“Throughout the book, Parr keeps readers engaged, amused and focused, proving that the
science of Captivology works.”
~ Success Magazine
Ben Parr is Co-founder & Managing Partner of DominateFund, a strategic venture capital fund that coaches promising early-stage startups on how to capture attention and accelerate growth. He is the author of Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, launching nationwide 3/3/2015.
Previously, Parr was the Co-Editor and Editor-at-Large of Mashable and a Columnist for CNET. Forbes has named Ben one of its “30 Under 30″ and was named one of the top 10 tech journalists in the world by Say Media.
Ben writes a weekly column for INC. Magazine READ IT HERE
I’ve been thinking a lot about media as an industry for the last few months, especially how it has changed since my time at Mashable and where the new generation of media entrepreneurs are missing the mark.
We’ve seen a lot of would-be media empires either collapse or run for the escape hatch. Circa, a mobile media company started by two entrepreneurs I respect (Matt Galligan, Ben Huh) but with a flawed premise recently shut down. In better news, Re/code made the smart decision and joined Vox Media. The fall of GigaOm was sad for reasons not related at all to its industry or core business (eContent Magazine recently interviewed me on the subject). Pando recently changed its business model, and so we will have to wait and see whether or not its quasi-paywall will work. And finally, my thoughts on Fusion.net and its ups and downs are going to require a separate blog post.
At the same time, Buzzfeed, Vice, Maker Studios, Business Insider, Politico, Vox Media and a slew of others have become huge companies or made stellar exits. These companies have attracted hundreds of millions of eyeballs and have (mostly) built sustainable businesses in a hyper-competitive ad market. They are slowly taking the baton from the old guard. In a few years, Buzzfeed WILL be worth more than The New York Times. I’m looking forward to the Internet shitstorm that rain down on that day.
At first glance, the common thread between these winners seem to be their content generation engines. Specifically — just how much they can produce and how much attention they’re able to garner for things like The Dress. Joshua Topolsky lamented on the rise of content generation engines in his farewell letter from Bloomberg:
“The reality in media right now is that there is an enormous amount of noise. There are countless outlets (both old and new) vying for your attention, desperate not just to capture some audience, but all the audience. And in doing that, it feels like there’s a tremendous watering down of the quality and uniqueness of what is being made. Everything looks the same, reads the same, and seems to be competing for the same eyeballs.”
Topolsky’s complaint about the “watering down” of the quality and uniqueness of content is a common complaint I hear from my friends both inside and outside of journalism. I find this complaint to be tiresome and shortsighted People have always complained about how things are changing for centuries, from newspapers to magazines to blogs. The only reason Business Insider writes pieces about how to get a boob job in Thailand is because the public wants it.
But cats and boobs are not the only thing the world’s consumers of content want, though. Buzzfeed’s excellent news division has grown significantly with in-depth features (the prisoners fighting California’s wildfires is fascinating) and Business Insider’s “inside” pieces are both top quality and massive pageview generators.
The mix between entertainment content and informed content has aways been a part of how readers consume content on the Internet. Buzzfeed didn’t invent it. I played that game for years at Mashable, mixing up lists and evergreen content with long form opinion pieces. There’s more video content, and people read more on their phones, but the game is still fundamentally the same.
The lesson here is that, when you’re a media company, you can’t create something only you want — you need to create something the public wants. Too often journalists write for themselves at the expense of the audience. Circa had a hunch about the future of content, and unfortunately its hunch was wrong. Jonah Peretti and his team had a hunch and created a smarter content engine, and they were rewarded.
I get it — writing is a deeply personal experience. But you cannot expect to build a billion-dollar media company writing for yourself. If you want to build a small business only writing what you want to read, do what Jessica Lessin did with The Information.
Journalism isn’t dead. Lists and entertaining content are good things. Video content is a major piece of the future. Write for your audience if you want to build a big business. And finally, stop complaining about the state of journalism, because you sound like an old man yelling at the neighbor’s kids to get off the lawn.
A few weeks ago, I spoke at The Startup Conference in Redwood City, CA, where I gave an international audience of entrepreneurs, investors and executives a preview of my new book Captivology. In it, I discussed the psychological triggers that entrepreneurs can use to captivate users, capture the attention of customers and get on the radars of top investors. I also judged some great startups alongside TechCrunch’s intrepid reporter Sarah Buhr.
A few key tips from my presentation:
Check out the rest of my advice in the video above!
As you may have heard, the mobile app Shots has been on fire. It has over 5 million active users (and growing fast), just launched 3-second video, and recently raised $8.5 million in its Series A financing.
My venture fund, DominateFund, invested in Shots during the seed round. We’ve kept our involvement pretty quiet, but a lot of misconceptions about the app (and one high profile investor in particular) have convinced me to discuss Shots and why my partners and I believe that it is destined to become a major social network.
For those of you who don’t know anything about Shots, it originally started out as an app for sharing selfies. Its initial growth was fueled in part by Justin Bieber’s involvement. Bieber continues to be an avid user, posting on Shots multiple times a day. Unlike many other apps he’s backed, he genuinely loves Shots enough to use it every single day. Today, Shots is far less about selfies and more like a “digital scrapbook” of daily life. It’s more personal than Instagram to me.
Shots is also no longer about Bieber — millions of people are using the app daily, most of whom have nothing to do with Justin. This leads me to the first reason why we backed Shots. It has real, growing traction among the most important demographic of any social network: teenagers.
Teenagers are the demographic that determine the success or failure of any social network. Snapchat and Instagram’s success can be traced to its heavy teenager user base and the dedication they’ve shown to these apps. Teenagers are not fickle when it comes to their social networks. It’s the same reason DominateFund shies away from backing apps like Highlight and Secret — their traction began with tech early adopters, who we see as incredibly fickle users and poor indicators of the future success or failure of a social network. Tech early adopters love to hype and drop products. If you’re going to pitch a social network to DominateFund, show us traction among teenagers. Shots started building its community the right way.
Speaking of which, the second reason we backed Shots: its hardcore emphasis on building a positive community free of bullying. For those of you who haven’t used Shots yet (seriously, go download the app now), one big thing you’ll immediately notice is that there is no commenting. This is because comments are a prime place where a few rotten teenagers can attack and bully other teenagers. Bullying is a big problem with most teenager-centric communities — half of teens admit to cyber-bullying and other negative behaviors. Ask.fm is a painful example of what happens when a social network lets this kind of behavior get out of hand. This is also why I am not a fan of anonymous apps like Secret — they lead to destructive communities I don’t want to touch with a 1,000 foot pole.
Shots knew about the cyber-bullying problem going in, and build its app to foster a positive community from day one. On Shots, positivity is rewarded and bad behavior is weeded out. Rotten apples can’t use the comments to bash on others. Every time I open Shots, it just feels like a place I want to visit. It feels good. My team and I want to support any social network that has made building this type of community their mission.
The final and most important reason we invested in Shots is the simplest one: John and Sam Shahidi. Matt, Mazy and I have known these two brother founders for years and have seen first hand their product and design savvy, their tireless dedication to their users and team, and their ability to focus and execute on a goal. In other words, they are the best type of entrepreneurs. They are a team that will build a billion-dollar product and change the world for the better.
We are proud investors and users of Shots. I hope you will go download the app and follow my adventures.