give us to take away WordPress because that’s just where we’re pushing content through. But if you take the combination of Zoom, Google Suite, and Slack, we’re pretty much set. We don’t need much else. Like there are other tools that we’re using, like TweetDeck and HootSuite and all of these, the social stuff. But from a pure team standpoint, that’s pretty much all we need. 

Ben Aston

So beautifully simple. Ours is a lot more complicated than that. 

Farhan Mohamed

And this thing, if you ask me this question, three years or five years ago, I would have said something completely different and I would have followed listed out five to 10 different things. But now. Yeah. Now, we’ve got to the point that you just start simplifying and you start cutting things out. And of course, like there are other things like including in the Google Suite like you’ve got big analytics that is open and I think even point crowd tango through Facebook. And so there’s there are other tools for searching for stories and finding that kind of stuff. But like I said, just from a pure team standpoint, that’s all you really need. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And I’m curious if you know this quest, the answer to this and that is for each story that you publish. Do you know how much it cost you to produce? 

Farhan Mohamed

From a time standpoint, we can figure that out. But. 

Ben Aston

You don’t put a dollar value on it. 

Farhan Mohamed

No, not for a little day to day stuff. For things that are a little bit longer, more in-depth, take more time. Or if there are things that we’ve done through freelancers, that’s when we start to put some numbers to it. But if it’s stuff from a full-time standpoint, it’s very different because on a daily basis or our team can. Most people are writing anywhere from three or four stories to sometimes eight to 10, depending on the day. I think on average it’s probably in that four to six range. But it really changes on a daily basis. So there’s no there’s there hasn’t been any real benefit to do that for us. 

Ben Aston

Right. And so and then in terms of ROI on the content, the producers say, you know, each writer is churning out five stories a day. Obviously, because you think you need to produce a certain amount of content. So how do you manage? How how did you decide how much content to produce and balance on? Well, do we need to really publish 100 articles a day or would we get the same result if we publish 50? 

Farhan Mohamed

You’re asking the question that I ask myself every single day. The simple answer is that the readers tell us. There isn’t much more than that. If they if they’re clicking on stuff, they’re telling us that they want more. But what we what we’re looking at is it’s a variety of factors. One is analytics. I’m looking at is the store you’re getting picked up? Are people clicking it and reading it? The other is qualitative in looking at the brand side of it. There are so many stories that we do that we will spend time on that nobody reads. Maybe a thousand. But if you’re spending less time on something that isn’t as important, maybe you’re getting twenty thousand as just simple numbers. Right. But there are things that we do from a brand standpoint, and that’s kind of like 90, 10 rule, give or take is you’re going to do 90 percent of the stuff. So you can do 10 percent. You’re going to do stuff that’s going to drive the traffic so that you can go and you can do the things that are meaningful or more meaningful. I should say, and talk a little bit more in-depth on certain things. So it’s that fine balance between the two that, you know, you do the quick stuff, you do the things that you know, that people like that are in our wheelhouse and that kind of thing. But at the same time, you also supplement it with the stuff that is more in-depth that does take your time. That takes you days and weeks and months to put together. So it’s that balance between the two. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, it’s tricky, isn’t it? We’re trying to work it out at the moment, trying to establish. Yeah. How much does a piece of content cost and how do we calculate the ROI on that. And I think what we have the direction we’re going is publish less and make it better. That’s kind of our overall principle because publishing content is hard. Right. And like you say, so much of what you publish doesn’t go anywhere. So how can we reduce or how can we increase our kind of hit right in terms of creating content that really works and is sharable? 

Farhan Mohamed

That’s a hard thing. That’s a hard thing for us. Is that because of the decisions that we made years ago, they put us in this place today. So when we started creating more content and writing more news and you realize that people want more and more of office to you, start doing it now in a place in some of our cities that we are a breaking news source. We are one of the top publications and outlets in the city. So there is there’s you you’re at that level that you can’t change it too much,. 

Ben Aston

Right? Yeah. Yeah, that’s interesting. Can you share any stats with us in terms of real numbers? I guess maybe. Yeah. Across the board. Well, maybe just pick one at one of the sites. The biggest. 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah. I can give you numbers. Yeah. So. on average right now we’re doing between 15 to 17 million page views a month, and that’s anywhere between four and a half to five million unique visitors a month. Just this past month of March was our biggest. I think probably every news source probably experienced one of their biggest months ever. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. 

Farhan Mohamed

Because there is just so much information and so much of everything that was coming out. And yeah, so it’s about 15 to 17 million any given month in about four and a half to five-month somewhere in there. 

Ben Aston

And can you give us any rough indication of how well monetized that is? 

Farhan Mohamed

It’s good. It’s you know, we’ve been able to grow one of the biggest things that we’ve always focused on is whatever money we’re making. It’s putting it back into the company and making sure that we’re investing in people. The biggest cost that we have is salaries. And so it’s just been hiring and hiring and hiring and finding more ways that we can grow. I think it was a year or two ago where we said this fiscal year, we’re not going to be hiring a lot of people and you end up blowing that out of the water and you realize that it’s completely under projected where you were going to be and you think you’re going to hire seven people, you end up hiring 20. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So. Well, can you tell us or say anything that is on your right map? What you’re working on beyond that roll out of you mentioned about going to other cities and channels. Is that is there anything else? On the right man for you guys? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah, we’re looking at more cities and just more customization and personalization. We’re also looking at some of the content we’re doing and how do we get a little bit more ingrained in the community? How do we cover things? And a bit of a different way than we have been. How do we start to look at the different communities that we’re in search of? Look, if we’re looking at Metro Vancouver as an example, where what stuff do we cover here? What stuff do we not cover? What’s low hanging fruit? Are there geographical regions that we can be getting into? And what is it that we would need to do in order for that to happen? Are there certain genres that we’re not covering? And it’s like all of these different things. And so what’s crazy is that we cover so many things and there are probably just as many, if not more than we don’t cover. And so it’s always looking at that. We’re always I always look at it. There is no ceiling right now. We can always be doing more. And so it’s figuring out what is the answer to that. You can’t you can’t do more. It’s impossible. So how do you start to figure out, okay, what do you sacrifice? What can you stop doing so that you can do something else instead? 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And how do you define success? What is success for you? Is it those page views that we all visit that we talking about? Or what are y’all what’s your barometer for. Hey, this is a good month. What are the metrics that matter? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah, it’s a combination of so many different things. It’s not just the page views and the growth in there. It’s reach for growth, geographic growth. It’s how many people are coming back to us. What is our social engagement like across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram linked? And where are people coming from? Is it going to be social versus organic versus direct? How long are people staying on the site? How much are they scrolling into our stories? How much revenue are we driving? So there’s probably 10, 15, 20 different things that we’re looking at every given month to say, was this a good month? And then at the same time also comparing that seasonally for a year over year. And no, the nice thing is, having done this now for many years, we know generally what months are going to do well and where we’re going to see declines. And so in those months that we’re declining, how do we do things a little bit differently? So we’re not seeing a steep decline in the months and we’re doing well. How do we double down and do even more? 

Ben Aston

Yeah. I think it’s it’s challenging when you’re growing fast to work out what’s really working and what’s not. Because it’s. Yeah, I guess I guess for us, we’ve been our rate of growth has been so fast that it looks like everything you’re doing is working right and then it’s working. We have kind of top of funnel metrics, we call them, which are things like site visits and then the bottom of funnel metrics, which are things like, okay, we’ll see how much revenue is this creating as a result? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah. 

Ben Aston

I think it’s how we measure success when we’re just publishing content. And actually that the publishing content in and of itself doesn’t do anything like that, doesn’t it doesn’t create any value. So thinking about that value generation I think is interesting. But, I want to finish by asking you this kind of question that is around for someone at the start of that digital media journey. Maybe they do have a blog or they got a site that they’re trying to star and cultivate. They’ve got an audience that they’re trying to build. What’s one piece of advice you’d give? Maybe something that you’d have done wrong on your journey or ones something that you found super successful? Can you give me any advice on what someone should do? 

Farhan Mohamed

Yeah, I’ve got a few. One is really figuring out what you’re Niches we’ve seen over the years. So many different organizations try to be everything you want to be the next day. You want to be the next whoever you want to be, the next thing. And so you start to set your sights really big and cast your net really, really wide. But if you figure out what you’re really good at and carve that new show like I like I’ve been saying it’s all around personalization. How do we get to a point where you can give that really small number of people exactly what they want? So rather than saying I want to target a thousand people, you say I want to target 10 people and want to get those 10 people, then I’m going to grow it from there and you can exponentially grow it. And that was one of the ways that we did it. Our media show was we want to be hyper-local and we started to carve that out. Another would be to really focus on the product and make sure that whatever it is that you’re doing, make it the best that it can be. We’re seeing right now we’re in this or in this time period where quality has dropped so significantly over the tires that we need to get back to a point where quality is at the top of its game, that whatever you’re doing. Be the best that you can be at it. And don’t let anything hold you back. No idea. Those are the following two things if I was starting again. Make sure that you’re documenting everything. Make sure that everything is written down and you’re remembering your own stories when, you know, you said whatever in the beginning. What to some of the biggest mess up you’ve had. Most of the things I don’t even remember. 

Farhan Mohamed

If you ask me what we did six years ago, four years ago, three years ago. If you don’t ask me what we did a month ago, I probably don’t remember them all. And so I started I remember back journaling a little bit and writing down different moments, but making sure you are documenting all of those different things so that when you look back five years later, 10 years later, 20 years later, you remember some of the things that you did, how you did and how you felt and how you overcame them. Because one of the things that I want to look back on and say, yeah, there were moments that we hit the bottom or we did something wrong. But how do we pick up after that? And what was the response that we did? 

Ben Aston

Yeah, no, I think not super sound advice. And I think it’s one thing that we actually do is a quarterly review where we sit down with the team and we list out all the things that we think we did well. It’s a retrospective. What do we do? Well, how did we win? What did we do? Really badly? And then, you know, how do we progress things had it what we need to do differently in order to get ourselves back on track. And keeping that record of things you do wrong. The lessons learned, I think is super useful. What does that advice just to Niche down? And I think as we’ve tried to expand and grow into, you know, launching new sites and new things. I think it can be. I mean, it’s difficult. And unless you’ll see a laser-focused on, hey, this is this thing I’m creating is for this type of person and it’s not going to appeal to everyone. And that’s fine. You’re going to get much better results rather than just trying to be, you know, something to everybody. Well, Farhan, thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you with us. 

Farhan Mohamed

Absolutely. We enjoyed the conversation. 

Ben Aston

And I hope you liked what you heard today. If you did, please subscribe and stay in touch on Indiemedia.club, but until next time. Thanks for listening. 

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