Under the Hood is a series exploring small business creation in Charlotte.
This is a new series on small business creation in Charlotte. To get things started, we decided to go first. I (Ted) answered the questions below.
What is the Axios Charlotte?
A local media company. We publish 5-10 stories a day on a website and send a handcrafted newsletter each morning at 6:30 a.m. We also do original reporting straight to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.
Axios Charlotte exists to make Charlotte the smartest, most human city in the world.
First 60 days
I left a job that I loved, running digital strategy at The Charlotte Observer, in the middle of March. I felt like tomorrow’s media companies are being born right now and I wanted to test some ideas with smart friends. I worked with startup lawyer Justin Agans on legal setup, Eric Roch von Rochsburg on design (current design is done by Christain Billings) and Jason Murtha on site development. Total startup costs were a little less than $10,000, all in. It took about three weeks to build and we launched on April 8. Even though she likes cats, Katie Levans started as our lead writer (still is). Audience built quickly and Katie joined full-time around day 60. We were scared. We still are scared.
Total funding of $50,000 from our founding team: Ted Williams (me), Katie Levans, Andrew Dunn and Cristina Wilson. All four of us are owners of the company and we haven’t raised any outside funding. This money has been used to cover technology investments, editorial and we’ve paid ourselves a tiny amount each month. We’ve been lucky enough to have revenue from Day 1 which has offset expenses.
We use Bank of America for everything. Specifically the financial center next to the Bechtler Museum Uptown. Carmen is our go-to banker. All four of our team members have corporate credit cards (super simple) from Bank of America. Additionally, we use PayPal to pay writers, Gusto for Payroll and Xero for accounting/invoicing (we’ll transition these accounts to Bank of America as we continue to grow).
Oh, and we love the free coffee at our Bank of America financial center, 🙂
Progress by the numbers
- Daily newsletter subscribers: 10,602
- Unique visitors to CharlotteAgenda.com: 200,000/month and pageviews of over 600,000/month.
- Instagram following: 29,400
- Sponsorship Partners: 20
- Job Postings: 56 (most are partner posts)
- Members: 181
(1) Paywall debate. We had an entire “Pro” system setup with a paywall. We were ready to go, but it didn’t feel right. The economics of a paywall didn’t make sense and it didn’t feel like where we thought the web was going. So, we killed it. It was called caEDGE (I loved the logos, especially the pink one).
(2) Trolls. Even though Katie, Andrew, Cristina and I are used to the Internet, it took us a few months to get over Internet trolls. The loser trolls that just gripe or complain don’t bother us, but there were some excellent trolls that weren’t necessarily wrong – they trolled our spelling, topic selection, lack of depth and first person writing. Unique to media, we have to grow up in public.
(3) Print. We were 14 days away from launching a print publication. In fact, we had long “guides” produced for this publication that were expensive. We then decided to stay out of print entirely. It’s just not a core competency. We burned through $1,500 setting this up, which sucked for a bootstrapped startup.
(4) Technology. We’re not building a technology company, but technology is vital to our media company. We had no backups for a while, now we have a fancy setup on AWS and our images are hosted on a separate server to speed up load times.
(5) Invite ad product. We created an ad product called an “invite” – it’s an invitation that a business can create and we distribute to our audience. View live invites here. The current costs is $500/invite and the results are insane. But, positioning this and trying to sell it to ad agencies and businesses is hard – because we made it up and it’s new. Even though results are meh, it’s so easy to buy TV spots, radio spots and print. We need to get better here.
Tools our team uses everyday
- WordPress – Content management system. Free.
- MailChimp – Newsletter provider. $80/month.
- Picresize – Resize and crop large amounts of photos. Free.
- Wunderlist – To-do list app. Free.
- Layout app from Instagram – Multiple photos for Instagram. Free.
- Google Analytics – Analytics software. Free.
- Gmail (Google Apps) – Email service. $5/month per user.
- Dropbox – File management. $10/month per user.
Revenue is important to us. I know that sounds silly to say, but you’d be surprised. We think of our revenue in three different buckets.
(1) Partnerships. We want to provide digital brand advertising to fewer than 25 Charlotte companies with Ritz-Carlton-like service. This means true partnerships, not transactions. Our partnership contracts are all at least six months and many are 12 months. We love our partners and our digital brand advertising solutions are better than anybody else in the market (and less expensive).
(2) Marketplace. Business can now post jobs, buy an “invite” and buy a sponsored Instagram post. The job board is going well, invite results are insane and we’ve yet to have a business buy just an Instagram post. This is less than 5% of our monthly revenue, but should grow.
(3) Membership. We believe that a financial relationship with our readers is important for our company. We quietly launched the technology behind our membership program (plug: you can become a member here!) and started to market it more publicly on Sunday (January 10). $5/month. Yes, it’s super NPRish to start. We’ll evolve this over time – it’s important.
We are forever indebted to OrthoCarolina for believing in us when we were just a five-page PowerPoint deck. They were our launch partner and without them, we’d be an entirely different company.
We’ve also been lucky. Charlotte brand marketers are looking for new solutions that work and don’t break the bank.
Our early customers include: Bojangles’, Hendrick Auto Mall of Concord Mills, Bank of America, Allen Tate Realtors, Carolinas HealthCare System, Red Ventures, Uber, Map Shop, AccruePartners, Windsor Jewelers, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, STAX, Skookum, PVG CPAs, Charlotte Independence, Trinity Partners, Charlotte Radiology, Charlotte Center City Partners, Blumenthal and Sealed Air.
- Community solutions. We’re interested in developing more video, unlocking the wisdom of our community, audio/podcasting and products that solve local problems.
- Events. We’ll be making an announcement soon, but doing more live events is important to our company.
- Talent. We’re home to some incredible Charlotte voices. We’ll continue to invest in talent and find ways to support our senior writers.
How can Charlotte help you?
- Become a member. It’s $5/month. Go here. If you prepay for the year ($60), you get your choice of a cool CA trucker hat or super soft T-shirt.
- Give us feedback. We read everything. Go here.
(Note: This content is co-created with Bank of America. For more information on the financial tools that Bank of America can provide to you or your small business, visit Bankofamerica.com or a nearby financial center.