Turning Nightlife Into a Day Job
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Justin Stearman found the ideal way to make money from partying: He made it his job. The 27-year-old Southern Californian goes out to clubs, lounges, bars and hip new restaurants on a weekly basis to find the hottest places for nightlife. But don't let his year-round tan and laidback demeanor fool you--he still knows how to hustle.
Last year Stearman developed MyClubScene.com, a website dedicated to providing his fellow night owls in Long Beach and Orange County, Calif., with the hottest places to party. Now he's rolling out NiteGuide Magazine, a sort of print version of the site that features places to go for great nightlife in Orange County and Long Beach. A typical issue of the magazine details everything from top dive bars, the best places for themed parties, where to find great food and what DJs are spinning at which clubs. The website-owner-turned-publisher has big hopes for his new venture--expansion to L.A., San Diego and Vegas--and is excited to party his way to the top. Having connections doesn't hurt either--just last week Stearman was wined and dined by a client who wants to be featured in the magazine. It might seem counter-intuitive to go from online media to print, but for Stearman, it's been a success. Entrepreneur asked Stearman to tell us how he's turned his passion for nightlife into a successful business.
Tell me about your website, MyClubScene.com
My friends and I were going to New York, but we couldn't find a good online directory of places that had cool nightlife. I realized there was a need for one where I lived, too, so I decided to start a website dedicated to listing the hottest places to go in Orange County and Long Beach. So far, our site covers 30 counties. MyClubScene.com has four main parts: it's a social network, a club and bar directory, has event listings and has photography and videos from events. Visitors to the site don't have to sign up to look at events, but if they want to see photos or talk to other people, they can create a profile and become a member for free. We're currently building an iPhone app and working on a second version of the website that will be more like Facebook. MyClubScene is made to help you see what's going on this weekend and where your friends are going.
Did you run into any startup snafus?
The website launched April 1, 2009, and it took us three months to get the first thousand members. Social networking can be hard to run, because you're asking someone, 'Give me all your information,' so they really have to like the site. Now we get about 1,000 members a week, and we currently have over 15,000 members. And we've been able to book members from the site for club events--whether they're DJs, dancers or musical talent. We've also spent zero dollars on marketing and advertising.
How did NiteGuide Magazine develop?
I got a pamphlet in the mail that was a guide to the best happy hours in the area, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if this could be a full-blown magazine?' I decided to roll MyClubScene into a magazine that featured all the best nightlife in Orange County and Long Beach. My initial approach was actually to make a mini-mag and insert it into other magazines. But after I ran all the numbers, I decided it wouldn't cost much more to publish a regular magazine. So without any capital, I went around to all our clients from MyClubScene and said, 'Hey I'm launching a magazine. I'll give you a great deal on the first six months if you sign up now.' I pitched them with just my idea--no power points or prototypes. And I raised $10,000 in the first month. I originally launched the magazine to promote the website, but now the mag is becoming bigger. When people sign up for MyClubScene now, many of them say they found out about the site through our magazine.
How do you plan to expand the magazine this year?
The first issue, which rolled out in January, was only about 30 pages. My team and I logged many late nights putting it together and had a few nervous breakdowns along the way. I was having nightmares, because I have no background in writing or putting together a magazine. But when our first issue came out, everyone was thrilled. I didn't get any negative feedback--just that it needed more content. So I went out, took the first issue with me, and hustled. I showed more clients the mag, told them I'd give them a great rate, and now the magazine has doubled in size. And our coming issues will only keep getting bigger. We also do packaging deals at good prices--we do editorial, ad, and photography at low rates to help to generate revenue. Word of mouth has been the best advertising we've have; it's free and the most effective.
What new features will the magazine have?
Right now the magazine is a baby, but soon you're going to see more music, more entertainment, more celebs, and more behind-the-scenes of events. We're really excited to add music and fashion content. We want to add calendars of events and have separate sections in the magazine pertaining to restaurants, bars and clubs. We really want to target all the different types of people who like going out. Currently, we publish 25,000 magazines in Orange County and Long Beach, and we're working on expanding to L.A. We're going to get into San Diego this summer and Vegas in 2011. Whether you like great food, want to know where the best happy hour spots are or you're looking for the best techno club this week, we'll let you know.
Who is your demographic?
Right now, our demographic is 18- to 35-year-olds; anyone who likes to go out. We want to start having the magazines available in hotels, so we're thinking about having two different covers--one that targets the club-goers and one that's more family friendly. Currently you can find the magazine in every club and bar, in tanning salons and tattoo shops, at 24-Hour Fitness in Costa Mesa and on college campuses. We spend money on guerrilla marketing; street teams hand out NiteGuide to people walking out of clubs or on college campuses--frats and sororities are specifically targeted.
How do you figure out what places to feature in the magazine? Do you just pick your favorites?
We've actually had most of the places contact us. It's great, because they call us up, ask to be featured and show us around their bar or club. I'm very hands-on when it comes to checking the places out. I always want to meet the owner of a place we feature. It's important to have personal relationships with your clients. And I don't care if I have to work 22 hours a day--I love my work.
Any other projects in the works?
We're in the talks of launching an online radio show. It'll feature many of the same things the magazine does, and it will also be available as a podcast so listeners can know everything that's going on in the nightlife scene for the week and weekend. I'm also looking to air a TV show in Southern California on KDOC called MyClubSceneTV. We'll show clips from the hottest events and interview artists and DJs; it'll be the magazine rolled into a TV show. I actually went to school for video production, and a while back I did a show called Late Night Digital TV for about eight months where we filmed the top events in Southern California. So MyClubSceneTV would be similar.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs or those looking to start up a magazine?
Communication is so important in business. I always have my cell on me; you can email, text or call me, and I will always get back to you. If I'm in a meeting, I'll text you that I'm in a meeting and I'll call you later. And never, ever give up if you really want to do something, because I've failed more than a couple hundred times. If you say you're going to do something, do it. Even with the small things. You're going to go a lot of places if you say something, take action, follow through and finish it.