An Ode To Our Little Unicorn

The story of how we launched New Zealand’s largest website that no one ever heard of.

This story begins back in mid-2013. Apple had just released the iPhone5, Miley Cyrus was swinging on her wrecking ball, and the internet was awash with cats. It was a simpler time… I had a good job, a house, and my fiance and I were looking forward to our future together as we planned our wedding for the following year.

Naturally, life threw a rather fast curveball…

Within a month I’d been made redundant and I’d snapped my achillies tendon. I suddenly found myself in a position with no immediate income, a mortgage to pay, a wedding to plan, and, with limited mobility for the next four months, a tough ask to find a new job.

In hindsight, however, I quickly realised that this situation was more of an opportunity than a setback. I was always keen on the idea of running my own business, and the effective opportunity costs of starting one up were now zero. There was nothing to hold me back.

Fortuitously enough, a friend of a friend happened to be working on a business concept with which he needed some help. His theory was pretty simple. You create content and then distribute it through large Facebook pages. You then monetise this content through the sale of programmatic advertising, which was a new emerging technology at the time.

It was a fascinating idea, and we spent a few hours mapping out the practicalities of how such a model could work. We produced several hockey stick graphs describing “projected future growth” (of course!), many assumptions, and a healthy dose of scepticism. Almost to humor him (and myself) I suggested we test this theory out to see if we could validate some of the assumptions we were making.

We developed a rudimentary website, created some uncomplicated content, placed some ads on it, tested our assumptions, and within two weeks our MVP was proving to us that we might be on to something.

Within two months we had a live website, generating a small but scale-able bottom line profit, and a firm idea of how we might turn this into a proper business.

It was at this point that we made a deal with each other. The deal was that if we were in a position to pay ourselves a salary equivalent to that of my old job by the end of February 2014, then we would take this on full time. We set a launch date of January 1, 2014, for our new and improved website, EMGN.com, and got to work.

Our mission was to provide a mental vacation for our audience wherever and whenever they needed it. EMGN.com content would often become some of the most shared content on the internet.

To cut a long story short, we proved most of our assumptions to be correct, and we were well and truly full time by the end of February. Our mission was to provide a metal vacation for our audience wherever and whenever they needed it. EMGN.com content would often become some of the most shared content on the internet. Within a year EMGN.com was consistently attracting 1 million unique visits and serving upward of 63 million ad impressions per day. By mid-2015 EMGN.com entered the Alexa.com global top 500 websites and the US top 10 mobile websites.

We did so many things counter to conventional startup wisdom and because of this EMGN.com grew into a unicorn of a business. We enjoyed three years of self-funded growth, having achieved profitability and positive cash flow on day one. We were then able to successfully exit at what ended up being the right time.

The journey we took with EMGN.com was life-changing, yet it’s something that I have rarely discussed, until now. I have taken the time to tell our story with the anticipation that others can get something out of it. In there very least it isn’t a story you hear too often and, hopefully, I’ve demonstrated the value that can come from doing things slightly differently.

About the author — Aidan Kenealy

www.aidankenealy.com

My mission is to help those with high growth businesses realise their vision for success. I draw from the unique lessons learned growing EMGN to help founders and CEOs get the best out of what their businesses can be.

If you would like to discuss how I can help you and your business — please reach out via LinkedIn or email aidan@hiov.co.nz

Professional startup advisor for founders of high growth startups. More details @ https://aidankenealy.com/

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