Maverick’s inspiring success – and on to the next level [entrepreneurial journalists]

iMaverickjujuThe Maverick team are a real inspiration to all budding South African entrepreneurial journalists.

These guys – led by founder and editor Branko Brkic and CEO Styli Charalambous – blew most of our sock off when Brkic started The Daily Maverick in 2009.

The thoughtful, left-field news and analysis website quickly picked up an audience and became a fixture in our media landscape. Then in 2011, the team launched iMaverick, SA’s first iPad-only news magazine.

Both are going strong and the team is now adventuring off into new territory again: setting up a news agency called Newsfire.

Off course, the bold new move into wires carries the risk of diluting focus on the core of the business – the Daily Maverick website and iMaverick.

In response, Charalambous told Grubstreet: “Hiring people and finding the quality people we need for this kind of service is one of our biggest fears going into this… It is a big ambitious task but that’s how we roll here. We do have two very clearly defined strategies and road maps for each of the businesses (Daily Maverick/iMaverick and Newsfire).”

Newsfire  is being set up as a completely different business entity with its own investors, says Charalambous.

It has been tested as a “beta launch” during the ANC Mangaung conference in December and for the State of the Nation speech last week while the aim is to launch it commercially towards the end of May.

It is envisioned that it will need between 50 and 60 staff members.

[box]SEE ALSO: Maverick team to test news agency at State of the Nation this week, Feb 2013 (and for more info on plans for Newsfire)[/box]

As part of our series on SA’s entrepreneurial journalists, Grubstreet spoke to Styli Charalambous recently about the state of play at the core: the website and iMaverick.



Founder: Editor Branko Brkic while CEO Styli Styli Charalambous   joined a month before the site launched, which was already six months plus in the planning.

Started: Launched  1 November 2009.

Web stats: We’ve just hit 237 000 unique visitors for the last trailing 30 days on Google Analytics (till 13 Feb 2013).

Aim: To make our readers the smartest people in the room by providing the highest quality journalism. Whilst enjoying their read.

Staff: We have about 20 full-time and retained people on the books with an extensive network of op-ed contributors to compliment our offering.

Start-up money: Yes, lots of it. More than we thought, mostly because of the poor state of digital advertising in South Africa. Oh, and we don’t have parastatals throwing millions at our events.

Had a business plan? Yes, but it’s usually just something you use to raise money at various times. We’re continuously evolving and carving out a new road map for where want to take Daily Maverick.

Measure of success: Editorially, it’s influencing the narrative and setting editorial agendas. Business-wise it’s creating a work place that people get excited about being part of and passionate about. And, of course, repaying shareholders’ faith with profits.

Top content tip: Don’t look to others for benchmarks and standards. Create your own, higher ones.

Top business tip: Don’t sell your soul. It’s hard to get it back.[/box]


Styli Charalambous
Styli Charalambous

GRUBSTREET: How is Daily Maverick and iMaverick going?

STYLI CHARALAMBOUS: We’ve had some really good pick up. It’s kind of been the three-year overnight success.

We’ve been hammering away and keeping at it and we saw a record month for ad sales for iMaverick in December. Daily Maverick’s numbers are growing. We’re now this month  over 200 000 unique visitors again, which is really good considering we’ve never spent much on marketing. (NOTE: This interview was done before the Oscar Pistorius shooting broke and traffic on SA news sites soured.)

The average (ad) campaign (value) we see on iMaverick is probably two to three times more than the average campaign that we see on Daily Maverick. What we are starting to see is that some of the traditional advertisers,  who have taken up magazine space, now see iMaverick as the logical digital next step for them.

And when those campaigns come through, you can see that people who are used to paying about R20 000 to R50 000 for a (magazine) page are seeing iMaverick as a really cost-efficient alternative to that. So the average campaign coming to iMaverick is a lot higher than The Daily Maverick.


GRUBSTREET: And what are iMaverick subscriptions like? Have you had churn from the FNB deal  from last year (whereby customers who bought tablets through the bank also got a three-month iMaverick subscription)?

CHARALAMBOUS: The numbers are around 8 000 at the moment.


Branko Brkic
Branko Bckic

GRUBSTREET: That’s not bad.

CHARALAMBOUS: No, it’s not bad and we’re looking to do more of those kinds of partnerships this year to really jump start it. We’re looking at innovative pricing models where you are paying for your subscription but you’re not necessarily paying for it in cash. There are other things you can give us instead of cash.

We’re also hopefully looking to do something with the hand-set manufacturers, where we can do some good deals with manufacturers that have a good portion of the market – and bring people on board that way.

So it’s interesting times ahead. We have seen automotive companies and some of the financial-services companies looking to increase their digital spend and looking for brand exposure that they haven’t really been offered on other digital platforms.

I think if you look  at a full-page ad you can get in iMaverick especially, what you get there versus a little app that has a little pop-up at the bottom – it’s a completely different advertising experience.

So it’s going nicely but it’s one part of a very big puzzle that we’re putting together.


GRUBSTREET: But it’s all looking very positive. In 2009, you guys really were mavericks. Now you’re a fixture in the media landscape.

CHARALAMBOUS: Ja. it’s really about trying to leverage all the hard work and the reputation that The Daily Maverick has built over the last couple of years and we’re starting to see a lot of that bearing fruit now.

There’s just a lot more people talking about it or knowing about the brand – we’re starting to see a lot more of that happening now.

[box]SEE ALSO:

Sleekgeek’s Elan Lohmann on finding a way to a viable business model [entrepreneurial journalists], Feb 2013

Wry Republic: New SA start-up with moxy [entrepreneurial journalists], Feb 2013

Catch-up with TechCentral’s Duncan McLeod, SA trailblazing entrepreneurial journalist, Jan 2013[/box]