E11: Adam Jaffe, VP of Growth at Mic – Interview

March 25, 2016


This interesting interview is Adam Jaffe. He’s the VP of Growth at Mic. What is Mic? It’s a media company that reaches over 30 million young people each month. That’s a lot. We get to talk with Adam how he’s helping to grow that audience using a combination of analytics, distribution and editorial decisions. Adam is on the bleeding edge of testing and implementing growth programs. I think you could learn a lot from him.

Here is what else we talked about:

How did Adam learn to grow an audience?
Do they do any paid advertising?
How many articles do they post per week?
How do they learn what’s working or what’s not?
Where do they distribute their articles?
What tools do they use to monitor the results of their articles?


Dave Kruse: Hey everyone thanks for joining us for another episode of Flyover Labs. This is of course Dave Kruse and today we are talking with Adam Jaffe and he’s the VP of Growth at Mic, and so what is Mic, well Mic is a media company at mic.com that reaches over 30 million young people each month, so that’s quite a few people. So if you haven’t heard of him, I don’t know what you’re doing. So we get to talk to Adam about, how’s he hoping to grow that audience and the revenue of course, using a combination of analytics and distribution and with that the editorial decisions. So there is a lot of moving parts and I’m excited to learn more from Adam and I think it’ll be great. Adam, thanks for joining us.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, thank you Dave. You have the honor of being my very first ever podcast.

Dave Kruse: Alright, perfect. Well, I broke through, alright, so Adam, we’ll first start off with, kind of your background and then talk more about Mic and how you view growth, and what programs you have in place, so first off, Adam what is your background and how did you end up learning about the media distribution and analytics, did you jump into the role or did you learn it before you came to Mic.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, yeah good question. I went to undergraduate business school and my background is in Finance and then I took a little bit of a detour and spent some time screenwriting and so I think that understanding how to interpret numbers and also understanding why stories reignite on an emotional level are really the two things that you need to be successful at learning distribution and analytics, so those two things came together for me __________ and Mic was really the first place where I applied those things in that manner, so you know, most of it I just did while learning at Mic.

Dave Kruse: Interesting, and hope you use that in the interview, that’s pretty good blending the screenwriting and the storytelling, it makes sense. I never thought about it quite like that though, so I have to ask you of course about the screenwriting. So were you in Hollywood then or how did that transpiring come about?.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, I did live in the middle of Hollywood, you know, I think the thing about screenwriting is that it’s really more than, I think about commitment and hustle and it sort of this strange thing because screen writers are either __________ isolated creatures who literally spend their day fantasizing about things that don’t exist, you know, __________ really got to put yourself out there and try to get projects off the ground and convince people to spend two hours of their time reading your script and that takes tremendous hustle and so I think the __________ on it, that’s really what I remember.

Dave Kruse: Interesting, Okay, and so what brought you to, let’s see after screenwriting, did you go straight to Mic or was that after screenwriting.

Adam Jaffe: I did. Yeah, you know, I met Chris and Jake who founded Mic about four years ago through a mutual friend and they described to me what they were doing and, you know, this was about 2 years ago and the time there wasn’t anybody doing smart news, distribute their social in the way that they wanted to do and, you know, we’d help in there on our Facebook page where you see the stories and this was _________ story days and when you go onto Facebook, they are like, this is all just not what I want to see and so what they were doing really resonated me and I immediately knew, you know, this is something that is needed and it’s going to take off and I knew I had to be a part of it and so, you know, it just sort of came together through that.

Dave Kruse: So, what particularly resonated with you? What were they doing differently? How was your vision different than BuzzFeed and some other distribution platforms out there?

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, I think, you know, they were adamant that, you know, many old and young people care about news and they care about becoming smarter and getting, you know, real information in a way that is different than our parents did, but just because we spend our time on Facebook does not mean we are ignoring the news, we are going to get it in a different way and so I think, you know, hearing that perspective and hearing Chris and Jake just believe that _________ they watch smart news, you know, which I knew to be right, and that was what really sold me, and I think, it’s really what we’ve tried to do over the last few years and have been successful staying true to.

Dave Kruse: Interesting, okay, and just for the audience and Adam, please fill in the details, but just what Mic is, which we kind of talked about, but if you go to Mic.com, it’s essentially is a media site with lots of interesting articles, very visual, looks great, and like as Adam says, definitely targeted towards the really younger generation, _________ is that pretty much it? not pretty much it, but…

Adam Jaffe: No, I think that said, you know we cover national news, politics, technology, relationships, and we do it through the perspective of our generation and, you know, we our motto’s rethink the world and you know, we just want to have an impact on young people who come to us to get our perspective.

Dave Kruse: Okay that was much better, thank you. So let’s talk a little bit more about your role at Mic, which has helped to grow the audience and revenue, and so as VP of Growth, what are your responsibilities, your focus areas that you have.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, I’m responsible for putting the process within place to grow and audience and for managing the distribution and analytics team’s but I’m not actually responsible for growing revenue, that’s as in our sales leaders ________ looks after that, but for my job, there is really two parts to it, it’s; a) Distributing all of our content, and then b) Building for new growth. And that’s really what I do is just push forward on both of those things at once.

Dave Kruse: Gotcha, okay, and so how do you set up your programs, like when you came in was there a VP of Growth or did you kind of set up the whole role yourself and how was the structure when you came in and how is it structured now.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, so there was no VP of Growth when I came on, and the role that I came on was as Director of Analytics, and there hadn’t been one before that, you know, we had some infrastructure in place to collect and process limited information and, you know, so there was some things in place and then there was a lot that wasn’t in place and I think, you know, part of my job is to figure out what pieces of data that we need and then, you know, I lean heavily on the engineering product team to actually collect and process that information for us, and so in terms of tools that we use, we generally use the tools provided by each platform, a very third-party software wary; we really don’t depend on outside tools and so, you know, our approach is to figure out what information is available and what information do we need, and then we collect and process that data and then our engineering team puts it into a database and then we try to allow anyone at Mic to be able to access that information through a proprietary overweigh that our engineers build.

Dave Kruse: And so why are you wary of third-party tools, I know you’re talking about like on the Facebook platform, you use essentially their analytics platform instead of relying on somebody else to pull in that data.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, yeah I mean you can get a lot of information from these platforms and typically you see with third-party software, so that they will just package this information in a more _________way, you know, I think for us that doesn’t really move the needle on what we want to do and so we’re able to just think about, okay, what do we need to see and how do we need to access it, and who on the team needs to see it, and so for us these custom _________ just make a little more sense. Obviously, we are lucky that we have the resources to be able to do that.

Dave Kruse: Definitely, and when you first came out, how did you learn what Mic needed in order to grow, you know, what analytics to look at, and how do we look at distribution or re-look at distribution if you didn’t have a deep background, but obviously you’ve done pretty well. How did you learn how to put it all together?

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, I mean, I think the thing to remember Dave is that nobody had ever done this before, and so, you know, if somebody who spent 10 years in media had never actually encountered this before, so everyone in the industry was learning that at the same time and these things changed very, very quickly, so every 6 months Facebook is actually a different Facebook, the search is different, and there are different variables to go into what makes a successful search story, so we’re all learning this kind of in real time together and so I think that is, you know, part of why you are able to see a lot of new places pop up and do well relatively quickly, but I think, you know, a part of it is, you look at the goal and so I knew that we had a certain goal that we wanted to reach and then, you have to take a step back and say, okay what the growth levers that we think that can really move the needle and then what pieces of information do you need to understand to get those growth levers moving and so once you have that, they sort of collect those pieces of information and then analyze whether your assumptions were correct or not and it just sort of, you know, you do that on a continued basis and that’s part of what that helps your growth.

Dave Kruse: Makes sense. Yeah, right, I mean, this is just a new bridge in the area, your right, you kind of just have to learn on the job, which makes it so interesting, every day is a new experiment, so what platform you guys use for distribution, as you’ve done on Facebook.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, we distribute our content anywhere young people spend time and _________ primarily search on social platform, so you know, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, you know I think our two largest audiences are through search primarily through Google and to social primarily through Facebook, obviously the reader behaviors is very different __________ platforms, but we, you know, tried to get our stories out wherever people are.

Dave Kruse: So how does it work in Google when you launch a story, if the person is searching for, you know, Donald Trump, not to get that shut up, but Donald Trump, would you somehow build a rank for stories on Google around Donald or how does that work?

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, you know, our approach with search is to think about, okay, what information are people seeking out to be educated on, and so we start there and we say okay, you know, Donald Trump is probably not where we would start our approach, but we would say okay are people really wondering what are Donald Trump’s policies on immigration or what are Donald’s policies and immigration mean for x, y, z, and so we would start there and build a piece around that, and so that’s kind of the way that we are thinking about search is, you know, behavior is somebody is actually seeking out a piece of information and so how can we, you know, provide that information in a way that is going to satisfy and answer that question.

Dave: Kruse: Oh, that’s smart, and there is not a whole lot of analysis you can necessarily do right, because this is all real time. How do you know, when a story or is it a gut feeling, or how do you know if a story is going to work or not, there is a lot testing, changing the headlines, or changing the content, or how do you handle that?

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, I think for Search, it’s a little bit at the start not so clear, so you think, okay these are the questions that people are going to ask, you put them out there, you know, you are in a little bit at the mercy of Goggle’s liking and so, you know, what you can see is whether something pops on Search, _________ question that people were asking, were you right and so if the answer is yes and you can sort of say, okay, what are the next questions around that that people might have, so the next logical question, you know, so that’s what you’d want to pinpoint down then you want to serve that, so I think, there is _________ you can’t see that on search, I think on social, you know, it’s a lot of the same thing where you are looking at, okay, what have we put on in the past_________, and then you try to apply those learning’s to whatever situation that they are facing, so it’s a news event, you know, we’ve been unfortunate in this country to have many, you know, shootings throughout the last year or two, you would kind of know the things that people are going to want to talk about, when these events happen and so you can start to think about them in that way.

Dave Kruse: Interesting, and do you guys do any paid advertizing on the search engines or the social sites.

Adam Jaffe: No, we don’t do any paid, we are all organic.

Dave Kruse: Interesting, and so can you walk us through kind of a case study, let say you have an article, I mean, you distribute across a lot of platforms and so, you know, how do you come up with an initial idea, and then how do you, once you have the idea, how do you distribute it and what tools do you use. It sounds like you might just go out to the platforms themselves, not necessarily use the third-party tools, and then how do you do the analytics on that to see what’s working and what’s not working.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, it all starts with our editorial team, and they decide, you know, what do we want to cover, what’s important for Mic to cover for our readers and what are the stories that we want to tell and make sure that people know, if it starts there and the role of the analytics and distribution team is then, you know, help inform editors of how, you know, how we might be able to distribute that story for the widest reach and, you know, that’s everything from; does this audience live on this platform to how can we package that in a way that we know will peak interest and so you know we ________ editorial team thinking of what they want to cover, deciding what’s important to Mic, the distribution and analytic team then comes in and says, okay, here’s what I think this might be able to serve our readers, we know we’ve got this pocket here that can work so _________ we know we can find that audience through our Tumblr audience which, you know, that you can search upon to stories of _________ , so we can think about it in that way then, you know, ________ implications on about how you are going to tell the story based on that, so Tumblr is a very visual platform, so we might want to think about making a highly visual story or telling it in a little bit of a different format and so that’s sort of the cycle of how it works until we push it out, and then once we push it out, you know, we wait and see, and we see, okay, you know. a) Did this get a wide reach. and then b) What was the engagement like. And the ultimate would be that, that we measure our success of the impact which we think is a measure of reach _________ and so we try to think it up of what is composed together to say, you know, did the story really have an impact and then we take that knowledge as we internalize it for the next time.

Dave Kruse: Interesting, so you customize each article for each platform.

Adam Jaffe: When it’s possible, we try to because, you have to think about the consumer, the reader behavior in each platform is very different, so if you are on your phone and your reading a story through Facebook, that’s a certain kind of experience and if you’re on your desktop and you sort out the ________ question through search story that’s a very different experience, and so, you have to think about building these stories in a way that are going to best serve the experience of the reader is having.

Dave Kruse: Gotcha, okay, and how long does it take from time that the editorial folks say hey, let’s do this story, by the time you release it, to know the story is really working or it’s not working.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, that’s a good question, you know, I think it depends on what your answer of working or not working is, I think…

Dave Kruse :True.

Adam Jaffe: For the most part, we can tell pretty quickly on many of these platforms, and you know, I think it’s probably we get the quickest response on Facebook, you can see pretty quickly, you know, how people are engaging with that story, I think a platform like Tumblr takes a little bit longer to achieve really the effective story and then search also really depends on a number of factors that takes a little bit longer as well, and so, it really just depends on the platform that you push the story out on.

Dave Kruse: That makes sense, so it sounds that you push these stories across all these platforms, so it sounds like the analytics could be fairly complex. Do you look at certain metrics, well I’m sure you’ll consider metrics, if you can share those, and then also, do you use certain tools and how do you analyze the kind of the historical what’s happened so that you can learn, if you have to make better decisions in the future.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, you know, I think the key metrics are really variable, depending on what we are pushing at and why, and so we always start by asking, okay which would go with this, you know, as I mentioned our ultimate goal is to have an impact and we would think of that in terms of reach and trust and so a lot our analytics are focused on measuring that reach part and we think about that either, you know, in referral traffic or distributed _________ platform. The trust part, it’s a little bit trickier and so we are constantly thinking about how we can measure that as well, but that’s really the way that we think about it on a consistent basis.

Dave Kruse: Gotcha okay, and how do you go back and look at past successes or articles that didn’t do well. How do you analyze those, I mean, how many articles do you write or do you push out each year. Do you have any idea?

Adam Jaffe: _________ , I think we are doing about, want to say a thousand a month.

Dave Kruse: Wow, okay.

Adam Jaffe: And that’s growing, you know, I think we, look every day at what happened yesterday, so every day our editorial and distribution teams review the performance of stories across all of our platforms and, you know, we try to internalize this and understand what resonates ________ doesn’t and that really is an essential part of the process and, you know, we think about that as something that’s important to _________ each day.

Dave Kruse: Interesting, okay, and do you guys do A/B testing with headlines on different platforms.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, you know, I think the bulk of our A/B testing is around the product end of things and so we’re constantly figuring out, you know what design can encourage certain actions that we want from the reader in terms of headlines and content, _________ quite as much on that end.

Dave Kruse: Okay interesting, so what would be an example of A/B testing the design.

Adam Jaffe: Yes, you know, for example, if you are on ________ com on your mobile phone and you go to an article page and at the very top, right below the headlines you’ll see three share buttons, one’s for Facebook, one is for Twitter, and one is for WatsApp and so we are constantly testing those buttons and seeing the effectiveness of, you know, are we getting people to hit share if they move this button here, are we getting people to share if you move it to the bottom, so that kind of thing, and that changes all the time.

Dave Kruse: Interesting, okay makes sense, so this is a little outside of Mic, but if you are going to start at a new media company as the Head of Growth, you know, what questions would you start asking? What systems do you think they should they should have in place? and I guess that’s kind a lot of questions, cause it probably depends on who they are, but do you have more general advice or thoughts on, you know, how to think about growth, especially at media companies.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, I would say, you have to get to first answer the question, what is our ultimate goal, and then from there, you ask ________ okay how do we think we can get there. What do we think are the specific growth meters that we can pull to reach our goal? Now keep in mind you might not know what your growth figures are, but you can make some assumptions and doing that will help you really point to the specific pieces of information that you need to understand and so, you know, that’s where you start and say okay how can I collect and process those pieces of information and analyze whether or not my assumptions were correct, and I think if you really do that, you will be able to set yourself up into a position to, you know, see whether your right or wrong and move from there until I think, you know, that’s where I would start I think in terms of ________ program, it just depends on the kind of information that you need, so obviously, it’s difficult to make a sleeping recommendation, sometimes acquiring the information is difficult, sometimes it’s all there for you, sometimes the third-party tool can easily present that information for you, so it just depends on, A, what is available and then B, what resources do you have to commit to collecting and processing that information.

Dave Kruse: Yes, that why you guys have a 110 people for this, you guys stay busy with a 1000 articles a month and doing all the analytics, and yeah, you guys must have some nice processes’ in place to handle all that.

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, we are in a fortunate position.

Dave Kruse: Yes, definitely. So do you, as the part of growth, how involved you get into editorial decisions. I know you definitely work with them closely, but do you help kind of craft the articles ever or what’s your role in editorial?

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, so, you know, the role of analytics is to inform the editors of how an audience has responded to a story and that’s all we can do and all we want to do, you know is really just to ________ our editorial team with the most information that we have and we do not make editorial decisions, so that’s not why we are here, so I think, you know, what I find most helpful is, you know, once an editor has decided, okay I want to tell this story, it’s important to Mic, you know, we keep coming and work with that editor to help find a leadership for that story based on what we know, and so I think, you know, we found a really good balance there and I think, you know, that’s how sort of how we do it.

Dave Kruse: Gotcha okay. We are getting close to the end here, but _________ talk about the future a little bit. You said, you are going to use lot of third-party tools, but as part the growth industry, do you see more third-party tools being useful. What else do you think would become more prevalent as the time goes on?.

Adam Jaffe: You know, I think what the analytics industry and what people who create third-party tools need to need to really figure out is, how we are going to measure reach an engagement on distributed platforms, and you know, we are shifting to a landscape where, you know, there is going to be a broad and diversified distribution strategy for every company and that’s going to hard to measure, and sometimes the information is provided by a platform, but sometimes it’s not, so you know, on Instagram and snapshots for instance, the information that we get is pretty limited, and so it’s hard for us to then turn and say, okay, here’s how our readers are behaving on these platforms and it’s even harder for the sales team for them to make a case to advertise into that, this attention is valuable and so I think that is really the near term solution, _________ this industry is going to have to find a solution for.

Dave Kruse: Do you have any thoughts on the potential solution?

Adam Jaffe: Yeah, I think a lot of it really goes back to what can we get from the platforms themselves and what are they reporting, and I think it depends on the priorities of that platform, how much they are willing to give to publishers and so I think that’s going to be, you know, something that’s going to have to evolve as your relationship between the publishers and ________ evolve.

Dave Kruse: Fair enough, that makes sense. Well, I think you definitely answered all my questions and more, and I really appreciate it, I learned a lot, so now I know how to start up a media company, actually that’s the case at all, but yeah, you guys have quite the operation there. So it’s impressive what you and the folks at Mic have set up.

Adam Jaffe: Oh, thank you Dave. I appreciate that, you know, we are happy to kind of be in the position we are and we are excited about all the things that we are doing and that our growth is allowing us to do.

Dave Kruse: Yeah, yeah, I mean, must be fun, since your shaping and bringing out a voice to the world, you kind of help shape that which is a very unique position to be in.

Adam Jaffe. Absolutely.

Dave Kruse: Alright, well, thanks Adam for coming on and that’s all, and thanks everyone for listening.

Adam Jaffe: Thanks Dave, I appreciate it.

Dave Kruse: Bye everyone.