Wednesday afternoon, March 1st, I was in a panic and needed some real time, practical, “no holding back” advice. So I did what I usually resort to when I am in such a state - I called a few family members, including my father and my older brother, Eytan. I proceeded to tell them that I didn’t want to publish issue # 3 of Kol HaBirah that was supposed to be sent to the printer in a few hours and I wanted to get their perspective on this. I explained first to my brother and then my father that if we went to print, I was due to lose a significant amount of money. A number of potential advertisers didn’t end up following through, plus a few committed advertisers backed out at the last minute, and I was about to be stuck footing an overwhelming bill. I had the funds to pay the bill, but while doing the math in that overwhelmed state, the future looked bleak as I projected that same number over the next few issues. To my dismay, both felt that I should go through with the issue and “eat” the loss. After grilling me on my current financial state and gaining my perspective on how the community and its businesses were receiving the paper, my father explained that most businesses tend to fail not because they don’t have the potential to be successful, but because of cash flow issues.“If you feel that Kol HaBirah is being well received,” he said, “then go through with this issue and make a game plan to recoup those funds moving forward.”
I did know how well it was being received. Almost everywhere I travel (and I get around quite a bit), be it Virginia, DC, Silver Spring, Potomac, Baltimore, the local Jewish community members (and some non-Jewish members) have been providing positive feedback and letting me know how much they appreciate Kol HaBirah. That much I could report with absolute confidence (for the record, there’s always going to be a few folks that may feel slighted).
In addition, I thought about one of my role models, former NY Yankees superstar shortstop Derek Jeter, who is now the Publisher of The Players’ Tribune, a media company that in my mind has a similar objective to Kol HaBirah. According to “Players Gonna Publish: Two Years in, Derek Jeter’s once-mocked Startup is a Sports Media Powerhouse” by Sam Laird, Jeter created The Players’ Tribune to give a voice to athletes. Athletes get to write their own stories or review what others write about them before they get published. Laird quotes Sean Conboy, who oversees a team of about 10 editors as saying “I’m basically a professional listener whose job is to let our athlete community talk onto the page.” I started Kol HaBirah for the same reason - to provide a platform for our community’s organizations, businesses, and individuals to tell their stories. Obviously, we have different business models, but The Players Tribune is doing very well and was recently rewarded with $40M for further business development. I also thought about Jared Kusher, who is credited with turning The Observer into a profitable business after it was “perpetually losing money,” according to an article in “Politics.” I understand that I am comparing entirely different types of media companies, individuals, and businesses models, but if they can monetize their media companies, why can’t I, I thought?
So, I exhaled, bit the bullet, and went through with the issue.
After the paper came out, I had my work cut out for me. I needed to reassess, re-strategize, and make difficult decisions. This meant doing as much research as I could and speaking to folks who could provide expert advice. These advisers included Stuart Rosenthal, the successful publisher of The Beacon, Ahuva Orlofsky, who has been helping us in more ways than one can imagine including with social media, strategy, branding, connecting us with various key community stakeholders, providing the Kol HaBirah team with both cheerleading and therapy, and demonstrating a level of energy that cannot be matched by anyone else I know, and with her husband Aaron Orlofsky who shared some “selling” advice as well other interesting/entertaining philosophies. I also met with and received feedback from a number of other helpful community members.
From Stuart, I learned that I needed to slow down on expansion, delegate a number of tasks, and refocus on the core elements that will make this a sustainable business. “You’ve made a splash,” he remarked, but now it was time to buckle down. Aaron’s message had a bit of a different tone. After grilling me on the current financial situation, he finished his (enormous) bowl of salad, cleared his throat, and began to rise from his dinner table. He then looked at me with a bit of a smirk, and remarked, “It’s very simple. Either eat, or be eaten.” And he walked out of the room. I’ve heard a lot of advice over the years, but none has ever fired me up so instantaneously than that line, at that moment. With the help of many people, including a devoted and talented staff and other community members who would likely prefer not to be named, I’ve been doing much legwork, taking a “far-fetched idea” and translating it into a helpful community service. However, no one asked me to start this. I didn’t get a phone call from some important and plugged-in individual, letting me know that this was needed. I thought it would be helpful, I got feedback that it was a good idea, so I started it, and now I was seeing the benefits it was providing.
But (and forgive me for saying this if you disagree) that is all worth nothing to me if I can’t find a way for it to be sustainable. If I can’t find a way for to translate it into a profitable enterprise, a service that is worth paying for. If it is not worth it to folks monetarily, then I have accomplished very little. I do not have financial backers nor am I looking for any. I don’t wish to rely on community members to help support this out of the goodness of their heart. I am looking for people to tell me it is worth it financially for them to invest with us… by investing with us.
“Eat or be eaten” told me that there are no excuses and that I should stop feeling bad for myself. If I truly believed in what I was doing, then I should go ahead and demonstrate that. Otherwise, if I can’t demonstrate that to businesses and organizations, then I’ve got nothing. So I leveraged the fiery confidence I was newly infused with (and an unhealthy, insatiable desire to wipe that smirk off Aaron’s face) and got to work. As Bari Perlmutter told me, starting a business is like flying an airplane – the only time you go full throttle is during the liftoff and we were about to liftoff. I split our staff into an editorial team and a sales team. I set an unrealistic revenue target for issue # 4, one that I believed with every fiber that we would not accomplish (hopefully my team
didn’t know that). I focused more energy on the business operations and spent more time getting to learn about the various local businesses and how we could benefit their bottom line. I delegated a number of tasks to my staff, particularly Rachel Kohn and Bari Perlmutter, who have been doing an absolutely unbelievable job managing without my involvement in many areas I had previously been owning (although I am sure they would tell you they are glad to have my meddling, lack of attention to detail, and controlling tendencies out of their hair). And Kami Troy has been unbelievable in her support as well. I then proceeded to close a few agreements, developed negotiation skills, became more assertive and began to ask for what I believe we deserved instead of hoping someone would offer to pay us, and I made some difficult decisions to cut expenses.
For the most part, people were and are very nice, encouraging, and helpful. But not very many are going to offer to feed you. Nice doesn’t translate into dollars; a helpful piece of feedback at the grocery store isn’t going to lead to self-sustainability. I learned that in order to sustain myself, my deserving staff, and this valuable community service, I needed to take matters into my own hands, with the help of others, including a special mention to Ahuva Orlofsky who deserves all the credit in the world for a number of things, including my sanity.
Well, as we stand on Wednesday night, I am proud to say that we surpassed that unrealistic goal I set at our initial sales meeting and that issue # 4 has brought in more (committed) revenue than it will take from my bank account. The journey has just begun, my friends, but a word to Aaron: I am proud to say that after this issue (barring any last minute mishaps), I will indeed be “eating” (please picture a slight smirk on my face).