Pixable Closing Up Shop After One Crazy, Awesome Ride
Just last week I did a Q&A session with a large group of enthusiastic researchers at consultancy firm Cognolink here in New York City. I spoke about Pixable, the digital media landscape, the ups and downs, the trends, trials and tribulations of growing a media company and anything else they wanted to ask me. But what really stood out to me after I finished speaking was how much we’ve accomplished at Pixable. I was able to speak as an authority as much because of what we’ve done at Pixable as what I’ve experienced at places like The Huffington Post, Business Insider or Turner Broadcasting.
That says something.
The things the Pixable team accomplished are remarkable any way you shake it. We achieved what we set out to do, even if the final result didn’t end up with us becoming the next Buzzfeed.
We never wanted to be the next Buzzfeed.
We always wanted to be who we were, Pixable. And it was working. Unfortunately, circumstances (unrelated to everything that follows) made it difficult to raise money and continue on.
So that’s that, we’re toast. But we’re going out on fire.
Purely looking at numbers, since CEO Andy Volanakis brought me on in January 2014 we pivoted a company from an app-focused social photo aggregation tool that scraped APIs of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube with a focus on an international demographic and turned it — in under two years — into a media product focused on a US demographic of 18–34 year old millennials.
In that time we hit 9,400,000 monthly active users, and 58,000,000 monthly original video views in October 2015 after continued month-over-month growth, a Facebook page with over 390,000 insanely engaged fans (lately gaining at a rate of thousands new fans a day), highlighted in the Apple App store as a featured app, a sky-high article read-through completion rate, an average time-on-page of 1:25 spread out over 8,000 articles, over 23,000,000 social actions and 91,000,000 social referrals, 137,000,000 article page views since April 2014 (it’s worth noting we do not, nor ever had slideshow galleries), reached a top 100 rank in Quantcast for mobile traffic, launched a proprietary contributor platform, with original reporting and an average of 25 stories per day with an in-house editorial staff of 13.
Let’s look at a graph. Graphs are neat.
We established relationships with — and created sponsored content for — big brands such as Walmart, Sony, Etsy, Disney and others with more that were in the pipe for Q1 of 2016. We did this all while focusing on the importance of the engagement as a metric over that of banner ad impressions. Our sales team of Donna Bulford and Angela Rogerman teamed up with our Branded Content Manager Cristina Gutierrez who drove the efforts here.
During my Q&A session I asked everybody who’s clicked on or paid attention to a banner ad to raise their hands. Not one did. Not one. They were all in the 18–34 demographic. Ask yourself when was the last time you even noticed a banner ad.
We established syndication and social partnerships with major publications including Huffington Post, Daily Dot, People’s Choice Awards, MTV, Cambio, Bustle, Ozy, Playbuzz, Thrillist, Hollywood.com, Inc, The Dodo, Above Average and more.
Our audience development and social marketing team of Loren Appin, VP of Growth and Noah Keil got so ridiculously good at understanding how to reach a target audience at such a good cost per click that we grew our user base month over month without increasing our monthly budget.
And those 390,000 Facebook fans? Those were grown from zero without spending a dime on Like campaigns. The management of the page by our Head of Social Media Adam Gassman had much to do with it as well as the increased focus on video over the summer.
Speaking of video. We brought in and signed awesome talent like Soren&Jolles. We had — and still have — the most viewed video HuffPost has ever shared on their Facebook page at over 100,000,000 views. That’s nearly double what Buzzfeed’s Obama video has. Our videos were like candy to HuffPost. Delicious, audience building candy.
Our video content became so successful after we brought on Skylar Wesby as the Lead Video Editor/Producer that we began to battle with 3rd party viral video licensing vultures, er, companies. But that’s another story for another day.
Pixable’s development and product teams lead by VP of Engineering Juan Soprano and VP of Product Peter Espersen did incredible work in customizing our content management system from scratch. They were able to handle traffic blasts of up to 38,000 people on the site at once whenever an influencer would share a post, build and continually improve user experience, launch an absolutely wonderful and easy to use content creation tool, continuously improve the functionality of our app and are genuinely fantastic to work with people who know how to get stuff done.
Pixable wouldn’t exist without them, and you can read about all of them at the end of this post.
They also play a mean game of FIFA 16.
Pixable’s Director of UX and Design Alfred Astor-Tubert and Senior Visual Designer Alan Tran took us through various improvements to the look and feel of the brand over the course of the pivot, constantly striving for something unique and beautiful. They even chipped in infographics when called upon by the editorial team.
Our editorial team of myself, editors Mitchell Friedman and Keith Estiler, Senior Corespondent Robert Johnson, staff writers Natalie Krawczyk, Tara Mastroeni, Julianne Adams, Arielle Tschinkel, Mariel Loveland, Branded Content Manager Cristina Gutierrez, Lead Video Editor Skylar Wesby, Associate Video Editor/Producer Matt Laud and Head of Social Media, Email Marketing, and Strategic Partnerships Adam Gassman created the content that made all of our success possible.
Starting with only a small cadre of a few interns with no real prior experience they grew into Pixable. The unique voices and intelligence of this group of writers, editors, lead singers, comedians, video editors and producers, photographers and reporters made each individual piece of content stand out on it’s own, whether it was a story about Harry Potter Candles or something from our Senior Correspondent Robert Johnson spending two weeks documenting and exploring the real Cuba or crawling around an abandoned hospital in Detroit exposing HIPAA violations in the process. Then go fly a drone in the Northeast to capture the beauty of leaves changing color from a new perspective.
Or the ability of one of our team to create a post of accidental penis-in-pictures then turn around and spend months putting together a post with a photo/image of every single animal that went extinct in the last 100 years.
We killed it at Comic Con.
While at the same time discovering that for some perplexing reason people love to read about Ryan Reynolds.
Finally being able to turn around and cover major breaking news events like MH17, the Ferguson riots and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris with the same attention to detail and accuracy as any major news organization backed by a refusal to be sensationalist in our approach.
We pissed off Texas. We got death threats by Beyonce fans because of this story. We raised awareness on animal extinction. We showed you how easy it is to light fracking sites on fire and showed you the underbelly of Atlantic City. We told you how you could ship a bag of gummy dicks to your friends or enemies. We shared a turtle with LEGO wheels with you. We were honored for our gif work by Paste Magazine. We took you into the lives of trans-gendered people in India. We made you cry with military family reunions.
We cared about attribution and giving credit where credit is due. And that reflected in the quality of stories we had on the site. Highlighting creators mattered to us.
There’s not enough time for me to tell it all.
Every single person contributed across the board in a variety of ways, and it was all driven by creativity, a desire to do something worthwhile, meaningful, inherently good, different, entertaining and always visual.
We did all this because we all love doing what we do, from CEO to intern. With Pixable we shared a vision that resonated with readers.
We achieved what we set out to do, and then some. We pivoted an app that was about to die into a media company that ended up reaching hundreds of millions of people.
And we had a freakin’ blast doing it. Thanks to Singtel for providing the platform to build this team and reach so many people.
Pixable, signing off.
Now, please go and hire these awesome people. Best team I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with and you won’t find better. Each of their names are linked to their LinkedIn profile page.
Mitchell Freidman, Editor
Total Authored Articles: 825
Authored Article Social Actions: 3,682,752
Authored Article Page Views: 18,600,000
Mitchell is a comedian by trade who jumped into the role of intern back in January 2014 right when Pixable made the pivot, then associate editor, then was promoted to editor this last summer. It was well deserved. Mitchell brought a keen eye for detail, a wonderful sense of humor and the ability to shift content gears on a dime. For example writing an important piece about animal extinction then turning around and writing about ugly babies then an in-depth article about the breakdown of who wrote what Beatles’ songs. He also hosted our daily video segment “Last Night In 60 Seconds” 5 days a week defining the tone with his unique sense of humor and presentation skill. Mitchell was also a driving factor in editing contributed posts. He edited staff writer’s work daily as well as feature articles. Twitter: Freidmang
Keith Estiler, Editor
Total Authored Articles: 965
Authored Article Social Actions: 3,850,408
Authored Article Page Views: 12,277,586
I hired Keith back in February of 2014 as an intern. He was one of the original group I brought on to make the pivot from photo aggregation app to media product. Keith worked his way up from intern to associate editor with a focus on Art & Culture content, then was promoted to editor in August, 2015. Each promotion was well deserved. Keith hit his deadlines, was highly creative, trusted to make editorial decisions and run the page. Keith is amazingly reliable. I’m not sure how a person can never call in sick for nearly 2 years but that’s him. He also took on whatever challenge I’d throw his way. Literally anything I’d throw his way he’d take on. Pixable would not have been what it was without him. I would recommend Keith to anybody looking for an outstanding editor skilled in photography, video, editing, writing and curating who is easy to work with and always comes to the office motivated. Twitter: Kestiler
Robert Johnson, Senior Corespondent
Total Authored Articles: 164
Authored Article Social Actions: 487,823
Authored Article Page Views: 3,213,748
I had worked with Robert at Business Insider in 2013 and when I had a chance to work with him again at Pixable it was an excellent match, so I brought him on in November 2014. Robert is the man behind much of Pixable’s original reporting. Robert reported on Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, Detroit residents water being shut off in the dead of winter, he explored the underbelly of Atlantic City, spent two weeks exploring the Real Cuba, uncovered unsecured and dangerous fracking sites, secured aerial footage of a train wreck in West Virginia, drove through the Northeast chasing fall foliage and exploring abandoned sites and was working on a story about the California Bullet Train to nowhere. Rob’s photojournalist skill is top-tier and he will quite literally do whatever it takes to get the story. Rob is ex-military. The man is a machine. A talented machine. His photography is gorgeous and has impact. He has a desire to always go after the next thing in reporting and journalism and has the dedication and ability to do it. Twitter: JohnsonRW.
Cristina Gutierrez, Branded Content Editor
Total Authored Articles: 254
Authored Article Social Actions: 1,247,039
Authored Article Page Views: 5,680,156
Cristina started out as an intern at Pixable pre-pivot, and I took her on as a writer/editor because she showed creative talent and an eye for social media. Cristina never looked back and after showing interest in going into more marketing and brands, she became our Branded Content Editor and was promoted this last summer to Brand Content Manager. Cristina was the pin between editorial and sales when it came to holding together sponsored content campaigns. She worked on campaigns for Disney, Sony, Walmart, Vimeo and more, always delivering the highest quality content and meeting goals. She was on top of affiliate marketing and created affiliate posts that Cristina is a true professional who can handle both the internal rigors of sponsored content and external communication with clients to hit deliverables. Twitter: cristinaeg
Skylar Wesby, Lead Video Editor/Producer
We brought Skylar on at Pixable in July 2015 and the site was never the same. We already knew we had a good thing going with our supercuts and talent we worked with, but Skylar kicked it up a notch and then some. Directly after he joined and we went full throttle into video, we started hitting ridiculous video view numbers. 40 million a month, then 62 million and then 58 million in October. A perfectionist with the ability to cut down hours of raw footage into a socially digestible clip of a minute and thirty second or two minute video, and the ability to string together clips in a supercut for emotional impact was integral to what we were doing. Skylar also ran the daily segment “Last Night In 60 Seconds” shooting, directing, editing and delivering every day by 11:30am without missing a beat. Skylar is able to take the ideas from editors and writers, conceptualize and then deliver a finished product that stands up to anybody out there.
Adam Gassman, Head of Social Media, Email Marketing and Strategic Partnerships
Adam came on in November 2014 as the Senior Social Media Editor and he was due up for a promotion this month if the sh*t didn’t hit the fan. He would have gotten one. Adam’s eye for shareable and clickable content on our Facebook page helped grow it to the nearly 400k fans it has today. Obsessive in tracking metrics, Adam was always able to get the most out of our content on social. He also helped grow our Twitter following significantly and was in the process of building out Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat. Adam was also a major part of our partnership strategy and he established and maintained 15 relationships with various publishers including OMGFacts, MTV News, Bustle and more. Twitter: Adam_Gassman
Natalie Krawczyk, Staff Writer
Total Authored Articles: 1,524
Authored Article Social Actions: 4,218,632
Authored Article Page Views: 19,352,723
Natalie a prolific writer. She hit 1,524 bylined articles since I hired her first as an intern in May, 2014. She was brought on full time shortly after and never looked back. Natalie knows how to find stories to write about that will be highly shareable and engaging, and her posts were often some of our most successful on the site, generating millions of page views and social engagements. She’d find things on Reddit before any of the other major publications would get to them, and then it would be our posts that got shared with our partners who didn’t yet have the story. Natalie’s articles were like social candy. The amazing thing about Natalie is that she never missed a deadline on a story. You can’t say that about a lot of writers and editors, but you can about Natalie. Twitter: hey_itsnataliek
Julianne Adams, Staff Writer
Total Authored Articles: 1,052
Authored Article Social Actions: 2,897,434
Authored Article Page Views: 15,161,091
Julianne started out at Pixable as an intern then worked her way up to a full time position as a staff writer. It was well deserved. Julianne is a prolific writer who contributed 939 bylined articles to Pixable, a few of which were among the 10 most viewed on the entire site. She could sniff out Disney Princess aprons or Harry Potter candles before anybody else, and she had an eye for finding videos on Reddit before they would go viral. She’s a grammar stickler and I could always rely on her posts to be accurate. Her voice is unique and she has aspirations to work her way in to editing, and I’d highly recommend her to any company looking for a staff writer or editor. She’s a joy to work with, never brings a bad attitude to work, but then at the same time can be opinionated in her work and incite discussion. Julianne is an extremely fast learner who would take on requests to both cover breaking hard news stories and listy features with equal dedication and enthusiasm. She knew the right questions to ask and has very good judgement. Twitter: Juliannemadams
Tara Mastroeni, Staff Writer Life & Women
Total Authored Articles: 903
Authored Article Social Actions: 856,186
Authored Article Page Views: 15,720,172
I hired Tara on in November of 2014 as the staff writer for Life & Women category. The Life vertical easily had the most ground to cover on the site. Tara wasted no time making her mark. She has an incredibly eye for DIY, women’s issues, real estate, and fashion with an ability to conceptualize and help produce video as well. Tara has a very personable voice and style an easily connects with her readers with her fun yet informative tone. One of her best assets is her awesome demeanor on the team. Always supportive of her team members, funny and hardworking, Tara brings a lot to any group. She bylined 850 articles that ran from daily posts to features and a few of her posts reached the million mark in page views and social referrals. Tara brought it everyday.
Mariel Loveland, Staff Writer
Total Authored Articles: 483
Authored Article Social Actions: 1,491,257
Authored Article Page Views: 14,894,275
We liked Mariel so much that we demanded she come back after her band “Candy Hearts” finished their Warped tour over the summer. She came back and we were better for it. Mariel consistently found some of the coolest things to write about, including the infamous “Send Your Friends A Bag Of Gummy Dicks” post, and discovering photos on Flicker of an abandoned OZ theme park that drove millions of page views. She’s awesome at photoshop and turned Disney Princesses into Juggalettes, turned music festival posters in to gifs minus the male acts to highlight how few women acts there are, and wrote an important piece on the most dangerous states in America to be a woman. Then she’d turn around a great science story that would hold up on a HuffPost, BuzzFeed or any other news site. She’s got range. Her posts were consistently some of the most shared, clicked and engaged posts on the site during her time here. She also comes to work with different colored hair pretty consistently. Twitter: CandyHeartsBand
Arielle Tschinkel, Junior Staff Writer Celeb & Entertainment
Total Authored Articles: 29
Authored Article Social Actions: 2,343
Authored Article Page Views: 97,498
Arielle is a powerhouse writer able to turn around high quality daily celeb and entertainment stories and features on a short time frame. She has an awesome voice and tone and a unique perspective that is an asset. For example, she wrote about how “Grease 2” is the greatest movie ever. Who says that?! Arielle is a pleasure to work with and can easily integrate into a team. She’s deserving of a full time position at a media company in the celeb and entertainment space. I’ve worked with a number of celeb and entertainment writers and editors over the years, and Arielle has the talent and potential to be right up there with any of them. Twitter: mrstschinkel
Matt Laud, Associate Video Editor/Producer
Total Authored Articles: 249
Authored Article Social Actions: 206,895
Authored Article Page Views: 2,434,452
Matt started out as an editorial intern in May 2015. Over the course of the summer he consistently improved while taking feedback and running with it. We were impressed enough with Matt that when we started the video department we brought him on as Associate Video Editor/Producer. That’s where his main talents are, and were proven with hilarious original sketches, producing, hosting and editing our daily segment when called upon, and generally being a pleasant and funny guy to work with. Like the rest of the Pixable team, Matt ended up being one of those rare finds who can do a bit of everything, and do it well. I also encourage you to watch this and this. Twitter: matthewlaud
Noah Keil, Head of Audience Development
Noah is an experienced digital marketer with a successful history in campaign management, audience development and user growth within the US millenial digital media space. His passion lies within content, product and platform growth and he’s always aiming to reach the largest and most engaged audiences possible.
Most recently he has been leading audience development and paid distribution for Pixable, seeing growth from 3.7M to 9.4M Monthly Uniques Visitors and 0M to 60M Monthly Unique Video Views, while reducing the visitor acquisition cost by 33%. Twitter: noahkeil09
Jonathan Rodan, Lead Backend Developer
Jonathan started in Pixable very early on in the company’s life when it just had a couple of servers and the first deployment tool (which he built) was in development — which is still being used today — to the data pipeline that was used to gather millions of images and videos from a large number of social sources, and then rank them to create a personalized experience for users. Jonathan played a very important role pivoting Pixable into a Media company in 2014, working on a clean and scale-able API sitting behind a complex CMS system, and worked to rewrite the email system to target content to the right people, and A/B test email templates and email content in order to optimize effectiveness.
Matt Finnegan, Lead Backend Developer
Matt was an architect of the original incarnation of Pixable — worked on all the components: photo and video crawling, personalization, friend affinity algorithm, curation, and so on. He worked on most of the internal tools as well as a good portion of the old web frontend. For the new Pixable, hehad a similar role… his fingers were in pretty much all of the pies: WordPress and the dozen or so plugins we developed for it. Mattworked on all the backend pieces needed to display the content. After the transition, his work focused primarily on melding the old Pixable pieces (job system, notifications, etc) into the new Pixable — notably, he created the photo stream curation tool. Matt developed (and named, you’re welcome) our internal tool for sending emails to users: “Blast Off”. Additionally, Matt worked on the backend for our Pixable Contributors tool. He’s also funny as hell. Have you tried turning it on and off again?
Ibon Pintado, Senior Product Manager
Lead the definition and execution of product vision and roadmap across all platforms with the next main achievements: + Build and launch Pixable Contributors Network, content creation platform + Evolve Pixable from a photo aggregator app to include editorial content (e.g., articles, stories) • Turn Pixable into an ad serving platform, unlocking our first revenue stream • Generate and prioritize requirements, include: industry benchmarks, input for the design team, user stories, metrics… gathered from all the company’s stakeholders (e.g., sales, editorial teams, marketing…) Besides, I had to Monitor and influence the whole development team (~20 ppl) to ensure correct execution of product roadmap, strong focus and leadership of the backend and web teams (~10 ppl) as strategic teams for product delivery. Finally, going to the numbers I Define, standardize, monitor and analyze data from all platforms such as Mixpanel, Google Analytics, Optimizely, Simple Reach and SendGrid.
William Torrealba, Platform Architect
William has been Pixable’s Platform Architect since 2011. He is responsible for testing, evaluating and making purchase recommendations of new hardware and software in order to improve efficiency, reliability and scalability of existing systems. He also designed and implemented internal systems, network configurations and network architecture including hardware and software, physical locations, and integration of Pixable technologies. William always assists Pixable teams to diagnose and solve any kind of platform issues by monitoring system performance and providing security measures, troubleshooting and maintenance as needed. He worked with other engineers, systems analysts, programmers and managers in the design, testing and evaluation of systems. One of his main achievements was a redesign and implementation of the technological infrastructure in order to optimize the cost and value. He’s also a great whistler.
Matias Banzas, Senior Back-End Developer
I started at pixable short after it was born. I joined Juan and we started working from an office in Buenos Aires. Opened the local Pixable Office and had an awesome team. We did lots of stuff at first, servers, code, design, paperwork, cooking (not really). I became the “Remessaging Guy”. Believe me, we’ve sent lots of emails and notifications over the past years. From 45 emails a day to emailing millions of emails/pushes distributed by timezone, scheduled to arrive in a specific time frame. It was a nice ride. The best thing about Pixable is that you knew your were part of a team, and you could rely on your mates. Im going to miss it.
Herman Schutte, Lead Front-End Developer
For the past four and a half years Herman was involved in the Front-End development of Pixable. Working closely with one of the best engineering teams ever Herman was able to help take Pixable from a small photo viewer consisting of a single .js, to one of the best apps that helps users discover and enjoy original new content daily, using some of the latest Front-End technologies.
Ruben Gomez, Lead Android Developer
Ruben works remotely from Spain and coordinates with the teams in New York and Belarus. He is an experienced Android Developer who started in the company back in 2010 as back-end developer for the first Pixable version. He was promoted to be the QA Team Lead for all Pixable products and platforms. Ruben says he learned from the greatest Android developers in the company and took that knowledge to become Lead of the Android Team, now with more than thee years of experience.
Angela Roggerman, Director of Agency & Brand Partnerships
Angela Roggerman is a seasoned media and advertising sales professional with a deep knowledge and understanding of the digital landscape, having worked both on the agency and publisher side for over 14 years. Her insatiable knowledge and eagerness to grow a company, lead her to the start-up tech world and Pixable this past Spring. At Pixable, she was tasked with collaborating with the CEO, CTO, VP of Editorial and VP of Product, to develop and set the strategic direction required to meet and exceed sales quotas, including new product development and creative content ideas. She worked with the various teams to identify new business lines and technology platforms, and developed Content and Native Advertising strategies & partnerships with top agencies & brand marketers, for future growth. Ultimately, Angela became a Brand Ambassador of Pixable, creating strong relationships with key senior clients at both agencies and Brands direct creating and paving way for successful partnerships for years to come.
Donna Bulford, Director of Sales
Donna Bulford is a digital advertising sales executive with a passion for content marketing and early stage companies. During her time at Pixable Donna collaborated closely with the editorial team creating partnerships with Etsy, WalMart.com, and best in class app install agencies like YouAppi. Additionally Donna worked with the product team to customize native advertising solutions for Pixable and brand partners. Through one of a kind event sponsorships such as Social Media Week NYC and StreamCon NYC Donna crafted a cutting edge and grass roots approach to DIY marketing. Twitter: bulford
Alfred Astor-Tubert, Director UX and Design
Alfred lead the charge with Alan Tran in designing the look, feel and usability of the site. Both were here pre-pivot and turned their considerable talents loose on the site with a number of updates to mobile web, desktop and the app. Alfred holds a strong belief in creating things that make sense but are also unique and not carbon copies. Alfred always speaks his mind and the office was a better and more lively place for it.
Alan Tran, Senior Visual Designer
Alan is an all around digital product designer with the capacity to deliver user experience, visual and motion design. He understands the entire design process and knows when to provide a wireframe over a high fidelity screen. Before Pixable, Alan was at an IAC company called Hatch Labs where he and the Hatch Labs team created Tinder among many other mobile products. Alan has 6 years of professional design experience which all started at Apple INC where he was a Production Designer for a couple years. Raised in the midwest, trained in The Bay Area and now living in Brooklyn, Alan is making a splash in the NYC startup scene.
Anna Lasker, HR & Finance Manager
Anna joined Pixable in July 2014. She managed all of the HR and Financial aspects of the company from recruiting to financial reporting, working externally with our parent company and internally making sure employees have what they need to succeed and do their best work. She also handled getting the office Fresh Direct. She was much loved. She has seven years of HR and Finance experience, with five of those in the NYC start-up scene. She was pivotal in the growth of the company, recruiting and on-boarding six new employees in one month, which increased headcount by 25%. Working with all levels of the company, Anna was able to balance between management’s and employees’ needs like a pro. Staff was always comfortable going to her with all manner of issue like moaning about cups in the sink to personnel issues. She’d handle it all.
Max Boylan, QA Lead
Max was brought in as a consultant to lend support to the fledgling QA team, but quickly became the QA Lead. Along the way, he worked with (and then led) a talented team of QA engineers spread around the world, from New York to India, to Minsk. He was there…when Pixable transitioned from a photo-aggregation app, to a hybrid of photo aggregation and original content, and finally to a full-blown kick-ass millennial media monster. He was there when Pixable integrated sponsored content and ads. He was there when Pixable created the Contributors Platform from scratch. He was also — and most importantly — there to make sure that Pixable users never had to see the nasty bugs he saw in his own nightmares.
That’s all folks.