It’s the last day of Innovation Week 2016 and, given Friday’s theme was ‘Frontier Thinking,’ there couldn’t have been many better guests than TheLADbible Group to talk us through how they’ve grown from a Facebook page to an international business boasting a youth audience many established media powerhouses would kill for.
Tim Denyer, Head of Digital and Technology Development for OMD UK, hosted the interview with co-founders Solly Solomou and Arian Kalantari (CEO and Director, respectively) in what was the first panel they’d ever done together. Best friends since school, Kalantari got involved after Solomou started the venture as part of a university project. Rather than spending his sandwich year in a stock brokering company as planned, Solomou experimented with ways to market club and café reviews to student websites. While looking into marketing and using Facebook to expand audiences, he came across TheLADbible’s Facebook page and bought it – promoting it through his other site. Solomou soon realised that dealing with lots of customers to land small £300 deals was too much hard work and so shifted his focus to TheLADbible. After making a 1,400% profit on a Facebook newspaper app, he realised he was onto a winner and took it from there with Kalantari.
Their early mentors told them to think less about their the day-to-day output by hiring staff to do that for them while they focused on the future. Clearly, it paid off as TheLADbible Group now boasts multiple accounts and channels covering sports, food, female lifestyle and gambling with a 60m strong community and global reach of 800m News feeds – that’s half of the world’s social homepages. According to Kalantari, that’s only going to grow as they focus more on the US in the future, and that’s before they even create any Australia-specific content despite already having a large presence there.
That’s because TheLADbible’s content and humour transcends geographic boundaries. They position TheLADbible to be like a human, covering everything real people would likely talk about when sat with their friends in a pub: Be it the football results from the night before, the state of politics, or indeed a funny video of someone falling face first into a puddle. They may be most closely associated with User Generated Content (which they admit remains underlying to their output) but clarified that their content is heavily influenced by their community. That evolution and maturation has meant they’re able to be a force for good as well as funny; a recent poll to their audience asking what more serious issues they’d like to see as a series resulted in the creation of the #UOKM8 videos about depression and mental health which reached over 40m people. Similarly, the recent RNLI partnership encouraging viewers to Respect the Water is the most successful branded content they’ve ever put out.
Not being afraid to try new things has been the key to their success and evolution (particularly compared to more traditional publishers), with the company encouraging staff to try things out based around their passions and not being afraid to fail. They recently hired two sixteen year olds who showed entrepreneurial spirit and give their staff the opportunity to explore new ideas for the business beyond their day job. If it fails nothing’s lost, if it succeeds everything’s gained. Solomou even told us a story of how one member of staff went against their wishes to create a Facebook page when they’d been explicitly told to focus on Twitter. After a month, the page that was never meant to exist had 1m fans which Solomou admitted was hard to stay angry about. The moral of that story? “Piss your boss off.”
That entrepreneurial mindset of their staff is becoming increasingly mirrored by their audience who create their own content. Mass marketing to a youth audience and expecting them to listen to your overt advertising agenda simply doesn’t work as they don’t want it, nor will they allow it. Kalantari explained that brands often group 18 – 30s in the same “Millennial” target audience, but the difference in life stages is so great that brands need to focus on smaller age groups and, like TheLADbible Group, reach them all in different ways. Solomou explained that they’re increasingly using data to inform their content creation, with their tech team’s creating a tool to give guidance on what content and headlines will most likely succeed with the relevant audience.
It’s an exciting time to be a digital publisher which Kalantari compares to an advanced level of a video game. With the digital landscape rapidly changing at such pace, he’s excited about how TheLADbible Group will keep up. Traditional models are being broken and for those that are willing to adapt to change the opportunity has never been greater. “It’s a competitive place and we’re both very competitive people,” he explains. “It’s going to be fun.”