Bustle was once a laughable pipe dream put out by a “tech bro.” Here’s how they beat the odds toward profitability – and how other editorial startups can learn from them
In 2013, it was very easy to make fun of Bryan Goldberg. He was raising money to create Bustle, a platform for women that would be the platform to end all platforms. A lot of scoffing took place. Who was this guy saying he knew what women wanted? But that same venture is now reporting profitability.
How did Bustle do it? It was a mixture of quiet hard work and working to fulfill the vision from the beginning. Not to mention getting out of their own way after a scandalous fundraising round. Editorial startups can learn a lot from the ways in which Bustle stood out from the crowd.
They started (and may end up finishing) in digital form
Bustle sidestepped a major pitfall of women’s media in that it began with a primarily digital platform. There was never a discussion on differing audiences for print versus the web. Yet it also managed to skip the awkward, internet-speak transitional phase that plagued Jezebel and Hello Giggles.
This may be more a symptom of the time period of Bustle’s conception. But starting out closer to the looks of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire allowed for an appearance of legitimacy early on. They will have to look out for more international companies such as Refinery29, with their partnership with SkyQ. It will definitely be a test for online outlets as they attempt to find funding models that aren’t entirely online (akin to Essence’s Beauty Box) and the fight for reader loyalty persists in 2017.
They’re willing to cater to the audience’s lower (and higher) desires
Goldberg’s now-infamous description of what Bustle would become actually end up being quite close to the finished product. At the time of writing, the Bustle front page contains a piece on social justice, New York Fashion Week, The Bachelor, and the Monopoly game. They engage on intellectual subjects and guilty pleasures alike.
It seems counterintuitive to develop a publication that caters to the general public instead of narrowing in on a separate topic. But Goldberg specifically sought to provide a publication that could serve disparate needs of the same reader archetype on any given day. This seemed crazy, more akin to Reddit than Refinery29. But the model bore out that their prime demographic was ready to receive this model type.
stayed out of the spotlight
One of the most impressive things that happened after Bustle went into funding is the fact that they just went to work. Perhaps it was a means of securing the perception that they weren’t seeking attention, or maybe Goldberg was sincere in his desire to build something sustainable. But Bustle went dark for months after its conception to just buckle down and establish itself. The think pieces could write themselves.
His diatribes about hiring the right people aside, Goldberg had the foresight to step back and let the work speak for itself. There was no reason for Bustle to be in the spotlight unless it was for the work the publication itself was releasing. On that note…
Bryan Goldberg’s nowhere to be seen
What’s the best way for a women’s publication owned by a man to run? The way that shows as little of the founding man as possible.
Goldberg’s major hurdle, according to the press, was creating a magazine that lived up to the hype created by Goldberg and yet didn’t carry the same condescending overtones of his original pitch. Today, the masthead of Bustle shows a majority-female staff wherein Goldberg is just one face in an ocean. The tone is also acres away from his previous venture, The Bleacher Report.
Reading over interviews with staffers, one walks away with the impression that Goldberg was the one that earned the money and knew how to make the pitch. Once the money was in, the women took over.
Bustle is not perfect. They can be accused of focusing on superficial topics, presenting multiple worldviews simply for the aim of gathering clicks and having an unrealistically upbeat tone for appealing to modern women seeking to be informed. But they have been successful in spite of predictions that they would fail, and are lessons to be learned from that success.