Broadsheet came along at a time when the media industry was ripe for disruption. Scaling, diversification and staying agile have been on founding director Nick Shelton’s agenda ever since.
Entrepreneur Nick Shelton launched Broadsheet at a time when the media industry was undergoing massive transformation. Since then, Australia’s go-to city guide has expanded from Melbourne to Sydney as well as launching pop-up restaurants, cook books and diversifying into the job-search market with Scout.
The man behind, arguably, “the most powerful magazine in Australia” fields our questions.
What was the commercial environment Broadsheet faced when you launched in 2009?
Broadsheet launched in a pretty different commercial environment to the one we operate in today. In 2009 the media space was in the processes of being flipped on its head and nobody had really figured out how to make a digital business model stack up yet.
The market consisted mostly of, on the one side, large established media players such as Fairfax and News, who were still very print-centric, and on the other side, a plethora of blogs, mostly run by hobbyists.
If you were an existing media company, with existing cost structures, it was a very difficult time. If you were entering the market, like we were, it was an opportunity to build a business model from the ground up.
The opportunity was to enter the market as a commercial independent, who could deliver professional level content, build a scale audience and provide value to commercial partners. All while remaining small and nimble enough to manage costs, innovate and respond quickly to the shifting market.
Seven years later it’s a much more competitive market segment and the barriers to entry are building up again.
How did you carve a niche, and what did you do differently?
Broadsheet was a response to what I saw as a gap in the market. People in Melbourne were interested in life in their city – restaurants and cafes, art and design, entertainment and fashion – but nobody was really covering this thriving culture, especially online. So we started by just doing that and people reacted very positively.
We succeeded because we understood digital better than the established media players and we were able to build an audience, a brand and a strong commercial offering before they were able to try and respond.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced getting to where you are now?
There have been plenty! But I’ve always felt that the biggest challenge has been overcoming the growing pains as we build the business and our audience so rapidly.
Every day we come across a new challenge we haven’t encountered before. We approach these challenges by being focused on our vision ahead of us and with a deep understating of what is important to us and what we stand for.
You’ve expanded to take Broadsheet nationwide and also diversified into a jobs website, Scout. There have also been adventures in hospitality – opening a pop-up restaurant in 2015 – and book publishing, with your Melbourne and Sydney cookbooks. How do you encourage these kind of innovative ideas?
There is a mix of business opportunity and growth, and brand-building projects there. Diversifying into new markets and launching Scout was about identifying commercial opportunities to further grow our audience and deliver more value to our existing audiences.
The pop-up restaurant and the cookbook were motivated by wanting to innovate and have fun with the brand. We are constantly looking for ways to engage with our audience outside of the day-to-day publication. The more reasons our audience have to say, “Broadsheet are always up to something cool,” the happier we are.
Growth is important to us, but not just for the sake of it. We like to be constantly moving – it motivates our staff and it gives our audience reasons to keep coming back for more.
Diversification is great and there are lots of good reasons for it, but it has to make sense. We look for ways to diversify the business that fit within our vision and focus for the brand. Scout made perfect sense in that context because it connected two groups we were already talking to – hospitality businesses and workers. We don’t want to bounce around launching streams that are at odds with the direction we are focused on.
What will you do next?
We always have a stacked pipeline of exciting projects, but you’ll have to wait and see.
What is one piece of advice would you give entrepreneurs who are just starting on their journey?
If I had to limit it to one, it’s to be clear on your vision and keep looking ahead. The road towards the vision will never look like you expect it to, but if you know where you’re heading you can be flexible on how you get there.
If you keep your head up and focused on that vision, you will avoid getting caught in the weeds and the day to day challenges you’ll inevitably face.