up 15% from December
up 51% from January 2014
Comscore rank: 12th of all Food Sites
up 33% from December
up 34% from January 2014
Comscore rank: 11th of all Home Sites
Note: This is a roughly transcribed post reflecting my remarks this past week at the Kitchn/Product Team Retreat in Florida.
As you start your second day together, halfway through this retreat, I want to kick it off by sharing a few thoughts that I’ve had during our meetings yesterday and in the weeks previously as I’ve been thinking about our company.
I believe there are three things that should guide the management of a company: creativity, autonomy and mission. These are the things you should feel as you go to work each day. To this end, I’ve always taken a fairly hands-off role, some might say too hands-off, in the day to day workings of each department. But I think it’s really important that you all have the autonomy to create out of your hard working creativity and guided by a clear sense of mission. In fact, I consider it my role to get out of your way and to not be a bottleneck in our collective progress.
That said, it is clearly my task to instill our mission with meaning and to continually refocus our work in keeping with it. I do know when things are going well and when they are not going well, and it will always be my job to step in the latter moments and get things back on course. I am amazed, however, how little I’ve felt the need to do this. I am deeply impressed by you all and by the whole group that has become Apartment Therapy Media over the past ten years. This has continually been a group of really smart and passionate people, who make a lot of good decisions and know where things need to go. I applaud you for that.
What also comes with this approach to management – and I think it’s worth admitting - is that I am not interested in perfection. I am far from perfect (my typing accuracy and grammar are atrocious and always need correction - which I am happy to do), but more importantly, I don’t think that in our current business environment perfection will win. In fact, perfection is very much the enemy of the good right now. Things are moving too quickly and we need to constantly be innovating, changing and adapting if we are to keep up. In this way I am very much a champion of doing the very best we can and moving on, knowing that we’re going to have to change it again in six months. I believe in always improving and never being finished. This requires a lot of work and a lot of modesty, but perfection? Not so much.
I am also, I’ve come to realize lately in interviewing CFO’s, extremely risk averse. I don’t like to take risks. I don’t like to gamble. I also don’t like to lose and I’ve got way too much at stake in this company personally to toss it around lightly. I’ve seen too many good, cool businesses over the past ten years run fast and loose only die an ugly or pathetic death, never to be heard of again. I don’t want to do that, and I’m happy to go slower and more cautiously in order to make the long haul. And the long haul is what excites me.
So to those critics who think we may grow or move too slowly, I can only say they have to get used to it, but it’s not a sign of fear or ignorance. It’s just being practical.
I’m sure you all know the man who walked on a tightrope across the World Trade Center in 1974, Philippe Petit? He achieved one of the most death defying walks of all time, but he was famous for saying later on, “I never take risks.” The walk, he explained, was so thought through, so rehearsed and took so long to plan, that by the time we stepped onto the wire, it was a sure thing. There was no fear. There was no risk of falling. Good preparations are often slow and boring. They take a long time.
I am not afraid of walking on the tightrope, in fact we’ve been doing it for ten years, and to the outside it may look like that, but inside we will be steady and without risk.
I was impressed with the whole day of meetings yesterday, how you worked together and talked through each topic area, brainstorming and addressing questions. It was great for building bridges between your teams. It was great for confirming things we knew, coming up with new concepts and identifying things that we would be smart to prioritize and move on this year.
The next step, and I would urge you to do it this morning, is to do a review of yesterday’s meetings and identify the action items that became clear. Don’t let time pass or let this energy fade. It is too important and what didn’t happen yesterday can happen today, which is the harvesting of the fruit of the day. I look forward to seeing these action items – mainly for the product pipeline – help to refocus our yearly goals in the next few weeks.
But also I want to say that you all spent a lot of time swapping hats in your conversations yesterday. You, the editors, got to think like product people, and you, the product guys, got to think like editors. You got to think for one another and brainstorm solutions that were largely technical and aimed at enhancing or improving the website so as to retain more readers. It was very strategic. This is good, because nowadays we all really do benefit from thinking like owners in this Crossfit kind of way where we don’t just write, for example, but we also think about how it will sit on the page or be distributed and shared.
This is good, but be careful. Remember that in the end of the day the single most important thing you editors can do to bring readers back and grow the audience is to write really, really well. Your super power is in creating brilliant content and there is no replacement for this. The same goes for the product team, though what they create has a different form – they need to bring their full creativity to creating an environment that flows to the readers in a powerful, unique way that will make them appreciate the whole interaction.
This is where the quality of what you do as independent departments really, really counts. In particular, in writing I think there has been a total underestimation of the power of good writing and how difficult it is to actually do. Remember when you used to pull up search returns and end up on About.com a few years ago? Total crap, right? Eventually you just avoided those sites. There used to be really cool little sites with good stuff and big sites that we just boring or aggregators playing a Google game. It’s not much better these days and there are so many sites out there that have no voice, no character and are still just crap. They make no impression. Many of these sites are now the click bait sites like Upworthy, Mashable, Buzzfeed etc and they make sense to a certain extent because there is a very real land grab going on right now that doesn’t have much to do with writing. It has to do with dominating search and social media.
But this will not last forever, and I’ve always been impressed that Nick over at Gawker has been a fierce advocate for writing and his writer’s excellence from day one. No matter what you think of his sites, they have powerful, memorable writing with a real perspective on the world that you remember. That’s what brings readers back again and again, and it is what we have but never need to stop improving on. Our writing and ability to create in general – in words, picture and video – is our canvas on which to develop a strong voice and view of the world. It will be the thing that makes our readers most loyal and which makes us strong in front of a growing audience when others fade.
Part 2 of 3 comes Wednesday