Closing Keynote -- Exit Strategies for Bloggers


Jory Des Jardins
Cheyl Contee
Barb Dybwad
Carley Knobloch

Jory: Goal was to blog for the rest of my life, and eventually someone will pay me to do this. Never thought about business models to extend content. Obviously today anyone who takes on this enterprise. Think of various ways to monetizing, these people have varying range that exists about monetizing. I will ask each of them to share about their business, the original intentions and where they are now. You'll see there are a lot of different ways

Carley: Started a video show called digi-twirl. Talking to modern women about modern problems and technology to make it easier. Made it through a life coaching business. Talking to women and help them juggle their lives and what app to use to juggle their lives. Wanted to create a video network. I was going to build millions of dollars. All videos would cross promote each other. Women's lifestyle programing. We're on plan M now, many different pivots we'll unpack. You're unique because many want to start a company, but as an individual.

Barb: Started with web development company and how I got started in the first place. In 2003-04, asked to join weblog inc company. One of two companies pursuing that. They offered to pay me. Pursued that and became one of the first tech bloggers in the ancient tomes. I've been involved in content production, other roles in various start ups, ran content strategy for start up called Techa backed by Best Buy. There's a silver lining that failure or when things don't go how you expect them to. Failure in business is like failure in grade school, it goes on your permanent record, whereas it's almost the opposite. Most entrepreneurs go through failures before they experience success. With my own personal story, after Techa closed, we were able to go from explicit editorial side to other side, and now working at Engadget and getting to do new things and new experiences and new skills

Jory: love example, you never saw yourself doing this. At the time I was writing exclusively. Similarly you saw a path that would not be available 8 years ago.

Barb: so much mystique about being on the business side. No matter what you're doing in your career your building new skills. You keep following where those opps lead you. it might not be the original plan for yourself.

Jory: we all want to follow who we are. Do you think in order to be successful as a business builder. Being open to opportunities didn't necessarily

Barb: The economics of pure content is challenging. It behooves you to learn at least something, get a handle of the language and the terminology. You don't necessarily need an MBA, you should have someone. You have to have someone who has mentality. If it can be you it can add more to your career.

Carley: All worked with artists with their own agenda, but you're paying them and they have to work for you. I wanted to help you do the right things for you for your business. I wanted to be in service for them. Not male focused audience, but helped things that people knew about in tech insider world and looked for brands and sponsors. I was excited to share what other businesses i was a fan of were doing.

Jory: If you don't have an exit strategy, you have wishful thinking. With this in mind, we know you're going through ideas for your exist strategy. You started as pure content and now you're navigating an excess.

Cheryl: We saw the blog as a something we're going to do no matter what. There are black people in America getting shot at. We're probably going to get killed, that's our exist strategy. We're still alive. and it turned out, from a black bourgeoisie perspective, we started the blog when there weren't a lot of black blogs, we became a central hub for people interested in politics. and people loved them. We started the blogs anonymously, we added new people, came out of the closet. We were approached by others who wanted to talk to the audience. It didn't occur to us to think about revenue. At the same time it was our baby that was personal. People applaud when they realize where we're from. It blocked us from the trend of political bloggers getting absorbed by other bloggers. We've done some of that. "How to be black" is a NY Times best seller. If you don't buy that book, you're racist. We're doing what a lot of political bloggers have done, partnership, started with entity. we provide known brand and sexy brand.

Jory: As a content generator we think about negotiating contracts. but you do have to be cognizant of how you protect yourself. If you're not going to be creating your own business, there's still a protection you have to be cognizant of. It's still your business.

Cheryl: You have to think of you yourself as the business. We have a lawyer and that's really important. Even if you have a good relationship with these people, they look at you like juicy tenderloin. But have a tenderloin defender.

Jory: Negotiations when you had to give up some things.

Cheryl: Certain things we're negotiating. Things we've been eager to protect is creative control. We have been able to create a super sexy brand. It's in our best interest. Internet is changing and evolving as we speak.

Jory: When you were working with this other entity, what did you bring to the table. How did you value what you were bringing to the table in these discussions.

Cheryl: I have other businesses so I've worked on evaluation. Red $100 off, takes big email lists and . Have to stick together. You look at what other businesses might be valued. On our blog we looked at how others had been treated. Looked at the potential revenue we could bring with a sales team.

Jory: Taking vc?

Carley: Take venture capital. I was going to launch a lot of video. Didn't know how it worked. Had many meetings with people with check books. People write checks to people not companies. Although I had great financials and no team. I learned that I wasn't a prime candidate for capital at that time in my career. I learned that my biggest business capital came from the show. People kept saying you're the business I'm the brand, one day I'm going to be owning a big business. And then people started happening with me personally in the media and I attracted the attention of of investors. And finally here was my money, then do everything different, but build this new thing and its scalable beyond me. I took the funding a lot of money to start building an app. And it's a great idea, three months later the company that deployed the financing and shut down the project and all of the brother sister projects. And learned a lot about who is writing the check is just as important as all the 0's on the check. Undervaluing myself, have a head for business and for product management, but at the end of the day I knew I was getting further away from what I'm passionate about and what I'm inherently good at. Universe talking to me and send me back to what it is that is my core strength. This was very recent experience implosion of everything I'm working on, told me about that thing. I may go back and talk about that You have to orient yourself about negotiations and find that opportunity.

Jory: Define good money v. bad money.

Carley: People that deployed money to me were second hand. The people deploying the money to me were here. I already had a degree of separation that was a check. I was trusting the middle people. They have money but they don't understand the nuance of who i was but they were looking at a very large bottom line. No context to the decision. It became clear that they didn't understand what they had invested in. That's an example of bad money. They're not as close to the business.

Carley: We can make the next instagram and let's just hope we end up making this. Decanting of ideas and people that you cant really replicate unless you have lightening in a bottle.

Jory: You had an interesting reaction to bad money good money.

Barb: Is there such a thing as bad money? You want someone who will participate in your business. Make good suggestions, you want those people and that's smart money. It can be difficult to evaluate smart money from dumb money. They'll talk a good talk and that they'll help you out. Do due diligence, look at portfolio, have they had exists, what are their records? talk to them? do they meet with them regularly? People who can move the needle for you.

Carley: When someone's gonna write you a huge check, would I do it all again. How can you say no to building a million dollar company. You'll have partnerships, you're going to do production video? we have all the the resources to help you. It's hard to evaluate with my experience in this world.

Cheryl: Failure is not fatal. Success is whether or not you continue. Bloggers are creative, entrepreneurial, resilient, out of the box thinkers, if you have a deal that doesn't go how you expected it.

Jory: You mentioned techa that was supported by best buy and that money went away. Reliance on brands. Even if you're not working with corporations. They're actively looking to work with bloggers. Ups and downs working with brands

Barb: Even if everything else seems to be going to plan, you can be performing the way you should, forces beyond your control can alter the outcome. Market volatility in general is a factor to keep in mind. It feels good in someways that it was nothing we were doing wrong. It was more like being shot as an exit strategy.

Jory: We're trying to say there are ways to stay protected.

Barb: Developing a wide skill set and pivot as an individual, for us as a brand we really embrace the strategy. A lot of deals we had in place, but we still need tech content. Early on in the blogging aesthetic, in order to maintain ethics, we need to be this island. This content we don't want on yahoo. Over time w/ techa, we wanted to get our content everywhere that's a good brand match.

Jory: When did you have differences, and how did you make shift to business model, when do you know when change is needed?

Carley: I know what was exciting to me and I started to create content and people wanted to hire me to make content for them. Realize I don't like doing it and then there was a shift. Then landed at the Today Show last spring, I really loved it and really well received there. This is like Disneyland and I want to come back here everyday. That was not part of the plan. Stayed open and strategic. Have to pay attention to what is going on and who is coming at you with which opportunity.

In the beginning someone was going to hire me and they would acquire me and then I'm gonna get all my investment back in this blog and its going to be great. Then I stopped and I knew that had to keep that separate. I kept my app and my blog separate. There are things you do and keep networking and if you have entities to keep them yours so they don't get eaten or tarnished.

Barb: If we're not at this point by this date we have to do something else. You have places you need to get to and you'll get why you're not getting there. Maybe there's a new opportunity. Thinking in that manner about how you can improve and change. Identify what's not working and trying something else.

Cheryl: Initial moment when we'd broken the comment system. People started calling us and they'd seen us and the audience had changed dramatically. When we found out that the white house was reading our blog, what does that mean for us. As we got invited to TV shows.

Jory: Personal brands you're asked to do things for free. Where does the rubber hit the road? When you realize that this has to yield something. I am the product and I have to start preparing for that. When were you challenged for that?

Barb: It's a personal decision, it's a day job and a hobby. If you get to the point where you have to throw it out the window. If it funds the hobby and you get to leave the day job. Doesn't have to be one strategy. It becomes a personal decision.

Cheryl: The blogging for us we get paid speaking engagements, book, lots of ways to monetize even if some or all of the content is freely accessible. How can i re-package. Mobile apps people taken content from blog and made it into mobile apps.

Carley: When you start and someone says do this for free and well give you great exposure and we drive traffic to your blog and nothing happens. Then you do a couple more, and it doesn't work. I've done a couple things like this will I be on the front page. I just know these things don't drive traffic. There are a lot of opportunities I got dozens of dollars. and there's cottage industries who tell you how to do traffic. All talking to people about different types of content. Doing something for free for different publisher. you're a guest expert. Streams of people come to your site, figure out what works for you and what doesn't. We made a video about some gadget from Europe and tons of people got it from YouTube and came to them.How much traffic did get driven? Try to figure out what works for you then what works for other people.

Barb: During the acquisition of engadget by AOL. We continued to grow despite the background. A lot of those fears don't materialize

Cheryl: As long as you treat your community like people and not like widgets, people are really willing to follow you and join you.

Carley: Do you feel that's the happy ending for everyone? There's some people who don't care, some people are looking for an out. Do you feel that it's always possible for someone passionate about your thing. And someone buys your house and says they love and then wreck it the next day.

Jory: Even the best intentions won't happen.

Jory: If you were to do an acqui-hire you would have more focus, more control, reddit was a $20 million...

Question: People who have start up trying to grow it. And we have interest from private investors. Where do you recommend that we go casually. Show them some ideas what would work and what investors want to do with us. Is there a casual place you meet people in a mixer setting, where you can share ideas before you sit down with someone very seriously.

Barb: Lots of opportunities abound.

Jory: The best way to kill an idea is by not sharing it. In my experience you're not ripped off in that way.

Cheryl: That's not a way to rip you off. It takes more effort to really create a brand and run with it.

Carley: Money on table for me and i want your opinion, but I wonder what you think. Everyone wants to know someone who's going on.

Jory: Metrics, what are the important ones. Cloud score doesn't matter necessarily. What metrics have you been looking at and did it change when you pivoted.

Barb: Be the most concerned about revenue, don't have to be a financial wizard to realize the bottom line should be positive not negative. You want a cash flow to fund your operations. For blogs you want to look at traffics, page views, over the past decade unique views have become more popular. Followers, press hits, mentioned in the press, appeared in the press, portfolio.

Jory: If you're looking at paid advertising, SEO is more important for you

Carley: My metrics are fuzzier because I'm selling myself. It may behoove me to I'd how much product I drove with a particular video I made. This stat may be more important. Focusing on creating a site like a destination. Then created a video show where my videos could be found. depends on your assets and what people wanted. People didn't care because our video was so high. They thought it was valuable and everyone wanted content. It all depends on what you're selling but how you build your own relevant metrics.

Cheryl: Similar to us. We don't have a lot of unique views. We're considered a list blog because we have an important audience, affluent African Americans who care about politics. Those people spend money. studies show that when you factor in global, whites come behind every minority when it comes to social media and smart phones. 30% of African Americans are using twitter. You can build a real core. We're behind the curve and those people are behind the curve.

Carley: We have a crazy open rate on our email. Really high level of engagement. I reached out to a gadget company, asked to send us a gadget. You're not big enough for us to send you a test unit. You understand I'm going to make you this high definition commercial you can embed on your blog and your website that talks about you. We're not interested, we've got bigger fish to fry. I'll never talk about them in the media. I have blocked them from memory. At some point the metrics will be someone who gets you. Is it a lazy marketing buy or outlook.

Jory: Want to end on advice, how do you protect yourself? What are things and pitfalls you've seen platform builders that they have made or that you have made that you can share with the group?

Barb: Don't feel pressured to say yes too quickly, don't have to answer on the spot. Mostly takes forever. No one expects you to come back right away, that's a red flag. Take time, do due diligence, talk to other folks about nature of the opportunity. Laywers, financial service people, first deal that's coming to you don't say yes right away, look for other opps. What are similar opps happening to similar businesses.

Jory: BlogHer entrepreneur is good for this.

Carley: If one opportunity comes there will be more behind. Don't have that scarcity mentality about what's before you. Trust your gut. We have great intuition, in this opportunity it's a thing I worked for. I could've said no but it blew up and then so many other things happened. Really cool doors have opened. I might have sold myself short.

Cheryl: I would echo what they said. Businesses build on relationships. Want to make sure that if we're getting in bed with someone get to know people who know them, get opinions and talk to other people. Make more than one offer. From our experience, don't let the fear of letting go or opening up prevent you from an exciting opportunity. Do new things, embrace and look at the trends. Use your extincts. We're really excited. We've worked hard for it but we feel good about it. You can find something you feel good about.

Jory: Nothing wrong with the business side of things. You can be a powerful content provider and business person at the same time.