🎯 TechCrunch: Media Co or Product Studio?

The original ‘audience-first’ playbook

Read time: 3 minutes 48 seconds

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On that note, today’s case study is a fitting one…

TechCrunch: Media Co or Product Studio?

Chess Move

The what: A TLDR explanation of the strategy

TechCrunch is the de facto “startup ecosystem publisher of record”.

They invented the term ‘unicorn’, predicted the death of Google’s social network ‘Google+’, and were the first to cover just about every acquisition scoop.

But, TechCrunch was never meant to become a publishing giant.

It was originally a side-project blog for a venture-studio called Archimedes.

Founder Mike Arrington was obsessed with how ‘Web 2.0’ companies were changing the internet:

“Firstly the trend towards the 2 way web, where new content is published in large quantities and in real time by millions of people at the edge of the network.

And secondly the trend for the separation of content from its old forms. Text is no longer necessarily embedded in a web page, it can be syndicated through RSS or ATOM. Audio is no longer tied to the Radio network. It can be Podcast or streamed or downloaded… These trends throw many business models into question.”

Unlike incumbent media institutions, TechCrunch was born out of a product studio, and had one foot placed in the contemporary, internet-native, speed-driven philosophies of the software companies they wrote about.

After just one year of daily articles, TechCrunch received 23,713 comments, 1-2 million page views per month, and was the 4th most linked-to blog on the internet.

💡 Strategy Playbook: Build distribution, then productise.


The how: The strategic playbook boiled down to 3x key takeaways

1. Ship-fast philosophy

In their first year, founder Michael Arrington averaged 5 articles every 2 days.

TechCrunch got it’s first break by leaking Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006.

Their email list grew from 50,000 to 133,000 subscribers in a few weeks, and the publication “went from a source of opinion for future technologies to a recognized and reputable source”Money Inc.

As the team scaled, they instilled practices to ensure the velocity-first strategy remained:

  • Writers assign stories themselves, and involve editors later.

  • Writers have direct access to the ‘publish’ button, and write their own headlines, deks and ledes.

  • Writers are praised for delivering early, exclusive scoops.

2. Relentless content distribution

TechCrunch continuously experimented with new tactics to distribute their content to a larger audience:

  • Syndication: They made deals to re-publish their articles via sites like the Washington Post.

  • Localisation: In 2006, the French version of TechCrunch was unveiled, generating 1m+ visitors in just 2 years. Shortly after, Chinese and Japanese versions were released.

  • Analytics: Before Google Analytics went mainstream, they used MeasureMap to analyse traffic and optimise content.

  • Integrations: TechCrunch was a persistent ‘early adopter’ of new tools, integrating Facebook into their WordPress config, shipping a home-grown solution for Google Buzz, and launching a channel on the Slide app to appear directly on readers’ desktops.

They also aggressively expanded into new mediums to meet readers wherever they were:

  • Podcasts: They grew a network of shows like Mixtape, Original Content, and Equity, focussed on adjacent topics like venture capital, streaming, and M&A.

  • Newsletters: In 2015 they introduced 7 weekly newsletters (including hit publications like The Daily Crunch and Startups Weekly) covering everything from mobile apps to startup reviews.

  • Chatbot: TechCrunch ChatBot for Telegram and Facebook helped visitors to subscribe to newsletters, sign-up for events, and ask questions about the news.

  • Events: What started as TechCrunch Meetups at Arrington’s home transformed into an events business hosting tens of thousands of readers around the world at conferences like Disrupt, Startup Battlefield, and Crunchies.

Some expansions failed, others marked growth inflection points.

One thing was consistent - they took every opportunity that presented itself to reach more people.

3. Incubate products, distribute through media.

TechCrunch ran more like a product studio than a traditional media company, building tools, apps, and widgets to differentiate the experience for readers.

When they released CrunchGov, a newsletter providing election updates, it shipped with:

  • A ‘political leaderboard’ that grades politicians on how they vote on tech issues.

  • A database of technology policy.

  • A public markup utility for crowdsourcing the best ideas on pending legislation.

When they released Extra Crunch, a paid newsletter with in-depth articles, it was bundled alongside:

  • A community chat room of founders.

  • Conference calls with industry leaders.

  • Exclusive features such as Rapid Read Mode.

CrunchBar was a browser extension that helped readers stay up-to-date with the latest content, and quickly share articles to social media.

CrunchBoard was a job portal, generating $200 per job post, and drawing in 100,000+ unique visitors per day.

Above all these experiments, 2 fascinating projects stand out:

  1. CrunchPad: Arrington’s bold push into the hardware space - “I want a dead simple and dirt cheap touch screen web tablet to surf the web… no one is creating one. So let’s design it… and then open source the specs so anyone can create them.” 1.5 years of development later, their manufacturers kicked them off the project. An unfortunate, controversial, and bizarre turn of events.

  2. CrunchBase: With unparalleled access to investors, founders, and proprietary data, TechCrunch created a database with information relating to investments, funding, leadership, and corporate news. The side-project soon generated enough revenue through SaaS and API offerings to spin out into a separate company, raise venture capital, and aim to become the “LinkedIn for company profiles”.

Rabbit Hole

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