How Not to Launch a Site for Women: My Remix of Ten Opinion Pieces on the Launch of Bustle
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Women
BleacherReport.com founder Bryan Goldberg announced that he had received $6.5 million in funding for a new women’s site called Bustle.com from a variety of investors including Social+Capital Partnership, Time Warner Investments, Google Ventures, 500 Startups, and Rothenberg Ventures. The announcement was made on PandoDaily (a site I like to think of as PanderDaily, given its seeming determination to be a mouthpiece for industry rather than a news organization that covers industry), and Goldberg’s announcement/press release began with the dubious assertion — now “edited” after much criticism — that there were no major companies going after the women’s market.
He also asserted that he had stumbled upon the heretofore undiscovered fact women have multiple interests, many of which go well beyond 325 Cute Sundresses for Spring! and How to Properly Blow Your Boyfriend So He Won’t Dump You! Apparently they appreciate things like politics and business, too, and no one understands this. No one has tried to make a publication that targets women and covers things that go beyond endless sundresses and blow job how-tos. Sure, there are some “niche” sites. (Niche being online audiences twice the size of Vogue’s print circulation.) Jezebel, the Hairpin, Rookie, etc. — sites that go beyond the narrow scope of traditional women’s magazines. But they’re not going big, and that’s where Bustle comes in. Bustle is gonna be BIG.
Both assertions are, of course, ridiculous. Most general interest sites have a heavy female component, and there are plenty of women’s interest sites that explicitly target women. (The announcement caught my attention in part because it described Gawker.com as a site for men, which, as founding editor of Gawker.com, was news to me.) And while the scope of traditional women’s magazine’s remains fairly narrow, the new players talk about a wide range of issues, many of them general interest.
Goldberg also asserted that his $6.5 million in funding was a function of investor sentiment that the market he’s attacking is underserved and undiscovered and that his solution to the problem is a good one. This, too, is patently ridiculous. Goldberg got $6.5 million in funding because BleacherReport.com is a large, successful site and investors will give entrepreneurs with a track record funding even if their new products are weak. (See Scott Kurnit, AdKeeper, $35 million Series A.) But no investor in his or her right mind thinks that Goldberg is the first person to realize that women are a large consumer market and that they have a variety of different interests. They’re betting on Goldberg, for better or worse, not his unoriginal observation that women are a good — and very big — market.
If you don’t think that there’s a bias in women led ventures getting VC funding, then you’re being willfully blind. It’s documented, ad nauseam that women only receive 4.2% of VC funding in the US. I seriously cannot think of another more perfect example than this one to animate how horribly wrong the VC eco-system is, and how every single one of the players that gave @BGoldberg money should be ashamed of themselves.
And you know why?
If a woman led initiative had come to any one of these VCs and pitched their business as piss-poorly as Goldberg obviously did, with this kind of tepid writing, and storify-ing stealing interface, they would’ve been laughed out of their offices. Soundly. And with good reason.
When sites like Bustle get $6.5 million in funding from multiple VCs, it is a glaring statement that as long as the same old same old exists in VCs, then the same old same old shit will get funded.
Valleywag's Sam Biddle reached out to all 5 investors, and found only one willing to comment.
And his comment was: "It's early… Judge in a year or two."
There are very few sites that have tens of millions of users, period, and those that do break down pretty evenly on gender lines. Huffington Post (72.8 MM monthly US uniques) indexes nearly 50/50 male/female and so do most of the big portals like Yahoo (69.2 MM monthly US uniques). These are giant mass-market sites with high volumes of content, and the Huffington Post is a useful example because Goldberg’s company BleacherReport had a similar model in the beginning: take unknown writers, pay them nothing to contribute with the promise of a platform for their amateur sports writing and churn out as much content as you can. Which is a model of sorts for traffic, but not one for quality or consistency.
For what it's worth, PandaWhale is about evenly split on gender lines with 10 million monthly uniques.
Goldberg’s biggest problem isn’t that he went about his funding announcement in the most boneheaded way possible; it’s that the product isn’t very good. And bad product is a far bigger problem than bad funding announcement.
Looking at Bustle, it’s manifestly clear that Goldberg hasn’t spent any real time digging into the existing publications in the space. It’s duplicative of much of the low-end women’s content and aggregation that’s already out there; there’s no premium on originality and it reads as if it’s written for people with grade school levels of literacy, which directly contradicts Goldberg’s repeated assertions that the site would have smart writing. (Or perhaps Goldberg thinks that a “smart” woman is one with a room-temperature IQ.) Sample headlines: “Here’s Why Your Ex Shows Up In Your Facebook Feed,” “Bachelor Star Gia Reportedly On Life Support,” and — obligatory seriousness — “Israel and Palestine Resume Peace Negotiations.” All aggregation, by the way.
This isn’t surprising because, as Goldberg says himself, he believes it’s not his job to “know the difference between mascara, eyeliner and concealer.” God forbid he understand the things the audience cares about while attempting to produce a publication for that same audience. It says something about his condescension towards women’s media that he thinks he doesn’t have to learn those things. In what other scenario would that be acceptable? Would any entrepreneur be able to get funding for a site about business in China and unequivocally state that he knew nothing about Chinese culture or business regulations in Beijing and still get funding? No. But Goldberg gets funding because these investors figure anyone can start a women’s site, because how hard is it to figure out what women want? Obviously, they want stories about obscure, confusing lady products like mascarliner and eyecealer.
But this doesn’t mean that I think there’s no hope for the thing, even with its terrible name that harkens back to the Victorian era when women were for the most part treated as sub-human half-persons, property of their husbands and fathers. But for fuck’s sake, Goldberg, read some goddamned women’s sites. Talk to some advertisers who actually target women. Talk to some women! Try to produce one piece of content that is original and compelling and doesn’t make me feel like your writer is talking to me like I might have hit my head when I was a kid. And don’t make it about the subtle differences between mascara and eyeliner and think that linking it next to a Cliff Notes version of an AP story about Egypt telegraphs that you understand that women read the news, too.
The only way that will ever work is if you HuffPo the thing and deluge the Internet with a tsunami of mediocre content that is so voluminous that it cannot be ignored, at least by search engines. Which, to be fair, is sort of what you did with Bleacher Report.
It's hard to root for a founder who doesn't want to make great products.
Slate's Amanda Hess delivers the smack down in Man Creates Very First Website For Women Ever:
Bryan Goldberg, founder of the high-trafficked sports site Bleacher Report, has launched Bustle, a website for women. Goldberg, who has raised $6.5 million to launch the site, will be the company’s CEO, but the site will be edited, written, and read by women, focusing on the issues that women care about, featuring the products that women want, and catering to the advertisers who want to reach us.
It will be the first of its kind.
“When we launched Bleacher Report, we competed with some outstanding websites, including ESPN.com. There is no such titan within the women’s publishing landscape. There isn’t even a SportsIllustrated or FoxSports.” Indeed: Besides Cafemom.com, People.com, UsMagazine.com, BabyCenter.com, WomensForum.com, HollywoodLife.com, StyleBistro.com, EW.com, FanPop.com, Jezebel.com, RealSimple.com, Beauty.com, Oprah.com, YourTango.com, MarthaStewart.com, Celebuzz.com, Prevention.com, and PopSugar.com, no website targeting a primarily female audience pulls more monthly traffic than FoxSports.com.
Where is the Gawker for women? The ESPN for women? The Awl for women? The Slate for women? The Onion for women? Perhaps when Google finally launches a search engine for women, we will be capable of locating the websites targeted at us, so that advertisers may sell us things. For now, we will read Bustle.
So what will Bustle be? In an interview conducted with himself on PandoDaily—perhaps some day the Internet will drum up the capital required to employ its first female interviewer, but until then—Goldberg outlines the editorial direction of the site. “Yes, we believe that a partner-track attorney can be passionate about world affairs and celebrity gossip. On the same day. During the same coffee break. And there is nothing wrong with that. Welcome to the year 2013,” Goldberg says. Strange: The year 2013 looks a lot like the year 2007 to me.
She is, of course, absolutely correct.
I wonder if Bryan Goldberg was shocked by the Internet's reaction to his launch.
If he was, he's even less self-aware than his launch blog post.
If he wasn't, he's even more cynical than his "let's make money on a site for women" idea.
Either way, the launch makes him and his brand synonymous with carelessness.
That is an unusual phrase.
The female writers and editors that Goldberg hired for this venture probably don't deserve whatever heat is now on them thanks to their boss's utterly boneheaded dealings with the public thus far. But seriously: This guy is a douche. He told The Wrap yesterday that he "had to Google 'IUD' because it was on the front page of our site." He tweeted that "Having a company full of girls is great — they snuck into my bedroom and filled it with balloons!" Look hard: Is this man really the future of feminist publishing, or someone who in four months will be asking for more Kardashian-focused slide shows?
It's as if Bryan Goldberg WANTS to be known as a mansplainer:
You imply that marrying pop culture and fashion with feminism and politics is something new, innovative and uniquely YOURS, which completely glosses over - even erases - the hard work and vision of dozens of (female) editors and writers who have been doing this exact thing for years, myself included. ... It's intellectually dishonest, bad faith bullsh*t, and you know it. Furthermore, your posts imply that if these aforementioned editors and writers - or their publishers - just wanted it enough, they too would be able to bring in tens of millions in revenue. That's really patronizing.
Goldberg's blithe comment that "a lot of very wealthy advertisers... care about reaching young women" caused enough eye rolls to see from space among women in media or who have tried to raise venture capital for any project ever. His follow-up, the idea that "if we can become the largest website in the Female 18 – 34 category, then we can become a billion dollar company," made it even worse, implying that websites already catering to women had not had this thought occur to them. It seems safe to say that every woman who has ever been involved in online publishing would also like to be given $6.5 million and then use it to create a website that would become the largest website for young women and make a billion dollars, but they can't, because they are well aware that no one is going to give them that kind of money.
Jef Bercovici of Forbes ask What Was This Bro Thinking?:
Bleacher Report had taught him a hard lesson about the need for quality. “We never got over the ‘Bleacher Report has no filter, Bleacher Report is crap’ — we never got over that reputation,” he said. “All the good things we did in 2009 through 2012 didn’t matter because we shot our reputation in the first six months of our existence.”
Unfortunately, it looks like history may be repeating itself. This time, the knock is that Goldberg is a carpetbagging bro with an insultingly poor understanding of his intended audience and the competitive environment and a low regard for the value of journalism.
“There’s nothing feminist about not paying women a living wage,” one women’s media editor Goldberg sought unsuccessfully to hire told me. Another called the whole thing “How Not To Introduce Something 101.”
I reached out to Goldberg yesterday to see if he had any response to the vitriol but didn’t hear back. (He did, however, publish an apology for what he said were his oversimplifications and “pandering” tone.) That leaves me with our conversation from April, in which he addressed several of the flash points.
While $100 a day without benefits isn’t much to live on, especially in New York, Goldberg saw it as a necessary and salutary step up from the Bleacher Report model, in which most contributors got nothing.
“It’s very hard to pay writers a full-time salary with benefits these days,” he said. “The model can’t coexist with profits if you’re a startup. But there’s a lot of room between paying someone $100,000 and benefits and paying them nothing, especially with all these young writers who just want experience, for whom a paid internship would go a long way and who would do an unpaid internship anyway but will be more loyal and work harder if you pay them something. To me, that’s the model.
“I’m an economics major,” he added. “You always have those curves where you maximize the X and Y axis at some point in the middle of the curve.”
Goldberg believes that paying writers $100 a day is a big improvement over paying them nothing.
1. Sometimes it’s best to hire a PR firm.
2. Guys saying they know what’s wrong with women-focused media doesn’t go down well with women.
3. VCs are interested in content.
4. Clutter is out in Web design.
5. Return to quality? Then again, if you’re going to pay writers $100 a day for up to six posts, you might get what you pay for.
On point #3, kind of. I think of BuzzFeed and Quora and Upworthy and Sulia and RebelMouse.
And now Bustle.
That's not much compared with investments in mobile, software-as-a-service, infrastructure, etc.
Emily Willingham adds:
Missing from all of these critiques is that women also like science and don't get it from most women-targeted outlets.
I thought about this for the last few weeks. Here are the thoughts that come to mind.
In Business, Cynicism is a Sin
Everyone who cares about online media has now had plenty of time to digest the sitcom episode that was the Bustle launch. In a script straight out of Seinfeld, a deliciously pompous mansplainer announced he’d raised a bunch of money to produce God’s Gift to Women -- a website about world affairs AND celebrity gossip! -- and then had to fumble it back when his presumptive contributors and readers gave him the collective finger.
As an entrepreneur and not a woman, I just want to focus on one aspect of Bryan Goldberg’s epic boo-boo: he undercut his own authenticity story in the worst and most gendered way possible way. His entire claim to fame, his entrepreneur’s journey, is about (in his own words) “four high school friends who started a sports website together”. The joy of Bleacher Report, and of the whole sports blogging ecosphere of which it is an important part, is about the genuine passion and life-entwinedness and expressive power of sports in the lives of fans.
But then listen to Goldberg talk about the reasoning behind his new entrepreneur’s journey: “Women account for 70 percent of household spending and the majority of time spent online.” That’s it. That’s basically all the rationale he can muster on the biggest day of his new life. Even in his apology post the next day, he can’t get away from his own raison d’être: “Sites that reach male audiences (and thus male advertisers) are in high supply right now, especially given that women control household incomes. This was the point that I was speaking to”.
I’ve listened to a lot of entrepreneurs who had a huge hit in their lives, and one of the big themes they struggle with is whether lightning can strike them twice. I wish Bustle and Goldberg nothing but the best, but as an entrepreneur I have to wonder how all the valuable business lessons he learned the hard way will stack up against the dead-eyed lack of passion for his actual product that he so obviously can’t admit to himself. If the CEO of the business can’t make an argument stronger than this for why HE NEEDS HIS OWN PRODUCT... then maybe that product simply doesn’t need to exist.