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How Three Friends Bootstrapped a Publication Into a Multimillion-Dollar Profitable Business in Three Years You’ve seen the classic entrepreneur spotlight a million times: a glossy headshot accompanying a headline announcing multi-million dollar Series A fundraise from top-tier venture capitalists. While a venture-backed business tends...

By Deanna Ritchie

This story originally appeared on Due

You’ve seen the classic entrepreneur spotlight a million times: a glossy headshot accompanying a headline announcing multi-million dollar Series A fundraise from top-tier venture capitalists. While a venture-backed business tends to get all the limelight, a profitable and bootstrapped company rarely makes comparable headlines. And in the traditional publishing space – the story has been far more doom and gloom than one of exaltation. However, that’s why three friends came together to disrupt a stodgy industry on their own terms via an innovative new approach for creating a profitable business.

Lauren Kleinman, Lee Joselowitz, and Scott Silver, all with backgrounds in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) economy, are the proud co-owners of The Quality Edit. Since launching their ‘side hustle’ in 2020, they’ve seen tremendous revenue growth. It’s been an unprecedented ride to the top of the leaderboard for the trio, and they credit it all to hard work, building a great team around them, and a niche offering they’ve dubbed “performance publishing”.

The Beginnings of a Successful and Profitable Business Blueprint

Kleinman, Joselowitz, and Silver’s journey began with frustration surrounding conventional product review sites. Through the trio’s experience working at and advising consumer brands, they found that the publishing industry was missing a new-age media platform that resonated with modern consumers. In addition to consumers being underserved, so were advertisers in the traditional publishing model, monetizing in outdated ways that didn’t bring value to brand partners or consumers.

On the consumer side, the trio scrolled through the endless landscape of digital publications providing recommendations for travel, beauty, fashion, and home items, noticing a serious gap. None of the sites had strong storytelling at their core, nor were they aimed at developing user trust amongst modern discerning consumers. They were simply places cluttered with display advertisements and, in some cases, poorly written copy with mediocre product recommendations.

Maximizing Times of Uncertainty for Growth

At a time when 95% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase and nearly half of consumers trust those reviews as much as a personal recommendation, legacy publishers were clearly out of touch with the consumer trendline. The trio of co-founders felt that a more trustworthy recommendation site with top-tier editorial talent would stand out right away. Literally stuck in their homes during the beginning of the pandemic, they decided to take the leap and launch The Quality Edit in early 2020.

As they built the foundation of the site, they resolved not to start at the same “square one” as their competition. In addition to taking the time to thoughtfully consider how they wanted The Quality Edit to look, feel, and flow, they also made sure to consider how their publication would generate profitable revenue for their business.

The outcome of their creative brainstorming was a high-quality digital advertising and review site that acknowledged and met the needs of all stakeholders, including readers who came to consume authentic, genuine, and objective reviews. But they also built a differentiated advertising model for brand partners hoping to not only reach their target audience in a cost efficient way but also drive attributable results and revenue, which they coined as “Performance Publishing”.

Deliberate Differentiation Brings Digital Success

In a recent interview, Kleinman and Joselowitz spoke about their early days and how the seeds of their innovative (and profitable) “performance publishing” framework were sown. During their initial bootstrapping phase, the co-founders took great care to figure out precisely how The Quality Edit was going to outshine other product recommendation sites. Their consideration led them to focus on a few key areas.

The first was to review products with intent. Rather than just reviewing all brands within a space, they wanted The Quality Edit to put the spotlight on new, exciting, and mission-based businesses.

Today, two-thirds of consumers say they consider a brand’s purpose before buying. Given this fact, Kleinman, Joselowitz, and Silver wanted to help readers make choices based on their alignment with the purpose behind each product’s maker. Being able to talk not just about the product itself but about the story behind it gave them a chance to help readers connect on a deeper level with the brands they were considering. In the same vein, almost 60% of The Quality Edit’s advertisers are either female or BIPOC-founded.

Prioritizing Quality Content Production

The second focus for The Quality Edit was to legitimately produce content that wasn’t just a parroted advertisement from each of their advertising clients. Consequently, they empowered their editorial team to not just write about products but to take those products for test drives. That way, readers could feel like they were making a safe, smart buying decision based on impartial, carefully curated advice spotlighting the pros and cons of each product reviewed.

To help increase the quality and authenticity of each recommendation, The Quality Edit asked their team of reviewers to take and upload unfiltered pictures and other content. The “real feel” essence of the product being tested in real life helped solidify to readers that they were truly getting an insider’s view into a product — not just a sales pitch.

Creating a Repeatable Process

A third element that was essential for The Quality Edit was to construct a rigorous and repeatable method to monetize their publication without sacrificing editorial integrity. While legacy publishers forced brands of all sizes to purchase ad inventory via more traditional ‘Brand’ placements focussed on impressions and views rather than conversions, The Quality Edit’s solution was a new type of performance marketing that anchored brand partner programs in long-form storytelling and UGC Ad deliverables. Their high-impact results-oriented solution allows them to have fewer but higher-leverage advertising partners which oftentimes drive recurring profitable revenue for each business.

Essentially, performance publishing is a technique designed to maximize the site’s relationship with brands by delivering relevant, value-added content. It’s a combination of traditional publishing, third-party validation, and performance marketing, and it helps amplify brands’ messaging while helping build up the brand instead of tarnishing it. Not only does performance publishing drive higher return on advertising spend (ROAS) for The Quality Edit’s brand partners, but it also sets up a path for those brands to introduce themselves to targeted, mission-aligned consumers in a trusted environment.

By letting their hands-on editorial process lead the way, the team has made sure their brand relationships are equitable for all stakeholders. As a result, both brands and readers are given a delightful experience that Kleinman, Joselowitz, and Silver believe will become the future of the publishing industry.

Impressive Outcomes From a Crowded Market Startup

As mentioned, most startups take years to become financially viable. (And many startups, especially those with a tech angle, never become solvent at all.) Yet despite the crowded nature of the publishing industry, The Quality Edit has been able to buck that trend by turning a profit as early as year one. Simultaneously, the site has seen success in other places as well.

Take their stellar view rates, for instance. Each month, The Quality Edit receives more than 300,000 unique visitors to the site while maintaining high trust with its readership: an internal 2023 survey showed that 90.7% of participants said they trusted the reviews and advice they received on the platform. High praise for a few-year-old startup publisher competing with legacy sites many decades older.

Entrepreneurial Takeaways From The Quality Edit’s Accomplishments

There’s little doubt that what began as Kleinman, Joselowitz, and Silver’s side hustle has turned into an unmitigated success. It’s also a good example for other entrepreneurs to learn strategies they might want to apply to their own startup ventures.

1. Fix what you don’t like.

A major impetus for the founding of The Quality Edit was the dissatisfaction the entrepreneurs felt with similar sites. By noting and considering exactly what dissatisfied them, they were able to generate a profitable business that fixed those problems head-on.

It’s not necessary to fix everything, of course. However, resolving known “pain points” can be a good way to enter a field. It can help a budding enterprise get press, too. Projects that balk at the status quo often fascinate media outlets. They built a review site they themselves would want to read.

2. Encourage user-generated content.

Word-of-mouth has always been essential to expanding a brand’s reach organically. Now, it’s more important than ever thanks to the widespread use of social media. A full 88% of people in one major survey agreed that they put more trust in suggestions from individuals who were close to them than from brands. What better way for them to learn about products from family, friends, and coworkers than from UGC?

The Quality Edit fosters a constant flow of user-generated content (UGC) because of its conversational, “secrets from a trusted friend” editorial style. They encourage readers to share their findings and write their own updates. The natural give-and-take of the site driven by its clean editorial processes and honest reviews fuels a regular flow of UGC across the ecosystem they’ve built.

3. Label your process.

Kleinman, Joselowitz, and Silver knew they were innovating in the publishing ecosystem, so they decided to coin their offering “Performance Publishing” in 2020.The term stuck and is working very well – with over $50M Incremental Revenue driven for brand partners at an average 30% increase in ROAS.

Entrepreneurs who similarly disrupt their industries with novel workflows might want to follow suit and label their own “secret sauce”. Labeling a unique approach can be yet another way to get plenty of attention. It can even lead to more interviews and opportunities to show a high degree of thought leadership.

4. Show off your passion to build a great team

Having passion is what keeps entrepreneurs trudging through the tougher times. The Quality Edit would never have been born had it not been for the passion the founders felt for emerging brands, products, and lifestyle curation. And that passion and enthusiasm is infectious, and particularly helpful when building and recruiting early team members to bring the initial vision to reality.

Is passion a surefire way for a profitable business to become a multimillion-dollar sensation in just three years as The Quality Edit did? Not always. Nevertheless, that fervor is a serious asset when it comes to navigating the sometimes choppy waters of establishing a newer brand.

For the three West Coast friends, The Quality Edit has been more than a chance to test their mettle as entrepreneurs and earn a living doing what they love. It’s been a life-changing experience that’s setting a new bar and pushing the digital publishing industry forward.

The post How Three Friends Bootstrapped a Publication Into a Multimillion-Dollar Profitable Business in Three Years appeared first on Due.

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