January 2019 Memo: The SWOT

published Jan 1, 2019
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The year ended in a standstill with a year earlier. Both sites had months of impressive gains (Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

Happy New Year!

It’s time to kick off Q1 tomorrow morning, but for this January memo I want to get the ball rolling by summarizing our SWOT exercise from a few weeks back and share the rough draft of a new OKR dashboard for 2019.

For me, the central conversation of our retreat last month was the two hour SWOT exercise that we all participated in on Wednesday morning. SWOTs are challenging to do well, and are more so when done with over one hundred people, but I think the results were very clear and encouraging because they showed broad alignment across the company as well as a remarkable willingness to share openly.

As I said at the retreat, I see our company as a living experiment and a learning company in which we must grow, adapt to new circumstances and continually reassess how we do things. The SWOT is a perfect example of how we can practice this. You can be an excellent 30 person company in 2013, but that won’t help you when you’re a 100 person company in 2019. So, the takeaway which everyone should take to heart is this: as long as we’re growing, we’ll always be screwing something up and needing to start from scratch, and we must be very careful while we critique our work not to be overly judgmental, critical or hard on anyone personally as we go through the process. If our environment gets dark and critical, growth will slow and people will not feel safe to take risks, which are essential. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have spirited arguments, strongly critique a strategy or idea or plan, but we must be very careful not to combine this with personal judgements of others. It is okay to say that – in your opinion – a strategy is not smart, but not okay to say that someone is not smart. And hey, you may think it and perhaps someone really is struggling intellectually to get on board with a new idea, but that type of personal criticism has no place in our open, working conversations or leaking out behind closed doors.

So, let’s get constructively critical and take a look at what we all said. The slides from the day are at the bottom, and I’ve summarized them each down to the four to six main points:


  1. Brand recognition/awareness (IIIIII)
  2. Lack of communication/collaboration between & among teams (IIIII)
  3. Afraid to take risks/experiment (II)
  4. Lack of revenue diversity (dependent on pv’s rather than events, licensing, etc.) (II)

Taking the last one first, revenue diversity has been growing in the past two years, but this is a known issue that we are going to make a central focus of 2019. The web can do a lot more than serve up advertising to create revenue for media companies, and everyone is trying to figure it out fast. While I don’t think advertising is going away, and I think we need to continue to get better and better in coming up with new solutions, I see subscription, events, licensing, services and commerce as all viable opportunities in our future. Future revenue will have multiple streams.

Two and three speak to the heart of why I want to push so hard on the OKR process. OKRs are THE tool with which we can bring synergy and focus to the entire company, and while we’re not there yet, it is extremely important that we continue to refine the practice for ourselves and use this next year as a breakthrough moment. The whole point of OKRs is to allow organizations to focus, avoid distractions, and collaborate based on this shared alignment of goals. If you have any doubt about this, I recommend reading John Doerr’s new book, Measure What Matters, but I will be doing my best to channel all of this work into the company as well.

The brand recognition question has been one that has dogged us for years, and while Apartment Therapy is arguably a stronger brand, it, too, needs work to strengthen its position and its perspective this year. To solve this problem I believe we need to think way outside the box, be prepared to blow up both sites, and reformat them strongly with an eye to being of service, solving problems and making people better at home. Both sites have to clearly communicate their value proposition around inspiration, education and connection to resources. We can do this, and it will be, as well, one of our objectives for Q1.


  1. Competitors have more outside resource that allow them to be bigger, faster, better (IIIIIIIIII)
  2. Rapidly changing landscape of digital media (IIIIII)
  3. Oversaturated market and more are coming in (III)
  4. Reliance on 3rd parties (search and social: facebook, google, comscore) (II)

These threats are all real and known, with the exception perhaps of the first one, because I do think we should be able to move as quickly as any other company (see Strengths below) and while I have a healthy regard for our competitors, I do not think most of them are are better in terms of their content offering. Many are better, however, in terms of their execution and clarity of brand.


  1. Loyalty/engagement is consistent and passionate from readers/audience (IIIIIIII)
  2. Employees passionate, talented, skilled, and willing (IIIIIII)
  3. Nimble, flexibility to try new things and cater to clients and readers (IIIIII)
  4. Self-funded means that growth is organic and sustainable (IIIII)
  5. Incredible, quality content in branded and editorial and better than competition (III)
  6. Mission – integrity – content comes from a mission, we are not cynical and cold (III)

All of our self identified strengths overlap quite a bit and they all point to taking care of the “passion”, “loyalty”, “integrity” and “quality” of our offering and connection to readers and one another. While we have great strength as a high quality company in a landscape of bottom feeders, we have to be careful to own it, protect it and not abuse the trust that has been given to us.

I feel that my responsibility is to continue to tap into and lead the “passion, talent and skill” of all of our employees, which includes running the SWOT and then working through the process that ties it all to clear objectives each and every quarter that foster alignment and collaboration.

I also feel that it’s my responsibility to step up more than I have in the past few years to help our content teams engage more with our audience and raise loyalty to even higher levels. With large, moving audiences this is difficult, but necessary and I do believe that we’ve let slip our connection with our most loyal readers in the past year.


  1. Invest in new additive revenue opportunities (IIIIIIIII)
  2. Diversify platforms using content & data to push onto other platforms with GEN (IIII)
  3. Breaking the fourth wall – individuals are recognized in addition to the organization (IIII)
  4. We can shape perception of AT/K as owning the home – authority in the space (IIII)
  5. Move into other parts of the home – e.g. Self care, entertainment, personal finance (III)
  6. New audiences coming up all of the time (ex. Gen Z, not just coastal but everyone in between) (III)

These are all excellent opportunities and I’d like to see even more. We will easily bite into most of these this year, and prioritizing ourselves around a list like this is exactly what OKRs are for.

(Image credit: Maxwell Ryan)

If you go to this sheet, you will see the rough draft of what we are building for the first quarter: and which we will complete by next week: four focused OKRs that speak to exactly what we discussed in our SWOT.

  • 2 Clear Brands, 1 Engine: this aims at #3 and #4
  • Mobile First: this aims at #2
  • Diverse Revenue Roadmap Launched: this aims at #1

As far as moving into other parts of the home, that will have to wait until after first quarter, but Owning The Home will require us to expand, and we will have to begin that work this year.

And what about those new audiences? If we play our cards right, we’ll be well positioned to BE the brands that rise with these new generations. We are in the right place and in the right time. We simply need to focus and execute better and better.

Rest well on your last days of this lovely holiday, see many of you tomorrow and all of you next Monday.

Best, M