4 Tips For Working on a Digital Startup

By Patrick McNamara on February 12th, 2014 / Comments

If you haven’t yet heard of Hell Yeah Detroit!, that would not come as a huge surprise. After a few months of conceptualizing (a great excuse to meet up for drinks) we soft-launched in June at the Movement Electronic Music Festival. While this project is not the first stint in the blogosphere for any of our founders, I think we can all agree that the past few months have been a intense learning process.

What began as an experiment to create “Your guide to being a better Detroiter” has really gained momentum. It now has the prospect of being a movement of passionate people who want to make something happen in our region with a business model behind it that will allow us to keep doing the work.

Michipreneur reached out to me to ask if I could share a bit of my own thoughts about what has helped us grow, so I’ve compiled a short list of lessons we’ve learned in our initial stages for those who are trying to be build a digital media following, no matter what industry you’re in.

Find A Team That Balances Your Strengths
As founders of a lean startup, we’ve been lucky to be able to play to our strengths and do the bulk of it (web development, content generation, social media) within our core group. When one area became more important, such as a web development issue, we re-balanced the workload accordingly. Occasionally we pull people in when we have a weak spot, and you will need some good pinch hitters from time to time. This is not to say that you can’t grow an engaged online community by yourself if you’ve got all the skills necessary, but you’ll probably kill yourself between day jobs, family and friends, all of that. Part of our success is due to the fact that we did have a division of labor within our tight group, but being flexible and learning what you can to crossover on these jobs greases the wheels of the operation and makes things easier on all parties.

Build Up Your Social Media Before You Need It
When it comes to digital media, you have to lead people in. We launched our Hell Yeah Detroit! Facebook page months prior to launching the site. We wanted to see, frankly, if anyone cared. Now we’re at around 25,000 fans, which is larger than many pages that have been at it for years who have funding from a venture, corporate or foundation backer. We have none of that. We managed to get a solid base of people batting around content we thought interesting and pictures that we took before we had an actual website up. We got to the point our audience was asking us when we were going to launch our own site. This helped get the word out organically. When we did launch and started to roll out original content, people were ready for it. They knew what we were about and what to expect. We built from the bottom up instead of the top down.

We’re Not For Everybody And That’s Okay
As I mentioned in the introduction we slowly took HYD from conception to reality. The ‘incubation’ period prior to launch was when we made a lot of decisions about our our core mission, geographic scope, and the types of content we would feature, and we also had lots of user feedback. We also were sure to define not only what we would like it to be, but perhaps more importantly, what we wouldn’t be. One thing we decided is that we are not going to try and be another traditional newspaper. The Detroit market is full there and in some cases shrinking. Knowing our limits has helped us target an audience and expand it within those demographics. You need to define the range that you are going to work in, because if you try to serve everybody you’ll serve nobody.

Data Matters
With all the digital tools out there to monitor your impact, know what is essential and what you are looking at. Once you see site traffic coming in from other places than your friends and family, you should check those sources out and see how your content fits in with the messages they are communicating. Look into why are people sharing your content. Test to see which content works better. The little things matter. Analytics don’t do you any good unless you use them and take action using the knowledge you’ve gained.

These four tips are really focused at helping your project get “lift.” Most importantly is hard work. You’ve just got to put your nose down and and persistently do the work to engage your community.

I hope this helps other startups. There is still have a long journey ahead for us, but we are thankful every day for our fans and readers who have truly carried the project.

About the Author

Patrick McNamara

Blogger and Co-Founder of Hell Yeah Detroit!, an online guide to being a better Detroiter.