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How To Make Beautiful, Shareable And Engaging Content (with Nick Routley from Visual Capitalist)

Ben Aston is joined by Nick Routley, designer and creative director turned managing editor at Visual Capitalist to chat about how to make beautiful, shareable, and engaging content.

Interview Highlights:

  • Nick has been with Visual Capitalist right from the start. He started as an employee back in 2011 in a design marketing style agency. [1:27]
  • Their main goal was to just find better ways for companies to communicate with investors. [2:09]
  • Nick was around 30 when he did a career change. He went into doing design and graduated around 2010-2011. Then he started diving into more data oriented design stuff. [3:19]
  • Nick started collaborating and was creating content for places like Vancity Buzz in Vancouver or anywhere that was kind of like a media company. That caught the attention of their founder, Jeff who was looking to get into using more of an infographic approach to talk about things. [3:50]

“It’s about finding a better way for people to learn about how the world works. And that’s what Visual Capitalist is at the heart of it.” — Nick Routley

  • Nick talks about the challenges with modern media and his role in macro media. [7:12]

“We’re going to do things that are data-driven to allow people to make their own decisions and that’s our goal – to find the gap that all these media companies are leaving and just run right through that.” — Nick Routley

  • Immediate consumption COVID-19 is the perfect catalyst for accelerating what’s going on with media consumption. [9:11]
  • Nick and his team build their audience organically. Their 100% focus goes into making really good content. [11:02]
  • Nick shares about their nearly a quarter of a million subscribers and the strategy behind it. [19:10]
  • In the early days, as a design-driven agency, they had a portfolio with a lot of infographics on it. One day, Jeff was checking their site and saw one of their pieces got picked up by a cycle, Zero Hedge. [20:50]
  • They have regular meetings to talk about the content they’re going to create. There are two main sides of their business – the editorial and creative side. [24:14] 
  • Their founder Jeff is still very involved in the content process. He initially was the person who was thinking of all the content in the beginning. [27:15]
  • Nick also works on the process of approving things and they also try to foster a culture of being really critical, being transparent and open with feedback. [28:24]

“Our audience keeps us honest! We know that if our standards start to slip then they’re not going to let us off the hook for that.” — Nick Routley

  • Producing a piece of content usually takes 40 to 60 hours, for a big infographic. [29:33]
  • The types of things that typically really get a lot of trends are those that are easy to share. [33:34]

“Hitting the topic at the right moment is really key as well.” — Nick Routley

  • Visual Capitalist’s current team members are around 35 people. Two years ago, it was only about half that size. [37:16]
  • Some of the biggest challenges that they’ve had to deal with were they have published things that have had backlash. [40:05]
  • The biggest challenge that they’re currently dealing with in growing the business is scaling in a way that’s smart. [41:39]
  • Currently, they are at the tail end of their book process. They also have a licensing product coming up. [42:41]
  • Nick and the whole team are always trying to get better at their internal processes. [44:44]

“You know, if we can be that source for people where they can learn about the world and make better decisions around money and their career in that, then it’s our obligation to keep growing and doing that.” — Nick Routley

  • The best advice that Nick has received. [46:21]

“Be really selective about what you do. Just saying no, as a default is pretty good advice!” — Nick Routley

  • Personal habits that have contributed most to his success. [46:48]

Guest Bio:

Nick Routley is the managing editor at Visual Capitalist.

He specialises in visual communication and media. Specifically, he directed/created hundreds of projects that are shareable and engaging but still meet high editorial standards.

He has worked in dozens of leading media publications, on the front page of Reddit numerous times, and on Visual Capitalist which reaches millions of people in the world of business and finance.

He also had the honour of being nominated for multiple Information is Beautiful awards, and frequently gave talks on the topic of data-driven visual content in journalism and marketing.

Photo Of Nick Routley

“If you’re looking to start a media company, you need to look at like what is driving you to want to create that?”

— Nick Routley


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We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Read the Transcript:

Ben Aston

Welcome to the indiemedia.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 and monetize through content. Do it better. Check out indiemedia.club to find out more.

So today. I’m joined by Nick Routley and he’s based in Vancouver. Same as me. He’s a designer and creative director, but he’s turned managing editor of Visual Capitalist, and they’ve got close to a quarter of a million subscribers. They have one of the fastest growing online publishers globally, and they’re focused on topics, including markets, technology, energy, and the global economy.

So keep listening to today’s podcast, learn how to make beautiful shareable and engaging content. Hey Nick, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Nick Routley

Thanks for having me Ben, excited to chat with you today. 

Ben Aston

Cool. And it’s always great to have someone from Vancouver. This does not happen very often. Uh, so take us back to the beginning though.

How you tell us a bit about the story of how you went from being a designer to being involved in visual capitalist, which probably many people might have seen or, or encountered some of your work so a bit not realized it, but how did you go from being a designer to a managing editor? How did that happen?

Nick Routley

Yeah, thanks. Um, good question. The it’s interesting. We never really expected to, or I never really expected to be in the position that, that I, and we are now. Um, it really just started out as an idea to at the time take companies information that wasn’t being presented very well. And, and just make that a little bit easier for people to understand.

And, um, I mean, in the beginning, like, so the history of this goes, I’ve been with visual capitals right from the start. So I was employee number one, I think in 2011 or 12 now. So it was quite a while ago. Um, but it was a very different business model. Back then, we were more of a, a design agency, design marketing style agency, uh, service provider.

And, um, our, our main goal was to just find better ways for companies to communicate with investors. Um, a lot of them were still. Doing it quite badly to be Frank. And, um, we were just looking for ways to improve on that. And, um, especially with businesses that are very data heavy, um, using a visual approaches is the way to go often.

And there’s a lot more avenues to get creative when you’re doing that kind of thing. So, so that’s how that started. And 

Ben Aston

Yes. Tell us, tell it for those people who aren’t familiar with, uh, visual capitalist, um, Well from an outside out. I mean, I I’d tell you what you guys are creating are incredible infographics.

Um, but yeah. How did you get into the world of. Uh, infographics graphics and creating these data-driven visual design pieces, because I mean, you said you started off as an agency that kind of morphed into this as a, I guess, a business need, um, where you saw people weren’t very good at presenting data. Um, but yeah.

How did that, how’d you get into, how did you get into that? Because it’s super specialized. 

Nick Routley

It is. Yeah, so I, I did kind of a career change a little bit older than most people. I was around 30, which I guess it’s not old, but it is a little bit old to pivot careers completely, which is what I did into design.

And right away as I was doing design, I had just graduated in 2010, 2011 around the time that happened and right away, I started diving into more data oriented design stuff. So, um, here in Vancouver I was collaborating, um, I was creating content for places. Like Vancity buzz at the time or Vancouver’s awesome.

Or anywhere that was kind of like a media company that was willing to take my data-driven designs and put them up. Then I would, I would pitch those over to them. Right. Um, and that caught the attention of our founder, Jeff, who was looking to get into using more of an infographic approach to, to talk about things.

So, so we had that conversation and that’s how I linked up with him to do this. Um, and so. Yeah, infographics at the time were a real fad, right? I mean, you know, if anyone’s been around for a while, around 2011, there was an infographic for everything. So you could go on, uh, you know, visually like visual dial, why that was the place to go look at it, using it for graphics.

So, you know, getting your infographic on there was, you know, you, you get, you know, thousands and thousands of views on it, or, you know, anybody’s social media feed was full of all kinds of infographics as well. So it was a real fad. Um, We tried not to approach it from the perspective of it being a fad. We took it really seriously.

I looked at the history of infographics and data visualization and tried to look at the fundamentals of why this stuff was interesting. Um, how did these, how did these infographics actually help people retain information? Uh, how do they, why are they better? In what instances are they better? Because they’re not always better.

Right. So we really tried to look at all that stuff. And apply, uh, use it in the real business sense. Right. Um, and so that’s how that started. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so, I mean, tell us about what you’re trying to build, like as a company, what gets you out of bed? What’s your, what’s your? 

Nick Routley

Yeah, that’s a good question.

Um, really it’s about. Um, finding a better way for people to learn about how the world works. And that’s what visual capitalist is at the heart heart of it. There’s a clear focus on the economy and on investing and on business, um, that that’s just sort of where our roots and what we think is important.

And, um, helping people understand the world through that lens is. Is is where we’re at. And that’s also from the angle of sophisticated investors, of course, and people in decision-makers and people who are trying to turn their money into more money. But it’s also people who are just looking maybe in the beginning of their career, or maybe you’re even a high school or something.

And you’re trying to learn about how the world works or. You’re, you know, in a developing economy where you don’t have access to great education and things like that. So this is also a gateway for those people to learn about the world as well. Um, especially the world of money and the economy and how that all plugs in together, because it’s really complicated. So, 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so how do you see this kind of fitting in with the challenges with modern media? Um, That, I guess you’re trying to solve, because I mean, particularly with, I guess, fake news, I don’t know what other problems you see out there. Um, but I mean, it’s very fractious. Um, it, there’s a lot of opinion.

Um, there’s a lot of conspiracy. Um, how would you, how would you see and what do you see your role in, um, that kind of, I guess macro media. Um, huh? I haven’t heard of them for awhile, but the macro media landscape, um, how’d you kind of fit into that. And how did you see your kind of role and responsibility?

Nick Routley

Yeah, that’s, that’s a tricky one. So we’re recording this right now in the wake of the U S election right now, which is really ground zero for everything that’s wrong with media. Um, if you’re, if you’re looking for a case of what’s going on, like that’s the time to look at it. Um, and really man media. So we were having a conference I’m like, I don’t even know where to start with this because it’s so much, but we were having a conversation the other day about, um, How about the tactics that come the media companies resort to now, and particularly because we’re in a whole different world now we don’t need media in the same way that we needed media in like the 1980s, for example, like, I don’t need a newspaper to come tell me what’s going on.

We all have a smartphone. We all have access to social media. In some cases we know about stuff at the exact same time as people who are reporters or decision makers. Right. So, so in that, in that sense, um, We don’t need media as much. Right. And so a lot of these companies are, are, are sort of burning the Goodwill that they had with people that they built up over, you know, over a century.

Right. Um, because, you know, because of ad dollars, right. And so they make all kinds of weird decisions around that, whether that’s clickbait, whether that’s, um, You know, emotionally charged or really biased news. Um, and they’re slowly burning through all their Goodwill. And so that creates an opportunity for people like us who are, we don’t have, you know, a century and a half of reputation to come in and go, you know, we’re going to do things that aren’t biased.

We’re going to do things that are data-driven to allow people to make their own decisions. Um, and, and that’s, our goal really is to. Is to find the gap that all these media companies are leaving and just run right through that. Um, and that’s, that’s really the big goal 

Ben Aston

And how you see media consumption, changing and evolving and how you like pivoting around that.

Nick Routley

Yeah. Immediate consumption COVID-19 is the perfect catalyst for accelerating what’s going on with media consumption. Um, People were already going really leaning hard into more mobile subject. Like. People still sit at their computer at work the way you know, you and I are right now, we’re in front of probably a desktop computer.

People still do that. Um, our core audience, especially still does that, you know, there’s people who work on wall street and stuff that they’re sitting in front of a computer and they, they consume content that way, which is fine. And then people will probably continue to do that and they are now. And so.

Right now, our content is really optimized towards that. Um, but also people are online all the time. And when the people are online all the time, they’re consuming things in different contexts. So it’s not just the device. It’s not just the, you know, this, this computer here. It’s not just the phone people are using when they’re commuting or sitting on the couch or whatever it is.

Um, it’s also the context people are in. So we’re, we’re trying to plan around. Okay. So right now we win when people are at work and they go, cool. What did visual capitalist put out today? Or, Oh, I saw this in my Twitter feed. This is interesting, you know, so, or someone forward forwarded this to me. So that’s how we went right now.

But there are a whole bunch of other moments in the day where people are doing other stuff. I’m like looking at Instagram or, you know, or on Reddit or whatever it is, and you want to win in those situations too. Right. Especially if you feel like the stuff that you’re putting out has utility and makes people’s lives better than how do we get in that conversation a lot more.

And that’s, that’s our focus going forward. 

Ben Aston

And yeah. Tell me about that. How I, what’s your strategy there? How, how have you historically built out your audience and yeah. And how, how do you see that evolving. 

Nick Routley

Yeah. So historically we we’ve been very lucky, lucky, and strategic to mostly build our audience through organic.

Uh, it builds organically. So almost a hundred percent of our focus goes into making really good content. And so if the content, like if you yourself or anybody listening thinks about the way that you, you share things with people and. Like, I don’t mean performative sharing either like LinkedIn, where it’s like, Oh, look at this article, you know, not that kind of stuff, but like the things you forward to your friends or colleagues or something like you send it to someone in Slack or you send it in WhatsApp or, you know, you can forward the email to somebody, you know, that kind of sharing.

That means something’s good. Right. And that’s the sort of stuff we focus on is how do we make something that’s so interesting that people just genuinely want to share it because they think it’s cool or they think people can learn from it. And when you’re doing that and people and you, you you’re creating those sharing points, then you can’t help but grow.

I feel like. And so that’s, that’s really what we’ve been able to do. Um, and that’s probably what we’ll continue focusing on, but the other part of it too, is like going forward, how do we continue that momentum? Right? And internally we talk about something called scaling up, scaling down, and what that means is.

Okay. So if you take a thing that you think is people want to know about that’s worth people understanding or knowing, like, let’s call it a concept or something like that, how do you take that concept and use it in a way that works in all the different contexts we were talking about before? Right? So the person sitting down focusing, doing research at their computer, it gets the big version of the concept, right?

They get, they get the fully formed version, but the person on their way home on the sky train, or, you know, um, looking at their phone while they’re waiting in line at the grocery store or something like that, um, they get a different version of that same concept. It’s a bit more scaled down that, that there’s a bit more accessible.

Right. And so that’s another approach we’re taking too, is thinking about the context. People are viewing things and going like what’s the serving of this thing. Do they get the entree or do they get the snack? You know? So, um, that’s another way we’re trying to win as well. 

Ben Aston

No that’s cool. And so as you’ve, I mean, you’re now thinking about, okay, well, how can we redistribute or slice and dice content to make it, um, applicable to different contexts?

Um, and you talk about this focus on really compelling content. How focused are you? Are, are you on. The, like, how do you decide what to create, uh, a data visualization about? I know some of it is driven by what people will pay you to produce because, um, because they are clients essentially. Um, but, but, uh, how, how, what drives your editorial strategy?

Because I’m guessing there’s a kind of a blend between. Editorial strategy stuff that you want to create anyway, and then there’s a overlap with, okay, well, what are people willing to pay for, for use to produce? So how does that, how does that dynamic work? Um, particularly in context with, you know, you don’t just want to produce crap content just because someone’s paying for it because that’s not going to help your brand.

So how have you kind of danced between those two things? 

Nick Routley

No, that’s a really good question. And I. Like getting into the business of this, I think is interesting for people. Um, because we all, we all really get a lot of questions, our business model that people don’t understand. Um, but you’re right. There’s definitely a spectrum.

Right? There’s the things that we want to talk about that are. Like even experimental that we’re not even sure the audience is going to like, so there’s that whole side of things. And then there’s client driven content that we, that we know is basically a slam dunk. Like people want to know about wealth and how to build it, or want to know, you know, about certain things about the markets or something.

And that in turn for a client that is like, um, like one of the stock markets or, or one of the major banks or something that for them is a really easy proposition. Right? But yeah, in terms of the awkward middle, where there’s sort of an editorial and client thing happening, um, we, in the past fast in the world of infographics, there was an expectation that most infographics were sponsored.

So we didn’t really have as much of that awkward tension as, um, like an older legacy media brand, right. Where they were. I don’t know, sponsored content is a lot more awkward if you’re, if you’re a tried and true journalism outlet or something, right. But for one we’ve had, you know, infographics were always sort of sponsored.

So it was kind of the expectation. The other thing is we were always focused on business and investing audience and they just get how things work. So if something’s sponsored once in a while they go, okay, well, these guys need to make money. So this is, this is sort of how things work. And as long as they trust the source, then it’s okay.

Right. And that’s why we place a lot of focus on. Making sure that we get things right, and that we’re not biased and that we’re respecting the audience. Right. Uh, another thing we talk about internally is triple win. If we win the client wins, audience wins, then we’re good. Um, bad sponsor content. The audience doesn’t win, and that’s why people hate it.

But. The really great thing for people who, who come to visual capitalists or information, is that we are often able to work with companies that have a wealth of information that isn’t publicly accessible. So if we can make smart decisions around taking that data in a way that also works for the client to get mind, share with people and stuff like that, then.

Then that works really well. Right. Because we’ve taken information that wasn’t previously available and we’ve unlocked it for people to learn from. And so as long as we do that thoughtfully, then that’s, that’s how that sort of thing works. 

Ben Aston

Cool. And so, I mean, tell us, can you explain how you exist? Let’s dive into the magnetization a bit, a bit deeper.

So, um, you churn out data visualizations all the time. Some of them are sponsored. Um, is that, is that the business model? Is that how it works? Or can you explain to me in a bit more detail? 

Nick Routley

Yeah, totally. So we, we actually, yeah, we are, most of our revenue comes from sponsored content and it’s all very clearly marked sponsored content.

So there’s nothing weird happening there. We work with companies. Um, particularly these days where we’re working with larger companies on fairly large campaigns. So there’ll be a sponsored content over time. Um, if you remember, um, Hmm. Vice has all kinds of channels. A lot of those are like the creators project was kind of the prototypical sponsored channel back in the day.

Um, we have channels as well. Some of them have a sponsor. It allows us to create stuff for people. So that’s another Avenue. Um, if we have a particularly big deal, we’ll do some other things. There’ll be some display advertising on the site. Um, we, we just, we do that internally though. We have a section on the site that has purely sponsored infographics, where people can learn about investment opportunities.

So that, yeah, it’s all, but it’s all within the context of visual capitalists though, and the site and our platform and our email lists too, I should say too. Cause that’s, that’s a particularly. Good Avenue. 

Ben Aston

So is most of the, is most of your content consumed on your website? Like the data visualizations?

Nick Routley

Yeah, I would say for the most part, um, most of it is there is, there are some social media channels where we will. W where people can consume it a little bit more. Um, Facebook is not a great place for that. So we just linked to right to the site because it’s kind of awkward Twitter. We can kind of get away with doing threads and, and things like that.

And Instagram we’ll, we’ll make more bite-sized stuff. Um, but most of it’s on the site, the only exception to that would be when, when it’s syndicated through other media outlets that they pick things up. Um, and certain things will designed to be read in the email, but still, usually you can click through the site 

Ben Aston

Say, talking about your subscribers because you’ve got nearly a quarter of a million subscribers.

What has been your strategy beyond just creating great content, um, that people like to share? Has there been anything else? I mean, how have you driven up her number of subscribers? Is that being deliberate, intentional? Um, any tactics, but. Will have worked or not worse. 

Nick Routley

Yeah. And I would say that it’s, it’s been a work in progress.

Right. So we we’ve had that list for a long time and it’s been growing it’s growing faster all the time. Uh, you know, we’ve got good annual growth on that, but, um, really it’s been about. I mean, we have a pop-up on the site. There are other places on the site where people can go to sign up, but like, we make that pretty easy for people.

Um, aside from that, we have done some light advertising for, for sign ups. Like, I mean, we have done a little bit of Facebook advertising to get people interested in the site that way, but we haven’t really done anything. Uh, we, we haven’t done anything that I would say is like an interesting strategy because we just haven’t really had to get that creative with it.

Literally we put all our mind share into the content, so 

Ben Aston

So, going back then to day one, because maybe we can unpack this a bit. So you were a design consultancy who decided to become data visualization, publishers and media company. Um, how did like. How did that happen? Because for them, for the first,

Nick Routley

Yeah.

Ben Aston

For the first few, I don’t know how many data visualizations you’ve produced over the years, but it takes time for people to realize, Oh, I can go to visual capitalist and check out some cool new visualizations.

So that process of audience acquisition or building must’ve been intentional to some degree. Can you tell us about those early days and how you, how did you get your first visitors and the kind of visibility and turned that enabled you to then turn your audience into subscribers? 

Nick Routley

Sure. Yeah. I can walk through the history of that and it is somewhat interesting.

Actually. I would say that in the beginning, it was not intentional. We’re in the enviable position of having. We we’ve been able to let the audience tell us what they want and we’ve sort of followed. Right? So in the early days we, um, like as a design driven agency, we had a portfolio and that portfolio had a lot of infographics on it.

And as we made more, there were increasing number of infographics on them. And there was one day where our founder, Jeff was, um, he’s checking the site and he was about to get on a flight. And he looked inside was down and he was like, what is going on? Why is that? Um, and so he looked and we, we got, one of our pieces got picked up by a cycle, Zero Hedge.

If you know that one, that’s like a, uh, kind of a niche financial site, but they do have a lot of traffic though. And so when that got posted up, it just completely killed our site because it was not built for, for any sort of scale at the time. Right. The hosting company, um, And so, yeah, we finally figured out what happened.

And we started looking at the analytics on the site cause we weren’t that focused on the analytics on the site. That was it. It was mainly just as a tool to show people, Hey, here’s our work. Right. Um, but we started to see the traffic really had been going up on a lot of these pieces and people were visiting the portfolio to look at infographics, which is not really something that we had anticipated at the time.

And so, and so, you know, Jeff was with was thinking, Hey, maybe, maybe there’s a way that we can just make this a more friendly environment for people to come visit and looking at graphics. And, and so that sort of the, the, the very kernel of how things started to pivot towards a media model. Um, we thought, Hey, let’s publish something once a day and just see how that goes, you know?

And so we still do publish that main thing. Once every day, we, we post more things in various capacities, but we still, that’s still a strategy that remains to this day. And over the years, the articles got more. They got bigger, they got more robust. I would say they, they got more, um, our team grew, obviously we have more talented people than, than we ever were.

So, um, you know, it really evolved over time and, and it’s funny, you take a thing seriously and you, you do it well. And. You do it consistently and eventually it becomes what you want it to become. Right. And, and over time people have asked us for certain things and we’ve done it. Um, people kept asking us for a book.

Okay, we’ll make a book. Now we’re on book number two, which has got launched today, actually. So, um, and you know, people ask for certain things that we deliver. And, and I just feel like if the audience is telling you, they want to thing and. You find a way to make that work monetarily, then you go for it.

Right. And that’s, that’s really how that all happened. 

Ben Aston

That’s cool. And can you talk us through your process, like how you actually produce content as, um, cause I find it a bit bewildered when I like see a data visualization that like, that you guys produce and I’m like, wow, how do you get from a spreadsheets?

Um, or. I dunno what, I dunno what you use, but I guess there’s data in there somewhere. And then there’s translating that data into a design. Um, there’s math involved because you’re calculating things as well. Um, can you just talk us through the process of creating a data visualization, um, the strategy around what to visualize and then the nuts and bolts of how it’s actually produced.

Nick Routley

Yeah, absolutely. I can walk you through kind of how the process works. So we have regular meetings, so there are a couple sides of the business. There’s like a, there are two main sides of the business. I’ll say that from the content perspective, there’s an editorial side, editorial research and there’s the creative side, which is, you know, it’s like law and order.

They work together to do the thing and, um, W really, we will sit around and go, Hey, what’s happening this week? Like what’s news worthy, but also like what reports are coming out? Um, what, what trends are happening that we haven’t covered a lot lately? Uh, what have people been asking us for? Because we do have a really robust pipeline of audience suggestions and we take that seriously.

So people keep keeping it in the mess. So, um, we’ll look at all that stuff and go what’s, what’s a good opportunity for. For the things that we’re going to do over the next week or two. Um, and we’ll talk about that as a team. We’ll, w we’ll do some, uh, red team type stuff, which is trying to try and poke holes in the argument or, or trying to look at it from different angles.

And, and so once we have our core ideas, then those, those going to get into the research phase and we go, how do we, what’s the best way to turn this into something that. Um, that people can understand the data and the concepts are really in a visual way. Um, then you know, the, the editorial team and the design team will kind of work together a little bit to figure out how that’s going to work and the, and the designers work their magic with the data.

Um, that’s a, that’s a tricky one cause there’s no, there’s no real silver bullet there. It’s, it’s really about just having the, having experience working with this stuff. I mean, Luckily, we do have people that have been doing this for like, I’ve been doing it for about a decade, but there are people on the team who’ve been doing this for, for a few years as well now.

So some of the newer people on the team, they all work together to just learn the ropes and we have different strategies around doing this. Um, and then once you build up the processes and. You’ll make it, we made a lot of mistakes over the years too, and made a lot of really terrible infographics as well.

Right. So you have to learn that way too. Like if you ever encounter anything on our site that goes back back to 2012 or something, it’s probably not going to be great. You know? So, um, you, you learn over the years as well. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so it, as you’re creating, because what’s been really strong. As we’ve been talking about this as the, the editorial focus that you guys have got in terms of creating really high quality content and not intrinsic in high quality content, um, is the propensity to be more engaging shareable.

Um, but in the, within the process itself, do you have like checks and balances in place to evaluate, Hey, is this a go, no, go. Is this working? How do you. How do you evaluate, or what are your kind of criteria for, is this going to be shareable? Is this going to be engaging? Um, is this, is this right? Or is it just a kind [00:28:00] of creative director?

Not that I’m good enough. 

Nick Routley

It’s a little bit of that. I mean, so. Jeff, our founder is still very involved in the content process because he initially was the person who was thinking of all the content in the beginning. And, um, his instincts for it are, are dead on. So even if we have quick conversations around it, it’s super helpful.

Um, I mean, I’ve been doing this for about a decade as well, so I, uh, I also work on that process of approving things and then we. We also try and foster a culture of being really critical, um, and, and really being transparent and open with our feedback. So really, if everybody on the team has the license to, to look at things critically and be honest about whether a thing is working or not.

Then that’s how the content gets better, right? Particularly when you have, um, we, a lot of folks on our team are from different parts of the world, or they have different life experiences and stuff like that. So we can really look at things from a bunch of different angles. And I think that’s helpful at coming to the best version of the idea.

If it’s been stress tested a whole bunch of times before it even goes out, um, what’s our audience takes this stuff really seriously as they should. I mean, there’s, there’s key decision makers. People with a lot of money on the line. If you make a mistake, you’re going to hear about it. If you shift too far, one way in the bias zone, you’re going to hear about it.

And so our audience keeps us honest and we know that if our standards start to slip, then they’re just not going to let us off the hook for that. So that’s, that’s been helpful as well. 

Ben Aston

And so, I mean, th this sounds like quite a big process. How much does it cost to produce a piece, a data visualization.

Nick Routley

Yeah from, yeah, it depends like, so usually, um, an individual date of is at this point or an infographic or whatever it is, we’ll be part of a larger package. Um, but I mean, even a few years ago, a one-off infographic would still be a few thousand dollars. Um, so because it takes so much time to research so much time to, um, to design obviously.

And. Yeah, for a big infographic, probably a good,

I dunno, 12, 12 hours of, of research and writing and editing and that kind of thing. And probably also, yeah, good. 24 to 32 hours of design time probably to go into it. Um, if it’s. If it’s a company that has to go through compliance, for example, that adds more, there’s always revisions that come with that.

Um, yeah. Plus any maybe marketing materials that go around it or, yeah. So it takes quite awhile, 

Ben Aston

So , wss like 40 to 60 hours, upwards of that foot producing a piece of content. 

Nick Routley

Yeah. When you see like a long form infographic, those, those take quite a while. Um, there are, there are a lot of work. So we really, when we do that, we don’t do that as much these days, because that’s not really the direction.

Things are moving as much, but, uh, when we do it, we try and make it good. And so yeah, they take a while. 

Ben Aston

And then, I mean, you talk about producing them in terms of packages and stuff, but do you on an infographic basis calculate ROI? Based on eyeballs that you get on it. Um, how much do you get paid for it?

What are your metrics for evaluating, uh, the success or failure of content that you produce? 

Nick Routley

Yeah, that’s a good question. There are a few, it really depends on the objectives of the, of the client. Um, if it’s our own piece, then we have different ways of talking about that. You can look at it from like a qualitative and quantitative aspect.

Right? So the quantitative aspect would be something like, okay, well, if, if, if a company is looking for an action, then have we driven that action, right? Whether they’re looking for investment leads, whether they’re looking for the people to buy bullying or people to, um, You know, download a thing, you know, that’s, those are all things we can quantify.

Right. And if enough people have done that, then we’ve done our job and we’re happy. Right. Um, if it’s a more of a thought leadership type thing, then we go, okay, well, you know, what, what are the views? Like, what are the, what’s the referral traffic coming in? Like, um, you know, which media outlets pick this up.

So there’s, there’s that aspect of it as well. Um, and then on the qualitative side, we’re looking at. You know, have people been leaving comments about it? Do they like it? Um, are people forwarding it and sharing it? And like what way are they doing that? Um, we re I really try and pay attention to the qualitative side of it too, because, um, I think there’s a lot to learn.

If you take the time to dig into comments, sections, or, you know, if it’s been posted on Reddit or something, see what people are saying or zero heads, you know what I mean? You can learn a lot from that. So. That’s all right. We can evaluate it a bunch of different ways, but yeah, those are the angles I approach it from.

Ben Aston

And in terms of like the vitality of the content that you produce, is there anything that you’ve found that has been particularly effective or successful in making a piece of content shareable or making, like, what are, what are the key attributes that make something really good and sharable? 

Nick Routley

Yeah, a good question there. So it’s a tricky one and we’re always trying to figure out the answer to that. Um, but one easy thing that we do is we pay attention to how things look, um, as people encounter them. Right? How are people seeing this? They’re seeing again, in a social media feed or, you know, what does that preview image look like?

What does that headline look like? Um, is. Is the piece of content. I mean, have we framed it in a way that’s more universal? Have we framed it in a way that is something that people around the world can get interested in? If we’re, if we’re looking at things that really are going to get a lot of tread, it’s like, it’s things like, um, comparing every countries, um, uh, trade or something like that.

Like everybody in the world wants to know where their country is standing. So you look at something like that. Um, Usually being able to see the whole idea in one spot is another way that is another attribute that makes the thing go more viral. If you will, or spread more, if it’s a compact, you, and it’s like, like a, like a meme or something, you know, in a way, you know, you see the whole thing and you’re like, Hmm, that’s cool.

I learned something from that easily. Easy to share it. Those are the types of things that typically really get a lot of trends. 

Ben Aston

Cool. Yeah. So relevant, personal relevance and relevance, the ability to consume it, um, in a, without scrolling, I guess maybe because I saw some of the most popular ones that you have, like price of a pint of beer.

You can buy this as a poster. If you’re looking for, to be able to compare the price of beer around the world. Um, I mean, it was just, you know, it’s a single view. There was another one about, um, I mean, we, you know, different countries comparing and you where you have the ability to go and find your country.

Um, so it’s a bit of like where’s Wally or where’s Waldo. Um, yeah. And then you find a bit of information for that’s relevant to you. So there’s a hide and seek kind of component. 

Nick Routley

Yeah. And there’s also the, I mean, hitting the topic at the right moment is really key as well. Um, and. I think being thoughtful about like, okay, so circling back to problems with media.

One of the big things that happens in the modern media landscape is everyone is like, um, kids playing soccer, right? They’re all chasing the same ball all the time. And when you have that kind of tunnel vision, you, you go, it’s like a curse of knowledge kind of thing. You just assume everybody knows everything about it.

And there, I think like people in that industry, like I’m in that industry too, you, you just get so consumed with everything that you’re paying attention to all day that you. You just think, you know, the universal truth about a thing, right. And really, um, sometimes coming into things with a bit of a beginner’s mindset is the way to go.

Right. Um, one thing that really got a lot of spread earlier this year for us was the, um, history of pandemics. And that really sprang from a question that, that I had, which was, um, well, how does it, how does COVID-19 in its early days? Like how does this even compare to previous pandemics? Like, I don’t know how many people.

How big were these other ones who knows? And I didn’t really find a satisfying answer looking online. So, so maybe this is something we should create. Right. And that took quite a bit of work, but it’s things like that. Like other people probably have that same question you do. And that’s really at the heart of it as well.

Ben Aston

Yeah. I’m curious how you make all this happen. I mean, and infographic, that’s like taking 60 to 80 hours to produce. You’re doing this every day. Um, how, how big is your team? How has that kind of evolved over time? 

Nick Routley

Yeah, our team now is, uh, we’re, we’re around 35 people. I want to say. And over time. Yeah. The last couple of years is when we’ve really scaled up the size of our team.

Um, two years ago, can’t remember quite how big our team would have been, but it would have been about half that size. Yeah. And so a lot of that, a lot of that is between the editorial and creative side. And there’s also, um, some folks on, on the business development and marketing and a bunch of different like account management and all that stuff as well.

So. And, and how do we make it happen? I don’t know. Honestly, Ben, it’s pretty hard, but so we’ve been bootstrapped pretty much right from the start. So we don’t have, you know, we don’t have a wealth of resources at our disposal to keep growing. So we, we try and stay scrappy. We, we focus on things that we know our audience is gonna like.

There’s we, we can’t just pursue every idea. That’s kind of thrown at us, right. We have to be really selective and, um, and just be consistent and be ruthlessly efficient with things. And that’s how, uh, we just, we just keep going forward and, um, yeah, it, it, sometimes it can be a lot, but we make it work. 

Ben Aston

And all of these as you’ve kind of grown the team and how to operationalize different aspects of the process.

Well, where do you, where have you been able to create process and operationalize things? And whereas like, where is it still kind of Greenwood? 

Nick Routley

Yeah. So a lot of. So like, okay. The reason I’m a little bit wary about that. We love the operationalizing like process. We like building process around things because that’s where we don’t want to be spending our mental energy thinking about like processes and organizing projects and it goes out.

So we were always trying to make that process better. Um, I’m also wary about design is tricky, right? There are ways that you can over. Over systematize things. Um, there are there outlets I won’t name, or there are companies, I won’t name them that have like a very standardized template process to displaying data that are pretty popular.

Um, but I don’t think that that’s, that’s not our bag. We don’t, we don’t do that. And so they’re always kind of be that tricky element where there, which I think is the human element really where we want to be creative and we want people to. So have fun making this stuff even, right. So anything we can do to free up time to allow that to happen.

And that’s, that’s where we’re operationalizing. Yeah. Yeah. 

Ben Aston

Can you share, like over the course of the past, I guess, decade, what, what have been some of your biggest screw ups or some of the biggest challenges that you’ve had to deal with? 

Nick Routley

Yeah. I mean, we’ve screwed up a lot. I think we were lucky in that we haven’t had a lot of really public screw ups.

Like we’re pretty careful with our content. Uh, occasionally things go wrong though. I mean, we’ve, we’ve published things that have had backlash. Um, I mean, there was one I can think of a couple of years ago that we didn’t make it, but we published it. It was one on how people can build wealth on minimum wage and you know, it’s interesting because it actually did have some really sound advice in it for people to, to make some, some, like, obviously it’s hard living off minimum wage, especially like in the, in the States. Right. But, um, you know, it had some techniques for people to try and put some all the way, but I mean, for an organization called visual capitalist to publish a thing like that, um, Once the once certain people get ahold of that.

I mean, you’re just the easiest punching bag in the world. So, you know, making better decisions about content like that. And I’m reading the room a little bit better or things we’ve had to learn over time. Um, you know, figuring out when, to just stay in our lane and when not to, and it’s things like that.

So we’ve had screw ups like that in the past, and it’s usually a result of us. Um, Like having a bit of tunnel vision where we’re going, Oh, this is, this is great, but not thinking about other perspectives, people might have, you know, some 

Ben Aston

And like, and what’s hard. What’s tough for you at the moment. What are some of the biggest challenges that you’re dealing with in growing the business and, um, yeah.

What, what’s tough. 

Nick Routley

Yeah. The tough thing is, um,

The tough thing is, is scaling in a way that’s smart. I think like we’re in, especially during COVID times where everything is kind of in disarray a little bit. Uh it’s um, I don’t know. We’re still feeling things out a little bit. There are certain aspects of our business that say, we know we’re going to scale and that we’re, we’re putting our resources into, um, and.

There are other things that we still are a bit experimental about it, we still need to figure out. And that’s really, the biggest challenge is managing the complexity of what we’re doing every day. Um, and just trying to, um, you know, produce the best content possible with, with, with what we’ve got at the moment, so.

Ben Aston

So yeah. So what, what is, what are some of the things on your roadmap? What are the, some of the things that you’ll be working on over the next year or so. 

Nick Routley

Yeah. So right now, right at the present moment, I mean, we’re, we’re the tail end of our book process as it exists now. So that’s going out to the world.

Um, so that like there’s a little marketing strategy around that. Obviously we, we have a licensing product coming up. Um, we, we had a lot of questions about. Uh, places wanting to use our content in various ways. Right now anybody can grab anything off the site and just use it for free, totally fine with attribution.

And it’ll always be that way. But increasingly as we have a more global audience, we have places that want to translate things, for example, or. Uh, other media outlets, it’s just want to take things and, you know, switch it around to their format or something. Right. And we don’t, we don’t have time to honor all those requests.

Um, but we don’t have the resources either to modify things for people. So. This is just an easy Avenue for people to just pay a little bit, take the design, it let’s do what they need to do with it. And that’s fine. So that’s, that’s, that’s another product we have that we’re building out right now. And we also have a different sections of the site.

That’s still very experimental, but we’re also building that out as well. And that sort of going to the scaling up, scaling down thing where this is, um, like a more accessible and consumable with viewing content. So we’ll be building that out a lot too. Um, and I would say just scaling up the frequency of content as well.

Ben Aston

Cool. So making more snackable. 

Nick Routley

Yeah. more  yeah, kind of more so like on both ends of the spectrum, like we’re at right now, our day-to-day content is in the middle where we’re trying to figure out what are these big, what are these big moments that we can capitalize on? And what are these smaller moments we can capitalize on? So, yeah. 

Ben Aston

And just overall as a, as a business, um, what would you say you’re trying to get better at. What are the, where do you kind of, as you kind of give yourself, uh, you know, coming up to the end of the year, thinking, um, you know, being reflective, having some introspection, well, what are you trying to get better at?

Nick Routley

Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, we’re always trying to get better at our internal processes. So we work on that in the background. That’s not super exciting for people, but it’s a really necessary part of our growth. Uh, we’re trying to get better at. Um, expanding the type of stuff that we talk about.

Cause right now we’re just at the compared to other places that publish two or 300 articles a day sometimes like in the business insider sense. Um, like we publish one or two things a day right now, and there’s only so much we can talk about. So we’re leaving a lot unexplained and a lot unsaid right now.

And, you know, if we genuinely believe that we’re explaining things to people in a way that makes their lives better, then we should continue doing that and do more of that. And, you know, trusted media continues to fall. Um, I saw a Gallup poll yesterday that said, um, 49% of people either think that the media is not trustworthy at all, or is not very trustworthy.

So that’s half the population and that trend is continuing to fall. And if that’s the case, then where are people going to get their information from? Right. Um, and you know, if we can be that source for people where they can learn about the world and make better decisions around money and their career in that, then, then.

It’s our obligation to keep growing and doing that. So that’s, that’s really where we’re focused. 

Ben Aston

Awesome. Well, that’s it finished off with a lightning round. I’m curious. 

Nick Routley

Sure.

Ben Aston

What is the best advice that you guys received? 

Nick Routley

Um, yeah, I wish I had a, a good example there, but honestly, people. Say, you know, be really selective about what you do.

So just saying no, as a default is pretty good advice so far, and really if something’s going to get your attention, um, let, let it win your attention. Don’t just make that as a default, right. 

Ben Aston

Which of your personal habits, do you think has contributed most to your success? 

Nick Routley

Um, I’m, I’m bad at a lot of things, but one thing I’m really good at is it.

Is working really, really hard at things that most people would look at it and go, nah, I’m not. And then I to touch that, 

Ben Aston

Can you share an internet resource or tool that you use nearly every day? 

Nick Routley

Yeah, there’s a few things. Um, one thing I use right now is it’s sort of like a, so the big thing for me is I need information and I need to know what’s going on and I need that to be the most, um, Data dense, compact thing that I can find.

Right. And so what I use is something called Feedly and I, um, I integrate pocket, which is like, um, Firefox is sort of recommendation engine. And I plugged that in and that’s my dashboard of everything that was published that day. Um, I also know exactly where to go on Reddit to look at stuff. I know it’ll hacker news.

So I’ve got like a really, really quick circuit that I hit every day to know exactly what’s coming out. And so those are sort of the things I use a lot. Um, yeah, that’s the main outline.com is super useful for like we can’t until there’s a universal paywall, which would be amazing. Um, you can’t have a subscription to every single media site in the world.

So outline.com. We’ll just like rip that and turn it into the little non walled article for you. 

Ben Aston

Well, but would you recommend and why you can give us half your own if you want? 

Nick Routley

Um, so what would I recommend for, Oh, a book? Yeah. Um, man, there’s a lot of books, but I actually just finished reading one called um, how money became dangerous, uh, by Christopher Varelas.

Um, and so that, one’s really interesting. It talks about how, um, so this guy worked on wall street, um, from the eighties up until now doing like a merger and acquisition and all these different things. And it talks about how finance, it used to be pretty simple and how it just got more and more complex to the point where people just don’t understand it anymore.

And they don’t understand the way that. That finance interacts with the day-to-day economy anymore. And there’s a lot of really interesting personal anecdote. So you guys had some pretty wild experiences over the years. So, um, so it kind of, uh, like, uh, insider’s view of like wall street and all these different things that were happening really cool book.

Ben Aston

Cool. What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone at the beginning of their digital media journey? Someone who’s thinking, Hey, I will. I want to create interesting, compelling, engaging content. Um, what is one piece of advice that you give them? 

Nick Routley

Yeah, I would say if you’re, if you’re genuinely looking to create a media company and you don’t necessarily need to do that, there’s a ton of people out there who are just like.

Making a run at it on Instagram or something. And you know, if they’re able to parlay that into, into something, then, you know, good for you, power to you. So many talented people out there right now. Um, but if you’re looking to start a media company, you need to look at like, what, what is, what is driving you to want to create that?

So I know that when we were looking at visual capitalist and as we started pivoting to more of a media bottle, it was about satisfying holes in. Um, in, in the market really. I know for me, I personally really liked things like when New York times, for example, like they have upshot when they would do a cool date of his or, um, economist chart of the week was like an early example of that or South China morning post too has been doing infographics for years that are really amazing. A lot of people probably don’t even know about. Um, and I would look at that and go, damn why can’t all the news be like that. Um, and so. I don’t know, we’re trying to make all the news like that. And if there’s something like that for other people out there that go, like, I wish the media was more like this, you know, then find out what your, this is and, you know, hope that you also are good at making it like that.

So that’d be the thing is, is really tapping into the why. What, what was going to motivate you? Cause like it’s, it’s a grind to anybody like anyone who is a journalist will tell you anybody who’s medial tell you it’s, it’s a real grind. It’s hard. There’s a lot of information every day. So you really need the conviction to do it.

If you, if you’re pursuing it for a reason that’s other than your own conviction and interest, you’re just going to get burnt out and go, hell no, I’m not going to do this anymore. 

Ben Aston

Cool. Well, Nick, thanks so much for joining us today. Where can people find out more about you and what you’re up to? 

Nick Routley

Yeah. I mean, just looking at visualcapitalists.com Is a, is a good way to find out what I’m up to. Cause that’s what I’m doing most of the time. Um, but yeah, if you want to talk to me personally, I’m really easy to reach. Um, uh, PHANYXX on Twitter as a PHA N Y X, X, but that’s the easiest place to just strike up a conversation. If you want to do that. 

Ben Aston

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.

It’s been great having you with us, and if you liked what you heard, please subscribe and stay in touch on the indiemedia.club. But until next time, thanks so much for listening .

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