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Aug. 4, 2016, 1:13 p.m.
Business Models

On track to bring in $850,000 this year, the profitable Charlotte Agenda says its model is working

“For global media, reaching scale is the hardest thing. In local, making money is the hardest thing. Delaying the hard thing makes for a crappier company.”

Here’s a bright spot for those anxious about the future viability of local news businesses: North Carolina-based Charlotte Agenda says it’s on track to pull in $850,000 in revenue this year, higher than it expected. Oh, and it’s both growing and profitable.

The 11-person site, aimed at the growing population of young professionals in North Carolina’s largest city, has been bootstrapped and self-funded since its launch in April 2015. As a result, revenue growth and profitability — rather than just reader growth — have been a priority since day one, said Ted Williams, the site’s cofounder and publisher. He says that other local news startups need to have that same mindset.

“Unlike the strategy for launching a global media company, the strategy for launching a local media company needs to generate revenue early,” Williams said. “For global media, reaching scale is the hardest thing. In local, making money is the hardest thing. Delaying the hard thing makes for a crappier company.”

Reader growth, however, has still been key. CharlotteAgenda.com gets around 300,000 unique visitors a month (the metro area has about 2.5 million people), and it’s also built up a community of 52,000 followers on Instagram. More, nearly 500 people pay for a membership to the site, which offers perks such as early access to events and discounts at local businesses.

The Charlotte Agenda is a kindred spirt to Miami’s The New Tropic and Philadelphia’s Billy Penn, which also go after young urbanites in its respective city. And like Billy Penn, which announced its first city expansion to Pittsburgh in May, Charlotte Agenda is also growing. In July, the site announced plans to expand to its second city, the state capital Raleigh. (This week, it said that Grayson Haver Currin and Jane Porter, two journalists well known in Raleigh, would be joining the new site as editor-in-chief and senior reporter, respectively.)

Williams said that core part of the Charlotte Agenda’s strategy — in a big part of its success so far — is its decision to make advertising a core part of the user experience and product, rather than as an afterthought. (Around 85 percent of the site’s revenue comes from sponsorships and display advertising.) While local advertisers are a big part of its customer base, it’s also managed to attract big-name sponsors such as Bank of America and Uber.

“We obsess over ad products, execution, and sponsorship user experience. It isn’t just the thing that funds the journalism. This type of culture matters,” Williams said.

Photo of the Charlotte skyline by James Willamor used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Aug. 4, 2016, 1:13 p.m.
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