Tech stacks are an integral part of any start-up publication. But it’s hard to know what to look for in a stack and how it can help you get the audience growth and revenue needed to be successful.
Ryan Tuck, partner at Blue Engine Collaborative, has been working to help media companies and start-ups generate audience growth and revenue through digital strategies.
“It’s one of those things you see again and again — best laid intentions doomed by bad stack, doomed by bad technology,” says Tuck.
In a recent interview with Indiegraf, Tuck outlines all the ins and outs of tech stacks, specifically those for independent publishers and start-up media companies.
Daina Lawrence: What is a tech stack?
Ryan Tuck: At its most basic, it’s the collection of platforms and software that you use to fuel your business. Sometimes you call it a technology suite. It is the pieces of technology you use to operate from A to Z.
D.L.: Why are tech stacks important?
R.T.: With a media business, especially a B2C (business-to-client, meaning a business that sells a product or service directly to consumers), where you’re getting first-party data, you have subscribers or members, and where you have connections to external people outside your building, you need to make sure that your pieces are working together and they’re working in a way that you expect them to.
Where you find margin or where you find success, especially as a small or starting media organization, is in finding efficiencies, finding the place where technology can do what it does best — which is work for you.
Having a technology stack that’s well-integrated, well set up and well-maintained can open a lot of doors, especially as a beginner media organization. Without this, there would be high barriers to entry and to success. In those beginning phases when you’re really trying to grow something, technology can take on an added level of importance.
D.L.: What are some tech stack features that independent publishers should be looking at?
R.T.: One thing I don’t think people think about enough is: Do your pieces talk to each other? Does your data, in particular, talk to each other? Do you have a list of people that subscribe to your newsletter? And then another list of people who donate, depending on your model?
Do you have a sense of who’s visiting your website, downloading your podcast, watching your video? Very frequently the answer is “no” because you need a central data platform, or to have set up automations, to be able to do that.
But, there are ways around that too.
D.L.: Okay, so what are some of those work arounds?
R.T.: One of the easiest things to do is just to set up an email service provider, and have your website, then just set up your payment platform integration. And those things will not inherently talk to each other.
There are some basic things that you can even use in Google Analytics to track segments (of data). There are also full suites you can get to solve this issue. It’s not a prerequisite, but it is really nice when these elements all talk to each other.
When the data talks to each other or when you find a way to make the data talk to each other, through your own manual interventions or integrations, that’s really critical to your tech stack.
D.L.: Back to the key features. What else would you recommend for those looking into a tech stack?
R.T.: I would say that you need to make sure the technology is working for you and not the other way around. You need to make sure that the pieces of your stack are easy to use.
You also need to think of your technology more holistically. Never launch yourself so narrowly into a space, like with an email service provider, without thinking: How does this integrate with my payment provider? These things should not be viewed in isolation because there will be a reaction for whatever action you take. Use a vision board, use post-it notes, use whatever you need to get that visual of the whole picture and what you’re trying to achieve.
D.L.: When do you invest in this kind of technology?
R.T.: If you are a reader revenue or a direct-to-consumer model, you should be doing things like evaluating customer lifetime value. In other words, that whole revenue picture.
For instance, if I invest in this technology and I spend $20,000, is it going to advance my goals in respect to audience building and reader revenue? Knowing that customer lifetime value number allows you to view that investment in an intelligent, financial ledger kind of sense because then you will know that this kind of investment will result in x-number of new audiences, new subscribers, etc. At first it will be an estimate, but you will be able to see that number more concretely over time.
Similar to hiring, there is a certain “look before you leap” kind of investment you’re going to have to be comfortable with. You need to figure out where that threshold is for you.
There are certainly smaller scale ways that you can launch a media business. But there’s also a certain level of upside to investing in a technology stack, making that investment and then knowing what your goals are for that investment.
Looking for a tech stack of your own? Check out Indiegraf’s Indie Tech. Our tech stack offers everything you need to grow your audience and revenue plus ongoing developer support — without a big upfront investment or dozens of ongoing cloud subscription fees that really add up.
In the news
- We spent most of this week pouring over Project Oasis, an amazing new resource that tracks “the growing number of locally focused digital news publications in the U.S. and Canada and to share information about the choices they have made along their pathways to sustainability.”
- Mission Metrics, a new pilot program from Oaklandside, will track the community impact of its journalism.
- We urge you to use the Asian American Journalists Association guidance on reporting on the Atlanta shootings.
- The New York Times is done with its massive Facebook cooking group.
- We’re hiring! Check out our job postings for audience strategist/digital marketing specialist, WordPress developer and director of advertising and sponsorship sales roles.
- The Tiny News Collective is accepting applications for its first cohort of founders.
- The Google News Initiative Startups Playbook is your guide for launching a new media outlet.
And one more thing…
Check out this fantastic list from The Supplement of independent Canadian news outlets you can support.