Being a media company in the digital world is not easy. While established newspapers are struggling to stay alive, a new breed of niche media portals have found creative business models to keep them afloat.
Tech in Asia is one of these new players. Since 2011 it has grown from being the personal blog of Singaporean marketing professional Willis Wee to become a major media portal for technology-related news spanning the entire Asian continent. It’s mix of topics , including startup and venture capital profiles, business happenings and hands-on advice, has gained the site a readership of over one million unique visits a month.
What are some of the strategies that make Tech in Asia a successful as a media company? I recently met Leighton Cosseboom, head of Tech in Asia’s English content, to talk about how the company has managed to carve out a spot in the competitive media landscape, at their offices at the Taman Anggrek Apartments in West Jakarta.
An innovative business model
The slowdown for traditional media business models, be it in advertising or sales, has forced the sector into a transformation period. The benefit for “born-digital” media companies like Tech in Asia in this situation is that they are flexible and lightweight enough to be able to try out new approaches. For Tech in Asia, the most promising approach has been events.
In the startup business ecosystem, it is extremely important for everyone involved to flock together on certain occasions. This is where venture capitals meet founders, a place where companies show off new products, mentors share advice,and the more mainstream media picks up new ideas. Recognizing the potential for events in this sector, Tech in Asia created the Startup Asia conference series.
These conferences now take place three times a year — each in Jakarta, Singapore and Tokyo — and constitute Tech in Asia’s main source of revenue. The latest Startup Asia Conference in Jakarta attracted some 2,000 visitors. The event’s potential to present their brands and products is important enough for sponsors and partners to enable Tech in Asia to cross-finance its media portal this way.
Additional experiments are underway at Tech in Asia to introduce a paid-for “exclusive content” offer for business professionals who seek more in depth information, and ideas for sponsored content and native advertising are currently being considered.
Tech in Asia thinks of their media portal as an information ecosystem with multiple sources of revenue, an attitude which must have impressed East Ventures, Simile Ventures and Fenox Venture Capital, who in 2013, invested an undisclosed amount in the company.
Polished on stage, humble backstage
Tech in Asia’s news site and events are extremely professional and visually polished. Their office, however, is a three-bedroom apartment with the charm of a college dorm. The walls are painted a faded beige, the main room contains an assemblage of chairs and tables and a spare room has some bunk beds to for staff members to crash if the way home seems too far.
Clearly the priority in the past months has been expanding the team (there are now 17 staff members in the Jakarta office, with many more contributors distributed throughout the region), and developing the product the events. Everything else has remained humble.
This also extends to the way content is treated on Tech in Asia. They focus on quality written editorial instead of multimedia, and photos are sourced from the public rather than through contracted photographers. Putting the money where it’s necessary but keeping it simple where possible seems to be one of Tech in Asia’s winning strategies.
Rather than attempting to create content easily digestible by any audience, Tech in Asia is following another smart strategy, which is a continuing specialization. Having identified clusters of readership with high potential, for example readers from Indonesia, which is the largest and most promising market for Tech in Asia, they have introduced a dedicated Indonesian language sub section.
A similar idea was to created a spin-off site called Games in Asia to accommodate content tailored to the particular audience of gamers.
Lastly, Tech in Asia is also thinking of scalability and diversification of its business models. While events may work well for now, they are labor-intensive and can’t be infinitely reproduced. It seems logical therefore, that the Tech in Asia team is exploring additional sources of revenue.
This year, Tech in Asia wants to focus on rolling out yet another spin off, a platform they call Techlist.asia. This comprehensive database is modeled after Crunchbase.com, but is a premium service which potential users have to be willing to pay for. On Techlist, investors are supposed to get reliable information about the people involved in a particular startup, their track records and affiliations. If the interest in emerging Asian startups remains high and this product takes off, Tech in Asia would become less dependent on events to keep the lights on.
Nadine is a digital strategy consultant based in Jakarta. She has a passion for cutting edge technologies that change the way we communicate, create or appreciate culture. Drop her a message at email@example.com or follow @TrishankuID.