End of year letter from Shoe String Media Founder, Mat Beeche. #2016
Trigger Warning. This end of year letter by our Founder, Mat Beeche discusses mental health, suicide and debt. These are topics that may be considered a trigger for some readers. If you ever feel like you need to talk to someone you should reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14 the Heads Up initiative by Beyond Blue is also a great place for business owners and founders to find resources to create a mentally healthy culture for themselves and their staff.
The Letter is also unedited content which means those of you that appreciate proper grammar will find this content tough to digest.
Dear Startup Daily and Silicon Paddock Readers,
(We need to come up with shorter / better nicknames for you all as a collective, send us your suggestions)
In a little less than two weeks time Shoe String Media will have officially been operating as a business for 5 years, during that time I have seen many entrepreneurs in the startup ecosystem become silent success stories, public success stories, flearn and start again and have seen others fade away into the background opting for a more simple existence working for a company – one where perhaps they actually get to have stress free sleep at night. I would be lying if I said that I never thought about packing it all in at least a handful of times since our 2012 launch; but I am thankful for every less-than-desirable situation that has taken place since we started: the cofounder breakup, the threats of legal action, the actual legal mediations, the financial struggles, the day my car got repossessed … all of these events could have easily been a catalyst to close things down.
However if the idea that you are working on is good enough and you surround yourself with a varied crowd there will always be significant people that want to ‘get involved’ with what you are doing – that is how I knew to keep pushing forward – doing so I learnt that persistence is the key ingredient to building a deep authentic confidence in oneself. A confidence that is calculated, not blind.
The most important issue to address as a community in 2017 is the ‘D’ word.
At Shoe String Media we are entering 2017 as a confident media company. I would never to profess to know the future but I am confident that via looking at how people engaged with our brands online during 2016 I know where we need to take our commercial and editorial content next year to give the users of our platform what they want. Personally, I also feel more confident and intend to establish my voice in the media industry this year. I tried to do this in 2016 kind of got the feeling from media industry publications that for them we sit in the category of ‘awww, cute. You blog about startups’ an image which I intend to change in the first quarter of the year. After five years there is one thing I know for sure, myself and my team have the skills and abilities to pull ourselves through any challenge that comes our way – persistence is ingrained in our company culture – the silver lining that comes from rocky beginnings.
I share this peek behind the scenes with you not because I am trying to be a lame rags to riches “I did it and so can you!” type, there are already enough of those individuals for you to follow in the ecosystem if that’s your cheese. In fact since I am being transparent we are more of a “rags to good quality tea towel from a gift shop in Noosa” type of success story right now – all going well we should begin the new financial year operating completely debt free as a company, which is exciting. Because debt free companies get to focus on being profitable and from the outset I have always said that my number one goal is to prove you can build a profitable media company that competes with the major players.
I also say this because people in the ecosystem spend way too much time thinking that they are the only one having a shit week / month or year – when the reality is shitty business periods tend to be a trend that affect everyone at the same time – case in point; over 60% of small business owners that use a business model of invoicing customers entered the Christmas break period with debtors averaging 60+ days being behind on payments. I know that statistic certainly applied to our business, I also know that it causes a chain reaction where we ourselves fall behind on our responsibilities around debt. It is a fucked up cycle and contributes to business closures, redundancies and creates reputations for some companies that would never exist if they had customers that fulfilled their responsibilities up the chain.
What is worse is that we have a society that does not talk about debt in a constructive manner. Our politicians are all over the shop when it comes to defining what good debt and bad debt is for starters and small business owners or startup founders never talk about it, like ever – we go to networking events and talk about capital raising, growth and opportunity and everything else about running a business but we never talk about debt.
Debt has become this taboo topic when it should be a critical part of conversations around growth and capital raising. In fact debt / economic stressors are cited as one of the leading causes of suicide in this country – not surprising because when you don’t talk about a topic openly in society – it makes it harder / more embarrassing to either seek help or education around the topic.
So, in 2017 we are going to lead from the front. Where applicable, the topic of debt is going to be part of every interview, stories with capital raising announcements will be approached in a more in-depth manner so readers get the full picture of exactly what that raise means for the startup, we will have online and in-person events on the topic and work with some of the best minds to produce some snack sized educational content around managing debt and debtors in business.
We will also be calling out startups and companies that contribute to the vicious debt cycle that business owners find themselves in – for example if you are one of the fast-growth small business loan startups that is engaged in activities like buying google ads that appear in search results around debt consolidation, budgeting advice or suicidal thoughts – the moral compass of your company should be bought into question.
As a media company the best thing that we can do is normalise the topic of debt in the ecosystem by making sure it is integrated into the way we plan for interviews, events and other content creation activities.
The most powerful thing you can do as a founder is not wait until an acquisition or IPO before you talk about things like economic stresses publicly – because contrary to what the new company comms person will tell you – that type of transparent communication will make you a more in demand talent across the startup media circuit. Matt Barrie and Ruslan Kogan didn’t get so much airtime in their early days because they followed the framework – it was because they were like “fuck the framework” that they became such in demand commentators – take a page out of their book, discuss the ugly stuff.
Summary: Address a major killer of businesses and founders, help create a #LetsTalkAboutDebt culture in the startup and SMB ecosystem.
Ask a person in any tech ecosystem around the world right now if they can name you an Aussie tech journalist.
If the true meaning of journalism is about seeking the truth above all else then I have to say, across the board we are doing a fairly shitty job. Just to be clear, that is the fault of the owners of media companies not the content creators – as leaders we must decide which is more important – a platform that delivers a large number of daily stories where only half of those stories ever result in engagement or do we want the platform we own to be known as that place that users visit because it is considered the best storytelling experience?
To be perfectly honest I sit in the latter category as a business owner with a sprinkle of column A, because consistency in the amount of content produced daily is actually more critical to the success of a new media player than one might think.
Upon reflection much of 2016 was spent preparing ourselves as a business for 2017, in particular when it came to the skill gaps that existed in our team. Circumstance somehow forced us into becoming a team of end-to-end content creators. Generalists that can give our users and clients the same type of content consumption experiences that any competitor can with their considerably larger sized teams.
We write, film, edit, speak, code, record, do events, create learning experiences – pretty much any type of content can now be created by our team in-house. I love it, it makes us the media company version of that annoying kid in drama class that could sing, act and dance perfectly, that also won the cross country and topped the state in Maths because #TheSkilledLyfe
Making sure that the people who create content in our media companies have the skills to be able to do this in a variety of ways means that we are going to have more creative, higher quality content being produced. Having a variety of options makes it easy for the people leading content strategy for our platforms to aim high in terms of quality as they are able to make sure from a content planning perspective that creators have ample time to produce the highest quality work.
The number one issue startup media needs to address in 2017 is our subconscious or dare I say sometimes conscious adoration for the startups we cover on our platforms.
That does not mean you can not be fans of a startup or organisation that the content is covering – but it is important that we begin to recognise when that may be influencing our approach to creating that content. The changes in the way people consume content, our personal relationships with founders or investors and our commercial partnerships should not impact the way we approach content creation. We should consistently ask tough questions and seek to understand metrics cited in a press release further. We are all guilty of it, even legendary tech journalist and Recode founder, Kara Swisher said in a recent podcast interview even she feels that this year Recode did not take a thorough approach in comparison to the past when it came to questioning company valuations and other metrics publicised by startups.
I have felt relatively comfortable this whole year in regards to the published content that we have produced. It is fantastic content and well researched but I also know that we tend not to push the envelope too much in our day-to-day approach with questions we ask when conducting interviews or research activities. Australian startup and technology media needs to adopt an approach of going deeper for the feature.
Critical coverage is not being a hater either – you can easily distinguish good journalism from the rant of a hater. The former gives all stakeholders a voice in the content, leaves their own emotion out of it and has clearly asked themselves the question – By putting this information out into the public sphere is it first and foremost useful information for the ecosystem to be aware of?
In the last few weeks of this year myself and our Head of Content, Gina Baldassarre were interviewed as part of a VICE News for HBO story on the Sydney startup ecosystem. While it was a pleasure hearing from the researcher and producer that they found Startup Daily to be a valuable resource they used to prepare for the creation of the three or four alternate storylines they shot while here there was something that was said in passing that made me realise how important our journalistic approach actually is to the growth of the local startup ecosystem. The VICE research team had a hard time trying to find high profile voices from the media to talk about the startup ecosystem that were void of a vested interest that could influence their answers.
The fact that the voices of founders, investors et al in Australia overshadow the voices of the local journalists themselves means we need to be more commanding in the way we tell stories – you work hard creating your content make sure that people sure as fuck know that YOU created it. I mean you sure as hell know that a story being told by Ray Martin, he makes sure you do, good Aussie tech journalism should adopt a similar approach.
There is a reason that names like Kara Swisher, Sarah Lacey, Walt Mossberg, Om Malik, David Pogue, Robert Scoble, Alex Blumberg, Harry McCracken, Alexia Tsotsis and dare I say Sam Biddle would seem familiar to anyone in the tech ecosystem in Australia or in fact any other tech ecosystem around the world. It is because we have all read, watched or listened to their work – that major exposé that sparked a national conversation, the podcast that gave real insight into what it is really like to start a company, the sometimes harsh but honest commentary around a new startup company.
For our startup focused media platforms to be taken seriously on the world stage we need to take a bit of risk with our storytelling. I am not saying be negative, I am saying be honest. You can highlight a good feature of a product and also criticise the user experience of another feature in the same article without being an arsehole. It is about being a trustworthy voice in the ecosystem and a little fearless.
In 2017 we are really going to take a proactive approach around this across Startup Daily and Silicon Paddock, will we get it perfect everyday – probably not. But we are sure going to set out at the start of each day with that goal in mind. I hope that other platforms covering the space adopt a similar approach Delimiter is probably the closest example we have right now in the tech sector, Mumbrella is also another great example of great ecosystem specific journalism that has an impact.
There is plenty of existing and new media players focusing on the startup ecosystem right now. Lets leave the light and fluffy coverage in 2016 and get real about things in 2017.
Summary: Tell the stories that need to be told, that create a meaningful impact that position content creators as leading voices in the ecosystem.
Brand x Media Platform = The New Advertising.
A few months ago we launched Silicon Paddock, the regional Australia focused sister site to Startup Daily. To date I have not had one person from an agency or otherwise ask me where the ad spaces are. We designed the site without any because my data from the last five years shows me that the type of person that a typical user visiting our platform is not very likely to engage with old school online advertisements. Plus I don’t feel comfortable selling solutions I don’t like which is why we just give away our ad spots on Startup Daily when a client partners with us to produce a content series.
Without sounding like a cliché storytelling has fast become the new advertising. In fact as long as it is made clear from the outset users of a media platform are quite likely to engage with brand powered content – possibly even more than a platforms daily content because more research time, design effort and content construction can happen because it is financed.
To clarify ADVERTORIALS DO NOT COUNT AS CONTENT nor do PRODUCT REVIEW ARTICLES.
They are just really long written advertisements. Marketing teams in brands still struggle to differentiate between content marketing activities that should happen on their own platform vs. content that sits on a third party platform. This year I learnt that in order to execute successful partnerships for our clients that we need to push back on agencies and marketing teams that think they know our audience better than we do, because at the end of the day it is our reputation on the line. Plus, we know it works – MYOB is a perfect example.
Throughout 2016 ran a series of stories and events around woman doing awesome things in technology. We produced content on founders, non-founders and subject matter experts. It was very clear that the content in that series was powered by MYOB – and every single piece of content in that series outperformed roughly 95% of the non-partner powered content on the platform for the entire year.
Because people will consume quality content on topics that interest them, inspires them, educates them or informs them. It does not matter if a partner is attached or not. But when there is a partner attached we know that our users are more likely to be open to exploring their services because they have supported their interest.
In 2017 with our multi-skilled team we are excited about taking content collaborations to the next level. Expect to see new ways of interacting with written content, a more authentic and engaging style for short videos and a some long form video projects that push the envelope and of course 2017 is all about audio – and we are talking with some awesome tech and startup brands about collaborating on some incredible audio content right now.
Considering that facebook are introducing a new feature around live audio next year – I think we are going to see an eruption of podcasts in the next six months. It is a great medium for a platform like ours as well where our whole focus is on storytelling for startups and tech companies.
Your support means the world to myself and the team. Seriously.
This time five years ago I would have been busy conducting (bad) interviews, turning those conversations into (badly) written articles only to release that content to a (really tiny) audience of 200 users in our first month. Now our content reaches the eyes of more than 100,000 people each month. With the rollout of the NBN and the launch of Silicon Paddock I am excited about reaching the most remote Aussie entrepreneurs, investors and citizens that share a love for startup and technology content and telling their stories as well.
Cheers for the first five guys, we hope we keep giving you what you want so that you stick around to close out the decade with us.
Have a safe holiday period and Happy New Year – see you in 2017 with some exciting announcements.