Founder and Editor-in-Chief of A New Take Ted Winder looks back at the first five months of running the website, and discusses balancing work with education.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to plunge into a huge new project last September with just 7 months until my AS exams dawned. When this thought wasn’t lurking at the back of my own mind, it was only perpetuated by my teachers and parents alike. I cast it aside then, but as A New Take approaches its 5 month anniversary on 1st June, it is only now beginning to dawn on me just how much work and effort a project such as this involves. I don’t regret a thing though; looking back, I can categorically tell you now that starting this website was one of the best things I have ever done, and that yes, it is possible to balance a project like this with full-time education.
But I am by no means the only person responsible for the output of this site. Since we launched to the public on January 1st this year, an incredible team of writers has written and published 40 brilliant articles, ranging from interviews with startups to critiques of popular music. In total, these have seen over 65,000 pageviews and interest is still very much on the rise. I know that I for one have learnt a huge amount in such a relatively short period, from dealing with disappointment to managing and balancing time. The work that goes into running a website such as this goes much deeper than just writing a few articles and posting infinite links on my personal Facebook profile (sorry, friends) and I’d like to take a little time to reflect and tell you some more about what has gone into running A New Take.
A Brief History
Despite launching early this year, A New Take is a project that has roots going back four years or so. I first registered the domain name anewtake.com in September 2008 – I was 13 years old and I bought it simply because I liked the sound of it. I was not quite your normal 13 year-old, and building websites was my personal fad of the moment. Even now, my web server is full of folders dating back to 2006 that contain partially-developed websites, applications and designs that ultimately came to nothing. As such, I never really did anything with the domain and so I let it expire once its term was up two years later.
It wasn’t until June 2011 that I decided I was finally ready to see something through to completion and registered it again, this time with a firm idea in mind. The concept I had in my head then really hasn’t changed much to this day: I wanted to create a website that would be home to original pieces of writing by young writers such as myself on topics that we found interesting. This was influenced by things I knew my friends and I liked to read, such as the Guardian’s Comment is Free and the Times2 magazine, except I wanted to bring a new, ‘young’ view to the table. I pitched the idea to people and they liked it, adding their own suggestions about things to cover and styles to adopt. The culmination of these ideas eventually led to the site you see today, and I am eternally grateful for them; for example, the distinctive dark purple colour theme was once almost lime green. The image above was a ‘spoiler’ image of the website’s design that I tweeted on 1st July 2011, and you can (sort of) see just how much has changed since then.
Day to Day
People are still kind enough to be making really great suggestions today, and I do my best to accommodate these; since launch, I’ve made the navigation bar more colourful, reduced the size of the header on article pages, added better social media sharing links, added a ‘subscribe by email’ feature, and many more little changes. These were all triggered by suggestions that I heard from others, and this just demonstrates that the most important part of taking on a project such as this is listening to the opinions of others, because they almost always know better than you. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have a suggestion of your own!
Planning, designing and launching the website was only half the story. I had always intended for A New Take to be a collective, written and produced by multiple authors, and from the very start I had in mind a few close friends who I thought would fit the bill perfectly. I had imagined that finding people to write regularly for the site would be a challenge, but it turned out I underestimated the number of people who were interested. A small group of individuals committed themselves early on (and I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am for that), but the first few weeks of publishing content was stressful to say the least. Making a good impression after launch was really important, and so it was crucial to ensure that there were enough articles to last a few weeks. This made me realise that running A New Take was something that truly required full-time attention: somebody had to ensure that there was always enough being written to publish with no major lulls between each article. There was no way I could do this on my own in the long-term, and so I was relieved that a couple of others on the team were willing to take a bigger responsibility for parts of the site. This system of delegation we use now seems to be working well.
Balancing Life & Education
Bump into any 16 year-old in the middle of studying for their AS exams and it won’t be long before they make it very clear just how stressed and tired they are. And not without good reason – speaking as such a teenager just finishing up my own AS exams, I can tell you that it’s certainly true: sixth form is tough. Studying numerous subjects to A level can very quickly threaten to swamp the rest of your life and has the dangerous potential to severely impact the development of genuine passions and interests. I’ve always believed that while of course education is important, it should never take over your real life. As I see it, A New Take is the most significant route into any career I might be considering right now and if this takes off then hey, this could even become my career, but I’m definitely not ready just yet to drop out of education altogether to focus solely on it. There are many, many examples of entrepreneurs who have dropped out of school or university to run a business, but only a handful have done so successfully. I’m far too much of the cautious type to ever do something like that, and I need to learn a lot more about business before it would be sensible to even try. I’ve also learnt first-hand that sometimes the voice of teenagers – especially those trying to carve their own way in the world – can be lost amongst the sea of high-flying adults, but I have found so many people to be incredibly supportive and encouraging. Like Ryan wrote last week, I would encourage anyone to prove themselves and do their own thing.
Business can often seem a lot more ‘glitzy’ than school, and I will admit to getting a little carried away with all of the creative aspects of creating a new brand. I’ve always tried to remain sensible and focused though, and at the moment I am able to enjoy running A New Take in whatever spare time I have. This puts me in the same position as the other writers here, and I remain to this day impressed with the loyalty and proficiency of this team; I log in to the admin backend of the site pretty much every day and it’s always a delight to see a new post ready and waiting for review. I feel really lucky that the group of writers that has come together for this project is a really great one, and that everyone in it feels motivated enough to keep producing high quality content even through stressful and busy times in their lives. Nobody who writes for A New Take gets paid (you’ll see why below) – every article you see is the result of a genuine passion and interest.
Disappointment & Expectations
It’s tempting to think that upon launch, the project you’ve been working on for months will be an instant hit. It’s not wrong to, either; if you never anticipate for something to go big then its success will be confined by your own inhibitions. 95 unique visitors checked out A New Take on its launch day. Was I disappointed by that number? Yeah, I was a bit. I’d been working pretty much flat-out for two months to get the word out about the website’s launch and in all honesty I had hoped for a bit more attention. But I wasn’t discouraged – it didn’t matter to me at this point whether millions of people saw the site or not, all that mattered was that those who did loved it.
I am absolutely obsessive about statistics and graphs, and so I am often to be found excitedly watching the real-time counter of the number of visitors on the site as an article goes live. It turns out it’s not just me though – I’ve had to install a plugin so that all writers are able to see how their articles are doing in terms of pageviews and engagement, and this has really encouraged everyone to proactively share their articles. Comments on articles from readers are also really encouraging, and I know this is a view shared by the whole team (hint!).
It also became very evident that making any money from this venture was not going to happen overnight. Turning over a profit was never my intention, but there comes a point when any website must generate some sort of income in order to sustain itself. There are many costs involved, and for us these include techy things such as hosting, domains, CDN and Typekit, as well as more traditional expenses such as travel. As a new site, and since we don’t accept money for reviews, the only serious method of generating income at this point has been Google AdSense, which has so far generated a grand total of £12.67. I was thrilled when A New Take was accepted into the premium BuySellAds network though, and hope that this will soon become the way forward.
I very much see this as a long-term project, and there’s still a long way to go in every sense. In the grand scheme of things five months is nothing, but these first five months have been very promising indeed. Running – and, I would hope, writing for – A New Take really is exciting. New challenges and opportunities present themselves every day and heading up an ‘organization’, even one as small as this, is an invaluable introduction to the real world of business and work. This is what real people do for a living, and here I am trying to do it right now. Despite being a project that requires a lot of effort from all involved, the continual sense of achievement more than makes up for the occasional disappointments and failures.
Your comments on how we’re doing would be very much appreciated!