We’re back with our “becoming” series and this time we’ll take an inside look into TechCrunch. If you’re a tech nerd or running a technology startup, then chances are high that you already know about TechCrunch. Not only did the publisher change how the industry used to present the tech news, but they’re also one of the fastest-growing companies to emerge in the early 2000s. And we’re amazed at every level – from the marketing strategies to content model to subscription engines.
So, we did thorough research to know and understand how TechCrunch has been growing at a rate that most publishers can only dream of. This case study aims to answer all the questions related to their growth strategies and tactics. Hop on and let’s get started.
How It All Started?
TechCrunch started as a technology blog in 2005 by Michael Arrington (Src). It was a news blog that focused on tech startups being in Silicon Valley and reviewed new internet products and services. In the beginning, Arrington posted 3 to 4 blogs per day as he was working on another project Edgeio, founded by TechCrunch’s founding shareholder, Keith Teare.
Arrington continued posting tech-related updates and business-building techniques for startups from his cluttered office in his rented house. However, in less than two years, TechCrunch surpassed top bloggers, leaving most to wonder how the publisher did it.
By 2007, with just 3 employees and ~12,000 daily readerships (Src), TechCrunch turned a revenue of $3 million (Src) and of course, it was profitable. If you’re wondering, how the publisher managed to earn millions with just 12k visitors/day, you aren’t alone – we’ll get to that later.
Where They Are Today?
Today, TechCrunch is known as a massively successful blog covering a variety of news in the tech industry. With 2.8M+ Facebook followers, 10M+ Twitter followers, and 1.2M+ Instagram followers, TechCrunch has ballooned its audience reach across the platforms.
In terms of traffic, the US accounts for 46 percent of the total traffic and organic search is the primary traffic acquisition channel, standing at 45 percent.
Precisely, TechCrunch has 17.27 million monthly unique visitors (Src) and estimated to bag $22.5 million in revenue last year (Src). The total monthly impressions of TechCrunch is 33.84M and 100+ people are working for the media outlet.
From Zero to $10M in 3 Years
2005 – 2008
Leveraging Tech Landscape
Back in 2005 or 2006, there’s no social media platform like Twitter for tech entrepreneurs to connect directly with venture capitalists and there’s no way to specifically target the right audience within a platform. Startups and people involved in startups basically relied on news coverages and bloggers to keep up with the pace.
TechCrunch saw the gap in the tech and capitalized on it. While 12,000 readers a day isn’t much, it is more than enough to get engineers, industrialists, and investors under its blanket. The publisher specifically targeted “Web 2.0 companies” or Internet startups to attract decision-makers and interested VCs. Naturally, the blog was able to make connections via advertising and covering the best startups of the era. Catering to a niche helped the publisher to grow organically.
Initially, Arrington started covering various software and gadgets reviews, tech workshops, and startup related subjects in the blog. Since the publisher had no revenue sources at the time, he embraced the challenges by finding cost-effective ways to amplify traffic and engage the audience.
Instead of hiring a marketing agency to publicize the content of TechCrunch, the publisher relied on budget-friendly tools such as FeedBurner to let users receive blog updates regularly. Since Google Analytics tool was quite nascent at that time, the publisher utilized the MeasureMap app in order to analyze the behavior of incoming traffic to the site.
One of the best approaches the publisher tried to bring the attraction of people, was the meetups at his rented house in Atherton that started fortuitously. Being known as a business writer in Silicon Valley, the publisher was getting at least one entrepreneur at his home who wanted to discuss their business plans with the publisher and raise venture capital. And it didn’t take a long time to double the number of people sitting at his home every weekend.
Very soon, after a few days, Arrington realized that these casual meetings can be turned into official ones that can also offer good valuation and exposure to the company. For this reason, at the beginning of September 2005, the publisher organized its first official meetup. The TechCrunch Meetups started with just dozens of people, now host thousands of entrepreneurs from all over the world.
Although the agenda of Meetups were to schmoozing and BBQ, it helped the attendees to present their startup demos in front of several investors. Since the meetups were gaining attraction, the publisher started getting in touch with venture capital firms to sponsor the event. It was the third meetup where companies like Pandora, Flock, and many more showed their interest to sponsor the meetup.
Back then, in 2005, there were no platforms (like Roku) available to distribute the content for publishers. However, when Michael Arrington, who stood ahead of tech updates, heard of the launch of Slide application, reached out to it for TechCrunch. Getting into an agreement, TechCrunch was launched as a channel on the Slide app that made the publisher increase its audience base.
In the middle of 2006, Micahel Arrington unveiled the French version of the TechCrunch which was active for around more than a decade. Being one of the tech blogs that took off in France, it helped the parent website to garner 1M+ visitors in just two years. Just after the launch of TechCrunch France, the publisher also introduced its Chinese and Japanese versions.
Though it increased the audience base by bringing out the unknown and interesting startups from respective local markets (French, China, and Japan), it parallelly complicated the internationalization of the website (Src). So, by the end of 2012, the Chinese and French version of TechCrunch got merged with the main website.
For many publishers, podcasting was totally new, back in the day. But, for Arrington, it wasn’t. The publisher took the help of Audacity, an open-source platform, to create, and edit podcasts. In 2006, Arrington introduced TechCrunch’s first podcast blog TalkCrunch. It was a weekly podcast, running 40 minutes long audio content that covered the companies the publisher had written in the previous week. It was Rachel Cunliffe, founder of a designing company, who helped the publisher to design the podcast blog. And, the promotion of the TalkCrunch was done through PodServe, a niche blogging site.
Besides, as TechCrunch was attracting hundreds of thousands of readers, it was relatively easy for the publisher to cross-promote.
If podcasts and distribution channels like Slide brought traffic for TechCrunch, the majority of revenue was collected through different events and blogs associated with the publisher. TechCrunch events were launched when the publisher saw the curiosity in entrepreneurs about launching their business and getting their ideas in front of the right investors.
Similarly, when Arrington started getting emails daily from job seekers about which companies were hiring, he opened a job portal and monetized the traffic. Meanwhile, the portal helped the job seekers to secure jobs in reputed companies. Interestingly, Arrington scored $200 for every job listing from the recruiters. Amidst the presence of competitors like Craigslist, CrunchBoard pulled in 100k+ unique visitors a day to the site.
If you look at it, CrunchBoard was born out of necessity and that’s why it immediately went up. The same story fits well for TechCrunch Events too.
For TechCrunch, event marketing has been a well-produced method to extend its reach outside of the existing networks. In 2007, Arrington introduced TechCrunch 40 (TC40) to stronger its online presence and help startups and seed investors to get in touch with each other. The publisher started hosting workshops with experts in growth marketing, hiring, and fundraising and provided a stage to startup founders to get an extra level of funding insights.
Want to know how the publisher promoted such events at the beginning of the 20s? Initially, TC40 was free for all attendees and the publisher made sure that the tickets were easily available to the interested participants.
But, with time and popularity, the publisher thought to convert it into an opportunity to garner additional revenue for the website and the company. Apparently, it worked. Instead of pushing readers to pay up, TechCrunch presented the value and then eventually, converted them into paying members.
Crunchbase came to the forefront as a one-stop destination for entrepreneurs who were looking for crowdfunding events or trying to get an investment partner for their companies. Besides, Crunchbase did a lot more than that in order to stand out from the competition. It outlined how and where startups are getting funds, funding dates, market research data, and many other opportunities for growing startups.
By the end of 2013, Crunchbase came out on top and contained information on more than 187,000 companies (Src).
Sidenote: Though Crunchbase started out as a part of TechCrunch in 2007, it operated under the parent company AOL till 2015 and got separated from it after 2015 to become a private entity.
Investments and Acquisitions
From 2008 to 2012
TechCrunch Angel Investors
Arrington was continuously looking for someone who would invest in the website and help him launch products and services without burning a hole in his pocket. Also, he was aware of the fact that if he wants to continue TechCrunch events, he has to attract more investors. So, the publisher kept looking for an investor to fund his upcoming services.
After a while, Arrington got in touch Gust formerly known as Angelsoft, an investment company. Gust not only helped the publisher to sponsor its TechCrunch meetups but also invested in the launch of the CrunchBar tool and CrunchBase.
Now, what’s CrunchBar Community Toolbar?
When the majority of digital publishers relied upon existing social media sharing tools, Arrington with the help of Conduit, one of the Sponsor’s of TechCrunch, deployed a new tool that helped its readers to stay updated with the website’s content and share it to social media platforms like Twitter. Now, visitors were now able to get access to TechCrunch’s podcasts and other blogs directly. Not only this, CrunchBar was available as a Firefox and IE browser extension that could be used to add local weather updates and radio stations.
“The new syndication features on the CrunchBar also create another avenue for TechCrunch to distribute our content to a larger audience—and it’s now one of my favorite ways to post to Twitter.”
– Michael Arrington, founder, and co-editor of TechCrunch.
You can say, a better version of RSS.
Entrepreneurs and tech geeks were using TechCrunch for more a while now and they loved it. But, for those of you who don’t know about TechCrunch’s journey, it also has its ups and downs and hasn’t grown without failures. One of their regrets was the CrunchPad product. For more than one and a half years, the publisher and his developing team of 15 worked on the CrunchPad, a planned tablet computer (Src).
For context, CrunchPad device that could be booted in just nine seconds if connected to the Internet had no other applications but supported only web browsing. CrunchPad was about to get sold at less than $300 via an eCommerce site Joojoo.com (Src). Although the publisher spent almost $750,000 on the project, Arrington couldn’t launch it due to some controversial issues (Src).
Again, it is hard for a media company to develop a product in-house and run it successfully. It not only applies for monetization, but also for other categories. Retaining talent and keeping up with the dedicated companies (working on the same tech/product/service) isn’t an easy task to do.
That being said, TechCrunch didn’t lose focus on its purpose. The website attracted over 5.5 Million monthly unique visitors (Src) and turned a profit of $3.5 million out of $10 million revenue in 2009 (Src).
Acquisition by AOL
Since the early days of TechCrunch, Arrington has been trying hard to find ways to promote blog content, products, or events in a consistent way. But, by the third quarter of 2010, Arrington sold the blog to AOL and the buyout was for a $25M. If you’re wondering why the well-going brand got sold in just five years, then according to the publisher there weren’t enough talented engineers who wanted to work on blog or Crunchbase.
Since then, AOL, a brand owned by Verizon Media, has taken the responsibility of TechCrunch and its networks of blogs, products, and events. Although AOL already had other technology websites such as Engadget, it announced that TechCrunch wouldn’t be merged with the existing websites and the blog would run independently just like it did before.
After seeing the success of TC40 and TC50, Arrington introduced a new competition TechCrunch Disrupt or TC Disrupt. The concept of TechCrunch Disrupt was to “Build a conference but don’t charge companies for providing free content”. The publisher selected some of the top companies based on merit and invited them to the event.
VCs and businessmen from different parts of the world participated in various events that involved business-related questions and discussions. The participants were analyzed by the investors Ron Conway and Quincy Smith and whoever won the competition got rewarded with $50,000 cheque (Src). Starting with just a bunch of people, TechCrunch Disrupt has gone big since its launch and doubled the number of exhibiting start-ups to more than 1500.
Although AOL acquired TechCrunch, it never tried to change the way Arrington provided news and tech analysis and promoted the website’s content. Following the podcast trends, Arrington launched a weekly podcast, Mixtape. Mixtape picked up some of the trending and biggest topics from the venture capital world and wrapped-up the complete news in 20 to 30 minutes. A reader can listen to a wide range of VC topics such as Vision Fund, impending initial public offering, and many more.
After some time, the publisher introduced two new podcasts – Original Content and Equity. Original Content podcasts dive deep into the world of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. while Equity focuses on money and acquisitions and investors from around the silicon valley.
To summarize it, the publisher continued to see what’s happening around the industry and never failed to come up with content that resonated with its readers. Whether it is via podcasts or a new blog vertical, TechCrunch tried to innovate its way to the top.
At the beginning of 2011, Michael Arrington launched a venture capital firm with the support of parent company AOL that invested $10M in the project (Src) and named it CrunchFund (Src). According to the publisher, CrunchFund raised $28M from its funding round. In two years, CrunchFund made more than 115 investments including Airbnb, Uber, and some of the other top startups at that time (Src). However, due to some undisclosed reasons, Arrington stepped back a year after the launch of CrunchFund.
For the US, 2012 was the year of elections. And for digital publishers, it was time to leverage their existing channels to increase the reach. The publisher knew that telling people about elections, right when they show interest in it, would be a good way to drive traffic to the site.
But TechCrunch was a tech blog that could let users read or subscribe for alerts about tech. So, the publisher launched a new website, CrunchGov to provide election updates exclusively. CrunchGov aimed at educating the readers about the happenings of Washington and elected officials. Doing this not only helped the publisher to increase the traffic but also gain the trust of visitors that TechCrunch is the right place to go with.
Digital Advertising and Monetization
From 2014 – Present
In 2014, the publisher figured out that it would be good to revamp the website that nails it both in terms of performance and design. The new website was chock full of tips and technology and startup related news from all around the world.
For TechCrunch, part of building a successful audience base is sending regular email newsletters to its readers. The purpose of newsletters was to keep updated the audience with business, products, and educate them about new technologies.
At the beginning of 2015, TechCrunch introduced seven weekly newsletters that covered a wide range of topics – from mobile apps and gadgets to social media and startups reviews. Besides the common ones such as The Daily Crunch, Week In Review, Startups Weekly, the publisher introduced two unique newsletters for its readers – The Station and Extra Crunch.
The Station is formerly known as Transportation primarily focused on the vehicles and transport related queries. Not only it provided weekly reports of the transportation industry but also it contained insights into automobile companies and analysis of technologies. Moreover, this newsletter helped visitors to navigate from one place to another – be it by bus, train, truck, or anything.
Although the newsletter was promotional and for brand awareness, they didn’t ask readers to pay any subscription fee. At the beginning of 2019, TechCrunch launched a new newsletter known as Extra Crunch. The newsletter was called as an additional layer of content and offered in-depth insights of news and technologies to the subscribers (Src).
Unlike other newsletters, Extra Crunch wasn’t cost-free. To get access to the content and exclusive site features of the newsletter such as Rapid Read Mode, readers have to pay $15 per month or $150 per year (Src).
Soon after the newsletter, the parent company AOL introduced TechCrunch Chatbot for Telegram and Facebook users in order to serve more people faster. This chatbot helped visitors to subscribe to the most popular topics, sign-up for the TechCrunch events, and more (Src). The publisher embraced the conversation-powered interface to load the content remarkably for the readers. People were now able to read the latest tech updates via Twitter or Facebook or Telegram notifications.
Since TechCrunch Chatbot was designed by a free tool, Chatfuel, the publisher got detailed analytics, including the number of visitors, engagement or retention rate, and common user patterns, and much more.
Now that you’ve got all the content and event marketing strategies of TechCrunch, let’s tell you the next alternative adopted by the publisher to generate revenue for the website.
Video Monetization Platform
Video advertising is something that has been considered as an alternative to advertising revenue streams in the publishing industry. The digital publisher has a dedicated page for video content and podcasts that were available on Overcast and Spotify. So, it aimed to help advertisers produce in-stream video ads for its website.
In Spite of going with the dominant sellers of video advertising, TechCrunch integrated the Vuble’s publishers’ platform. Vuble Analyzer and Optimizer tool measured every video ad impression to the matching quality advertisers.
Besides Vuble, the publisher placed in-stream video ads with the help of SpotX. SpotX services enabled the publisher to reach its OTT audience. Via Vuble, the publisher was enabled to define the right visitor profile at the right moment and delivered the ad at the time they would be interested in the ad. Hence, many gadgets or tech advertisers turned toward TechCrunch making it generate additional revenue from video advertising.
Local Advertising and DSP Platform
To leverage the traffic coming from TechCrunch Japan and monetize the site’s content, the publisher integrated a few local DSP platforms to its in-house ad server i.e. ADTECH. The DSP of Simplifi and FreakOut enabled the publisher to connect to media buyers.
Besides the local DSP platforms, the parent company AOL integrated the TechCrunch blog to DoubleClick Bid Manager, Facebook Custom Audience, and RhythmOne to bring demand from the US and other parts of the world.
Database Management Platform
Since audience data is essential for a publisher and advertiser to deliver relevant ads to visitors, the publisher integrated Oracle Bluekai, a database management platform, to the website that helped to better understand users’ behavior, gender, and demographics, and create ad campaigns that better suited to the target audience.
Since the publisher directly worked with demand partners, Bluekai enabled the publisher to get insights into analytics about ad inventory bids, pricing, and performance.
Analytics and Tracking
Also, to ensure the ads fulfill the criteria of viewability, the publisher integrated with MOAT to pull analytics for display and video ad inventories across different platforms (desktop, mobile, and app). Since MOAT offers more granular reporting, it helped the publisher to take advantage of its features such as Moat Video Score to track the performance of video ads.
The publisher was looking for a partner that allows transacting on maximum viewability. So, it started working with other third-party ad verification tool providers including Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify through its DSPs to ensure the best suited for their website based on the accuracy and compatibility.
Do you know about 0.16% of total traffic comes to TechCrunch through display ads? So, in an effort to extend the audience base and bring back the visitors to the site and app, the publisher utilized Google’s Analytics tool. The publisher analyzed the behavioral criteria of users and then segregated it into different segments. In addition to DMPs and Analytics, to accelerate the advertising spend on the site, TechCrunch integrated AdRoll to gain deep knowledge of the audience.
From Equity and Mixtape to Battlefield and TC Disrupt, TechCrunch reached $22M in revenue from a standing start and estimates revenue of more than $30M for 2020. Having a strong presence in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, India, and Canada, TechCrunch has evolved a lot over the last 14 years, killing it when it comes to tech blogs.