The startup journal V: To change or not to change — a question of survival

By Wu Nan

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my experience running a startup company is how to adapt to change. No matter how carefully you crafted your plan, reality may force you to change your strategy. There’s a gap between your target and your performance. You need to fill that gap and do it fast.

At the beginning when my business partner and I founded AllChinaTech, we did some quick consumer research and we found that wide-range and short tech news on the Chinese tech industry was needed. Our primary model was TechCrunch and we were confident that we would rise as the TechCrunch of China.

Relying on our expertise in the Chinese tech industry, we also wrote in-depth analyses. But as a young team with a few staff members, we can’t run those in-depth pieces as often as we would like. After publishing 200 stories in two months, we noticed that not all of our short news stories made the impact we expected. In-depth stories generally get better reception, but not always.

Our primary readers are in the United States. Despite the fact that tech media is thriving there, the general American audience has very little knowledge about the Chinese tech industry. Certain investors who have invested in the Chinese tech sector or have been following the local startup scene responded positively to our analysis. The average reader though, seemed to recognize only the big Chinese tech companies such as Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba (the BAT). That partially explains why most foreign media outlets in Beijing primarily follow news on the BAT companies.

We were facing a dilemma. We could cover BAT, but then we had to compete with mainstream foreign press outlets, which have established reputations and better resources to cover the topics thoroughly. Our advantage as a startup media platform is that we are more flexible. We can test different coverage directions and styles in a short period of time.

We discovered a neglected subject — new startups in China actually have great potential and are reflecting the growing market. Many online education, e-commerce and travel sites are rising and they could be the future unicorns. That’s something we want to try. We started to cover tech-financing news on startups in China and the topic is attracting more and more readers.

From Flickr

Another new exploration is our move towards new media. Many media organizations claim that new media is a crucial development strategy that reflects the future. In reality, new media projects are time consuming and expensive in terms of investing in proper video equipment and skillful producers. But it might be worthwhile. Sometimes a one-minute video may attract millions of page views, which a thousand-word article may not be able to do.

Some people find it unbelievable that makeup tutorials are among the most popular videos on Youtube. Notably, Bostonian girl Michelle Phan’s Youtube channel has attracted millions of pageviews and won her the title of “makeup guru”. I confess that as someone who barely wears makeup, I’ve watched some makeup videos once or twice and learned a few things from them.

So video is an option for us. Despite the fact that we are new, we have colleagues with multimedia skills and that’s a direction we will explore. But first, we need to make some calculations. How much time can we afford to spend on one video? When there’s a video to produce and an article to write, which one we should go for?

It all depends on what result we want to see. If we want more traffic and a trendy video can bring that traffic, then we should do it. If we want to show our insight and establish our brand, in-depth analysis may be more attractive to our readers. The two are not necessarily contradictory. But we need to find a balance and being able to do both is a skill. And we’re still learning and trying.

Another question is the hot debate on “blogging versus journalism”. To date, many veteran reporters including myself have accepted blogging as a form of journalism. But let’s admit that it is different from reporting. It’s best to combine the liveliness and unique voices of blogging with hard facts and stats from reporting. Ultimately, style varies. Tech reporters at the Wall Street Journal will write differently from writers at Re/code. They have different editorial standards and writing codes.

But hooray to Kara Swisher, who dared to say ‘no’ to the Journal and challenge old-school print media. I’m not saying that Re/code is the best at tech storytelling. But it is successful. People like it. As for myself, I regularly read a combination of Mashable, Tech Insider, and the Journal. They each have their different strengths, like different fruit trees. You can pick the tastiest fruit from different branches. But you don’t always want to eat an apple. Sometimes you may crave an orange or a banana.

Buzzfeed has taught many people a lesson. At first it was just an online collection of cute cat photos that make people laugh, but now the new media empire is valued at USD 1.5 billion. And it’s inspiring, because it has transformed into a platform that provides readers with appealing social news stories such as New York writer Matt Stopera’s story of his romance with Brother Orange, a farmer in southern China, which has drawn millions of followers.

That’s what we are trying to achieve: combining blogging and news writing to make our content more social media friendly. As a young startup, we are changing, growing, evolving like a chrysalis turning into a butterfly.

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