Media Entrepreneurs: GadgetMatch’s Michael Josh Villanueva on finding your own identity in starting up outside the traditional newsroom
I first met Josh at a conference in Seoul in 2012. He was highly animated (and definitely more so after a few rounds of soju). He was working at Rappler, where he was testing out some new social workflows that while common now, were rare back then.
Josh has since started his own company — GadgetMatch — and wants to build it as the destination for all tech reviews in Asia. Their mission is to help people find the perfect device to match their needs and to better understand technology. You can reach him at email@example.com.
How long have you been out of a newsroom?
Just over two years. I left my last (newsroom) job in July 2014 not knowing specifically what I wanted to do next. I just knew I needed a break.
While my career had taken me down the digital/social media strategy path, I was most passionate about technology and it felt right that my next chapter would have to do with that.
A year later I launched my own tech news company, GadgetMatch hoping to change the face of technology journalism in the region.
I started my own company so that I could do the things I wanted on my own terms. But nothing can really prepare you for being on your own.
How do you describe this journey you’re on?
Like a roller coaster ride. Some days the uphill climb can be daunting, other days the adrenaline rush makes me feel invincible. Challenges aside, planting something that’s my own and seeing it grow has been most rewarding.
I started my own company so that I could do the things I wanted on my own terms. But nothing can really prepare you for being on your own. I soon realized that becoming my own boss didn’t necessarily mean I could do only what I enjoyed doing. Running your own company means taking on other roles that have to do with all other aspects of the business.
It’s not as glamorous as everyone thinks. In fact it involves doing a lot of things that I would rather not do. That’s why it’s important to have a purpose larger than yourself. At the end of a long, exhausting, challenging day — this “higher purpose” sustains you.
We built GadgetMatch because we believed in the importance of good consumer technology reporting. Today more than ever, people need help understanding how everyday tech can make their lives better.
I’ve had people tell me that reporting on gadgets and gizmos is not serious journalism. But I disagree. These devices are shaping our world as we know it. Those that don’t understand how to make the most of them are at an a serious disadvantage.
That’s why we do what we do. We want to match people with the right devices by telling tech stories with a more down to earth, real world approach.
When you look back, do you feel like you should have left the newsroom earlier?
I would have loved to have done it earlier. I could have gotten a head start. But I don’t regret the long path that’s led me here. If for anything else it’s empowered me to leave my comfort zone and pursue something I never imagined I’d set out to do growing up.
What did your peers say when you told them this was what you were going to do?
Everyone said I was crazy but brave. The consensus is that a lot of people don’t think they would have had the guts to do what I did. I can’t blame them. I took a leap of faith. I left my last job knowing only that I wanted to do my own thing on the Internet. The rest I figured out along the way, and I’m still figuring things out. But life’s more exciting when you take it by its horns and as millennials world domination is our birthright.
You studied broadcast communication and journalism. How did that prepare you for running your own business?
I don’t think it prepared me at all! College prepares you for the real world, but everything else you learn on the job. Just over a year ago we hit the ground running and it’s been a learning process ever since.
I would have loved to have gone to business school but I didn’t, so I learn as much as I can while we’re still small enough to afford making mistakes.
So how do you go about filling those gaps in your knowledge?
People. Surround yourself with some really really smart people, feed off their energy, collaborate with them, ask questions.
You don’t have to know everything. But it is important to find the right people to fill in the gaps, to complement you, people whose strengths are your weaknesses.
There was a time, before I had even ironed out the company vision, when I’d reach out to entrepreneurs that I looked up to. I’d message them on Facebook and get myself invited to coffee dates slash mentoring sessions. Some of these folks I didn’t even have personal relationships with, but it feels like there is an unwritten rule to pay it forward. Got a lot of great advice from them.
What have you learned about yourself having done all this?
I’ve learned to think like an entrepreneur.
I’ve learned that I can do anything I put my mind to.
I’ve learned that you need to dream big and be courageous.
I’ve learned that I am only as good as the people around me.
I’ve learned that I can’t do everything (not all at once at least).
I’ve learned that one can be both be a journalist and a businessman. And that from the start, you have to be crystal clear about your value system because that serves as a moral compass that guides you.
I had to come to terms with saying, ‘I work for myself, I have my own company.’ Just because I don’t work for a big company doesn’t mean I am any less successful.
Do you still see yourself as a journalist?
I am a journalist, and at my core I will always be one. But now it’s just one of many other hats I must wear. Now I’m an entrepreneur too.
Regardless of which hat you choose to wear, it’s important to be self aware. How you see yourself determines your self worth.
Growing up, I measured career success based on which company I worked for. Shortly after I decided to go solo, someone at an event asked me who I worked for, and for a brief moment I felt insignificant not having a big brand name to associate with.
It took a while to realize that I had plenty to be proud of. I had to come to terms with saying, ‘I work for myself, I have my own company.’ Just because I don’t work for a big company doesn’t mean I am any less successful.
What lessons do you wish you learned earlier in the process of being an entrepreneur?
There’s so much to do and so little time. Would have been great to learn to put off other projects instead of biting off more than I could chew. True, we live in a fast-paced world. But taking your time to churn out a high quality product trumps being first.
So if we were sitting at a bar for drinks a year from now and celebrating a great year for you, what would be some of these things that you would want to celebrate?
I measure success in terms of content, growth and revenue. Creating quality content is of utmost importance to me, and I’d celebrate a year of producing quality multimedia tech stories. I’d celebrate growing our community and inching closer to being the consumer tech destination in Asia.
And I’d celebrate a solid business model and meeting revenue targets. Not necessarily to get rich but to allow us to grow, evolve, and make a difference in this world.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from your audience?
We do videos on YouTube. It’s been such a great equalizer for anyone wanting to create content. One comment we get a lot on YouTube is, ‘You guys are so underrated, deserve more subscribers.’
This tells us we’re on the right track. Our content can already stand alongside the best in the world, we just need subscriber numbers to follow, and they will in time.
Another comment has something to do with how we are able to make our stories both interesting and easy to understand. This tells us we’re successful at what we’ve set out to do.
As a media professional, what scares you most about the future of the media industry?
People expect content to be free. We need both time and resources to churn out great content. And you’re not just creating for one platform.
At GadgetMatch we try to be multi-platform creating unique content for the website, for YouTube, for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. Audiences don’t come to you anymore, you have to be where they are, and you have to speak their language.
All of this costs money. There’s never going to be a shortage of talent, but we need to monetize to keep the industry alive.
This interview is part of a series of stories around the journey of entrepreneurial journalism and the different ideas that could help build sustainable models.
We want to showcase both the ideas and the courage that goes behind breaking new ground on the business of media. If you know of someone who should be interviewed here (or yourself), please drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.