In our latest episode of the Birthing of Giants podcast, I’m checking back in with Digital Trends co-founder, Dan Gaul. I last had him on the show about a year ago after he attended a Birthing of Giants Fellowship masterclass. One year into his goal of building out an affiliate platform for his popular tech news and review site, Dan has returned to give us an update on the forward thinking strategy that he had to implement to battle buy-in struggles.
Recap – A New Challenge For The Team
When I first interviewed Dan, Digital Trends had already achieved impressive success. Since its founding in 2006, DT grew from a hobby into a $45 million enterprise with about 130 full time employees across their three sites: Digital Trends, DT Español, and The Manual. Dan’s main goal for his company in 2018 was to build out a custom affiliate platform for the Editorial department’s ease of use. This undertaking would prove challenging on a company wide scale.
Diversifying Revenue Streams
Most of Digital Trends’ revenue (about 70%) comes from direct advertising with clients dealing directly with DT for targeted ads. Direct advertising is how Digital Trends first began monetizing. It continues to be their biggest revenue pull, but co-founders Dan and Ian Bell were bothered by the lack of diversity in their revenue stream. They introduced programmatic advertising (i.e. those ads you see that come through Google). That worked well to bring in additional revenue. Next, they added in affiliate links, and quickly saw its promise.
“Affiliate for sure is the highest growing revenue stream for us over the past year.”
To capitalize on this profitable revenue stream, Dan and Ian created a custom platform to aggregate the various sites that the editing team had to go to in order to pull affiliate links. It was months in development, but the result was astonishing. Affiliate revenue soared from $1.5 million to a projected $10 million for this year. Equally astonishing was how challenging it was to bring the team on board with finding more ways to use the affiliate links.
Unlocking Entrepreneurial Thinking in Employees
With affiliate revenue poised for massive growth, Dan challenged his employees company wide to embrace the new revenue stream and find ways to increase affiliate links, and this at the same time that he was also positioning Digital Trends to scale. The confluence of the changes lead to some resistance in DT’s employees. For example the editorial team squirmed under the directive to write content that maximized affiliate links. Other departments pushed back against the request to work outside of their usual goals. Dan had to slow down and guide his workforce through the process of learning to think and work collaboratively with an integrated, forward thinking strategy.
“I learned that you really have to try to understand the side [..] where somebody else is coming from and try to help bridge that gap [across departments]. What are their concerns? What are they fearful of? How is this impacting them?”
Implementing A Forward Thinking Strategy
He and his team now use integrated goals that align with the overarching company goal and that allow each employee a greater degree of ownership and accountability over what they do. He’s finding that the change is empowering. Cross-functional teams are solving problems that used to require executive intervention – a huge benefit that allows Dan to focus on his primary role as leader.
“I have learned probably more this year than I have in the past four years in growth and elevation. That’s I think the love of entrepreneurism. Every day is a new challenge, and there’s always opportunity to make yourself better a better leader, a better partner, a better manager.”
I couldn’t agree more. Dan’s transformation as a leader for his company is inspiring. Digital Trends is on track to have their best year ever. With Dan’s guidance, I’ve no doubt that they’ll continue that trend for years to come.
Check out my extended interview with Dan Gaul on Forbes.com.
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