Key learnings from ArcticStartup – Part 1

Lifehacker had a post about their future, written by the founder of the media network – Nick Denton. This inspired me to write something on ArcticStartup. Last week, I had a chat with Teemu Kurppa, the co-founder of Huikea and he told me we should share some of our key learnings from running the blog and the company. This post is a result of those discussions and the inspiration by Nick Denton. I started writing this as one post, but soon realised that it would grow into a monster of a post that no one would have time to read. Thus, I’m cutting these into two parts. In the first part, I’ll cover the learnings from the media and in the second the learnings from the events we’ve organised.

Key learnings from ArcticStartup – the media

  • Experience helps – somewhat self explanatory, but ArcticStartup isn’t my first blog. I’ve been blogging here (as in antti.vilpponen.net) since 2002. Sometime in 2003 or 2004 I had a smaller tech oriented blog in Finnish called dotkommuuni.org that attracted some interest. It didn’t really interest me at that time, but gave me a ton of experience that I was able to later use with ArcticStartup. It’s the small things that matter and these you only learn with experience and time.
  • Niches are tougher, but more attractive – When ArcticStartup first started, we decided to focus on growth companies from certain industries – internet and mobile mainly. While the industry boundaries were not engraved in stone, they were very important for us to build interest in a certain community and become an important part of that community. If we would have started with a broader focus, we couldn’t have covered the news in enough detail and on a consistent basis to arouse interest, even though it would have been easier. This is still very much true with us today, even regarding our geographical focus.
  • Geographical focus is important, even online – while many blogs don’t put a lot of focus on geographical areas they cover, it has been a core part of our success so far. We started off with Finland, but decided to expand focus to the Nordics and Baltics after about 9 months. We found out that Finland was too narrow to arouse enough interest for us overseas – one of the reasons we wrote in English from day one. Enabling a window to this area from other parts of the globe has been important for us. Even today, California is the second biggest source of readers for ArcticStartup after Finland, before Estonia and Sweden.

    Geographical focus is also important from a monetisation point of view. With strong audiences in certain areas, you are able to monetise your media a lot easier through clients that value connections in those areas.

  • Scoops and breaking news are the way to grow – While you can do a lot of different kind of journalism online, scoops and breaking news are the most important, if not the most important ways to grow. We learned this the hard way as we slowed down writing to about 1 or 2 blog posts a day last spring. Also, we worked on ArcticStartup as a side project for so long that we couldn’t really devote ourselves to breaking news as we were working elsewhere.

    Just a few weeks ago we broke the Rovio Bad Piggy Bank story globally and it has brought us a flood of new readers. A few other recent successes have fueled our growth towards the end of the year. Thus, speed matters immensely in online journalism. More established publications have their brands and loyal readers and new comers like us have to do better – add more value for the readers. In many senses, being the first to report on something, speed is perhaps of the most value initially.

  • Aggregation is crucial – especially when working with a breaking news service. I’ve learned that about 80% of our immediate hits to new news come from social media sources, mainly Twitter and Facebook. Due to the nature of those services, it’s important to have your news spreading there before others. The first piece of news is usually the one that goes viral, if it will go at all. Furthermore – when sharing your news to other services, coming up with an intriguing title is half the trick.

    Naturally we also have a very long tail of content that attracts search engine visibility over time. Also, a lot of readers visit our site through RSS – the more traditional way of aggreagation, but social media is the future of fast news delivery.

  • Publishing times and frequency matter – we realised it very early with ArcticStartup that we need to be publishing news stories at hours when people are infront of their computers. This may somewhat self explanatory to many, but it amazes me how many newsletters are still delivered at odd times and they get buried in the mail. We try to publish our news stories each day between 8 and 9am EET to begin the day, followed by one more story in the morning and two more in the afternoon. The reason for these schedules are also in the way our news are aggregated to other service in the hope of further spreading them onwards. The more people are using those services when our stories surface, the better the chance for them to spread further.

    Frequency is also very important. While it would be somewhat easy to pump a ton of stories out, we want to do some prioritisation and editorial curation in the process. The reason why many news organisations pump a ton of stories out is that each story attracts a certain amount of pageviews, thus enabling them to sell more advertising. While we find this a goal we naturally want to reach for, we don’t feel like spamming our readers with numerous posts each day.

  • Processes ease sourcing – in the last year or so, we’ve also built tools to help us source news. We’re a very small news organisation by any standards and for us to work in a financially viable way, we need to rely on second hand news quite a bit with interviews to break news. This is why we usually always try to use Skype interviews or phone interviews over meeting face to face – it’s a lot more effective, when there is only a certain amount of hours available in a day. We mostly use Yammer and Google Reader to source news from secondary sources, on top of this we’ve built a lot of personal connections with people and we try to put those connections to use each and every day. When the business is built around personal connections between ourselves and entrepreneurs, we put a lot of effort into co-operating with organisations to break news in a way that they approve. This means mostly that we value embargoes and other agreements we may agree into.

I’m sure there are other important, small things out there that I wasn’t able to include in this post. However, it’s good to keep some secrets :) Nevertheless, I hope you find these valuable and in doing so also understand our business a little more. I’ll also try to answer questions in the comments to the best extent I can so feel free to ask any questions you may have.

Posted on Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010.
  • http://huikea.com Teemu Kurppa

    Antti, thanks for writing this. You should do this more often and dive into the details. I’m pretty sure that you have interesting data and insight how spreading the story via Twitter and Facebook can be done in the most effective way.

  • http://www.vierityspalkki.fi Perttu Tolvanen

    Thank you for sharing. It has been interesting to follow your journey. I agree especially with the niche statement. Both geographical and industry focus are important and also make the work more interesting (and enables doing more work per post). This also means that advertising based on hits is something that should be avoided in this model.

    Our experience from Vierityspalkki.fi is that scoops and breaking news enables the growth, but those in-depth-articles give you credibility which is the basis of long-term steady base growth. I also think that in-depth-articles are the ones that enable other business models and opportunities to emerge (horizontal growth). Scoops and breaking news fuel the vertical growth mainly.

    Personally I don’t like the idea that everything should be published during the day, but I do agree that those times are clearly better for getting RTs or Facebook recommendations. We are moving towards real-time-web and most people focus to work-related stuff during the morning and afternoon.

    I would also add something that I have personally learned about running a blog:
    - Commenting of the article is heavily dependent of the first comment that the article gets. Therefore sometimes I have suggested those people mentioned in the article to be the ones that make the first comment. This way commenting starts going to the “right direction”. Doesn’t always work, but has many times been the key to get the best discussions flowing.

    In general I see commenting as a quite challenging area currently. Comments are very dispersed often to Twitter, Facebook and other areas. This way some very good articles might get somewhat meaningless comments just because the clever ones were said in Twitter or Facebook. And this is a problem for RSS-followers and long tail visitors that only see a partial discussion of each article. It would be interesting to hear your thought about this area.

  • http://antti.vilpponen.net Antti

    Teemu, many thanks – will try to see if I would have enough time to come up with something wise.

    Perttu – very good points and additions. Regarding the indepth stories, I very much agree and the good side of those is that they are pretty much timeless (for a certain period as technology moves forward).

    Also, very much like your thoughts regarding commenting. I view commenting that they are very much channel based, be it in Facebook, Twitter or the blog itself. But when the first comment is made, it’s the most important part of the discussion – it sets the tone and level of discussion for the follow-up comments.

    With the fragmentation of comments, I don’t think it’s necessary to even try and compile them into one place. It’s natural for different conversations to take place around a single topic. These topics are defined by the first commenter in each of the channels more or less. However, the blog is naturally the most important as the comments stay there and are most directly related to the content when new people arrive to the site.

  • http://zengestrom.com Jyri Engestrom

    Keep up the wonderful work. Arctic Startup will break more Bad Piggy Bank scoops. I like you blog tagline ;)

    • http://antti.vilpponen.net Antti

      Many thanks Jyri! I’m sure we will, and I’m hoping to reveal some of our future plans in January hopefully. Let’s see :)

  • http://sakumatto.fi/kansanedustaja Saku Mättö

    I like your thinking and second them warmly. I’m myself running for MP with no budget and the only way for me to make “kansanedustaja” is by the web and these rules. Thanks for a good article.
    Saku

  • http://www.juhotunkelo.com Juho Tunkelo

    Great stuff, both the site and this post. :) I do especially appreciate the fact that you don’t drown the RSS reader in tons of posts each day, so whenever there’s something new, you know that more often than not, it’s worth a read.