TDDD Interviews: 8Bit Media and Dont Party
With a new week ahead of us, I’m excited to bring you our next installment in TDDD Interviews. Last week, my featured story delved into the bigger picture of content marketing. This week, we expand on this by chatting to a professional in the field of independent publishing, digital marketing and content marketing.
Introducing Tom Kennedy – entrepreneur, blogger, digital and tech fanatic and, more recently, father to a newborn son. Tom’s first experiences in the digital realm began with his roots in blogging. In 2009, the nightlife and entertainment blog, Dont Party, was born, and is still going strong today with some of the most interesting and entertaining local and international content. In 2013, Tom and business partner, Richard, took on a collective independent publishing project with their start-up venture, 8Bit Media.
Here’s what Tom had to say:
TDDD: Thanks for sitting down with me today. Could you tell us a little bit about what first sparked your interest in independent publishing in digital?
Tom: It started with me and my friend, Alex, throwing parties at Mercury and Assembly, we were going to call the brand Soapbox but ended up with Don’t Party. Through the parties, we started the Don’t Party blog as a creative platform to help DJ’s post mixes and promoters post their events. The four main pillars of the blog were music, design, fashion and nightlife. The blog grew from there, winning Best Music and runner up for Best Design at the 2010 SA Blog Awards. From there, brands started approaching the blog with an interest in tapping into our reader base. The rest happened fairly organically, we became buddies with most the other bloggers and its been a fun journey.
TDDD: The Don’t Party blog has been around for 5 years now and is still growing. Does the Don’t Party team have any tricks or tips for providing great content?
Tom: Basically what we started doing, was tapping into existing fan-bases. We interviewed and featured a lot of South African and international artists. I remember when we interviewed Bassnectar, that was one of our biggest interviews at that point, so when he shared the interview with his fan-base of around 120 000 users it helped to grow our fan-base. From there, we developed a lot of cool content with brands, running competitions on the blog and leveraging a number of social fan-bases. There was a lot of reciprocal sharing, because with a small South African market it was difficult for a small indie-publisher to gain a big following.
TDDD: The 8Bit Media business model sounds like quite a unique and exciting one, could you tell us how it works for publishers and marketers?
Tom: The way 8Bit Media started was as a display media brokerage, for a number of the small indie-publishing sites in South Africa. Individually, they’re usually not big enough to deal with the big agencies or media buyers, and even when they do, these agencies see it as quite a lot of admin to deal with each one individually. So what we were trying to do, was to take a handful of these independent publishers and band them together, letting brand managers and agencies make a single purchase from a single point of contact. Part of our long-term plan is to help agencies and media buyers to see the value in these independent publishers and their readers. We focus in display media, content and native advertising as well as developing a number of tools and services to help bloggers better understand their audience and content.
TDDD: Do you believe that services like 8Bit will help blogs to create relevant, engaging and valuable content for South African web-users in the future?
Tom: Definitely. Our 8Bit Engage dashboard currently takes leading content from indie-publishers, displaying it in a reciprocal manner on other sites in our network. So if you’re reading a post on MyCityByNight, you might see a relevant or related story from Bangers & Nash at the bottom of the page. We then analyze how these stories do on Facebook, Twitter and Google as well as on it’s own site and related sites. So we’ve created an index for indie-publishers and a snapshot of how content is being consumed by the South African web. Our system provides a lot of insights based on impressions, click-through-rates, sentiment, word choice, image choice and more to help bloggers optimize their content.
TDDD: Ventureburn recently posted an article about 8Bit and mentioned a great feature that you’ve been working on. Can you tell us a bit about how The Drop will help web-users to find relevant content?
Tom: The Drop is a content aggregator that we’re building through 8Bit APIs. Users will be able to log in and select their content preferences (whether it’s design, technology, fashion, music, etc) and the app aggregates the best content from around the web for you to read, share or bookmark for later. It’s a proof of concept at this stage, but it will definitely help users tap into a pool of the best content.
TDDD: 8Bit was chosen as one of the 7 South African start-ups to join the 88mph start-up accelerator program, can you tell us a little bit about your experience in the program?
Tom: It was really cool. I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan of incubator programs, but I decided to quickly try and apply to 88mph on New Years day. We made the interviews and got in, and it gave us that extra bit of funding and confidence to pursue what we were doing. It was 3 months of crazy work but really helped us to break down the business model. There were also a lot of great talks, we had Chris Rawlinson from Ogilvy come in and we got to chat to him quite a bit. The program was great exposure to business thinkers and mentors.
Tom: SparkUp was cool because it was like 2 days of seriously intense business building. We were doing quite well going in, because we had a successful round of funding after 88mph. As part of SparkUp, we re-opened the funding and it went even better than expected – we pretty much had people shouting from the crowd to invest during our pitch! With the offers on the table, we were able to cherry-pick the best offers that had real benefit to the company. Our investors and advisors have a worldwide footprint, which will be useful in helping us with our expansion model in the future.
TDDD: What is the most interesting or entertaining piece of content you’ve stumbled across on a blog or newsfeed this week?
Tom: Probably this “Vagina Activism” post on One Small Seed, I can’t believe a post like this is doing so well online! Sometimes when I’m browsing through the 8Bit dashboard, I’m shocked by what content people are engaging with the most online. But we often take a look at what’s performing really well in the dashboard and find interesting stories, great music or even crazy Russians climbing pyramids and getting insane footage.
TDDD: I hear you’re quite a tech fanatic – what are your favourite pieces of hardware that you can’t do without?
Tom: Well Xbox One is a big one, I ended up ordering it from the UK so that I could get it here faster. I thought I’d play it a lot more than I have so far, but I have a habit of buying stuff and never getting around to using it! I also bought a LeapMotion controller, but now all it does is irritate me with its updates. I enjoy searching Kickstarter for cool new projects or pieces of tech to try out. Other than that, I can’t wait for the iPhone 6 and the iWatch, I’m a huge Apple fan! My fiancé would probably tell you that I’m always on my phone.
TDDD: Do you have any key advice that you’d give to young entrepreneurs looking to enter the digital or tech start-up industry in SA?
Tom: I would say it’s important to just keep on building great things and to find a team who’s able to help you build those great things. Me and Rich work well together because he’s the coding genius and I’ve got the overall business plan. Then, it’s important not do things in stealth-mode, it’s a really big mistake that a lot of young guys make. At one stage, I was so adamant on hiding my ideas, but at the end of the day, there’s a big chance that someone else already has a similar idea, so it’s better to rather focus on building a unique angle to your idea or making it the best. Also, it’s a great idea to try and get involved in as many programs and opportunities to expand as you can, speaking about your ideas with likeminded entrepreneurs. Lastly, it’s great to be reactive and to try out every opportunity that you can. I often use the metaphor of a dog and a bone, and at times I feel like we’re still running around trying to figure things out and always chasing after new ideas.