PopSugar is a fashion and lifestyle digital publishing company founded by media entrepreneurs Brian Sugar and Lisa Sugar in 2005. Since then, PopSugar has grown into a global lifestyle brand and a media powerhouse boasting audiences of 19 million (Src).
Coming from humble beginnings, PopSugar now touts an army of money-making ventures including its Swipe Shop, The Pop Shop, Beauty by PopSugar, and more. The publisher tested a plethora of growth strategies and workarounds that were aimed at acquiring users and hooked them to the content as well as the brand’s products & services.
And guess what? PopSugar was one of the first publishers to:
- Embrace affiliate marketing strategy where it added shoppable posts to the content strategy in 2006.
- Launch a subscription box in 2012.
- Embrace Snapchat to grow its eCommerce business.
- Monetize social video by turning it into a sponsored-content channel.
When it comes to brands and their growth strategies, no two are similar. We can say the same for PopSugar. For this very reason, here we are with another case study — Becoming PopSugar. So, shall we start?
How It All Started?
When PopSugar was first started, it was merely a blog focused on women’s fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. This might not have seemed like anything particularly new at that time, given the fact that there were huge media companies such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar with similar interests. But what you may find surprising is the fact that PopSugar hit over a million visitors in just eleven months.
Where they are today?
In 15 years, PopSugar has been able to become one of the world’s most valuable startups with a valuation of billions. But before we talk revenue figures, let’s have a look at the traffic stats, along with the social media reach of the publisher in 2021.
On the global level, PopSugar gets ~74 million impressions and nearly 69.72% of the traffic on the website comes from Search. When it comes to traffic sources, the publisher gets ~68% traffic via Search and 9.91% traffic via different social channels. A major chunk (i.e., ~32.44%) of social traffic comes from Facebook, whereas 32.11% of social traffic comes from Pinterest making them the primary sources.
Setting up the foundation
2005 – 2009
The early days
It was 2005 when Lisa Sugar moved from New York to San Francisco and was trying to build a habit of writing daily. While working at an advertising agency named Goodby Silverstein & Partners, she had no plans to build a lifestyle media brand.
All she wanted was to find a website that could cater to her celebrity addiction and provide her with the latest trends in fashion, fitness, and culture. When she couldn’t find a site to quench all her interests, she decided to create her own. And that’s how PopSugar was born in April 2005.
“All of the celebrity-driven sites were either snarky and nasty or really boring and sterile, so I just started writing about it in my voice. I kept it to myself for a while; I didn’t even tell my friends, but it just kind of exploded.”
– Lisa Sugar, Founder, PopSugar (Src)
In a few months, the blog started attracting over a million visitors, and by February 2006; the PopSugar grew so rapidly that Lisa had to move the blog from WordPress to Drupal and set up a custom infrastructure for the new CMS. Soon after, the publisher started three new blogs – DearSugar and FabSugar, and TeamSugar.
While DearSugar and FabSugar were based on relationships and fashion-related content, TeamSugar was a totally different venture (Src). Let’s have a look at what it was and how it contributed to expanding the audience base of PopSugar.
A social networking site for women
The new blog, dubbed TeamSugar, was a social networking website for women launched by the publisher in 2007. TeamSugar was aimed at creating a place where women could share experiences, opinions, and ideas on pop culture, beauty, relationships, fashion, and gossip among other topics. Along with its core content, the publisher also provided different channels and live chat features.
As the publisher already had a notable following by that time, the TeamSugar community added 30k+ members within a few months (Src). And the four blogs together served over 13 million monthly page views to 1.5 million unique visitors (Src). Surprised by the massive growth in the traffic across the blogs, the duo (Lisa Sugar and Brian Sugar) quit their job and officially launched their publication (known as Sugar Publishing Inc.).
But to keep this energy up and grow the business, the publisher needed resources. And in most cases, this is when funding comes in. PopSugar was no different. The publisher looked into its current financial position and identified the requirements.