Opinion

Mumbrella is four (and a bit)

Until a few days ago, the thought never occurred: Mumbrella is a GFC baby.

Back in September 2008, as Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the world tumbled into the GFC, I was working my notice period on B&T magazine.

By the time we launched Mumbrella on December 9, the world economy was in turmoil.

You may notice, by the way, that the anniversary was a few days ago. With the tragic events featuring 2Day FM at the weekend, it seemed a bit tacky to be slapping ourselves on the back at the time.

But I have been in the habit of sharing an annual update on our progress, so a few days later, here it is.

As usual, I’ll share some detail around our traffic growth. But the thought occurs that it might be time to share a little information on how we’re going commercially – our existence, after all, is entirely thanks to our readers and advertisers. So this is going to be a long one. Unless you’re interested in the minutiae of online business models, you’re probably wasting your time reading on.

Still with me? Thanks. First to Mumbrella’s audience.

Source: Google Analytics

Source: Google Analytics

Based on Google Analytics (which, by the way, overstates things slightly compared to our audited Australian numbers), we’ve delivered 24.8m page views. That’s been via 12.7m visits. We’re currently averaging nearly 1m page views per month.

We’ve accumulated just over 30,000 subscribers to our daily email; nearly 46,000 followers on Twitter and 11,000 on Facebook.

Videos on our YouTube channels have had about 4.5m views.

And now to the economics…

It’s fair to say that we’ve chased growth rather than profits. The management team’s early, somewhat modest, ambition was to eventually afford to pay ourselves the salaries we used to earn working for our former employer.

There are four equal shareholders in Mumbrella’s parent company Focal Attractions, by the way. Three of us used to work for B&T at RBI – myself, our publishing director Martin Lane and sales director Sean McKeown. The fourth owner is Ian Wakeling, who owned backpackers’ bible TNT magazine, where we camped for the first three years and nine months of Mumbrella’s exisitance.

So four years on, how are we doing at that ambition? The truth is, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer. We’re working a lot harder though.

Each year, within a few thousand dollars either way, we’ve broken even. And for quite a while now we’ve been (just) cash flow positive. I used to vaguely understand P&L. Now I’ve got an intricate understanding of cashflow too,

There’ve been some milestones along the way. When I came onboard as Focal Attractions’ first employee, Martin was already running a travel conference  and awards – ABIC and the Golden Backpacks – off the side of his TNT day job desk.

June 2009: Turnover 84,000 | Loss $22,000

This revenue helped us nearly break even for the financial year ending June 2009, at which point Sean joined us, ready to start monetising Mumbrella’s audience, which was, slightly to my surprise, already amounting to about 200,000 page views per month.

By then, we had ads on the website and ads on the email, which began weekly and gradually geared up to daily.

In July 2009 we launched a free job board. It quickly became Australia’s biggest media and marketing jobs marketplace. It was also great for traffic (10%, give or take), but how to make money from it eluded us for months.

Then Sean had a (what now seems obvious) idea. We wouldn’t charge for ads, but we would invite recruitment companies to buy banner ads next to a section relevant to them. The jobs board now delivers us about $2,500 a month.

Gradually, as we continued to put on staff, we learned to think of each initiative as how many staff salaries it would cover in any given month.

In December 2009, we bought Encore magazine from RBI. The price was modest but so was the initial advertising base. To date, we reckon we’ve lost about $200,000 on it.

June 2010: Turnover $546,000 | Loss $17,000

Meanwhile, May 2011 saw us sell ABIC and the Golden Backpacks to a UK-based owner. The cash – about $200,000 – allowed us to put a deposit on what would later become our new office.

Next came one of the most stressful periods of my life – the first year of the Mumbrella360 conference. Frankly, if I’d known just how many nights I’d wake up at 3am thinking of it, I’m not sure I’d have done it. But we pulled it off – 800 people in four streams across two days at the Hilton Hotel in June 2011.

Funnily enough, one reason for sharing all this data is that I’m aware that a competitor has been whispering in the market that we’ve been profiteering with Mumbrella360. The calculation he’s shared with a few people was a profit of about $1m. Sadly it was closer to $200k, excluding staff salaries. It was a result we were happy with though.

June 2011: Turnover $1.503m | Profit $110,00

Thanks to increased sponsor revenue and more exhibitor numbers, Mumbrella360’s profits increased by about $100,000 in its second year in 2012.

That said, although there were more people there, delegate revenue actually fell slightly – mainly because with five streams, we had more than 200 people getting free speaker passes. We also ran a side event for students at a slight loss.

We were delighted when Mumbrella360 was named conference of the year at the Australian Event Awards.

And even more delighted when Mumbrella was named Website of the Year at the Publishers Australia Awards.

June 2012: Turnover $1.864m | Loss $64,000

When we moved into Mumbrella House this September, it was one of the most exciting days of my professional life. We’d lived with the project for months. My baby was a multipurpose studio-classroom.

The refit cost us nearly $200k. But it has left us ready for growth – 22 desks, up from the 12 we had in the old place.

As a temporary measure, we helped pay for the fitout by allowing up to one advertiser per week pay to send a dedicated email message to our database. But the danger is reader burnout if we take the mickey – we’ll be going back to once a month or so in the new year.

But the best thing the new office gives us is the extra flexibility – the ability to stream live video from the studio, film sponsored round tables, and host evening training courses which we run as joint ventures with the creators of the content.

The same week that we moved into new Mumbrella House, we also ran the Mumbrella Awards again. They made a profit (excluding staff costs) of $87k. This came from entry fees, sponsorship and table sales.

But with 14 staff now to support (and spotting a desire in the market), we decided to push harder. In November we launched the Festival Of Branded Entertainment – a one day conference and awards. It made a profit of about $47k excluding staff costs.

November also saw Mumbrella named Website of the Year again.

So how are we travelling?

Our budget for the financial year that ends in June is, targeting just better than break even.

We’re on target to get there, based on a turnover, we reckon, of $2.8m

June 2013: Projected turnover $2.843m | Projected profit $88,000

And we’re planning to push even harder, and will take a few punts next year, most of which will take some time to pay off. I’m afraid I need to be a bit mysterious at this point…

Mumbrella’s first deputy editor Camille Alarcon rejoined us in September in a publisher role after a period of two years in PR. She’s been leading a major project which we’ll unveil early in the new year. In the next few days we hope to announce an acquisition to support this project.

Our journalist Georgina Pearson will be moving on to Camille’s project in the new year, four days a week. On the other day, Georgina will oversee another project, which we’ll also unveil in the new year.

Meanwhile, journalist Cathie McGinn, who curated the Festival of Branded Entertainment will be moving to a role providing the vision and development for even more events, and growing Mumbrella360. Soon, we’ll announce a new event for the first quarter of the year. Cathie will be Focal Attractions’ first creative director.

We’re currently hiring to fill the roles being vacated by Cathie and George.

But the big question for our growth is what to do after that: Do we replicate Mumbrella in a completely different vertical market in Australia – medical, or mining, or travel, for instance? Or do we launch Mumbrella into another geographic market?

I won’t be able to answer that one for a while yet.

And of course, our huge project for next year is taking Encore from a monthly print title to a weekly tablet title. It’s exciting, and there’s no existing model to base it on. But we believe we can turn Encore into an analytical, long-form, video-tastic sister to Mumbrella that does the media, marketing and entertainment world justice. If the new Encore is breaking even by the end of 2013, I’ll be ecstatic.

We’re feeling bullish about next year.

Me in particular, as today’s my last day at work for 2012. As ever, thanks for supporting Mumbrella. Have a great Christmas.

Tim Burrowes

 

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