A start-up expires … Figuring out what’s next

By Steve Outing

I’ve always been a believer in transparency when it comes to journalism and to doing business. So I’m going to be open and transparent about what’s going on with me.

This week, we (my business partner, our board and me) decided to close my start-up company, the Enthusiast Group, at the end of November.

We tried to pioneer using a combination of grassroots media (aka, consumer generated content) and social networking as applied to niche sports, creating narrow communities of enthusiasts who we believed wanted a place to connect with each other. The idea worked to the extent of creating that at a nice level of activity on a couple of sites (less so on some of the newer ones), and we have lots of users who love what we do and are deeply loyal to the sites. Alas, we couldn’t grow them fast enough to turn into sustainable businesses before we ran out of money.

(We did also develop a new business model as social media platform provider, but when revenues from that grew too slowly as well — well, 2 strikes and you’re out in this game.)

I don’t think our initial concept is unworkable. Rather, I think that if a media (or brand) company with a sizable targeted audience of enthusiasts takes over our sites and uses them to complement their legacy business, they’ll succeed where we as a small start-up failed.

So if you know of a company that would be a good fit to acquire any of the sites — www.yourclimbing.com, www.yourmtb.com, www.yourrunning.com, www.yourcycling.com and www.yourhorsesports.com — I’d appreciate a referral.

On a personal note, this means a transition for me. I’m looking for the next cool thing to get involved in.

I’m pretty excited about what’s going on in the media business these days, so although I’m definitely bummed about the Enthusiast Group expiring, I’m looking forward to the next thing. I’m just not sure what that is yet.

Also, the Enthusiast Group experience has taught me a lot about social media/grassroots media. (I used to call it “citizen journalism” but stopped using that term.) As I get the time, I’ll be writing about that. I think I have some things to share that will benefit others playing in the social media space.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

22 Responses to "A start-up expires … Figuring out what’s next"

  1. Barney Lerten
    Barney Lerten 10 years ago .Reply

    Bummer, Steve – glad you’re trying to stay upbeat. I work for a small-market TV station which went with a Big Kahuna (World Now) rather than a great pretty much one-man shop who’d already done great things for us – and they are still a ways from giving us even the most rudimentary article-comment, photo-gallery UGC stuff, much less the elaborate things that, say, KickApps makes available -but apparently can’t be bolted into our platform because – get this – it wouldn’t register as added Page Views! That does us little good.
    Anyway, I’m still almost friendless at FaceBook, and it’s not really aimed at my generation anyway. But there’s lots of potential and I hope we can make use of it before everyone passes us by;-/

  2. Barney Lerten
    Barney Lerten 10 years ago .Reply

    Bummer, Steve – glad you're trying to stay upbeat. I work for a small-market TV station which went with a Big Kahuna (World Now) rather than a great pretty much one-man shop who'd already done great things for us – and they are still a ways from giving us even the most rudimentary article-comment, photo-gallery UGC stuff, much less the elaborate things that, say, KickApps makes available -but apparently can't be bolted into our platform because – get this – it wouldn't register as added Page Views! That does us little good. Anyway, I'm still almost friendless at FaceBook, and it's not really aimed at my generation anyway. But there's lots of potential and I hope we can make use of it before everyone passes us by;-/

  3. […] A start-up expires … Figuring out what’s next. Steve Outing explains why he has regretfully shuts down his admirable efforts at community-supported niche publishing. I liked what he was doing and think the idea was sound but, as he writes, “we couldn’t grow them [users] fast enough to turn into sustainable businesses before we ran out of money.” It’s tough to have a business/dream die, but I’m eager to see what Steve will pioneer next. […]

  4. Carl Natale
    Carl Natale 10 years ago .Reply

    Sorry this hasn’t worked out. I do have a what if question for you. Do you think things might have worked out differently if you combined all the sites into one enthusiast site. Of course you would have sections for climbing, biking, running, etc. But would that allow you to attract more advertisers? I know a few climbers. And they ski and/or kayak. Very few of the adventure oriented people I know stick to one activity. Usually they have summer and winter activities. (Guilty. I hike and xcountry ski in the winter and sea kayak in the summer.)

    Do you think that would encourage use?

    It would also allow you to move quickly if you wanted to add an activity. If your users expressed sufficient interest in kayaking, you can start such a page or section more easily than a new site.

    Or create a bunch of sections and prune the ones that don’t attract activity.

    Of course I could be wrong. But I have a big stake in this myself.

  5. Carl Natale
    Carl Natale 10 years ago .Reply

    Sorry this hasn't worked out. I do have a what if question for you. Do you think things might have worked out differently if you combined all the sites into one enthusiast site. Of course you would have sections for climbing, biking, running, etc. But would that allow you to attract more advertisers? I know a few climbers. And they ski and/or kayak. Very few of the adventure oriented people I know stick to one activity. Usually they have summer and winter activities. (Guilty. I hike and xcountry ski in the winter and sea kayak in the summer.) Do you think that would encourage use? It would also allow you to move quickly if you wanted to add an activity. If your users expressed sufficient interest in kayaking, you can start such a page or section more easily than a new site. Or create a bunch of sections and prune the ones that don't attract activity. Of course I could be wrong. But I have a big stake in this myself.

  6. Steve
    Steve 10 years ago .Reply

    Carl: We spent lots of time debating the question you raised, and we did consider that many enthusiasts have more than one sport. Our idea was that they’d appreciate the sport-exclusivity that a one-sport site offered, and we could offer services that are built once and leveraged across all sites.

    Other companies are trying the multi-sport model you suggest (generally using the model of tools + community). Since none of them have gotten much traction yet either, I’m not yet convinced that had we gone that route we would have succeeded.

    Google OpenSocial probably has relevance to this discussion, since it will make it easier to build useful applications that work on multiple social networks. When this all plays out, I suspect it’ll be more convenient for people to belong to multiple social networks covering their various passions. Right now you have a bunch of niche social networks like ours as silos. When it’s better integrated for the consumer, it’ll be convenient to be part of many online social networks, but perhaps with a central interface for the enthusiast.

    This will be interesting to watch. Very cool that Google has gotten this started in a big way.

  7. Steve
    Steve 10 years ago .Reply

    Carl: We spent lots of time debating the question you raised, and we did consider that many enthusiasts have more than one sport. Our idea was that they'd appreciate the sport-exclusivity that a one-sport site offered, and we could offer services that are built once and leveraged across all sites. Other companies are trying the multi-sport model you suggest (generally using the model of tools community). Since none of them have gotten much traction yet either, I'm not yet convinced that had we gone that route we would have succeeded. Google OpenSocial probably has relevance to this discussion, since it will make it easier to build useful applications that work on multiple social networks. When this all plays out, I suspect it'll be more convenient for people to belong to multiple social networks covering their various passions. Right now you have a bunch of niche social networks like ours as silos. When it's better integrated for the consumer, it'll be convenient to be part of many online social networks, but perhaps with a central interface for the enthusiast. This will be interesting to watch. Very cool that Google has gotten this started in a big way.

  8. Matt Gersib
    Matt Gersib 10 years ago .Reply

    Hey Steve — I’m sorry to hear that the Enthusiast Group experiment is coming to a close, but I share your positive outlook for your future. With your keen pulse for what’s next, I suspect you’re going to have no problem lining up your next sweet gig!! I look forward to hearing what it is!

    I had a fun ride on YourMTB.com while it lasted. Thank you for going to the countless hours of work to make the site reality for us Steve. Again, I’m sorry it didn’t work out.

  9. Matt Gersib
    Matt Gersib 10 years ago .Reply

    Hey Steve — I'm sorry to hear that the Enthusiast Group experiment is coming to a close, but I share your positive outlook for your future. With your keen pulse for what's next, I suspect you're going to have no problem lining up your next sweet gig!! I look forward to hearing what it is! I had a fun ride on YourMTB.com while it lasted. Thank you for going to the countless hours of work to make the site reality for us Steve. Again, I'm sorry it didn't work out.

  10. Clyde Bentley
    Clyde Bentley 10 years ago .Reply

    Steve: You did not explain the revenue strategy of Enthusiast. That seems to be the problem with most online startups. Providing good content for niche groups is fun and socially redeeming, but of little interest to the commercial world.

    As odd as this may seem, consider trying something similar in a print/online hybrid. Online delivers glitz, but print still pulls the advertisers. A monthly sheet distributed to enthusiasts (filled with appropriate bargains, to boot) might work well if built around a good site and social networking system.

    Good luck,
    Clyde

  11. Clyde Bentley
    Clyde Bentley 10 years ago .Reply

    Steve: You did not explain the revenue strategy of Enthusiast. That seems to be the problem with most online startups. Providing good content for niche groups is fun and socially redeeming, but of little interest to the commercial world. As odd as this may seem, consider trying something similar in a print/online hybrid. Online delivers glitz, but print still pulls the advertisers. A monthly sheet distributed to enthusiasts (filled with appropriate bargains, to boot) might work well if built around a good site and social networking system. Good luck, Clyde

  12. Derek Scruggs
    Derek Scruggs 10 years ago .Reply

    @Clyde – Derek Scruggs here, Steve’s partner. Our revenue model was advertising and we build an extensive model of it. It was not pie-in-the-sky as I based it on real-world financial results that friends of mine were and are seeing with niche online content.

    Ultimately, our problem was not the revenue model, but the traffic that drives it. Advertisers will go where the traffic is. But we could never break through that million page views per month mark threshold that starts to attract siginificant numbers of advertisers.

    Your point about print is a good one. In certain industries like the outdoors, there’s still a lot of resistance to online advertising. They’re much more used to buying full page ads 6-12 times per year.

  13. Derek Scruggs
    Derek Scruggs 10 years ago .Reply

    @Clyde – Derek Scruggs here, Steve's partner. Our revenue model was advertising and we build an extensive model of it. It was not pie-in-the-sky as I based it on real-world financial results that friends of mine were and are seeing with niche online content. Ultimately, our problem was not the revenue model, but the traffic that drives it. Advertisers will go where the traffic is. But we could never break through that million page views per month mark threshold that starts to attract siginificant numbers of advertisers. Your point about print is a good one. In certain industries like the outdoors, there's still a lot of resistance to online advertising. They're much more used to buying full page ads 6-12 times per year.

  14. Maarten
    Maarten 10 years ago .Reply

    Hi Steve–sorry to hear that Enthusiast Group didn’t make it. I just found YourMTB for the first time today as I was looking around for other orgs that have used Drupal to create MTB sites. I’m in the process of rebuilding a site for a local MTB club (BBTC up in Washington; first part of the new site is here: http://bbtc.org/wiki/) and seeing YourMTB is definitely an inspiration.

    Have you written anything along the way on how you constructed the site? (What hurdles you ran into, what modules were a great help?)

    /Maarten.

    PS: if you’re looking for inspiration in community journalism, take a look at http://www.crosscut.com/. I don’t know if they’re making money, but it’s a great site.

  15. Maarten
    Maarten 10 years ago .Reply

    Hi Steve–sorry to hear that Enthusiast Group didn't make it. I just found YourMTB for the first time today as I was looking around for other orgs that have used Drupal to create MTB sites. I'm in the process of rebuilding a site for a local MTB club (BBTC up in Washington; first part of the new site is here: http://bbtc.org/wiki/) and seeing YourMTB is definitely an inspiration. Have you written anything along the way on how you constructed the site? (What hurdles you ran into, what modules were a great help?) /Maarten. PS: if you're looking for inspiration in community journalism, take a look at http://www.crosscut.com/. I don't know if they're making money, but it's a great site.

  16. Joshua Strebel
    Joshua Strebel 10 years ago .Reply

    Steve: if you are bored and need something to do, I would be happy to listen to some free consulting and advice you may have. Check out http://bestpartyever.com and contact me if u are interested. Best of Luck in your next gig

  17. Joshua Strebel
    Joshua Strebel 10 years ago .Reply

    Steve: if you are bored and need something to do, I would be happy to listen to some free consulting and advice you may have. Check out http://bestpartyever.com and contact me if u are interested. Best of Luck in your next gig

  18. Steve
    Steve 10 years ago .Reply

    Joshua: Free?! Umm, I do have to keep bills paid. … Actually, I give away advice for free all the time — have done so for years — in my column for Editor & Publisher Online, and in this, my blog.

  19. Steve
    Steve 10 years ago .Reply

    Joshua: Free?! Umm, I do have to keep bills paid. … Actually, I give away advice for free all the time — have done so for years — in my column for Editor & Publisher Online, and in this, my blog.

  20. Derek Fattal
    Derek Fattal 10 years ago .Reply

    Steve — really sorry to hear about this as I think you’ve put some fine properties together – -and certainly have a lot more genuine content in the site than say Fannation did when it got bought out. I’ll put my thinking hat on and will be in touch directly. With your knowledge and ability to predict future trends I am certain big things will soon come up on your horizon. Bestest as always – Derek

  21. Derek Fattal
    Derek Fattal 10 years ago .Reply

    Steve — really sorry to hear about this as I think you've put some fine properties together – -and certainly have a lot more genuine content in the site than say Fannation did when it got bought out. I'll put my thinking hat on and will be in touch directly. With your knowledge and ability to predict future trends I am certain big things will soon come up on your horizon. Bestest as always – Derek

  22. […] Le iniziative di citizen journalism degli anni scorsi – dai siti in cui ci si limitava a mettere a disposizione degli strumenti con cui gli utenti potevano pubblicare quello che volevano a iniziative come Backfence.com, dove notizie e altri contenuti venivano discussi dalle comunità – sono risultate di basso livello qualitativo e quei siti non sono riusciti a conquistare un numero di lettori tale da sostenerli economicamente. . E lo stesso Outing ha incontrato questi problemi con una sua iniziativa del 2006-2007, Enthusiast Group, un modello di giornalismo dal basso applicator allo sport, come lui stesso ha documentato su Editor & Publisher. (Vedi anche Lsdi, Il Citizen Journalism è morto, il futuro è il Giornalismo degli esperti). […]

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