START to EXIT in 14 months; The pet project that went out of hand!

Back in May 2012 my fiancé and I brainstormed about creating a website for women in Iceland.

We saw clear gap in the market for a website that would not get to women with negative and really emotional material or with “You never believe what happened next” headlines, but a website that would stay on the positive side of things but not be afraid of addressing serious issues. Bottom line is, we wanted to create a media website with content.

My fiancé had been working for a rather large media company in Iceland before and had great track record of attracting traffic with her articles. We envisioned that I would handle the operations, financial and corporate related as well as sell advertisements and she would write, but we felt we needed both more people writing for more rapid content creation and a developer to set up and maintain the site.

We recruited some co founders that we considered key players to make the site successful, two women, one that had experience with online media, one that was well known in Iceland (a sort of mini celeb) and a developer that joined us for the ride.

We launched the site 14th of September the same year.

Now, you have to remember that the Icelandic market is tiny, micro even, so the numbers are not that large. Look at them from a proportional view and our success was huge! The Icelandic market might also be small, but it is fierce when it comes to competition in most spaces that are not purely innovative and new (In my experience all the markets are like that). There are 320 thousand people living in Iceland or so, a little under half of those are women, not all of them speak icelandic so lets even it out to a target group of 150 thousand women. We aimed for the 20-40 of age group slashing about 60% of that group and leaving about 40-50 thousand women.

The reception that the site got was beyond everything that we had anticipated. In the first weeks of operation we had between 10-15 thousand unique IP addresses visiting the site and around 45 thousand visits. We felt at that moment that we were on to something. One thing that was quite interesting to us was that the age range that we reached was much wider than we had anticipated, being on the range of 25-60 years old, making the target group over 100 thousand women. A few months later, 4 to be exact, we reached the 40 thousand unique IP numbers per week, reaching 20% of our target group (give or take, there are a few men that visited the site).

At this moment we launched a campaign that would change everything for the site. We had identified that most of our traffic was coming from Facebook (this is before Facebook tuned down the vitality of posts by pages) and that if we got likes on an article it became popular BUT if we got comments the visits went through the roof. With over 95% women on the Facebook page of the site, we launched a campaign that aimed directly at women on social media. The most popular Facebook activities that companies did at the time were a give-away of iPhone or iPad against Facebook rules at the time, companies had drained life out of the games that proposed “win a free iPhone with a LIKE”. With a the exactly the same game but offering an Kitchen Aid (that is legendary at least in Iceland) we more than tripled the amount of people that followed our page, AND kept the 95%+ women ratio on Facebook. That to me was the biggest accomplishment and the key to the following success of the site. This happened in 2 days, we went from 4 thousand people to over 12 thousand in 2 days.

At this point we had already been working for 4-5 months and on average we had posted around 10-15 articles each day, so we had a lot of content to harvest with this new found audience. A few weeks after the social media stunt, we were at 60 thousand unique IP per week and two months later we were at 80 thousand and up to 100 thousand with more than 300 thousand visits and page views beyond our dreams.

Again I want to remind you that the market is 320 thousand people and focus group around 150 thousand. We were ranked in the top ten of all Icelandic sites shaking the foundations of very well established companies with our little pet project that completely went out of hand.

At this point of time we had experienced difficulties in the cooperation between the co founders, the developer had been bought out by the rest of the group and after that some really hard dissuasions had to be made. After a lot of discussions 3 out of 4 decided to let one of the co founders go, that was really hard, but as we saw it, necessary at the time. We had a good shareholders agreement (a mandatory document before going with anyone, and I mean ANYONE in business) that protected both parties and especially the one that left as a minority owner, but she sold her share later on.

At this point of time we were gaining traction in revenue and things were looking up for the company and of course at that point there came an offer to acquire the site from another media company, this was in November 2013. After a rather short negotiation period we came to an agreement and sold, on December 7th to be exact. The offer at the time was too good to refuse and we were happy with the accomplishment that we had made.

I did not write this to show of how smart we were, this was written to share some knowledge after this venture that we took on. Looking back I at least learned a lot from the experience and I have pulled together a few points to share that I found valuable on my way to success. Here they are.