Ben Aston is joined by Stephen Regenold, founder of GearJunkie, an outdoors and active-lifestyle publication with millions of monthly readers. Listen to learn how to prepare for your big exit and build a media company worth selling.
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- Intro Episode: Welcome to the Indie Media Club
- About the Indie Media Club podcast
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.
So today I’m joined by Stephen Regenold and he’s a journalist by training and former writer for the New York Times. He’s a climber, he’s a skier and ultra endurance athletes, and he knows GearJunkie back in 2002. Firstly, as a nationally syndicated newspaper column, four years later, he founded gearjunkie.com and that is an outdoors and active lifestyle publication.
They have millions of monthly readers. He’s got a team of 15 publishing. 10 articles a day, a podcast, they do video stuff and they’ve got more than a hundred thousand subscribers. Fast forward, 14 years, he’s had a mid-seven-figure exit, and he’s now focused on building a network of digital media publications as VP of strategy with a startup company, Lola Digital Media.
So keep listening to today’s podcast to learn how to prepare for your big exit and build a media company worth selling.
So, Hey Steven, thanks so much for joining us today.
Hey, Ben. Thanks for having me.
So I want to first dig into your story a bit and for anyone who’s missed out on a heading to gear junkie, tell us a bit about it.
Uh, what is it, who’s it for? And, uh, and why did you actually start it in the first place?
Yeah, we’re at GearJunkie.com and essentially an online magazine covering outdoor gear and active lifestyle news and trends. And we are in Minneapolis and Denver about 15 people and then maybe 15 to 20 gear, testers and contributors.
So our goal is really to kind of stay on the pulse of the outdoor industry, active lifestyle space, and objectively test the gear.
Nice. And so when you started it back on day one, I guess it started as a newspaper column, but was you, did you have grand visions of this becoming something much bigger or was it that’s just what you were able to write about?
And so it, it just happened.
Yeah, I was in my early twenties and my grand visions at that point were to get free gear and tests the cutting edge equipment and travel and very lifestyle oriented. So I was a journalist by training and essentially pitched a weekly column to the newspaper in Minneapolis and quickly build sort of a nationally syndicated program to get gear junkie scaled.
And so at one point I did have this kind of vision of having a hundred different newspapers. I would publish it once a week. And it got up to, I think, 15 or so papers and kind of hit the ceiling. So realized I needed as a business move to kind of find a new Avenue. And that’s when kind of the kernel of GearJunkie.com started, this was back in the early two thousands.
Yeah. So when that happened that day, where you decided, Hey, this is going to be something that’s primarily online. What happened on day one? What were, what was the first thing you did.
I put an ad on Craigslist. Yeah. And I was searching, this was kind of before a lot of the common networking tools that we use now, but put an ad out there looking for a business partner, essentially.
And came across two guys who I ended up partnering with. And one of which, you know, I wrote out this thing all the way to an exit almost 15 years later. So, uh, partnered with a media sales guy and a essentially tech dev webmaster. And we built it. So, you know, three young guys just kind of looking to build something.
Nice. And so, I mean, when you, obviously you’re passionate about the outdoors, you’re passionate about the gear you wanted gear. Um, but in terms of your why? And you know, you’ve been working on this for a really long time now, how has it something that still gets you out of bed and excited? What’s your underlying? Why for, uh, for being involved in gear junkie and still being a part of it all these years later?
Right. Yeah. I mean, the gear is really the vehicle to push yourself as a person and travel and get outdoors. So that’s the why, and it’s not only for me personally, but I love to just motivate people to get outside with the right equipment and to also see my heroes and people I know and connect with pushing limits, both in climbing and skiing, ultra-endurance sports, et cetera. So my why is really being immersed in this whole world of the outdoor lifestyle.
And so, and what’s, I mean, how are you pushing yourself right now? What are some of your big personal goals, um, that you’re pursuing right now?
Um, the, yeah, outdoor athletic front
Um, I just kind of try to stay in shape continuously, um, chasing my kids around lately now, but I coach a mountain bike team with my kids and. Uh, run by hike, ski, whatever kind of a year-round athlete. For many years, I was a competitive endurance athlete. I did adventure race and ultra running, and really built that part of the lifestyle into my companies.
So I would get to a race and say, you know, the remote desert of Utah and show up with a new kind of cooling clothing and all the, you know, the lightest best gear. And use that both to push my personal limits and have fun as well as be kind of this ultimate Guinea pig for gear junkie. And then obviously the document, the whole process in words and video.
Yeah. And so you’re clearly passionate about actually not being in the office, not being in front of a computer. Um, so tell us about a bit about what you’re doing now. What you’re trying to build now, you’ve had an exit, um, what’s the bigger picture of Lola Digital, what’s going on there, and how does gear junkie now fit into what’s going on with being part of a bigger digital media company?
Gear junkie hit kind of a plateau. And at the same time, we were a plateau in traffic. Weirdly our revenue kept going up, but kind of just felt like I had pulled all the levers and was a bit forest for the trees. So about two years ago, we started to seek a potential partner and we went through the traditional route of hiring a broker and finding a company that was looking for something like your junky and it was Lola Digital, and we’re working now to build a new network called all gear. And right now it’s six websites with about 10 million, uh, monthly readers. And we’re looking to scale that probably double it within the next few months. So essentially I exited and then also moved into a new position where I can grow as a person in my career, in my industry, and build something new and big.
Cool. So you’ve obviously been on both sides of the fence now. So you’ve bootstrapped something from the ground up and now you’ve had an exit. How does it feel, um, now working for someone else, what do you love about being independent and what do you love about actually being acquired?
I haven’t had a boss, so to speak since I was about 23 years old.
So it’s definitely strange. Um, my. Uh, my team is great though. They give me all the sort of freedom and they trust me to do what I need to do. So it’s been great. Um, in that regard, it certainly gives a difference, um, sort of tenor to your day to day because it’s not your baby anymore. And I really had kind of the psychological leap to make when I sold my company to realize it is not mine anymore.
And I don’t need to. Babysit. Every don’t need to be concerned about every single I dotted because we have a whole team of people now, so it’s good in bed, you know there’s it’s 90% been a [00:08:00] great experience. And also kind of, like I said, came at this sort of mid-career inflection point where I needed something new.
Yeah. And so, I mean, let’s talk about that. Um, I guess the plateau in that you were talking about because, you know, for many people they might think, Hey, well, if the revenue is still going up, um, surely that’s a good thing. It just means that maybe I can just put less effort into this. So when you’re looking at a media business, and I guess when you were being, uh, valued by these.
External investors. What were the metrics that they were looking at to try and decide whether you were worth buying in the first place and how much to pay for a good one?
They’re looking at a traditional even a multiple, but it’s also a strategic fit. So that was a big deal with Lola. We essentially almost doubled the size of their company and brought in a ton of talent and infused just this manpower of really deep kind of journalistic editorial practices and Lola really infused tech, backend, SEO, and sort of the financing to move the needle. So it was one of those kinds of macro synergy moments. Um, and it just kind of clicked.
And in terms of the, I mean, there’s the EBITDA number, but in terms of you talked about your traffic plateauing, um, and that being maybe not worrying for you, but I kind of, it was a realization that perhaps you’ve kind of kept.
What you could do with it? What were the other kind of significant metrics for you that you look at when assessing whether or not things are going well or not going well? Do you look at revenue per visitor or what are your kind of KPIs?
For sure. Two points on that is we plateaued kind of on a raw numbers monthly per month.
I mean, it’s always going up a little bit, but sort of the hockey stick had stopped. And, but the balancing part of that is our time-on-page. The dwell time increased significantly. So essentially our audience quality went way up, say we had a million readers a month that. All jumped on an article for a one minute or 45 seconds, whatever it would be.
A year later, we were really focused on quality and we had the same, essentially the same amount of people, but they were all reading article for three to five minutes. So that was a pretty significant jump. And it just came with retuning how we did our contents and really focusing on quality and with that, the revenue per visitor Rose dramatically as well.
So we were able to sell better and bigger campaigns and, uh, encourage clicks on affiliate type articles. And we just saw our revenues going up. So the traffic in some way is a little irrelevant. It’s more the quality of the traffic that matters.
Yeah. And so, I mean, let’s just touch on how you monetize them.
So can you T just how, um, I mean, There’s affiliate links. There’s display advertising. There’s different ways of monetizing a website, but how I think you engage with your brand partners is perhaps a bit unique in selling in a campaign. So can you talk a bit about how you have architected this kind of, uh, engagement and what that looks like and how you monetize the website?
Our bread and butter is really these integrated campaigns directly sold to brands and agencies. So we do a little bit of programmatic and this whole interview, I’m talking about gear junkie. Some of the other, all your sites are much more affiliate or much more programmatic. Your junkie is maybe five or 10% programmatic revenue and the other, whatever 90% is either affiliate or direct-sold.
And under those buckets, we do. Custom content and videos and social media type promotions, and then just big direct sold campaigns with really high CPM. So we’re getting 20 to $50 CPMs from the biggest brands in our space, because we have such a quality readership. And great click through and all kind of the regular KPIs, but they want to be in gear junkie to get in front of that audience.
And it’s, uh, some proven ROI year after year with all our big partners.
That’s cool. So I think one thing that keeps coming up is your, I guess, emphasis on quality. And so can you talk a bit about your process and how, I mean, you talked about how you. Began doubling down on quality and saw visitor retention increase, um, 12 times increase and that then increased the value of what you’re creating.
So, yeah. Talk us through, I guess, how, yeah, how you create quality content, the process for that, and how you’ve been influenced, I guess, by your journalistic upbringing and how that’s impacted your perspective on creating content in an online world.
Yeah, quality has always just been inherent to what I do as a writer and a journalist.
It’s not even sort of a question mark. So I’m coming from this landscape of, I wrote for the New York times for years, and there’s just, you can’t BS your way through that kind of an article or that kind of a process. And so I was really just honed in kind of these traditional editorial journalistic processes, where story in facts and depth and originality and timeliness matter in are kind of the macro traits of any piece of content. And what we did over time was we took kind of that platform of a journalistic process. And on top of that applied some data and some listening from our audience and it really was a potent combination.
So. For years, I sort of wrote from my heart and what I wanted to write and did not really ask or look at data. And that was fine and it worked to a certain extent, but then you start looking a little deeper and you realize maybe my audience doesn’t care so much about orienteering or fixed gear, city bikes, or some of the things I’m obsessed with.
And they want to know more about. Warmest winter hiking boots. And so you pivot a little bit here and there and track some of that. And we just kind of slowly built this machine around those two somewhat, uh, polarizing, uh, processes. And now with Lola and all gear, we’re really doubling down on that.
We’re trying to apply like this data plus hard formula where we look at data, but then it’s really just driven from intuition and. Passion and heart behind the content and also an expertise in the content, which is something you can’t overlook as well.
And so when you talk about applying data, so does that, I mean, you’re talking about looking at Google analytics and seeing what people, uh, have the longest 12 times.
Are you looking at eight tress and looking at kind of volumes of, uh, Yeah, potential traffic.
Any of those traditional easy tools that tell you what people are reading or want to read, and then you 80 20th. So that’s, it’s not AI, it’s not anything fancy. It’s literally just looking at metrics and numbers and we’ve used some tools, but we don’t heavily rely on the tools.
And traditionally we didn’t rely on the tools like the keyword tools very much at all. Um, now with all gear we’re again, kind of doubling down on that and we have. SCO people on staff and we’re trying to build an even more oiled machine around that process.
And so obviously quality of content is really important, but there’s lots of other people out there, um, churning out content and it’s just getting harder and harder to kind of break through the noise.
What do you think is most important for you? Um, in terms of creating content that does break through the noise? And that creates visitors that keep coming back. And that creates that, um, dwell times that then drives value for them.
I think the number one answer would be relevant. So it’s certainly easy to churn out content, but if it’s not timely or relevant, It’s not urgent and it’s not going to get noticed and share it.
And you’re not going to be seen as a source of a group or a publication that is on the pulse. So that formula of just really doubling down on kind of our ethos as a team of news journalists and applying that to our space has really made us relevant and urgent in our space. Um, and you know, backing up for years, I’ve employed people that are journalists and kind of one of my right hand guys for this whole thing is Sean McCoy’s. He was actually an old college roommate and he’s now my editorial director. And so I’ve worked with him, for example, for years, he’s a newspaper man from way back. And so I think that is maybe the number one thing over the years that has distinguished what we do.
And then a close second, I think would just be the expertise and passion that we apply to anything that we produce. So yes, anybody can write about 10 great running shoes for 2020, but my team has actually done marathons and tested every shoe and knows the designers and as that extra nuance that breaks through the nose.
Yeah. And so obviously the content is really important, but without visitors, um, it’s not going to do anything. So can you talk through, I guess over the past, I guess nearly yeah, 15 years when you’ve been working on gear junkie, um, you talked about, you know, pivoting a bit to look at the data a bit more to understand what people really wanted to read about, uh, using that, applying the heart on top of that, but how intentional were you from the beginning about building your audience and what were the different things that you’ve done to, to drive that growth of the audience?
When you produce five to 10 articles a day and ton of social media and video and podcasts, everything you do is kind of marketing for your bigger goal of grabbing audience and going viral, et cetera. So built into what we do is kind of this marketing in a way. And then maybe four or five years ago, we hired a team to do projects and audience development and social media specifically.
So. Really looking at it holistically and building an authentic audience of people. We’ve also done film tours and we do trade shows and events at our office and sweepstakes with readers and have a, you know, three times a week newsletter. So we’ve kind of just pulled all the lever over the heat it’s to build an audience and we want to see those repeat.
Reader’s coming back. Cause they’re the authentic audience of people that you have as your community.
So in terms of your team, you’ve talked about, um, we’ll touched on the fact that you were quite deliberate in terms of building a team of people who said the same, I guess, mindset around, um, quality around the kind of journalistic values of creating quality content.
So. You grew gear junkie to a team of 15 people. Can you talk through how that, how it grew from the initial three of you up to the team of 15 and how that kind of evolved and changed over the years.
We just had kind of three or four stages and the first stage was essentially me and my two business partners had other jobs and gigs.
I was freelance writing and building my. Kind of connections and the journalism landscape, my business partner, Mike Santee worked at a bigger publication and did gear junkie on nights and weekends, et cetera. My third partner, John peacock had a design agency and that was three or four years of kind of the starting it up and just being scrappy.
And then we had this kind of long middle period where we didn’t really know what we were. And maybe looking back, that was maybe the biggest mistake because. We were just kind of half into it and half not into it. And you kind of got to go one way or the other, right. So I think finally in about 2010, so, you know, we’re three or four years into doing this.
I essentially shut down. Every other thing I was doing and focused on gear junkie, and then slowly the other guys did. And then we started to hire people. So it was always just sort of this organic process. And then in about 2015 or 16, we really buckled down. We hired it, essentially a COO Ryan Johnson.
Who’s still with me today and he applied us and traction and we kind of went through that maturing phase. And then we went through the big phase of finding a broker and getting our books in line and really putting pen to paper with numbers and Mike Santee, my business partner and CFO really was. You know, the champion behind us getting our financial stuff together over those the last three or four years.
So, you know, there’s no plan really. You just kind of build it as you go. And that’s how it went for us kind of year after year. But the driving force for me was kind of twofold. It was building a business and seeing the success in that journey of the entrepreneur. And then it was. Living this lifestyle of outdoor adventure.
And it was those two fires that kept me going.
And in terms of, I mean, Getting to the point where you’re able to publish 10 to 15 articles a day. Um, that, to me, that sounds like a lot of content. Well, it is a lot of content, uh, probably more than other people are publishing. So how did you, I guess, set up your team in such a way that you’re able to produce.
Um, that amount of content are you using primarily freelance writers and you have in-house editors, or can you talk through the process of how you define the backlog of things you wanted to write about? Um, and how you, the nuts and bolts of managing a story from idea or concept to publication and who was involved in the kind of the timeline for that.
Like kind of the macro business process?
I can just explain the content journey was similar in that it was. Scrappy and ill-defined, and kind of from the gut for a few years, and then it became more and more orderly. And we’re always working to kind of hone that machine, but not like lose sight of the, sort of the qualitative part of it, which sets us apart.
So how we do it tangibly, we have a team of editors. We have an editor in chief and kind of a traditional staff. And then we have support around that, whether that’s our dev SEO, our promotional staff, et cetera. So gear junkie is more like a magazine than it is a quote unquote content site. We really have a separation of church and state with our sales department and our editorial department.
And then we just build an editorial calendar and stick to that and build the content. But then we always have our ear out for news. And so. Every day on Slack, we’re pinging tips and pitching story ideas in-house and building that, uh, workflow of always being on the pulse and trying to always be on the pulse of what’s going on and being able to stop and publish a story.
And, you know, as little as say, 20 minutes, if we need to. Break some news. So it’s a combination of staying nimble, but also having a process behind it that I think works for us.
And so are you using freelance writers and if you are, how do you engage with them to send out stories and or them pitch stories to you? Um, how does that work?
We probably have, I mean, over the years, maybe several dozen freelance writers that we use, but in, in my industry, there’s kind of a group of maybe 30 to 50 people that I know over the years and everybody in my group knows. And it’s kind of a community of outdoor experts that are also writers.
So there’s that whole part of it. And we just have a writer’s guidelines, documents and take pitches. And then we have more of our kind of go-to people. We have a bike guy and a climbing guy, and it’s kind of, they own their niche. So if we need the latest ICX reviewed, we know who to send it to. And he comes back in two weeks with the reviews.
So it’s just building that stable of experts and content X and, uh, essentially fostering that.
And do you pay those writers on a word basis or an hourly basis or an article basis? How does that work?
It’s per article and depending on what article, we’re not super concerned with the word count, but something like a buyer’s guide will be several hundred dollars and maybe up to $2,000 per one article, and then something like a news post will be like a hundred dollars or whatever.
So kind of the whole range we have three or four different templates. And depending on what we’re doing we’ll assign as needed. You know, we do a lot of work in-house, but maybe I’m just guessing maybe 25% right now is freelance writers.
That’s cool. And so, And in terms of those writers and developing that stable of writers, was that something that those writers came to you or that you can’t just leave, went out and found this, uh, these 50 or so people who regularly write for you.
Mainly come into us. It’s just part of the game as a freelance writer to pitch publications andget stories and that’s their whole livelihood. And also backing up. I did that for years. So it’s kind of just part of my, part of the company I built was very, uh, acquiescing with those kinds of processes and networking with those kind of people. So since the start, we then kind of in that orbit.
And in terms of the workflow. So, uh, all your writers, writing everything in WordPress. And, um, do you have some kind of system approval system within that or what factual the nuts and bolts of how an article gets live from a, an idea? Do you have a project management tool or system you’re using to do that, or is it just all done through Slack?
It’s WordPress or it’s someone emailing us a word doc or a Google doc. It depends who they are, but ideally some of our contractors, yeah, they’ll come up with the idea. Do the research, do the testing, write the article, put it through our edits, edit process, get it on WordPress. Add the images and the links in the SEO best practices that we employ and get it all ready to publish.
So. That’s ideal. And then there’s a different, depending on who you’re working with, it might be, like I said, just a document email to you could be one writer and then the people we work with a lot. Yeah. We try to get them more into the system so that our editorial team is not needed to do all those mechanics every time.
And so when you’re working out. The ROI of the content. So you’re publishing 10, 15 pieces a day. You’re making decisions about what kind of post it is and how much to pay for it, um, or how much it’s worth. So how do you calculate the ROI of content? Um, or is it. Much bigger picture than that. And you don’t really worry too much about it. How do you work that out?
Much bigger picture? Um, we’re probably publishing more like five articles a day lately because we’ve really dialed back and we’re more like just quality longer pieces. So yeah, maybe 15 would be a huge day for us. Um, and also with all the year we publish maybe. 30 articles a day.
So the team is managing a lot. GearJunkie in particular is five to 10 pieces a day from like a short news or video post all the way up to like 20 boots for 2020 or whatever, like something big. So, uh, forgetting the question.
Yeah. Just ROI. How? Yeah.
No, it’s bigger picture. We’re certainly not trying to apply some matrix.
We do to an extent. We know what a page view is worth, but we’ve been doing this for a long time. That it’s more gut. We just know, like there’s some base metrics that a story needs to obtain around views to be kind of worth the money, so to speak. But there’s a big qualitative piece of this as well. And if you have a story that resonates with.
Only 500 people, but they’re the 500 right. People. It can be extremely effective. We had a piece this week that has, um, I haven’t looked today, but it had over a half, a million page views in two days and went mega-viral. And those are for the most part readers that come in from Apple news or social media.
Read the article and leave. And hopefully we captured some emails, but we’ll probably never see them again. So that to me is traffic versus readers. Readers are people who know your brand and are a part of your community.
Yeah. And so let’s talk about how you’ve been intentional about cultivating, um, those.
That readership and the community over, um, yeah the viral traffic, which has less of a value long-term what are the, what are some of the things that you’ve done to try and cultivate that?
I mean, we’re really happy with the viral traffic, as long as it’s quality, which this was, we are seeing people come here, read the whole article, scroll to our next story, which got, you know, tens of thousands of views as well.
So. That kind of traffic can be very valuable, um, for the short and long-term and introduces new people to your brand, et cetera. So you don’t want to minimize that, but you also don’t want to just produce clickbait viral articles that are disappointing to the readers. So I think viral clickbait articles are awesome as long as it delivers on what that clinical date is when you click it.
So. If you’re writing an article and or if you’re reading an article and you’re getting what you think you’re going to get, when you click there, it’s a good, it’s good for everybody. Um, but as far as kind of focusing on audience, I think it’s just a natural long-term, um, gold to have a true audience of people.
And then the other thing is in our space in particular, which is outdoor active lifestyle. B2B and B2C really blend everybody that’s in this industry is also a, an enthusiast. So even if you’re the CMO of the North Face, you’re likely a pretty hardcore climber and back country skier who on his or her leisure time is going to want to read gear junkies.
So that’s a really important audience of people. The industry side, too. Be in front of, and to have a relationship with. And then just all the people that are guides and product testers and outdoor retailer shop workers. That’s just kind of a core of our industry. So we want to be in front of those people.
Cool. I want to go back to the revenue per visitor, uh, metric just for a second, because obviously when you, when a piece of content goes. Viral let’s say, and you get way more views than you expect. How does that impact your revenue per visitor? Because are you structuring your deals in any way?
That is performance related or does your revenue per visitor just go down, but that’s acceptable. How do you manage that?
It definitely goes down because we put caps on our directly sold advertising campaigns so that if a viral article happens, we’re not going to serve all, say 5 million impressions of one campaign on one article over three days.
That’s a good problem to have, and it’s usually, it’s not a common problem, but we do have kind of governors on that and that did kick in this week. And then we just started to serve straight programmatic advertising. So our revenue per visitor went down significantly from probably I’m just guessing probably a $25 CPM to a $5 CPM.
So it’s just part of the structure, the kind of ad tech structure and it, uh it works for us. I don’t know. It’s not a common problem either.
Yeah. As an animal. So what kind of ranges do you see if you happy to share? Right. What ranges do you see? Like revenue per visitor? What for you is healthy versus a, not so healthy versus, Oh, that’s great.
I mean, like I said, I might pay attention to kind of the CPM that we’re getting from a campaign that is serving the most pages or the amount of people that are clicking through to buy something on an affiliate program. But I don’t get that granular other people in my company. Might I just don’t.
Yeah. That’s cool. And in terms of your future focus, so you’ve obviously not left games, don’t keep it. You’ve been absorbed into Lola Digital you’ve been acquired. How does that impact. I guess what you’re working on. Day-to-day now how’s your focus changed and what are kind of the big challenges for you in the year ahead?
I’m really working to grow this all gear group and reaching out to publishers and bloggers and people I know in this space to try to partner and acquire new sites. So Lola and all gear, we want to just grow probably double this network in the next few months. So we just acquired Explorer’s web, which is a legacy climbing website that I’ve been reading for many years.
And I’m psyched about that. And we’re going to try to apply. Some of our pixie dust to what they’re doing. They built a brand and an audience, but didn’t have much of a business plan. So we’re both building kind of a new content plan to grow their audience and then an SEO plan and then a business revenue plan.
So we’re looking to acquire more sites like that and also looking at some bigger targets. So that’s been a lot of my day to day is business development. But then I certainly still work in the weeds with mainly a lot of the relationship driven business side projects on gear junkie. And then also just some of the big direct campaigns.
We’re right now, starting to talk to agencies about 2021 and talking to some of the auto advertisers and some of the beer and some of those, like non-endemic sort of next-level campaigns. So. My push is to get, uh, to work with the teams that I need to have gear junkie, but also to be able to kind of grow both myself and this company, working on the business development front.
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So on that, um, I’m interested in the kind of acquisition side of it. When you’re acquiring a site, that’s maybe not making much money. Um, because monetizing it hasn’t been their focus. How do you talk me through the process that you go through to approach someone, offer them something for it? What does that look like?
You mean, you talked about acquiring multiple sites in the next few months, so you there’s a process here that you must have pretty dialed. How do you go about that?
Yeah, I’m learning that’s really what Lola and my team, Ben, Eric and Alex are kind of my three main guys are the three founders at Lola and they’ve taught me kind of their processes.
I learned through kind of the sale of gear junkie, um, just tangibly, what it means to be. Uh, work with a broker and an M&A attorney and go through the whole process. So it’s obviously fresh in my mind. And so just kind of build that into my new business process here. Uh, what I kind of add though is just years of knowing people at these sites that there’s so much passion in this landscape, that there’s a ton of brands like explorers, web, where they have a pretty good audience and a brand that’s trusted and great content, but they just, they never cracked the business side of it. They hit a ceiling in some regards. So it’s those personal connections which allow us to connect with, uh, you know, directly with these people. I literally know a lot of these people that we’ve been talking to.
So the people.
Okay, so you send them an email and say, Hey, I’m interested in buying your site. Um, we’re happy to pay this much for it, or how do you actually, how is it valued?
How do you get to that number where, um, you decide how much something’s worth?
Yeah, it depends how we want to plug that in. So we had this discussion yesterday. Certainly if something is a machine built with revenue as. The main KPI, which sounds hilarious. Cause that should be right for any business, but in our industry, it’s just such a passion space that’s not always the main KPI.
If revenue is the main objective KPI, it’s a business, then you can value it via traditional business means, which are generally a multiple of profit. And if that’s not the case, if they have a million readers a month, And eight years of content in a brand, but it happens to be run by a journalist to run [00:39:00] some sort of programmatic stack that is doing fine and is doing a little bit of affiliate.
Uh, the business side has been neglected and probably purposefully because the passion is really to build the content and to exist in this lifestyle of traveling and testing gear. And then writing about in telling the stories. So it’s a funny industry in that regard, like it’s almost, it’s so lifestyle driven that the business part gets overlooked.
So in that case, the value of that site is not really it’s EBITDA multiple it’s its strategic value. Plugging into all gear. And it doesn’t mean that we’re going to give it a 30 X multiple, but it means that we would take other things into consideration.
Cool. So let’s finish off by, uh, doing a quick lightning round.
So some quick questions that I want to ask you is what do you think is the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Yeah, thanks for sending these ahead of time. So I’m not sure how number lightning round, but, um, so I did actually write some notes. I think one thing, it sounds really funny, but in like 2010, I was in New York and I was talking to a different blogger at the time.
And at the time we were putting out a lot of content that was a mediocre quality. It wasn’t like it wasn’t like content farming, but it wasn’t the best and. I sort of had this discussion with this other blogger and he said, dude, just step back and do good content. And it sounds so basic, but it just kind of stuck with me over the years.
And I actually didn’t really listen to him for awhile. And I did mediocre content for awhile, but all that mediocre content is gone. Like it doesn’t even, it’s not in our long tail. Whereas the pieces that I actually worked on, I wrote a piece in 2006 on this knife. I went to Sweden and went to the factory where [00:41:00] these knives were built and really cool story.
It’s still for almost 15 years, it’s been getting traffic every day is so good content just floats to the top. And that’s kind of, you know, it sounds so basic, but. Uh, the other thing I was going to say is this is maybe a little different, but when I was a young journalist, I had these big aspirations to write for the big glossy publications that I’d grown up reading.
And I was talking to someone who was kind of a mentor of mine about the new Yorker, which is an esteem publication. And he said something along the lines of. Yeah, you can’t, you shouldn’t even try to write for those guys. And I sorta took that as like a challenge and I twisted and I said, well, why not?
And it really pushed me to, within the next six months I was writing for the New York times and the LA times and all these newspapers, which at the time were very relevant. And so that was kind of some like strange advice where I twisted it and took it the other direction. I just thought that was kind of interesting looking back on.
Yeah. And what of your, or which of your personal habits do you think has contributed most to your success?
I think session with this space, really living the lifestyle combined with a focus on the business. So. You can be obsessed and have fun and get all the gear. But if you’re not making the business happen, it’s not long term sustainable.
So it’s balancing those two things. And I think, like I said earlier, I’ve actually got a lot out of the business building part of it, which I think a lot of journalists and writers, maybe don’t. So I’m a little unusual in that regard where I really just didn’t enjoy building the company almost as much as producing the content.
So that’s maybe then. A macro trade. So some sort, and then the other thing I was going to say is just being nimble, adapting, being open to change, because since I graduated from journalism school, every year, things have been different and processes have been different and how you make money and do content has been different.
So you just gotta be nimble.
Cool. Um, which can you say?
Can you share a tool or an internet resource that you use regularly?
Yeah. This one’s going to sound hilarious, but the URL bar of a browser, just where you type in a web address, I use that as a tool all the time and it’s for the dumbest little thing, but over the years it saved me so much time.
It’s, I’ll get, say a long email. That’s all formatted might have some images and a signature, and I hit it. I hit command a copy command C and then I click up to a new tab and I just paste all that text into the browser bar and then paste it into like a word doc. And it comes out as this chunk of text completely unformatted, which I can then slice and dice up and utilize really quickly.
So. I don’t know why, but I do that so much. And it just helps me in my process with every little thing. And I use that all the time. If I’m trying to grab text and like clean it up, just a simple, quick trick.
That’s cool. Have you read any books recently that you’d recommend?
Yeah. Uh, I wrote a couple down. Uh, kind of cliche, but Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss’ is pretty amazing in that it just gives you a peek into like what dozens of sort of world-class performance business, entrepreneur sport. Like it’s just kind of a must-read, um, kinda got into James Altucher and his stack of books lately.
So I like those guys. Um, but for the most part, I just try to like, Not read things in my business or really in my like outdoor universe, because I’m so immersed in that. So I’ll read, um, you know, short stories by Dennis Johnson or like just old literature and just anything that’s kind of, not in my head all day long just to get away from that and unplug a little bit.
That’s cool. And finally, so for someone at the beginning of their digital media journey, someone who’s maybe starting out, uh, building their content site, trying to think about building their own media business. What’s one piece of advice that you’d give them that you think has impacted you most.
I think find your niche and your passion and your expertise, and then try to own that, but make sure that it has an audience of people that also care and has some sort of scale.
And then also, but can also have some sort of revenue attached to it. So I think there’s maybe a Venn diagram there of like passion and audience and revenue. And if you can find that midpoint. You may be onto something because it’s easy to write about, um, you know, nitty and socks or orienteering or any of these millions of niche hobbies, but is there an audiences or revenues?
So I’ve always kind of thought of that formula and then also maybe find your passion, but then what’s maybe like the next bubble out from there. So. I keep mentioning Orienteering. It’s just like esoteric Swedish map, encompass running sport. It’s cool. I love it. But it’s got maybe a few thousand people in the world that do it, but you know what it’s also trail running and it’s also hiking.
And so there’s all these adjacent things that are masked kind of areas. And so just expanding a little bit out of your passion area can widen kind of your content world significantly and allow you to reach a ton more people.
That’s cool. And I think, yeah, the great thing about that. Yeah. In terms of thinking about different content clusters that you can build, you could start with your own orienteering cluster.
And, um, that could be the main thing that you write about, but by not calling it the website, uh, orienteering it doesn’t block you in for life. Um, so yeah, it sounded right there,
Stephen, thank you so much for joining us today. Where can people find out more about you and what you’re up to.
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great having you with us.
Thank you, Ben.
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