It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on Examine.com (four months or so), and quite a lot has happened since then.
To say we’ve aggressively expanded would be a slight understatement. The Supplement-Goals Reference Guide has (and continues to) sell like gangbusters, which has given us a pool for funding continued aggressive expansion.
From the start, I’ve espoused the view that you have to become so good that they can’t ignore you. Based on that, when the spigot of cash flow opened up, our only consideration was – how can we bolster our research team?
We hired more researchers. And not just anyone – we made sure they came from multiple disciplines. It was important to not only hire smart people, but smart people who came from different modals of knowledge, who had experience in different facets of research involving health and nutrition.
That’s our base. That’s what makes us so good. But I’m also pragmatic – I realize that to ensure the smart guys can focus on what they do best, they need support.
So for the past few months I’ve been working on laying the groundwork. My activity level on extraneous stuff like Facebook has plummeted while I’ve been painting a coherent picture. A fuzzy image is finally being brought into focus.
As of right now, we’re receiving roughly 15,000 visitors every day. We are constantly referenced by fitness professionals, enthusiasts, and laypeople alike. As far as I know, every single major fitness magazine is well aware of what we’re trying to do. People are sticking around – we get over 2.5 page views per visit, over 150 seconds on average are spent on our site, and the #1 keyword people use to find us through search engines is “examine.com” (with “examine” right behind it). Our Facebook page has almost 17,500 fans, and our Twitter has over 4,000 followers. All of this due to the small images in our menu bar.
That’s where we are today. In 2014, I have two major goals:
1. Assemble a team. We have our researchers, now it’s time to get everyone else in place – be it a CTO (to work on our upcoming version 6), a copyeditor (to help standardize our writing and create a style guide, to look over our English, etc.), or all the other little holes that need to be filled.
2. Systematize and re-retire. Anyone who has ever talked to me or listened to any of the interviews I’ve done knows I’m a fan of finding smart people, empowering them, and letting them focus on what they do best. Once the team is assembled, the rest of 2014 is about getting all the niggling details out of the way. I firmly believe that most inefficiencies can be removed through intelligent programming. The codebase should eliminate the annoying and the redundant, and let the person focus on what they’re best at.
Once that is all in place, it’s time to remove myself from the system. I’ll likely stay involved in business development and strategy because the direction we go is extremely near and dear to my heart, but everything else will be taken care of by people better than me. One of the hardest parts about seeing your baby grow is trusting that they can not only survive without you, but thrive without you.
And I am going to give it that trust. Within 12 months, my day-to-day involvement should be minimized.
Examine.com has become much bigger than Kurtis or I. We couldn’t have done it without your support, and I hope everyone who reads this continues to do so – it is very appreciated.
So we’ve had a fun 3 weeks. Our S-G Reference keeps selling, our traffic keeps growing, and things look good. My biggest fear is that we forget that while we know stuff, there is a lot more we don’t know.
A nice problem to have.
But not why I’m posting. I’m posting here to expand on the Why I do what I do post.
The story is simple. I’m an immigrant. I worked my ass off in high school and university (went to university on full scholarship; lost it within the first semester), continued to work my ass off a few years after, and then opted to retire. By no means was I rich, but I was well-off, the sites ran themselves, and I wanted to have adventures now instead of 20 years down the road.
And that stuck. For a while. I guess the drive that made me work so hard came back. And so while I had my mid-life crisis around my mid-20s, my “I’m going to die and what is my legacy going to be?” crisis seems to have hit me in my late 20s.
I’ll admit, Examine.com started off as something cool to do, but it has morphed into something more. I keep harping to the team that we now have a legitimate responsibility – when 10000+ people are visiting your site every day, you need to make sure you aren’t like so many other hucksters and charlatans, all focused on separating money from their respective visitors. We’re building something cool, and we can’t fuck it up.
We get contacted by supplement companies all the time. The standard response is: “We are independent, neutral, and un-biased. The moment we work with you on that, we lose our direction.” But the other day, I did talk to a guy who ran one (he works with a good friend of mine). And you could hear the incredulity in his voice when I talked about how our interest is not in making a buck, how we are making enough every day (30+ sales per day of our S-G Reference, the math is easy!), and how we’re more focused on being useful than anything else (and thus why our first hire will be another researcher). He was left stammering.
I don’t want eFame (though I will admit being on Ahhnold’s site tickled me plenty). I’m not after money (my share from the S-G Reference? Low low low 4 digits). I just want to build something cool.
Kamal Patel told me the the following a few days ago: “Also…got back from a doctors appointment where we were talking about sleep supplements. I mentioned examinecom, and he goes “oh yeah, i’ve been there before”
Most people in fitness build their own brands (and I fully appreciate why they do that). I want to build up Examine.com. I want it to be much bigger than Kurtis or me or anyone else.
Over on Dr. Oz’s blog, a post went up late last week titled: You Wanted to Know: Sweeteners. For those that follow Examine.com, you know that our viewpoint is that sweeteners are fine for you (note: just because something is not “bad” does not mean it’s good – it simply is neutral).
I’m used to reading sensationalism when it comes to stuff like this, but for once, Dr. Oz linked to a study as his proof that sweeteners cause cancer: Artificial sweeteners and cancer risk in a network of case–control studies.
What makes this blog-worthy is that the actual conclusion from the paper:
In conclusion, therefore, this study provides no evidence that saccharin or other sweeteners (mainly aspartame) increase the risk of cancer at several common sites in humans.
How is that not hilarious? “Sweeteners cause cancer; here is my proof, which by the way, says the exact opposite”
I commented on the blog post on how the study directly contradicted what he claimed. It was at 20+ likes by the time it was removed.
Talk about willfully sticking your head into the sand.
The response was staggering, to say the least.
Some quick numbers:
And all of it feels good. We’ve always wanted to be the reference site when it comes to supplements, and it looks like we’re getting there. It also leads into …
I am the immigrant dream. I moved to Canada when I was 14 (starting high school). I dabbled around building websites, and by the time I was in university I had incorporated my first company. I left Canada after graduation and moved around some more (USA, Argentina, USA, then back to Canada), and during that time my businesses grew.
Make no mistake: This wasn’t me luckily stumbling into something that worked. I remember days of programming from 9 am to 11 pm, with chocolate bars and muffins being my primary sustenance for the day.
Eventually, it was fork-in-the-road time: Do I stay in the rat race, accept money from venture capitalists (which were coming after me by then), and go for millions? Or do I retire, let the processes I built run themselves (I always say 5 minutes a day = 2.5 hours a month), and do what I want?
And so I chose the latter. I live a comfortable life, I do what I want, when I want, and that’s all I can ask for. If I want to go for an hour-long walk with my dog, I can ( and I do). I’ve also diversified enough so that I am not beholden to any one source for traffic or revenue.
While all this happened, I also went from fat to fit (here’s my mandatory before and after). And as this was happening, I took notes. Tons of them. And as the notes grew more and more impossible to manage, I eventually teamed up with Kurtis and we formed Examine.com.
That backstory is important to understanding what it is that makes me tick. Corny as it sounds, I’m like a 65-year-old man trying to build his legacy. Fitness is my passion, and I’m trying to effect legitimate change in how people perceive supplementation and nutrition; we get so many angry emails every day regarding our nutrition frequently asked questions that drip with dogmatic belief and no evidence at all.
Examine.com is inching towards 10,000 visitors per day; I always say I won’t be happy until we have 50,000, as at that amount of traffic I feel like we will finally be *the* reference site. And if we can manage that, I’ll feel like I’ve done some good (cue my immigrant thanks for the host of opportunities I’ve been given).
And that’s why I do what I do.
So this past week, Kurtis and I got an article published on TNation, titled New Uses for Creatine. We basically summed up some 101 on creatine (it works, it’s safe), and then talked about interesting research being done using it (neurological, cell-saving, etc).
Being the webdev engineer that I am, afterwards I thought – how can I compare how well-received my article was versus everyone else’s? The comments were effusive, but the # of registered users who could comment is a fraction of the population that saw the article. I don’t have access to pageviews/bounce rate, and so I settled on the simplest metrics we have: Facebook likes and Twitter tweets.
So I got the urls for all of the articles they had published since Jan 1, 2011, and ran it against Facebook and Twitter’s APIs. What follows is a meandering post on the various stats I came across. I had help from my webdev genius buddy Andre. You can find him at Fealty.com.
PLEASE NOTE: I realize that likes and tweets do not directly translate to your bottom-line. But let me have some fun here, okay?
And that’s a wrap. We analyzed 600 articles from 117 bylines, totaling 119,925 likes and 15,173 tweets.
The reality though is that none of this was happenstance. It’s been two years of solid grinding – reading, writing, editing, connecting, responding to emails asap, etc. I’m retired, but every day, from roughly 10am to 4pm, with a 30-60 minute break in-between (depending on which of my favorite tv shows played the night before), I am working away on Examine.com. The drive itself has nothing to do with money – if I want to achieve my goal (make Examine.com the reference site on nutrition), I need to put in the time.
One of my favorite books is So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The basic premise is that one has to work incredibly hard (and intelligently) to become the master at anything. Talent and passion are nice, but they don’t make you a star. Better than average? Sure. But only with a relentless approach can you be the best.
I love reading biographies, and this tends to be the central theme – they all put in their time. LBJ? Grinded? Robert Moses? Grinded. Ahhhhnold? Grinded. [Insert anyone who made it big] – grind grind grind. Hell I’ll even mention Jon Goodman’s PTDC – it’s come out of nowhere to become a major hub. And it’s not like Jon accidentally did it. Send him an email – he will respond. Ask him for help – he will come through. He grinds nonstop, and it’s a big reason why he is as successful as he is.
This is where I insert some kind of inspirational quote on how hard work results in better luck, but you get the damn point. Incremental work adds up.
I will say – we are reaching the point where we are so good that they cannot ignore us (anymore). And damn it feels good
“Confirm X action?”
A quick little complaint, but confirming every single action (particularly during deletions) is a slow and cumbersome UI approach. The smarter approach is to let the user do it, but then let them undo it.
Is it more work for the developer? Yeah. Does it make your application that much more useful? Absolutely.
I really really like this quote from Chasing the Perfect:
… I thought about what [Ernest] Becker said and about the four levels of power and meaning that he thought a person could choose to live by. First, he thought the basic level was the personal – the person you talk to when you are alone, the secret hero of your hidden life. The second level is the social, your intimate circle: spouse, close friends, family, dog. The third level he calls the secular; it is your allegiance to al arguer social group, a nation or a party or a corporation, your devotion to science or art. And the fourth, the one he considers the highest level of power and meaning in a person’s life, he calls the sacred: a person’s connection with “an invisible and unknown power, the insides of Nature, the source of Creation, or God.”
… it hit me that a real home – not an electronic showplace but a home – is a place where Becker’s four levels find physical support. In a real home there’s a place for talking to yourself alone. There’s a place for your visiting friend and for her children who climb all over your sofa while eating pudding. There’s a place for stuffing envelopes for the campaign or settling in and reading Gibbon from first volume to last. There
s a place to sit and look at a tree or a leaf and to think uninterrupted thoughts about that tree or that leaf. In short, a real home supports a person’s individual power and meaning.
When I was typing this up, I typoed ‘Creation’ as ‘Creatine’ Still, as I transition from the hectic lifestyle and into a more relaxed-paced one, this chunk of text on what a home is really hit close to home.
I don’t have much to say on this, except Alexis Madrigal did a great job putting what I’ve been thinking (for a while) into words: Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong.
We often become so obsessed with metrics that we forget that, akin to advertising in the “real world,” we cannot measure everything.
I would wager that your spread in the dark social correlates to your spread in Facebook/Twitter.
I spent the past weekend hanging out with fitness professionals at the PTDC – Becoming the Expert seminar. I’m not a personal trainer, so you would imagine a lot of it would not have applied to me, but the lineup was full of smart and interesting people (I will post about the event itself later). It was a great event.
Really though, this post is about me (no surprise) and how I’ve pivoted yet again into another industry. As an immigrant (didn’t arrive in North America until 8th grade), it’s been amazing how my projected career path was nothing like how events actually unfolded. Retiring in my 20s being the most obvious example.
“Fitness” (in all of its vagueness) is the sixth major industry I have entered. Two years ago I was at a conference for daily deals. A year before that had me in local search. Three years before that had me at domain conferences. And so forth. Vegas was a second home to me, spending at least a few days there every month, meeting and schmoozing in the variety of fields I dabbled in (with a lot of overlap). It’s been years since I’ve had to do that.
Examine was (and is) a highly interesting hobby for me, but it is now starting to become large enough (~100-125,000 visitors a month now) that it’s taking up more and more of my time. It is starting to graduate from “fun hobby” to “serious hobby”, and I have to admit, as I don’t have to rely on Examine to pay my bills, the immediate need to monetize has been incredibly freeing.
The previous five industries I entered were all very profitable for me. I am very confident in stating that Examine has the best pages on the Internets when it comes to supplements like creatine, fish oil, caffeine, and more. As a generic user, I firmly believe that Examine belongs in the top 3 Google results for any supplement that we cover.
Of course, it’s easier for me as I am essentially retired – I “work” because I find it fun, not because I need to. It’s liberating.
Amongst the dozens of businesses and websites I have launched, none have excited me as much as Examine has. I’m really looking forward to seeing where it is in two years time.