CareersHow the CEO of Entrepreneur.com Grew A Media Empire

Entrepreneurs have always been important drivers of change in society. Hewlett-Packard was started in a small Palo Alto garage by two enterprising engineers. We already know the story of Facebook being started out of a college dorm room. Today, media has turned into a noisy environment. Media companies are driven by clicks (which in turn drive revenue). They put “Trump,” “Tesla,” “Facebook,” “SpaceX,” etc. in their headlines; they cover companies that are already well-known, companies...
Steven LiAugust 29, 2018

Entrepreneurs have always been important drivers of change in society. Hewlett-Packard was started in a small Palo Alto garage by two enterprising engineers. We already know the story of Facebook being started out of a college dorm room.

Today, media has turned into a noisy environment. Media companies are driven by clicks (which in turn drive revenue). They put “Trump,” “Tesla,” “Facebook,” “SpaceX,” etc. in their headlines; they cover companies that are already well-known, companies that populate articles that people read every day.

The stories of entrepreneurs are much more rarely shared. And this is no surprise, after all. Why would a media company share the story of 21-year-old Stanford student who raised $1.1 million for his legal-tech company when they can pack their stories with Tesla’s recent $8 billion loss in shareholder value? It wouldn’t make sense financially. But that doesn’t mean their stories are really what people want to read.

But when it comes to covering the journeys of entrepreneurs, particularly on the come-up, there is no publication that has been more dedicated to doing so than Entrepreneur Media. Today, Entrepreneur owns both a print publication as well as Entrepreneur.com. It has over 50 million reads every month. It, as a publication at large, puts out what I believe to be very interesting content featuring the amazing stories of entrepreneurs most people haven’t heard of.

I recently interviewed Entrepreneur Media’s CEO, Ryan Shea, to learn more about how he’s grown the company in his 17-year tenure and hear his thoughts on how young people can emulate Entrepreneur’s success in growing their own media companies.

Steven: Entrepreneur has been around for 41 years now and you’ve been CEO for the last 17. How have you seen the business change and what role has the internet played in influencing it?

Ryan: I think the internet changed everything. I’ve been at Entrepreneur since 1999 and it was a very different time to be in media than it is now. When the .com bubble burst, publishers often gave out their advertising inventory out for free, but we kept charging for it. We lost $10 million that year. That’s when we started changing the company on early-on. TIME Inc. and Conde Naste still haven’t really figured out how to make money online, and thinking like entrepreneurs, we weren’t really scared to transition the company. We transitioned to digital through Entrepreneur.com and has a dedicated editorial staff for our online content. Additionally, we have to focus on social media to reach more readers online.

Steven: YoungEntrepreneur.com used to be a forum for young people but it doesn’t seem to exist anymore. How does Entrepreneur approach engaging young entrepreneurs nowadays?

Ryan: We back in the day had a competitor called Young Entrepreneur and eventually bought it out but kept it as a separate website. We also had a separate magazine called WomenEntrepreneurs.com. Although these two had a ton of traffic, a lot of entrepreneurs don’t want to be singled out so we just rolled it all up under Entrepreneur. In light of movements like the #MeToo movement, we recently relaunched Women Entrepreneur. We’re in the same process of doing so for Young Entrepreneur.

Steven: A part of Entrepreneur’s content is its contributor network; how did Entrepreneur get content creators excited about and engaged to write in its early stages when it didn’t have the audience it has today?

Ryan: We had to pay for them! It’s kind of tough and we had to have a lot of budget. We have a big book-publishing division and when we were publishing 50 books a year (now down to 20-25), we can take a lot of that content and edit that content down for Entrepreneur.com. Making sure that contributors are putting out the right content (i.e. not using words that go against what Entrepreneur stands for) is definitely a concern while making a contributor network work. But in short, we paid.

Steven: Entrepreneur has seen tremendous growth since you became CEO; what do you think are three pivotal factors in growing a successful media company if you were to explain this to a young entrepreneur looking to start their own blog or publication?

Ryan:

  1. Go where the money is: I think that a lot of people get into the business with an altruistic desire to do good for the world. At the end of the day, you have to pay the bills. You have to figure out how to make the money. Making money is essentially 100% what you have to think about. If you can’t make money, then you’re going to end up spending money. You have to figure something out and make a little bit of money.
  2. Running a business isn’t sexy and hard: It’s not fun, it’s not sexy and you’ll have many issues; Payroll, product, marketing, etc. – it is the hardest thing in the world to start a business. Every day I look at cash and paying my employees, and it weighs on you 24 hours a day. It’s a very fake world we see on TV (the glamour of it), and what it really is is a place where you have to put in the work to succeed. But if you can do it it’s the most fulfilling thing. I also involve myself as a sports coach for my kids, and if I had to work an 8-5pm job then I wouldn’t be able to do stuff like that. There are a lot of benefits to running a business, but you have to put in the work.
  3. Never be afraid to change: We’re a 41-year-old company and we change every day, because if you’re not adapting then the world is going to pass you by. Consider Fujifilm, Kodak, and others. A lot of entrepreneurs are afraid of change. They’re afraid of doing something new and pivoting. The world changes faster than you ever can so it’s very important that you adapt.

Outlets like Entrepreneur lend credence to the importance of adapting. The media world has gone from a place where the majority of its business was from print to 2018, where media companies struggle if they are unable to reach their audiences online.

Through Ryan’s journey growing Entrepreneur.com, young people can learn to be practical about their outlook on entrepreneurship, particularly with respect to growing a media company.

There is no better time to be in media than now. Most media that we see today is recycled content from elsewhere; the same stories get reported on incessantly and interesting stories from budding entrepreneurs often don’t get the time of day.

So you should be compelled to share those stories that often go ignored.

Steven Li

Steven is the founder of ProjectileX, Managing Editor of Youth Business Collective, Fellow at Stanford’s Designership Institute, and Member of the Youth Skills Initiative at Global Business Coalition for Education.

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The Youth Business Collective is a content-based network targeted toward Generation Z business education. The aim is to expand and create opportunities for those with strong interests in business.

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