Behind The Syndicate

Earlier this morning was the launch of my newest project, The Syndicate. Keeping with the original goal of this site – looking at how companies are run and why they succeed and fail – I want to share about how it all came together and things I’ve learned from starting my first business.

From day 1 to today’s launch has been 24 days. In 24 days, I gathered some amazing publishers, built a website, learned about the tax implications of starting a business, negotiated contracts, and sold almost all the slots through 2011. Looking back on it, I can’t believe how much happened in such a short amount of time.

Bringing it Together

It all started with some crazy emails to people who I’d been reading for a long time. I had put together the business model after comparing different ad networks and advertising opportunities. I started with some smaller to mid-sized sites, which was important. Those sites gave me credibility to sell some of the larger bloggers that help anchor the network.

Before I knew it, I had nine sites committed and handshake agreements in place to start contacting advertisers.

Overcoming Fear

Putting yourself out there is scary. It opens you up to failure. It also opens you up to success you’d never have achieved otherwise.

Fear is a powerful force behind people doing or not doing things. It’s probably the strongest motivator in people’s lives – even when they don’t realize it. Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin have spent hours talking about it on Back to Work.

For me, the fear of time commitment, failure, and embarrassment kept me from starting a side business. I didn’t think I could actually do this.

A key piece of The Syndicate is that some great blogs join. Who would have thought I could ever get the ear of people like Marco Arment, Khoi Vinh, or Horace Dediu? These are celebrities, big shots in the world of technology, and people who I have followed their work and respected for a very long time.

Luckily, I found it’s not that hard if you’re committed to building something great. Most of my time has felt a lot like what Marco wrote about his first SXSW experience.

The fear in building this business was constantly recurring – from waiting to hear back from bloggers to keeping my fingers crossed after emails went out to advertisers. The important part was being self aware. Knowing that I want to walk away, but to push through.

Helping People

Asking people to pay you money for something is easy when you’re helping people. It’s more than easy, it feels good. One of the parts of The Syndicate that excites me the most is that I’m giving some really amazing writers the opportunity to be compensated for what they do. Old Media is dead, and small, independent publishers are the future. I’m excited to be a part of the future of this business model.

Friends & Mentors

What I realized in building The Syndicate is that I can’t do it all myself.

The entire idea started many months ago with an email string with my friend and co-Syndicate member, Kyle Baxter. It’s amazing how spending time with smart people breeds amazing ideas that wouldn’t have come about otherwise.

Once the gears were in motion, I got an email from Shawn Blanc, which turned out to be quite a blessing. A huge reason why The Syndicate came about as quickly and smoothly as it did was because of his support, encouragement, and help. Shawn was already doing these sponsorships as part of his full-time gig writing, and having someone on board who could give direction and advice. He has quickly become a friend and advisor to the group, and I am lucky to have him on board.

Find people in your life that are going to encourage you, help you, and push you past your limits. That’s true whether you’re starting your own business or simply pursuing a successful career. You need people like that in your life who will keep you in check, but won’t let you stay complacent.

Passion

People throw out business ideas all the time. The thing is, you can’t fake it till you make it if you’re going to build something insanely great – you have to stick to an industry you know and are passionate about. I have loved technology since I was a kid. I posted on message boards in elementary school, read blogs since high school. In my day job, I’ve spent over two years learning about and building advertising products in the travel industry.

The Syndicate is the culmination of years of ruminating on technology, media, advertising, and blogging. I hope to build something great because I’ve put myself into the audience’s place for my entire life and want to build something that brings value back to them.

Advertising on the internet has a negative connotation with most people. However, it feels like that’s changing. Ad networks like The Deck and Fusion Ads as well as blog sponsorships on sites like Daring Fireball and Minimal Mac feel like the glory days of advertising are coming back. Advertising can be beautiful and relevant, and that is the goal: to build advertising that respects people’s time and attention by promoting interesting products from people doing great work.

If you’re interested in promoting your company, product, or service with some insanely great sites, be sure to check out The Syndicate.

October 11, 2011