The first 18 months of our startup have been like a marathon for us, where each new visitor was like one more kilometer to conquer.
Growing a digital media is not an easy task, especially if you want to build a good reputation based on the quality of your content.
In this article, I will give you the most important steps we found in building a leading digital media for biotech in Europe from scratch.
Starting with a source of frustration
With my partner Philip, we have been working on the development of Labiotech for a while now. Everything actually started in 2012 when we were studying biotechnology in France. Back then, one of our frustrations was the fact that you couldn’t easily find free information on the biotech industry in our country online. After looking everywhere online for the best source of information, we gave up and decided to make the solution ourselves.
Buying a domain name and developing a website has become an easy task nowadays, and after a few months of preparation, we were ready to launch our first blog. We first launched at our university on December 3rd, 2012, but our website started to attract people from everywhere around France who were just like us, tired of paying a huge subscription for a paper magazine or frustrated by the lack of digital solutions.
LaBiotech.fr (the initial name) gave us the keys to start and to understand what people were expecting…
Step 1: Scale-up and transition to for-profit
September 2014 to December 2014 / 0 to 1,000 visitors
After some experience and travels abroad, we quickly identified the same frustration on a European wide scale…
At the end of our studies the situation was clear – we were the perfect team to change the biotech media landscape in Europe. And that’s what we did! But this time, the development of our website took longer as we wanted it to have the design and features of a modern website.
Our first concern was to make the content easy to read anywhere. Our website has been responsive from day one (meaning you can use it on every device), and special attention has been placed on the reading experience.
Our article pages are focused on content, without interruptions for the reader (unlike many news websites these days…). We also started our website without any banners, going completely against the established models in our industry (today we still have just a few banners, giving us the opportunity to generate some revenue without harming the user experience).
However, design is not everything. You can have the nicest website without ever actually developing an audience. What we then learned was that we needed to create high-quality content (over quantity) to attract our first fans.
Step 2: Focus on content
January 2015 to June 2015 / 1 ,000 to 12,000 visitors
To be honest, we are not journalists by training. Everything we learn about media is through experimentation. Our first major lesson was learning that the quality of the content is the key driver of traffic (trust me, it’s not completely obvious).
So during our first 6 months, we started to gradually improve this. At the beginning, we published just one article per day, but rapidly increased the pace to 3 to 4 editorialised articles per day to truly deliver what we promised: a comprehensive source of information for biotech in Europe.
We also improved our writing style and the depth of our articles (you may have seen it if you follow us since a long time). We started producing longer and more complex articles requiring more research (like the “Tops” and “Reviews” you love so much).
Some of our articles have been viewed by thousands of people, showing us that we are on the right track.
Sourcing our news is critical to remain up-to-date and comprehensive with our topic. After a few months online, we started to receive more and more news directly from biotech companies or their press agencies. Our Labiotech Tour project was also a great tool to meet companies all around Europe and build a trusting relationship with them.
Now, we receive a ton (literally) of news every day, and our editorial team has to make hard choices in the selection of topics they publish. We are well-trusted by the majority of the companies (even if some of them still don’t know us), and our work is recognized by the industry (a good proof is our nomination at the Mediscience awards).
Thanks to our Editorial team and Philip, we are now able to give you high-quality content every day and also exclusive content that we are first to publish!
Step 3: Find the good acquisition strategy
July 2015 to December 2015 / 12,000 to 25,000 visitors
A classical dilemma for a startup is the balance between rapid growth and resources available. During our first 18 months, we had to constantly try and experiment new strategies to acquire more readers.
We succeeded in creating a good strategy, combining one-third of direct connections (people who enter our URL directly or connect via email), one-third of search results and one-third of social media. This mix is really healthy as it brings people from different channels and reflects the quality of our media (too much of one channel is usually a sign of weakness).
Understanding your users is extremely important to increase your traffic. One thing we tried is to adopt a more personal tone in our articles. Our readers’ feedback showed that they liked it a lot and that it was one of the main differentiation towards our competitors! So we kept it this way 😉
Last year, we also decided to develop our app for iPhone and Android to be closer to our readers (developed by one of our Summer interns Alexi). The app is an excellent way to make our content more accessible. We already had over 2,000 downloads a few months after the launch ,and we see a high engagement rate from our app users (twice as many pages views per user on the app).
We also hired two English native speakers and that made a huge difference. The quality of our content increased one step further, as it was more fluent and easy to read.
Step 4: growing the resources
January 2016 to April 2016 / 30,000 to 40,000 visitors
Resources are key, and the more you have, the more you can do! For this reason, we raised our first round with WestTech Ventures and 5 business angels. The money gave us some time to develop our activity and also our revenue.
Advertising is one of our main sources of revenue today. The thing is that people get bored by all those websites full of advertising… That’s why we have just a few banners and focus mainly on native advertising (see my post about native advertising here).
Native means we integrate the advertisement directly in the content of our website, by remaining always transparent on which content is sponsored. When we publish a sponsored article, we always focus on something that will first be interesting for our readers and then be interesting for our clients. This has been a focus for us – to not disturb your reading experience and to create advertising that delivers valuable information.
Our goal: Being the TechCrunch for Biotech
Future / The sky is the limit
These resources also gave us the opportunity to invest in a new project: Labiotech Refresh. What’s better to understand your community than bringing them together under one roof during a full day? The first edition of our event was a great success, and we are already preparing the next one (to take place in Paris).
One of our role models since the beginning has been the website TechCrunch, the reference media for startups and high-tech. TechCrunch has become a leader in building a strong community around high-quality content and astonishing events. We are on the same way to achieve it and to become a reference media in our industry (if you think we already are, you can add it in the comment :p).
We’re still looking for new partners or new ideas to grow our traffic and community. For example, we tried Instagram a few months ago, and it seems like the platform is working quite well for us (follow us if you like crazy biotech images – especially BioArt).
We have great plans for the future and will continue to change how people get informed about biotech. Please follow us or get in touch with us if you want to be part of it!