Resources for Buying and Selling Online Businesses

How to Launch 26 Content Sites in 90 Days with Ewen Finser

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Ewan Finser

Ewen Finser is the Founder and CEO of Venture 4th Media, a firm that develops and transacts digital media assets for clients in a wide variety of established and high-growth market niches. He is also the Founder and CEO of Center Keel Media, a digital media company that incubates content brands at scale, and a Partner and Co-founder of Owl Mountain, a firm that acquires and grows digital assets.

Before this, Ewen served in the United States Army National Guard for more than eight years. During that time, he ascended from the rank of Second Lieutenant to Captain.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [4:36] Ewen Finser shares his perspective on the “buy vs. build” dilemma for digital entrepreneurs
  • [5:59] The ideal business size Ewen looks for when acquiring or working with a company
  • [10:08] How to avoid losing your content site because of Google updates
  • [14:03] Ewen’s experience building and running content sites  — and his tips for finding and hiring high-quality content writers
  • [20:12] The funding and creative vision that is helping Ewen and his team build 26 sites in five weeks
  • [28:53] Where should you start when building a large number of content sites in a short amount of time?
  • [38:44] One of the most important things to do before buying a content site: read an article!
  • [45:02] How to pace articles and other types of content when rolling out a website
  • [51:21] Ewen’s final advice for entrepreneurs who are deciding whether to buy or build a content site

In this episode…

Are you trying to figure out whether you should build or buy a content site? Do you want to discover how to leverage your strengths in order to achieve success as an online entrepreneur?

This is an ever-present question for digital entrepreneurs who work with content sites: “Should I buy or build?” According to e-commerce expert Ewen Finser, this question is highly personal; in order to answer it, you need to be hyper-aware of your capabilities, experiences, and talents. Ewen suggests that as long as you are playing to your strengths and using all of the tools in your toolkit, your website will be a success — regardless of your choice to grow or transfer a business. So, where should you start in the journey of creating and scaling or acquiring a profitable content site?

In this episode of the Quiet Light Podcast, Joe Valley sits down with Ewen Finser, the Founder and CEO of Venture 4th Media, to talk about the ins and outs of buying or building a content site. Listen in as Ewen reveals how to choose the path that is best suited to your skills, the secrets to building a top-notch content team, and one of the most critical pieces of due diligence to perform before acquiring a content site. Stay tuned!

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Quiet Light, a brokerage firm that wants to help you successfully sell your online business.

There is no wrong reason for selling your business. However, there is a right time and a right way. The team of leading entrepreneurs at Quiet Light wants to help you discover the right time and strategy for selling your business. By providing trustworthy advice, effective strategies, and honest valuations, your Quiet Light advisor isn’t your every-day broker—they’re your partner and friend through every phase of the exit planning process.

If you’re new to the prospect of buying and selling, Quiet Light is here to support you. Their plethora of top-notch resources will provide everything you need to know about when and how to buy or sell an online business. Quiet Light offers high-quality videos, articles, podcasts, and guides to help you make the best decision for your online business.

Not sure what your business is really worth? No worries. Quiet Light offers a free valuation and marketplace-ready assessment on their website. That’s right—this quick, easy, and free valuation has no strings attached. Knowing the true value of your business has never been easier!

What are you waiting for? Quiet Light is offering the best experience, strategies, and advice to make your exit successful. To learn more, go to quietlight.com, email [email protected], or call 800.746.5034 today.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:07

Hi, folks, it’s the Quiet Light Podcast where we share relentlessly honest insights, actionable tips, and entrepreneurial stories that will help founders identify and reach their goals.

Joe Valley  0:29

Hey, folks, Joe Valley here, another episode of the Quiet Light Podcast coming your way. First, I want to mention, yes, this is brought to you by Quiet Light, but also The EXITpreneur’s Playbook. Look, you listen to the podcast, you know, I wrote a book, why haven’t you bought it yet? That’s what I want to know, right? If you’re listening, and you want to buy an online business, or you want to sell your business someday for maximum value, you got to buy the book. It’s everything in my head, plus the rest of the team and what we’ve developed and done over the last decade. The reason I wrote it is because not all of you want to have a conversation with a broker, not all of you will sell your business through a broker. So we just give it all away like we do here on the podcast. It’s all there. Chapter elevens. All on Add backs, Chapter 15 is negotiating deal structure. Chapter Three is all about calculating sellers, discretionary earnings, it’s all there everything we do, it’s in writing, it’s less than 20 bucks, and you need to buy it. So pick it up, buy it go to exit printer.io or go to Amazon and do it. Okay, that that was very self serving, wasn’t it? You and I just had to get that out there. It’s funny, you know, I spent a lot of money getting the book done getting it written. And I’m talking to our guests. Now, folks, he can see me, you can’t see him yet. Because I’m flapping my jaw. In my mind. Everybody that runs an online business or wants to buy an online business should buy this book, because it’s everything that you’ve done in terms of negotiating or buying, in your case content sites, or what many people have done in terms of selling online businesses as well. But I love when I’m talking to you actually just mentioned Walker Deibel a little while ago, Walker, as you folks knows, is on our team. And he wrote by them built, I did an AMA at the the acquisition lab, which is his his group for people trying to buy online businesses. And I love when I do a presentation and we do a q&a about The EXITpreneur’s Playbook. And I really pissed people off that just sold their business, because they realize how much money they left on the table. And in this particular case, he wasn’t mad. It was it was a joke. But he he left about $30,000 on the table because he missed a simple, really obvious add back. And he spoke up about it embarrassingly, so. So pick up the book, folks. And let’s move on with this. This podcast. Today’s guest is pretty impressive. He’s he’s built up a portfolio of over 50 content sites is in the process of building five, I’m sorry, 26 more of them in the next five weeks. And so we’re going to discuss two things here buy versus build with regard to content sites. And then how do you build 26 sites in five weeks? What kind of team do you need? What kind of processes what kind of hair loss Do you experience? What kind of weight gain what kind of sleepless nights to go through all that stuff? Our guest today is Ewen Finser from Venture 4th Media. Ewen. Welcome to the Quiet Light Podcast. Great to be here. Joe, I still have my hair. You do you still have your hair, and you’ve got a baby face. I’m looking at your earlier as we’re chatting, Dan, I’m oldest kid, not at not a wrinkle on his face,

Ewen Finser  3:33

though. three small children. So although

Joe Valley  3:37

those wrinkles to come soon, they’ll come very fast. It’s the sleepless night daddy. I think the bad daddy Get up, change the bed in the middle of the night that that’s what I did for about three months straight drove me nuts. Anyway, content sites buy versus build. As I always talk about Brad on the team, he rolled up about 30 content sites sold it to a private equity firm, your your your approach is different. You know, you have you and I have talked about, you know, you becoming the Berkshire Hathaway of digital media digital sites. Do I know I sold you a content site before it was a fun one. We could talk about it a little bit. And actually use that example. I think I used it in the book. But I talked about it with people that are the name and face of content sites and the challenges with that. Buy versus build. We know Walker says buy we know Amanda who’s been on the podcast talking about it says build which camp Are you in when it comes to content sites at this point? Yeah, I

Ewen Finser  4:36

mean, I come back to you know, ask the question, what is my competency? What am I good at? And for me, it’s building content sites. So it’s, it’s obvious for me, I don’t think it’s obvious for everyone. I think, you know, there are certainly good cases to buy. I would look at an acquisition. If you’re a first time buyer coming into the space maybe don’t have a ton of experience as an MBA. You know, it’s probably a better NBA, you’re gonna learn some real lessons. But be fully prepared. If you’re buying a content site, you might lose your shirt, you might go to zero. You know, don’t kind of bet the farm on that one site, but treat it as a learning experience. And, and so that’s kind of my philosophy, but very clearly, through my actions through what we’ve done through how we’re allocating capital, I’m in the in the build camp. Okay, so

Joe Valley  5:28

statistically, the larger businesses that we transact with those that we sell, are actually less risky. So when you’re talking about don’t bet the farm and a content site, because it could go to zero? What’s the farm? What are we talking about in dollars? And do you believe the same thing that larger, more established content sites with lots of benefits to it, and we won’t go into all of them, but you know, good organic rankings, lots of articles ranking so on and so forth? No cheating? What are we talking about in terms of size and risk? Where do you see that as too small and too risky, too young, too risky versus bigger and and worth taking, there’s, by way of example, Chris Guthrie on the team just sold a content site for over $3 million. I sold one for just under nine, I’ve sold one for a sold many for a few 100,000, here and there. But where’s the threshold for you personally?

Ewen Finser  6:23

Yeah, for me, personally, I would say it’s got to be under, you know, 200,000 that I’m looking to buy, if I if I do have to buy and it has to be a perfect fit. Like, it has to be something where my overlapping competencies and the skills of our team and the relationships with vendors, and ad networks is almost 80%, let’s say overlapping, you know, it’s an obvious add on acquisition, not looking to get into a brand new market, you know, even at that price, I would be very, very hesitant without first hand experience, and he’s going there.

Joe Valley  6:58

Is that because you feel anything over 200 is generally just a much greater risk leap wise, or is it your business model, where you’re saying, My sweet spot is under 200? That’s what I’m stick to. And if I’m not gonna buy, I’m going to be building like we’ll talk about if humans Yeah,

Ewen Finser  7:15

I would say it’s, it’s somewhat related to my competency, like you said, but on the on the flip side, I would say objectively speaking, I think that’s an interesting framework to think about it. There’s the core competency on one side, and what’s objectively good business. On the other side, I think content sites in general. And the anecdote you said, were most of your sites sell for a few $100,000, I think that’s the large majority of a grownup content site is going to be in that, you know, maybe mid six figure range, but a seven figure content site is relatively rare, it does happen, like you said, and it’s amazing one does, I just think, you know, as you climb the value chain, just a fewer, fewer of those assets are for sale. In general, I’d say, looking at the macro environment, you know, broadly which I spend a lot of time looking at the big players, like I see very Diller’s company, we have a portfolio called dot dash used to be about.com. There’s j to global other publicly traded company, think they own PC mag, New York Times, obviously, they bought the wire cutter A number of years ago, I kind of look at these companies and say, What are they doing? at the macro end, you have these big media companies who, former newspapers, magazines, or have acquired those assets. And then you have at the micro end, a lot of people like me, grown up, you know, solo operators, and maybe have one or two sites. But then in the middle, there’s not a whole lot of mid size media companies. So I kind of see this gap, basically, in the market,

Joe Valley  8:46

thinks you’re gonna grow up into one of those mid sized media companies. Is that your goal? I hope so. I hope so. Yeah. And what’s your definition of midsize total revenue?

Ewen Finser  8:54

So I would say, you know, when you’re, like, our portfolio between V for M, and some other entities, you know, you know, in this year if we get to 5 million pageviews per month, that’s a good month. No, it’s a lot. Yeah, that’s a lot. But it’s, you know, if you think about I look at some of the, the one company I would say might fit that mid sized is like Lola digital. They’re probably, I’m not sure if their latest stats are. I’m not privy to that. But they’re kind of in that middle territory.

Joe Valley  9:22

But there’s a gap we saw, we saw Ben, a couple of Ben’s been been on the podcast. Yeah. Yep. Okay, so you talked about in your sweet spot. So in terms of if it’s 200,000 or so it needs to fit in with all of your things that that’s so that you’re not learning something new on that particular one. And you can use all the current resources you have.

Ewen Finser  9:44

Yeah, I would also say that there is, you know, the same Google updates that roll out every three months or so, you know, they can they affect the big players just as much as the little players they do.

Joe Valley  9:54

So something that’s five years old.

Ewen Finser  9:56

Yeah, so actually a longer longer sites in business. You know, there’s kind of this, you can say the one on the one hand, it’s you know, has an earnings history. But on the other hand, you can say, well, it just hasn’t been hit by the update yet, and the hammer will fall.

Joe Valley  10:08

So avoid being hit by hit by an update. When I when I built my business it was it was an e commerce business. But it was a content business because we just wrote good quality content every month for five years in Google rewarded us. I didn’t know how to cheat. I just wrote good quality content. Is that doable in today’s world? And is that how you avoid the Google updates?

Ewen Finser  10:30

So I would say up until 2017 2018, in general, that was the case, if you just publish content, you kind of be on an upward trend, if you were following the rules. I think the last couple years, Google has kind of changed their approach a little bit. I think they’re playing with the knobs they’re trying to figure out of these incumbents that are all producing similar. Similarly high quality content, how do we tweak how do we tweak them and you know, emphasize different things. And so you’re seeing the update, the nature of the updates is less about your you’re a bad actor. And it’s more about how do we meet the searchers intent better, which can have massive effects, if you know, secondary and tertiary effects based on how you’re structuring your content, what you’re writing about, or your review site and informational site. So even by following all of the best practices, you can still get caught up in these updates. And I think that’s the biggest lesson to learn. I, you know, in the last couple of years, that’s changed, I would say how do we mitigate that risk? My approach is portfolio theory. You know, in general, we’re still up into the right, you know, in a bad year, it’s 50%. year over year growth and a good year, it’s 100 150%. But that’s individual sites, if you look too closely, and this is where I kind of, if you buy by one site, and you live too much into that one experience, you might learn the wrong lessons. But individual sites do fall, we have some sites that have declined last three years, but it’s the portfolio effect that’s really helped us insulate ourselves, we have every update, we have some sites that are positively affected, some sites that are negatively affected, I try to understand why but at the end of the day, I say, you know what, we’re just going to continue to produce high quality content. And sure enough, more, you know, more of our traffic than the not tends to go up into the right.

Joe Valley  12:19

How many how many content sites do you have in your portfolio? Now, I said 50 at the beginning, but we didn’t actually talk about the numbers probably isn’t more or less.

Ewen Finser  12:28

It’s more so between a couple different entities we’ve set up, you know, Venture 4th Media is that generally, if it’s not the 100%, sole owner, it’s the operator, if it’s an investment partnership, so between the various entities, we have over 100 now,

Joe Valley  12:44

and how many did you buy versus build?

Ewen Finser  12:47

I think? I mean, I’d say four, four of them. And these are micro micro acquisitions. Yeah.

Joe Valley  12:53

Well, one of them was mine. Okay, so do you 25% of those that you bought? Just was it just 20? Did I just tell you one? Yeah. Well, I

Ewen Finser  13:01

think I might have picked one up, like a very small one recently from one of the other guys on the team. Yeah. You know, Chuck Mullins, I think, yeah, I knew I was looking for something and found something for me.

Joe Valley  13:13

Yeah, yeah. Well, you and Chuck go way back through rhodium. I had Chris on the podcast recently talking about Centrica. But, you know, we talked about content sites and the due diligence on them. And his his advice and recommendation was the same as yours. portfolio, the way to offset the risk in a content business is to build a portfolio of them. Of course, you’ve got to start with one. And you have to pick and choose do you start with a micro acquisition? Or do you start with something that’s much larger and well established, like Guthrie just sold? And either way, you got to have, you know, the hutzpah to do it. But then you’ve got to have something along the way of expertise in in SEO. So you’ve gained it over the years, just by immersing yourself in this or did you bring on experts to help you with SEO and rankings and making sure you’re staying up with the latest best practices?

Ewen Finser  14:03

Well, I would say that, you know, I’ve played every part, you know, as a solo operator, I kind of I think I grew up with the internet in a certain sense. You know, my first inclination was to build some websites in college for beer money. So, you know, I had that experience of running all the content, building the site, setting up hosting, you know, literally, building links, trying to do everything myself. And then kind of graduating, you know, I got a day job out of out of college for a company minute. Little dyno, and then I realized, you know, cubicle life is not for me. And so I kind of returned to that, like, Hey, could I know this website’s only made a few 100 bucks, but what if I could turn that into a few $1,000 and I could justify quitting my job, you know, and at the time, I didn’t have any children. I was recently married. My wife basically told me that just go for it, you know, you know, rather than sitting in traffic on the way home, go to a Starbucks and just for a couple hours, just knock out the way sights and then come home, which wouldn’t have worked now, because I have three small children under five. But, you know, slowly hustling doing all the work, you know, then the first thing we started outsourcing was with the content writers, I’d recommend that as the first step. If you’re in that someone position us or foreign content writers, mostly you assets English speaking, how do you find them? So we find them a good, you know, all the all the usual places. Upwork problogger, is another good place problogger slash jobs, great place to find expert writers. But for certain verticals, it’s hard to find technical experts are given a good examples in the automotive industry, you know, the most authoritative experts are not online writing about how to, you know, you know, change an oil filter, they’re actually mechanics. And so how do you incentivize those people to actually become writers really, and share their knowledge. And for that, you might have to go off the beaten path, going into Facebook groups going into Eve on Craigslist, ironically, you know, finding where these people hang out forums, and just putting up posts. And we have a great team Amy, who’s my co op, she’s great at kind of sourcing that.

Joe Valley  16:11

So if somebody is mechanic but not a writer, how do you turn them into a writer? I mean, first, obviously, incentivize them monetarily, but do you have people interview them? And then they transcribe it and write it and do articles from that? Or how do you do it?

Ewen Finser  16:24

Well, we try to, you know, you know, we try to make sure they have some, you know, ability to write online, for sure. But you know, it’s maybe less polished. And that’s okay. You know, so we have an editorial process. And we have best practices and sfcu, kind of little mini boot camp, if you will, it’s got to the point where we’re in the thick of spinning off like a service for not a service for content creation, because I think that’s overdone, but a service for content team recruiting, because you know, you know, teach teach a man to fish as they say, give them the tools, give them the folks help them find the right people. And that’s an asset that will last for a long time. But yeah, it’s it’s kind of training them in our best practices. But taking that raw, we prefer passion and expertise over like copywriting skills,

Joe Valley  17:10

if that makes sense. So you’ve got over 100 different sites? And how many, how many? I mean, you’re working from your home office with a giant whiteboard with a lot of stuff on it right now. But I don’t see people buzzing around, you know, you outsource everything? And if so, how many? How many people they have in terms of writers, editors, and so on and so forth? Yeah, so we must have over 150 writers. Now, how do you match that you got a, you got a head of HR, somebody that coordinates all that or is that you’re kind

Ewen Finser  17:40

of right, we all kind of wear that hat. But so I’d say Amy’s are clo, but to that point, we’ve built a system, we’ve built a team. And we’ve built a software tool. To manage this process. We call it the content conveyor belt. And it’s basically a portal where writers can log in. And rather than having editors or managers push down assignments, we offer them as a buffet. So if you’re a writer, you know, Joe, you’re an expert in automotive, but you also like whiskey, right engine, okay, you’re tagged to those two sites. And you will only see those available topics from those two sites. But you get to pick maybe today you don’t want to write about spark plugs, you want to write about whiskey. Why should I as the manager or you know, editor, push that on you, you can pick, you have a rate per word that’s tagged in the system, as you write, it’s a WordPress editor. As you write calculates, you know how many words you’ve written, you submit it to an editor that pings the editor get, they get an email notification to go check. They review the content that can push it back for revisions or move it along into approval. And then it does an API poll that sends it from that central web WordPress site out to the relevant website, all formatted correctly. And so all we have to do is schedule that for publication. And then at the back end, we had a payment utility that aggregates all of the articles you’ve written all the word count your various rates per words could vary. You know, for automotive, you might be getting four cents a word for whiskey, you might be getting six cents, a word kind of aggregates, that creates an invoice. And then we have PayPal mass pay for integration. So one click payment to pay everyone in theory, it doesn’t always work. We’re still working on version two, we’re really excited.

Joe Valley  19:20

I can’t believe it. I mean, you when we work together a few years ago, you were a child, but you’re so mature. Now you’ve got such an operation and systems and people giving you money for this stuff. That’s that’s an impressive process. And I know that somebody listening right now wants to write for you. So how do they get in touch to actually, you know, be that expert writer on automotive of whatever the subject might be?

Ewen Finser  19:45

Yeah, I think you know, at venture4thmedia.com it’s exactly you put in the show notes, but that’s a good way to get get a hold of me. I’m still I wanted to get that out. I

Joe Valley  19:55

said I hate making people wait till the end to get that job. So you want to spell the E W e n, right? Correct. All right, folks, you want at Venture 4th Media and Venture 4th? Is his fourth spelled out or is it? It’s the numeric with the th go. All right. Cool. All right. So let’s talk about how you’re building 26 sites in five weeks first. Now, where do you get the dough for it? Second, what kind of staff does it take? And how do you pick the topics that you’re going to write about?

Ewen Finser  20:25

Yeah. So, you know, in terms of the dough, so we have a pretty nice kind of bootstrapped operation Venture 4th Media, I’d say probably 50 to 60 of the sites live in that entity. That’s kind of an accumulation over the last seven years of haphazard, you know, growth. One thing I realized was that as a bootstrapper, and many of your listeners might empathize with this, your your budgeting decisions are really driven by very dynamic variables, you know, you’re allocating capital based on, you know, you got to, you know, got some bills to pay how much you’ve taken out, you know, it’s it’s, it’s not systemized, and so I had See, I’ve seen the overall growth trajectory, it’s great for Venture 4th. But I didn’t have a good understanding of like, the causality behind it. And so what I wanted to do back in 2019, is do an experiment, launch 10 sites with $250,000. And launch them all, exact same time, give them the exact same content inputs, I call it fire bullets. And then cannibals, it’s a Jim Collins concept, but I’ve borrowed heavily, and launch the site, same time, see them grow, and then wait to see the response, wait to see what kind of traction they get in Google, before doubling down with an additional allocation. So we reserved, let’s say, 50,000 for each site, or 30,000, the initial bullet might be 10, to $15,000, to get maybe 100 articles up on each site, and then let them sit kind of in parallel. There are different verticals, but we want to see, okay, where our contest our assumptions, were we wrong, I love niche selection, I think I’m pretty good at it. But I’ve been wrong. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by things I thought would work out. And so I kind of let the data speak for itself. And in that, that portfolio is interesting, it’s called centric to media. And in the last couple of years, you know, we’re coming up for over two years now, we’ve we’ve kind of grown the sights from obviously from zero, you know, I think, you know, towards towards the end of May, we were doing, you know, 14 to $15,000 per month. So we kind of look at the back of the napkin math, and you know, the first year it’s nothing, you’re literally like crickets, you’re, you’re kind of pissing money into the, into the Floyd,

Joe Valley  22:35

I was gonna say, how long does it actually take to start generating money in that in those on those?

Ewen Finser  22:39

Yeah, I mean, your sandbox for six months, so you can forget about seeing any traction there, then, you know, by year one, you started to see some early kind of seeds that are sprouting. But then I’d say by month, 1516, you’re starting to see some really interesting hockey stick things happening, because all of your content is suddenly kind of maturing together. And Google is indexing it all. And, you know, it’s a really fun time. And then to me, it’s like, when do we get our money back. And so if you take like a 10 to $50,000 month, you know, portfolio through the back of the napkin, apply 3x multiple on a forward basis, you can kind of see, okay, we’ve got it depending on where you’d sell it, and all the variables, basically a 2x asset value on the $250,000 invested. So, of course, the site’s could go down, a lot of things could happen. But that’s, that was an important validation for me that, you know, if we just extend our time horizon, and be a little bit patient with our we’re doing it, you know, we can get a, you know, a 2x, or, you know, anywhere from a 30 to 50% IRR if for those investors out there. And so then I said, How can we blow this up a little bit and go bigger? And so the 26 sites in May,

Joe Valley  23:52

that may ask a question first, yeah, a couple of things. I just want to clarify, of the 10 that you launched. How many were successful? Yeah, meaning, at least made your money back. Yeah,

Ewen Finser  24:04

that’s the fun part. So we modeled I built this model of 10 sites, I call them, you know, there was like three of them. I would say they’re cannonballs. You know, maybe three to five of them. And then that’s a good thing. cannibal, that’s a good thing. cannibal means it gets the second dose, like it gets the additional allocation because it it kind of exceeded our expectations in that cohort. And then I call those a couple in there that are late bloomers. So they just take a little bit longer bid some really good examples of those where, you know, they didn’t arrive on time, but they arrived a little bit later and they spiked up and we got our attention. They got the cannonball and then we modeled a couple that were just they grew but they never met that there may be get to like, you know, three to 5000 sessions a month, which, you know, isn’t enough to really monetize is enough to write home and that’s not a complete failure, but it’s not interesting. And then we’ve modeled one dud which was like just nothing works. And so interestingly, we found it’s fairly similar in the results. However, what we didn’t model was on the upside, the dispersion of the cannonballs, right, so we have one, you know, that quickly grew to five to $6,000 a month, very, very quickly. And so I call those the new model we’re building I call those, you know, the rockets. So trying to adapt our methodology a little bit. But yeah,

Joe Valley  25:27

rough dating, right? It’s, yeah, well, so, you know, we don’t use cannonballs anymore. All right, you got to rock it. Okay. Okay, so those are pretty good numbers in pretty good percentages. From an investor standpoint, you talk about, you know, 25 30% internal rate of return. Can you quickly identify your define IRR versus ROI for a potential investor? Because I know you’ve talked to talk the talk.

Ewen Finser  25:53

Yeah. So IRR is I mean, it’s a new concept. To me, I don’t have an investment background, I don’t even have an MBA, like I’m kind of an idiot when it comes to finance but, but learning about IRR, basically what it does is it introduces time into the equation, and it says on an annual basis, because that’s obviously getting a great return at 10x. And you know, it’s great, but over what period. And so IRR basically says what’s, how do we analyze this, even if all the payout comes at year five? You know, what, what could we look back historically? and say, Okay, this is the annual rate of return. So that’s what I are basically

Joe Valley  26:28

does, it takes into it takes into account that the current value is zero, because you’re just you’re starting from nothing. That’s exactly, yeah, it’s not like you’re buying something for 100,000, that’s generating profit, already, you’re buying something that has zero profit, and you’re gonna, you’re gonna, you’re gonna have to have time to let it mature.

Ewen Finser  26:47

Exactly. But also from the investor standpoint, you know, time is money. And so, you know, I want to make sure that we were bound by certain, you know, objectives that we’re not just, you know, over promising and continually kicking the can down the road. Okay, at some point, the buck stops, and what’s the return? So,

Joe Valley  27:05

so let me let me just throw out one more thing, before we move on to how you built these 26 in the goal in five weeks and whatnot. You raised capital for that. Are you? Are you still raising capital? Are you interested in that for people that are in the audience that want to make an investment, want to allocate their money to some online business model, but are discovering that they don’t have the bandwidth to do it themselves, can they just throw money at you and get 25 30% IRR, you’re not you’ve, you’ve raised enough capital for the time being?

Ewen Finser  27:42

Well, for that fund we have but what we tried to pioneer with it last fund is a flexible model, we raised from 12 different investors for that $800,000 a lot a lot of people from our network mutual friends that we might share. You know, because there was an appetite beyond just a single capital source, which is what I use for Center Keel Media, kind of a family office. But yeah, so so I’m trying to open it up a little bit, because I do like, honestly doing this in more of a community setting and working with other, you know, investors. And so what we’ve kind of created is a template to do for future funds in a similar type of way, where, you know, we might do themed funds, we might kind of mix up the recipe a little bit, but basically have the same template where, you know, accredited investors can participate. So I would say it’s your question. Yeah, I’m always interested in making those connections. And so yeah, feel free to reach out to me, you know, after the, you know, in the show notes, and, you know, we’d love to connect and learn more really about, you know, what, what someone’s objectives are before,

Joe Valley  28:46

you know, details in the show notes. Yeah, Yeah, that’d be for sure. All right. So you talked about niche selection, you’re building 25? I’m sorry, 26 sites in five weeks? Where do you start? How you do this?

Ewen Finser  28:59

Yeah. So it starts, it starts with a little bit of anxiety. A little bit. Okay, good for you. I’d have a lot. No, yeah. So this was a big stretch for us. As I said, the most our team had launched in one go was 10. But I felt like 26 was a good stairstep. It’s not insane, right? It’s not 100 sites. That would be insane. At this point. So we had to build our, our content tool that we talked about to a point where we felt like we could I could, we can import all the topics, that’s another feature of it is I can just upload a spreadsheet with all you know, 3000 topics, and it can tag it and auto, you know, feed it into the conveyor belt, and I don’t have to manually do anything. So that’s great. But I had to make sure that that kind of process would work and that the kinks were worked out. I also had to make sure that we had the processes in place to hire and onboard all those writers because as we’re launching new sites, we have to expand the team. The good news is we have a lot of existing writers who can You can probably write about some of those other topics, but there was still probably 50% of our effort was spent on really sourcing the writers. And then making sure we had the editors in place to manage them. And so kind of the infrastructure questions. And then and then yeah, and then for me, what I spend most of my time doing is probably it’s an earlier point you had is, is the niche selection I, that’s what I really enjoy it. If I could do nothing else, all day long, I would look at keyword data, look at trends, data, look at, you know, ecommerce trends and figure out where are there gaps in the market. And that’s kind of it maybe a unique aspect of what we’re doing is we’re building sites, typically in markets where there aren’t a whole lot of competitors. And that might sound counterintuitive, because a lot of listings we see are kind of historically facing right there. It’s like what someone thought five years ago was a good opportunity. But that’s changed, you know, by definition today, you know, the world doesn’t necessarily need another coffee site, or I don’t know, like home gym site there. But there are new verticals that are very, very interesting, that are emerging, or that are what I call late stage ecommerce adoption, they’re just coming online. Now,

Joe Valley  31:14

how do you like how do you? How do you find those? How do you? I mean, you just can’t think of them in your head and start typing, you’ve got to look at data and trends. And what do you what do you do that?

Ewen Finser  31:24

Well, I’ve always said, I do start with it, the shower thoughts, right? Everyone has them, you know, writing those down, you know, I’ll be just walking, taking, you know, kids for a walk, and I’ll think of something, it’ll come to me like a lightning bolt, I’ll just write it down. And I have this whole list of this filtering process that I run through, you know, I look at the the three things I’d look at one would be, you know, is there enough keyword volume? Right? Is there a gap here that, you know, if someone were searching for this term, you know, does it get enough search volume? Now look at is it what is that level? So I’d say, you know, I look at as a basket, right? So it’s not just one keyword, it’s the whole grouping. But you know, I’d like to see enough meat on the bone. So, you know, a site that could get to a few 100,000 visitors per month, you know, and so kind of extrapolate that based on the volume. And then I look at is the juice worth the squeeze? So like, if we were ranking number one, how are you monetizing? Because there’s plenty of verticals out there that, you know, pay pennies in terms of ads don’t have affiliate networks. So I spent a lot of time digging in, you know, to, to that, what are the emerging affiliate programs that are coming online? You know, a good example of that is like direct to consumer lumber, for example, that was never like, five years ago, it’s hard to order, like, go on a website and order lumber to your home. Yeah, that’s a thing. Now, there’s actually affiliate programs, you know, even like, or for flooring or things like that. There’s a lot of interesting markets that are just coming online now. And so I spent a lot of time looking at that. And then the final step is, what’s the competition. And so if there’s huge, you know, not huge sites, but very authoritative sites already in the market where, you know, you go to the first page of Google for a top term, and it’s littered with experts, I’ll probably avoid those, the kind of the one kind of give or tell that I like to see his forums, I see a lot of forums in the top 10 results, that tells me that it’s a very underserved market, because forums are not really trending right now. They’re typically legacy things that, you know, people asking questions that literally aren’t being answered. And if Google’s surfacing a forum in the top 10, that’s basically a desperation sign of like, there are no good optimized pages out here. And so that’s, that’s what I looked at to the third point there.

Joe Valley  33:45

Okay. And your goal, I think you said 100 articles, is that Do you have a benchmark that you’re trying to, you know, get written, produced, and and indexed within a certain amount of period? Is it 100? You have a magic number?

Ewen Finser  34:00

Yeah. So I’d say for each size color at 120 or so articles for the first trial phase, the bullet phase, within the first three months? So I’ve you know, that’s

Joe Valley  34:10

exactly what I wanted, where I wanted to go 120 in the first three months. And how do you? I mean, do you go through a pre launch process of categories, categorizing all of the articles do you do you come up with all the article names, or and then you categorize them? So you know how you’re going to build your site? Or do you just let it flow and post them?

Ewen Finser  34:31

Yeah, so exactly what you described before we create a call a wireframe or a scaffold. This is what it looks like here, the main pillar categories here, this child categories. And that’s, that’s the hard work. That’s the, you know, deciding what goes in what category helps create a very good discipline around the whole process. It helps you conceptualize the niche and so that’s very important process for me, and also for the team, you know, and even for the writer at the bottom rung at the very bottom of the kind of the The structure, knowing what the plan is like, you know, here’s a wireframe. This is what the categories were look like, even if it’s not built out, you know, here’s the designs. Here’s the schematics, basically. Okay, so that’s very, very important.

Joe Valley  35:12

So that’s, that’s really important. So you know where you’re going, right? And the goal is to get 120, in the first 90 days, do you post them as they’re produced? Or do you dump them all at once

Ewen Finser  35:24

I post my my theory on this is get everything live as soon as possible. It’s not to look pretty, but it’s not going to know who’s going to visit it anyway, right now. So it starts the clock with Google, you know, it starts pinging Google saying, you know, one or two articles are published. And, and that’s kind of that’s very important kind of the starting gun, so to speak. So I biased towards action, in all cases. Do you do any paid media? No, not yet. But I’m very intrigued by it. Why? Because I think there’s there’s some interesting leverage that can be achieved, if if you have articles that are ranking, you know, organically, you know, you know, what they’re converting, and then just kind of running paid ads against that, if you have the margin

Joe Valley  36:09

that’s acceptable to Google that may be paying out affiliate fees, or, you know, things of that nature.

Ewen Finser  36:15

Oh, yeah. I mean, there’s some kind of thing because the best reviews are, I can’t I can’t think of the exact domain. But there’s a couple big players that do this, as they’re part of their business model. You know, I don’t have the appetite. I mean, I’m not an expert with paid media. But it’s very interesting, something that we are exploring, you just said, best review. So

Joe Valley  36:33

do in your portfolio of 100. Plus, do you have any review sites?

Ewen Finser  36:38

So it’s interesting that the concept review site itself is just something really interesting that I thought about, you know, we, we don’t think of any of our sites as review sites anymore. We think of them as content brands. And so to act, even if you’re doing even if, you know, 30% of your content, is our product reviews, recommendations, having the other 60% or 50% being authoritative and informative content, tutorials, you know, questions and answers, you know, how, you know, not just what’s the best, you know, lawnmower, but how to maintain your lawnmower, you know, how to, you know, where to find replacement parts, you know, you know, how to you know, how to grow your grass, you know, what’s the difference between Bermuda grass, and crabgrass? You know, all those questions. So we, we built what’s very important for us to build authority brand, versus just a review site. All of our sites do have review elements. But we kind of like we’re looking at like, you want to visit the homepage and not necessarily know that it’s a review site. That makes sense. It wasn’t there, just to Google algorithm update related to review sites. Yeah, they it’s called the quality rater guidelines, which is like Google’s arcane kind of textbook on, you know, what they give their reviewer their manual review team to look at. And, and so yeah, they basically said that they’re going to kind of look closely and what what is it? What is a review? What is a quality review, there’s a lot of sites out there, and this is the underbelly of the industry, that are scraped content, spun content, you know, now with the AI tools coming out, they’re kind of AI, you know, created, Frankenstein’s. And then you also have a lot of, you know, folks overseas and in different countries writing content, which, you know, there’s there’s various problems with that. So, so yeah, you know, that that’s, that’s a huge issue.

Joe Valley  38:30

Let me ask two questions in terms of the the brands that, you know, content brand review sites, that’s going to be my second question around that. But let’s go to that overseas comment. Before we started hitting it before I hit record, you it’s something about one of the first things you do if you’re looking to buy a site is to actually read an article, just touch on that for a moment. So for those out there thinking about buying a content site versus building like you’re doing?

Ewen Finser  38:58

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s it’s a similar practice that’s been told, in every industry, right? Even the e commerce industry might be like, order the product, feel it, like use it, you know, is similar and content content is the product for for, for our purposes. And so what I kind of do is just throw the domain into a traps or sem rush, find the top article that’s getting most of the traffic and just sit down with a cup of coffee and read it front, you know, front to bottom, every single word, you know, what does this sound like an expert, you know, what can you glean just from this because that’s, to me, that’s 99% of due diligence there. And so I’ve seen some really convoluted processes and spreadsheets that people have that look at like 90 different points, and it’s like day to day, what’s the essential point, you know, it’s the quality cut. That’s the durable aspect here. It’s not you know, necessarily the backlink profile. That’s also interesting. Yeah, thank

Joe Valley  39:53

you. It’s not rocket science, right? Yeah, have a cup of coffee read it because that’s the most part valuable part of the asset. content is no different than if you’re gonna buy a house interview realtors look at their other listings, look at their, you know, virtual tours, things of that nature. If you’re going to buy a business, you’re going to sell your business, have a conversation with the different brokerage firms, but look at their actual listings. And no, I don’t mean the teasers online, sign the non disclosure agreement, download it, grab a cup of coffee, go through it, and then make your decision. Simple, really what you’re doing there. Okay, let’s talk about a combination of things here. This is your content brand portfolio that you’re building. So you might be an expert on, you know, in lawn industry, right, if you’re reviewing lawn mowers, but how to, you know, the difference between Bermuda versus what grass there is, I know, I’ve got a fescue, I’ve got tall fescue, here you go, Hey, I just cut that green stuff out there. And I have an electric lawnmower, or a battery operated lumber I’ve got one of those egos are great. Anyway, um, in some of these, you know, type of products or physical products that you could be talking about or reviewing. And they actually have websites where they sell physical products to consumers, and they have, you know, brands on Amazon, and all these aggregators trying to buy, you know, FBA businesses. Is there. Is there a future merger between content development and selling, you know, on your own website or selling on FBA?

Ewen Finser  41:25

Yeah, so we’ve definitely thought of that. It’s a very, you know, intersection of content and commerce. I mean, that’s kind of the point, right? It’s, you know, we can come we come from the content side, there’s obviously this big aggregators coming from the product side. But I do think, you know, you have to, at some point, they do intersect, and at what point in the value chain? Where do we want to sit? Basically, I’m very, very firm believer in staying within my core competency. So, you know, really what we’re focusing on is the kind of the delivery mechanism, mechanism or user acquisition, really. And we’re very comfortable handing that relationship off to a brand and saying, we’ll send you the clicks, right, you convert them. Okay. At some point, it’s interesting to think about, like I, you know, maybe for certain industries, if we have enough data, we can say, you know, what, there’s no product, like, I don’t know, there’s no, you know, product in this one vertical, that if we could create it or source it, or it might make sense. But that would have to be a very specialized case, the one exception to that rule would be information products, we do like brands, or building brands that do have that. So if you, you know, sell a, you know, $10 ebook or something, that’s nice, you know, if we can do that, but that’s kind of the limit of our expertise, because really, actually, physical inventory is a whole different

Joe Valley  42:45

model pletely different animal, right, you’re dealing with, you know, importing from overseas, or manufacturing and running out of inventory and working capital to keep it in stock and a whole bunch of different ethics. So your focus then would simply be to send the traffic and earn that affiliate commission.

Ewen Finser  43:03

Exactly. Yeah. For now. Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see. I will say, you know, on the on the macro side, you know, when you’re talking to these aggregators, they’re very interested in you know, how do we particularly an FBA, how do we kind of get eyeballs elsewhere, whether it’s, you know, creating their own Shopify store, or developing their own content, or, or even learning on their own affiliate programs on top of Amazon. And I think, taking the secondary and tertiary effects of what’s happening, that massive whales, those whales that have been dropped, right in the pool of, you know, unicorns really is amazing. It’s what’s happened last couple years, what are the secondary tertiary effects of that, and they have to go beyond

Joe Valley  43:46

just selling on Amazon, they have to get the source of traffic that, you know, leads to that, to that landing on on Amazon and, and go off as well. They have to there’s just no way. Yeah, why they can continue to do you know, only Amazon stuff, my opinion, my two cents anyways, I got a little insight to it. I talked to most of them. So yeah, and I know, and I know that, you know, the you and I didn’t talk about this. But you know, we’ve had an average of like four and a half offers on every listing year today, which is, you know, when you bought the last site for me personally, that wasn’t situation. It was it was don’t listed above 2.74. So it doesn’t round up. Yes, point eight online because nobody will buy something for 2.8. The world’s changed a lot, obviously. So this has been fascinating. On the on the 26 sites that you’re building in five weeks, what was the starting date, just out of curiosity.

Ewen Finser  44:43

So we we launched those first week of June, and they’re actually all up right now. And they’re all after all the content is in the pipeline. So it’s my work is done, which is, which is great. Our team starts to execute and stuff to oversee that.

Joe Valley  44:59

So Yeah, actually on that one of the follow up questions to those, you know, 120 articles that you’re going to have up in 90 days, do you stop then? Or do you just slow the pace of articles? Do you continually write new content towards that niche subject forever, I’m

Ewen Finser  45:17

of, I look at my role as a capital allocator. And I like to measure everything. So I’ll stop. And I’ll say, let’s, let’s wait, let’s go quiet. We have this ebb and flow, you know, ideally, we’re going to have a number of funds launching at various cycles, so it’ll always feel busy. But in each portfolio, there’s kind of a period of work in a period of rest, and be patient and measure. And, you know, the idea that this this whole idea of content budgets on a recurring monthly basis, I think it’s very flawed, because things can change.

Joe Valley  45:49

Interesting. I mean, Chris Knight, Chris, you know, he he and I chatted about this. And, you know, there have been some some scuttlebutt chatter about, you know, the content development being an add back. And I don’t see it that way, because it’s cost of doing business, and you’re going to continue to write content on a regular basis, especially if you’ve got a site that’s up and running, and it’s successful. What’s the risk of when you know that you’re 15 months in? And site number 22? is starting to be that rocket? Are you going to allocate resources to it? Or are you just going to sit back and ride the ship?

Ewen Finser  46:28

You know, I kind of like to ride the ship until it finds its natural resting point, you know, where does it fall? Where does it plateau? Because otherwise, I feel like it is too much cause and effect, you know, in there to untangle. You don’t know what

Joe Valley  46:42

content is driving the truck, but you can track it, you can measure that you can,

Ewen Finser  46:46

but I think I like to kind of see what the first batch because again, it’s about capital allocation. So I don’t want to be auto spending, right, have it on, like, have a fixed budget for each site, and then fine up digging, digging the hole in the wrong direction, because over on the other side of the portfolio, there’s another site, that’s, that’s going it’s growing like gangbusters with far less investment, you know, I should probably pivot that money from the, you know, the lower ROI activity to the higher or higher one. But that, you know, that requires knowledge. And it requires data and requires comparative analysis. And so that’s why I do it that way. To your point about add backs, I think it’s a very interesting discussion industry. You know, my it’s nuanced. I think, from an operator standpoint, is it 100% add back? I don’t think so. Is it some combination there? Yes, I think it is, because, you know, I have some personal examples where we’ve stopped writing, we haven’t published any content in six months, 12 months, the site continues to earn, you know, in theory over time, will it drop off? Maybe. But I think it’s a, it’s a lot about the type of content you’re writing. And I’ll say that, you know, even within verticals, and here’s a good example, a tech blog, the shelf life of that content is, you know, three to six months, like next year talking about last year’s iPhone, you know, that that’s a depreciating kind of asset right out there. However, if you’re talking about how to grow tomatoes, right, that that’s going to stay the same for, hopefully for for a while. So it’s, so it made this a good kind of tip, I guess, for people that are looking to buy content business, what is the shelf life, you know, of the of that content profile that you’re buying, buying? Is it something that requires frequent updates in the tech space? Or is it something that’s more reference material or tutorials? You know, what, what is that inherent moat around that content? So I definitely look at that. So I think it does vary yet, like for a tech site?

Joe Valley  48:44

Yeah. Just back to the lesson that no two business models are alike, right? You gotta you got to analyze each one on a case by case basis. You know, I’d look personally for a much longer time period of six months, you know, no new content, I’d be looking at, you know, logic and math, I think, okay, for the last 18 months, I’ve posted nothing, and traffic has tripled. That means it’s not going to come crashing down next month.

Ewen Finser  49:12

There’s also a delayed effect to write. So when you fire the new content, it kind of takes a while to get digested by Google in it on a the benefit of buying a site sometimes is that you have that inherent domain authority where if you publish a piece of content, it’s ranking in three days on the first page with a newer site that that typically takes a little while. And even for a middle tier site, it might take a little bit. So you do have a delayed effect, where you’re not getting instant feedback. And so that’s part of the problem, I think,

Joe Valley  49:40

how much you’re investing in each site, right? We’ve got 30,025 $30,000 per site, you’ve got money allocated towards writers and you’ve got a website that you’re developing to I would imagine the site’s very simple and not very expensive at all right?

Ewen Finser  49:56

But we start with a minimum viable product, you know, basic WordPress, WordPress. branding WordPress theme we actually have on the tech side, we have, we have cloneable, basically infrastructure. So it has all the plugins, all the theming all the like the basics, right? So we just one click, we can roll out, we actually can roll out 26 sites fairly quickly. It’s, you know, getting it and actually producing the content that takes a while hiring teams.

Joe Valley  50:21

Okay. So most of that most of the funds, if you’re doing if you’re allocating 25 $30,000 per site, most of that money is going towards writers.

Ewen Finser  50:31

Yeah, content is our biggest line item, let’s say 85% of our expenses are content.

Joe Valley  50:36

Cool. And I think I could talk to you for another hour or so. But I’m not gonna do that to the listeners. But what I would like to do is revisit this, right, you launched June 1. And here’s what you just said a few minutes ago. Maybe we can come back and get you back on before the end of the year, and get an update on the portfolio of 26 that you’ve launched and see how things are going? Yep, for that. Love to. Yeah, I mean, I’d love to love that accountability, too. So what we’re gonna do, folks, I’m actually going to put it on the calendar now. So he and I both committed to it. And we’re going to record again with an update on the 26. See how they’re doing. Any any last advice for those that are going to buy? I’m sorry, build versus buy?

Ewen Finser  51:21

Yeah, I mean, I think I can I just can start to finish what we started with the it’s a very personal decision. And I think there’s this interesting discussion about, you know, what is a good business? Right? There’s this objective criteria that we kind of all agree on, has a moat has all these things. The problem is sometimes businesses I’ve found that have really nice boats are really hard to operate. You right. So or, like, we’ve talked about some personal examples where the founder is very tied to the brand. Yeah, you know, so that has a great moat. But there’s a flip side to that it’s harder to operate. And so I would just come back to Lina, what’s, you know, do a personal inventory, what are your competencies? Even if you’re outside of the space coming in? What What can you take from that outside experience that you can kind of put in your, you know, fully developed skill set, or developing or undeveloped, kind of put those things in different buckets, when you look at these businesses, identify the components that kind of place, place them on that spectrum? And say that that kind of becomes your dynamic risk? You know, toolbar, if you will, it’s very personal. And so I don’t think there’s such a thing as a perfect business, I think it’s more, what is your competence? And how will you operate this business and build your own p&l based off of your own experience? Not versus what the broker is telling you?

Joe Valley  52:36

Yeah, no, I love that it is personal, no matter what, right? You’re going to be immersed in it day in and day out, even if it’s just, you know, two hours at Starbucks before you get home, before you have kids. Because you get to put the time and you got to be, you know, energetic and motivated to put the time then. So I totally agree on the personal side of it. This has been fantastic, you know, thanks for coming on. I appreciate you taking some time out of your what must be an incredibly busy day. And I look forward to having you back on in six months to our checkup. See, thanks so much. I really appreciate it. My pleasure. Thanks. Folks, thanks for hanging in there. with another episode of the Quiet Light Podcast. I loved that episode all about content development, buy versus build. And what you and is doing is simply amazing the way that he’s got that content conveyor belt with a you know, 100 different sites and hundreds of writers just picking and plucking content subjects that they want to write on and submitting it and getting paid is brilliant in my opinion. So thanks for hanging in there. Please. If you like our podcast, enjoy what we have to say subscribe to it, like it subscribe. Whatever service you do that will help boost our rankings. Give us a review. It’ll help bring more high quality guests like Ewen Finser and so on and so forth. Thanks. Appreciate it. We’ll chat with you next week.

Outro  53:58

today’s podcast was produced by Rise25 and the Quiet Light content team. If you have a suggestion for a future podcast subject or guest, email us at [email protected] Be sure to follow us on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.

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