The Ultimate Metric For Media Startups

The Ultimate Metric For Media Startups

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About 10 days ago I wrote this post here about the coming correction in media startupland that got lots of conversations going in media, social media, and in private emails. This being meta-media world, that meant a lot of hand-wringing about what that would mean for the future of, well, journalism, media, startups and everything navel-gazing.

Lost in it was the nuance I was trying to hint at: what does it take to build a media company that matters to people in their daily personal or professional lives, that can survive any kind of micro or macro correction, that can thrive in the long haul?

There isn’t a formula, that much those who build companies and products know, so I won’t even try to be prescriptive on that. All we can hope is to learn lessons from others and test and implement versions of those lessons in our situations.

But there is a “metric” to gauge longevity of media brands that I have been thinking about recently. It isn’t pretty, perhaps not even fair, but it is the ultimate test, in my mind.

It goes something like this: imagine, because of some catastrophe, the media company you know suddenly shuts down, tomorrow. Will anyone miss it, and will the disappearance of the said company harm the ecosystem at large in various ways? The first part of this question is a level one test, the second part is a level two test, both of which take time to build up to.

What would happen day two and beyond, if you suddenly go away tomorrow?

This is two ways of saying the same thing: How much of a personal or professional utility value do your users ascribe to your brand? And how indispensable are you to the ecosystem you exist in?

If New York Times ceases to exists tomorrow, will anyone miss it? What what would its disappearance do to the larger understanding of global affairs in America?

All of this hides an ugly unspoken truth about media in general: that it is disposable, in so many ways. The key is to move towards making yourself non-disposable, by adding enough value.

Which one of media startups would pass this test today? That’s the unfair metric I would judge the heavily-funded, heavily-hyped media startups I see around today.

This also may not be the metric today’s media startups, with an eye towards a great exit for founders & investors in the short-to-medium term, care about. This is certainly not the test investors judge the company’s financial-returns-potential on.

But this is the ultimate metric in my mind.

The company I am building has taken big steps towards it in the two years of its existence, but we’re not there yet, so much work to do.

Photo above: Hauz Khas village tombs, in Delhi, pic by Rafat Ali.

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