Learning from disruptive media start-ups

Disruptive media start-ups

What can publishers learn from disruptive media startups?

How do media start-ups view their audience, content, and business model? What can established publishers discover from the approach of businesses working from a clean sheet of paper?

At The Publishing Show, Vida Media chaired a panel of three start-ups: Muddy Stilettos, Crafty Counsel and MPowered women. Vida Media publishes an annual list of the Next Generation Media spotlighting up and coming media businesses.

The panel explored how each founder had approached building community, creating content, developing commerce and new revenue streams, raising capital, and finding talent.

Muddy Stilettos was founded by Hero Brown as an “urban guide to the countryside” providing curated, insider information on how to find fun locally. They now have 275k subscribers and sell local and national advertising.

Crafty Counsel was founded by Ben White as a community for in-house legal counsel, with a focus on early career lawyers and a strong studio business creating content for legal tech firms.

Mpowered women was co-founded by Juliet Warkentin to provide mid-life women with authoritative content on menopause, wellbeing, career, and life planning.

Know your community and nurture them

Identifying an underserved audience who lack information is the first step. Muddy Stilettos spotted that urban professional women moving to the countryside needed local recommendations for activities. Crafty Counsel knew that in-house counsel in smaller firms, including start-ups had different needs to large firm law partners. Mpowered women believed that mid-life women were not able to find reliable information on the menopause.

All agreed that establishing a community, both online and in person, is crucial to building trust, growing the audience, and understanding what content they need.

Create authentic content

Building good content shows readers what you stand for. Muddy hired local editors with a national journalism background and focused on quality recommendations. Best to listen to your community for ideas and ensure you serve the reader first – the advertiser can come later. Content must be credible and authentic – Mpowered women has medics on its advisory group.

Build multiple revenue streams

Stay flexible and be ready to develop several revenue sources. Crafty Counsel set up a creative studio business, creating content primarily for legal tech firms targeting in-house counsel. This combines expert storytelling and design skills with deep knowledge of the audience. Legal tech was an expanding sector that struggled to communicate with customers. Mpowered women advise HR teams in corporates on how to better inform and support their mid-life female workforce. Muddy Stilettos principally sell advertising but are also exploring e-commerce around short breaks and travel. It pays to know your sector well and be aware of which segments have budget to spend.

Look widely for capital and investment

VCs may not be the ideal source of capital for media start-ups, as they may have fixed views on growth rates and exits. Crafty Counsel started with angel investors drawn from the legal profession. Big publishers may no longer be the ultimate buyers of media start-ups. Recently several tech firms have bought media businesses, e.g., HubSpot acquired The Hustle and Mailchimp acquired Courier. The data built up by a media business is a highly valuable asset for many buyers.

Flexible talent recruitment

Recruiting talented staff can be a challenge for media start-ups. Muddy has taken advantage of the move of professional journalists and marketers out of London and has always offered flexible working hours. Mpowered women has gone for fractional hires to bring in key skills and pays above average salaries for key skills. Crafty Counsel has recruited some staff via its own community, and the recent move to remote working has allowed them to hire staff based outside London, and as far away as Helsinki.

Media start-ups need a laser focus on their audience, to use online and in-person events to build a sense of community and create authentic content. Above all, they must be deft and agile, ready to follow the money and experiment with different revenue streams.

If you’d like to discuss how you could grow your media start-up 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.

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