How a Passion for Fitness, Health, and Happiness Sparked a Vibrant New Media Startup

Case Study:

One year to one million unique visitors? I’m clearly in the wrong niche.

Derek Flanzraich is a health-and-happiness-obsessed guy who loves media. Not content to stick with a job in the established media business, Derek made new media his business by starting up the health and wellness site Greatist.

A play on artist, a greatist is someone who chooses better to improve their fitness, health, and happiness. It’s an editorial focus that has brought tons of social media sharing and traffic in only one short year. Now, Derek and his team will grow revenue and the business — not with advertising — but by becoming the trusted source for product and service recommendations when it comes to smart health and wellness.

In this 30-minute audio case study, you’ll discover:

  • Why Derek Started Greatist
  • The personal characteristic that drives Derek’s ambition
  • The 3 keys of Greatist’s content success
  • Why Greatist is fanatical about content fact-checking
  • How Derek built social sharing into his editorial process
  • Why Greatist isn’t building an ad-based business
  • The challenges and rewards of new media startup life
  • What Derek would do if he could start over from scratch

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  1. Nice site, but how does it make money?

  2. I like the way he put it obsession, really inspiring story alot of stuff i learnt from him. his content calender and the way he approached his content is something i can apply to my business as well as how his site grew organically.

  3. I like the fact checking Greatest provides, because there’ a lot of BS re health matters on the Interwebs.

    There are however trustworthy sites on the web, such as those of Drs. Mercola, Hyman, Weil, as well as Men’s Health and that genre. That said, Derek’s site will undoubtedly be more socially interconnected and thereby will build a distinctive community.

    Also, from what I can discern, he’s a really nice guy.

    P.S. Making “Greatest” the Consumers Report imprimatur for the best health/wellness products and advisers is a worthy goal as you build your own products.

  4. “In terms of revenue, our numbers are not exciting.”

    “Until we figure out how this becomes a big business, our focus is on not spending too much.”

    I’m with Brian above–nice site and they’re lucky to have picked up some outside funding but it doesn’t really sound like they have a business model yet (since they don’t want to be ad-driven).

    So what is it that makes Greatist different from the pre-2000 crash dotcoms?

    Not being snarky; but unless I missed something in the interview, what’s the plan to make this a business?

    • Brian Clark says:

      Derek says it during the interview, and I stated it in the post — they will sell relevant products and services. That’s content marketing — if you’ve missed previous articles on the topic, click here for the archive or check out content marketing 101 here.

      Also, if you’re not familiar with my company Copyblogger Media, we went from a pure content site like Greatist to a multimillion dollar software company. Same content-driven business model, different products and services.

      • Thanks for the response, Brian.

        I understand the content marketing model (and am an avid reader/user of Copyblogger, Genesis framework, Premise, etc.). In my own case, I’m attempting to use content (blog, email newsletter, ebook) to build credibility to sell consulting, training and design services; just trying to connect the dots in this instance with Greatist.

        I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed so evidently I missed something in the interview. I’ll give it another listen.


        • Brian Clark says:

          It was a quick part, because it boils down to “we’re figuring it out in conjunction with the audience,” which is exactly what we did with CBM and what I’m trying to help you do as well. 😉

    • Greatist is only a little over a year old. There are loads of well-known businesses that didn’t turn a profit for several years of operation. Though they aren’t generating tons of revenue yet, they definitely have plans for offers that extend beyond what was covered in this interview.

      To me, what’s even more impressive than the incredible traffic growth is the fact that so much of it “sticks.” They have extremely high genuine engagement (much more than you would guess by looking at their comment numbers – the conversation typically occurs off-site, on Twitter or Reddit), and the audience trusts their content.

      The bit about tailoring content to particular sharing communities is extremely powerful.

  5. I love inspiring stories every now and then because I have to keep myself on my toes every time.

    I’ve been “away” from blogging for some time and seriously in need of some inspiration? Derek’s inspiring should help…

    Thanks for the post

  6. I love Greatist! They are doing a wonderful job of providing trust-worthy content on health and wellness, which is very rare in the wellness industry!

  7. Brian,

    I’m in the current Teaching Sells cohort and have been following what you and your team have been doing for several years and am very impressed.

    I’ve been founding and leading venture funded businesses for 15 years and it is very common for the typical startup to really struggle with marketing and leadership, especially in Silicon Valley. One of my favorite quotes of Sonia’s is “smart business people fall in love with a market, not a product”. I think maybe Theodore Levitt originated that thinking in his Marketing Myopia paper.

    In a similar way, too many startups put their product before their story. Instead of really understanding an audience and taking them on a hero’s journey framed so they want to hear it, they create an MVP and start in on an approach like Lean Startup and/or Customer Development. While these are great tools, I think they should orbit the audience/story instead of the reverse. Lean Startup is great at introducing scientific method into the process, but it skips the need for art and the critical importance of putting story first. When you put story first, you build it into the product. When you put product first, you’re left looking for stories that fit the product.

    I love how Derek created his story first and think a lot of startups can learn from this. Great work with entreproducer and I hope you and Robert find time to publish more frequently.

  8. In addition to Copyblogger, check out what Thrillist has done with JackThreads. That’s how this site can monetize, Michael. Content producers now monetize by owning the product and/or the distribution channel. (Or having an ownership relationship with the product.)

    Not to be too nitpicky…
    I’m not sure you can say, “I’m using X content to sell Y product or service.”

    I think you need to say, “I’m obsessed with X content. I love being engaged in it everyday. Eventually, I will either need to make money from it, or do it in my non-moneymaking time.”

    Then, if you have a sufficient audience, you figure out what they want to buy. (What they NEED to buy.) Then you sell them that product or service.

    You can’t start with the product.

  9. Awesome interview! I love Greatist for the vetted content they deliver and how they engage their community of followers.

    I enjoyed hearing Derek’s interview because it’s always nice to hear from other entrepreneurs in the social fields rather than the technical fields that get so much press. I can really relate to what he said about being energized by the challenges of being an entrepreneur. It’s not always easy, but it’s always interesting!

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