How do you launch a specialist content business? Traditional large consumer publishers are playing it safe with launches, bolting on extensions to existing brands. Meanwhile niche content start-ups are spotting underserved audiences and creating new multi-channel media businesses.
gal-dem, Casquette and Muddy Stilettos are three such content start-ups, who have built an audience and are in the process of seeking investment. Their CEOs took part in a panel discussion hosted by specialist start-up studio Vida Media and provided some insights into how you go about building a niche content business from scratch.
gal-dem is an online and print magazine telling the stories of women of colour, founded by Liv Little. With 50 staff and writers and social media reach over 50k the business is now profitable and has just completed an investment round.
Casquette is a print and online magazine for female cyclists, founded by Danielle Welton. They have built a passionate community, have their own range of merchandise, and partnered with the London Bike Show, boosting their female attendees by 80%.
Muddy Stilettos is an online magazine for cosmopolitan women who have moved to the country and are looking for fun. Founder Hero Brown has built the audience to 275,000 covering 24 counties and now attracting national advertisers including Waitrose and Joules.
All three Founder CEOs were refreshingly honest about what has helped their businesses grow.
What powers the launch of a specialist content business?
Here’s my take on eight key factors that I believe could apply to other launches in underserved markets:
1. Passionate leader (and a team)
Liv, Danielle and Hero all have a content or editorial background, spotted an underserved audience, and have the passion and energy to create something new. As articulate and keen advocates for their business they have been able to attract a team to support them. All paid tribute to the support and advice of other female entrepreneurs and mentors.
2. Authentic content and a cause to champion
They are clear about what makes their content unique and authentic for their audience and emphasised the importance of trust. And all have a purpose or cause to champion: representing the voices of women of colour, raising the profile of female professional and leisure cyclists, or connecting women in the countryside with innovative leisure and retail options. The purpose helps to attract new readers, contributors and commercial partners.
3. Engaged community
If a community feels underserved, and then discovers a media brand that meets their needs, they will engage, given the right opportunities online, and through live events. And their priorities help shape the content that is created.
4. Multi-platform content
Whilst online content and social media is the core, both gal-dem and Casquette produce print magazines. In fact Casquette launched with a magazine sampled in cafes and cycling shops. Muddy Stilettos run the Muddy Awards, Casquette are considering events, and all are exploring video, audio and podcast content.
5. Strategic collaborations to extend reach
Few start-ups have a large marketing budget, so carefully chosen collaborations help get a brand noticed and attract a wider audience. gal-dem partnered with the V&A to create bespoke event programming over two days. In 2018 they collaborated with the Guardian to do a takeover of the Weekend Magazine and prompted a sell-out of the print edition. Casquette partnered with the London Bike Show to run a stage with bespoke content and grew the female attendance at the event by 80%.
6. Selected advertising partnerships
Developing a small number of in-depth partnerships with advertisers who are closely aligned with the community and the purpose of the brand seems to work better than traditional advertising. Creating co-branded content and events plays to the strengths of an editorially led start-up. Hero of Muddy Stilettos is particularly choosy about the advertisers they approach: the editorial team have to feel their brand or product is right for their readers.
7. Multiple revenue sources
Advertising alone is not enough to fuel growth. Casquette has developed a strong line of custom designed merchandise sold directly to its community, such as caps and jerseys. Danielle would also like to explore running their own events. Muddy Stilettos founder Hero would like to add commercial opportunities to their Awards. There’s also strong interest in developing subscription and membership models in future.
8. Sympathetic investors
gal-dem has just completed an investment round, securing four individual investors. Casquette is currently seeking investors, and Muddy Stilettos is considering looking for external investment. All agreed it was better to turn down offers of money from investors that were not sympathetic to the purpose of the business. Better to find an investor whose interests were aligned and could provide additional advice and contacts.
I left the event somewhat inspired and more optimistic that passionate advocates might find it possible to create a viable business around tailored content for underserved communities.
If you’re planning to launch a specialist content business and would like to discuss how you can help it succeed, do get in touch for an informal chat.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.
Find out more about the advice we provide for publishers