Opinion

Why it’s time to say farewell to So Bad So Good

So Bad So Good co-founder Alex Wain explains why now is the time to close his publishing business.

On July 19th 2011, my friend (and co-founder) Daniel Reyes and I setup a $45 WordPress theme on his server.

It was just a little blog where I’d feature all the weird and inspiring things I’d find on the far corners of the internet.

The first version of So Bad So Good

At the end of each day after work, I’d come home, login and post to it.

I’d scan different sites, networks and forums to try and seek the most interesting stories of the day. All in the hope of stumbling across something that sparked my curiosity in some way.

There wasn’t much rhyme or reason to the entire process, if it instantly appealed to me I’d post and write about it then and there.

There was no grand design in those early days, So Bad So Good was simply a place to share cool things and interesting stories with our friends organically.

We built a little feature into the site that allowed you to rate an article as “So Good” or “So Bad”.  Daniel would later on transform this voting mechanic into a live feed on the site itself.

Over seven years from a humble bedroom blog with 10 views, it has grown into an entertainment hub for over 57M readers.

I can safely say hand on heart we never created the site with the intention of building a publishing business.

In those early days we ran the whole operation on a shoestring budget. We made enough money to pay for server costs, a small hot desk in the city and any software needed  –  but certainly not enough to retire and head off to the Bahamas indefinitely.

Eventually over a million people followed us across our various social networks. Celebrities including Ashton Kutcher, Bam Margera, Guy Kawasaki, George Takei, Criss Angel, Crystal Hefner and Minnie Driver were among our fans who shared and liked our stories.

The success of SBSG (an acronym created by the community itself) has surprised me more than anyone. To have that level of impact, from such a tiny platform is a remarkable achievement.

Then again, everyone starts at zero.

We went on to launch Nothing Cooler, the little brother of SBSG that was focused entirely on video. I remember we started designing it in an airport in Brazil during the World Cup.

The magic worked there too. 3.2M people visited in under 12 months with zero marketing or ad spend. This is how we did it.

The fact that our content resonated with so many people around the world is something I’m really proud of and always will be.

The turning point

The inception and runaway success of SBSG was a unique moment in time. The perfect storm between the rise of social, stories people loved to share and the unbridled energy and enthusiasm we had for the site itself.

After four years of plugging away, we secured a small round of investment. Those funds allowed us to focus on the sites full-time and hire a few curators to help keep the daily content flowing.

So Bad So Good version 3

Things it seemed were great. We were re-designing and evolving the site. We even launched an app for Android and iOS too.

But sadly nothing lasts forever.

Over the next 18 months constant algorithm changes, uncompromising ad-blockers, fleeting attention spans and revenues being diverted onto the social networks themselves  –  made it an increasing uphill battle to keep the site viable and the lights on as an independent publisher.

When major player Buzzfeed cuts 100 staff, Mashable gets sold in a fire sale and the likes of Vice misses out on $800m in revenue, you know it’s an ominous time for publishers in general.

It has become more expensive and infinitely harder to reach our audiences, whilst our metrics from revenue through to visits and acquisition are all in decline.

Unsurprisingly content costs time and money to produce. When you have scale it’s far easier to do. When you have revenue the sky is the limit.

When you have neither  –  well, that’s when you end up staring down into the abyss.

I’d rather So Bad So Good closes its doors with its head held high, rather than dwindle into internet obscurity over the proceeding years.

It feels like the right time to finally close this chapter on what has been a remarkable ride.

A personal journey

Working on So Bad So Good has been a genuinely incredible experience for me. It allowed me to quit my job, to work with some amazing individuals and learn invaluable lessons about what it takes to run a successful start-up.

Make no mistake, there are daily challenges any founder must overcome  –  some emotional, some mental and some physical  –  but all necessary tests if you want to continue improve yourself and your business.

There have been times when my focus and dedication to working on So Bad So Good has come at the expense of my relationships. Where those long hours staring at a screen have often been detrimental to my health and sleep.

Those are the moments you don’t get to see, but I’m sure every founder can relate to.

Trust me, there is no blog you can read or video that you watch that beats just rolling up your sleeves, getting stuck into your business and backing yourself.

I’m often asked what the secret is to building an audience across social and how to develop a community  –  the answer is always the same.

Be consistent.

Be present in people’s their feeds, in their inbox, in their daily lives. Ask for feedback, ask people to share their views, create content that either provokes, informs or excites. The rest is down to perseverance, timing and luck.

You might not be instantly successful, but it is possible to stack the deck in your favour with a good work ethic.

So Bad So Good is proof that success doesn’t come without sacrifice. Anyone who tells you different isn’t being honest.

The future of content

Today, everyone is a creator.

Smartphones, social networks and user-friendly apps have all converged to make the creation of content richer, faster, easier and more ephemeral. The media landscape has never been so fragmented.

But against a backdrop of endless clutter, infinite scrolling and rapid swiping, individual talent is slowly being replaced with relevancy.

Being shown stories you’ll likely interact with sounds great in theory. But the algorithmic personalisation of your timeline has the potential to drastically limit your online experiences and most worryingly, narrow your view of the world.

The present and real danger is that we are all at risk of becoming trapped in our respective content filter bubbles.

Across all social platforms, the surfacing of different viewpoints and articles is restricted in favour of the tried and tested. When you engage with a particular piece of content, you’ll be shown similar types that will also appeal to you.

It’s why you watch a single cat video and then find yourself watching four random pet videos in a row.

These online filter bubbles are a major factor in accelerating the profound shift between the left and the right in the current political landscape. You’ll see more stories you agree with, resulting in less public discourse and a hardening of viewpoints.

Globally it seems we are more divided than ever.

It’s up to the creators of these complex algorithms to fine tune them in such a way that familiarity is balanced with the unknown.

But it’s also a timely reminder that editors, curators and bloggers all play a key role in breathing life, debate and creativity into your experiences online.

They are the ones tasked with serving you something new, pushing you to try something different from the menu.

The future

Daniel and I have both learnt so much from this experience, that should we start another venture together we’re well placed to give it every chance of being a success.

But for now it’s time to just catch our breath, reflect on our achievements, re-group and then re-focus on our new ideas and go again.

The bar of success has been set by So Bad So Good and Nothing Cooler  –  it’s up to us to collectively go one step further. But for now at least, I’m just enjoying spending time on the little things.

Alex Wain is the co-founder of So Bad So Good and Nothing Cooler.

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