WHO launches a paid, print publication in this, the age of digital media? Nicole Vogel, that’s who! This isn’t the first magazine she’s produced, either. And, yes, as one might expect, there’s a great story behind the launch of each of her new careers. Leisa Holland-Nelson interviews Nicole Vogel, founder and president of SagaCity Media and publisher of its newest publication, Houstonia Magazine.
Leisa: This is the Businessmakers Show heard here and seen online at http://www.thebusinessmakers.com. I'm Leis Holland-Nelson and my guest today is Nicole Vogel, President, and Founder of Sagacity Media. Tell us what Sagacity Media is.
Nicole: Sagacity Media is a regional content company. Ultimately we have magazines. We have web sites. We have social media presence. We are an event company in some cases. But really what we are about is bringing the best local content to any device that somebody deems valuable to their lives.
Leisa: I know that you are about to do something Houston, Texas where we are today.
Nicole: Yes we are, our biggest launch to date. We have 38 publications. We have launched three monthlies. So we launched in Portland, Oregon, in Seattle, Washington, and now (which is where I was born and raised) Houston, Texas. So Houstonia hits newsstands Thursday, March 28th.
Leisa: Pretty exciting.
Nicole: And nerve racking. [Laughter]
Leisa: What distinguishes Houstonia?
Nicole: It's really about content. We have eight full-time editors, four full-time art, and production staff. It's going to be such a great read. What I love about the one medium magazine is it's an entertain me medium. It's a sit back experience. So I love this, "I'm interesting in Houston. Now tell me what I need to know." It's a seduction. It starts with a lot of little quick takes. And then it moves into a little bit longer. And then it does these big feature pieces. Our first issue is The Reasons to Love Houston. And we feel like it's like we're writing a love letter to this city about all the things and the personality of Houston that makes it great. And then we've got an amazing article on the best barbeque joints. We have an amazing fashion spread. And then we're doing a serious piece. We like to talk about our magazines as being anchored by a serious news feature that tells you a little bit about your city. And so we're writing this - "We -." I am not writing it. [Laughter] Some very remarkable writers are writing a piece on the Poe Elementary School bombing that occurred here over 50 years ago.
Leisa: I was in seventh grade.
Nicole: Oh you were?
Leisa: I remember it. I heard it. I was at Lanier Junior High. And junior high was seventh, eighth, and ninth grade.
Nicole: Oh my goodness.
Leisa: But I heard it.
Nicole: I hear it's like everybody either has an experience or they don't know anything about it. And what's remarkable is we're getting people to talk about it who've never spoken about it. And we also have the juxtaposition of it and the Newtown disaster. And so this idea of after - 50 years later - what are the long-term effects. And how do we grieve differently? And how do we handle trauma differently? Because these kids went back to school the next morning.
Leisa: I know.
Nicole: They were children of World War II vets, which was such a generation of, "You pick yourself up. You dust yourself off, and off you go." And they didn't get counseling. But you know on the other hand they didn't have a 24 hour news cycle. So they didn't have reporters on their front porch for months and months. So it sort of takes that question to heart of sort of what's better, what's worse, how do we handle it now, and what did we do then? We love surrounding it with all this fun stuff that really is great fun about your city, but also teaching you a little bit about your city in a way that only a 5,000 word article can do, where you can really sort of get lost in something and sit back and really sort of dive into your city.
Our proudest thing is that of our magazines the average reader spends over an hour with them each month. And I talk about our consumers valuing time more than money these days. So we absolutely love the idea that if we've given them something that has enough value to get an hour of their time then it must be something really good.
Leisa: You talked about several different medias, being the best at all. Is there more to Houstonia than a print magazine?
Nicole: Absolutely because you know I talk about a sit back medium right? And I feel like the web is a sit up medium. It's an ask and answer medium. Unless your Hulu or YouTube you're not really an entertain me medium. So for the most part what we realize is that once people trust us as a brand, as this person in a sense that knows everything that's going on in your city, now I want to ask you a question. Now I've got friends in town this weekend that have little kids. I don't have little kids. I want to go to brunch - to a great brunch - in the Heights. Tell me where I should go Houstonia. That's how we set up.
Our sites; they have daily updated content on all lifestyles.
Leisa: Yes absolutely.
Nicole: Which is kind of where we live right? Food, shopping, entertainment, culture, all of these wonderful things that enrich our lives and what make Houston great has sort of been left to us in many way. What we like to do is we like to cover all of those things on a daily basis with daily blogs. Then we repackage that and tell the general interest consumer through e-newsletters. Then we'll update the rabid person on Twitter and on Facebook and that sort of thing. And then in some cases we sort of handhold them all the way through the process into an event. We do all of these things as a way to really enrich their lives. We talk about this consumer as somebody who wants to be actively engaged in their city and know everything that's going on. And that if you trust us we'll give you what you need?
Leisa: Is it free?
Nicole: Hell no it's not free. You can't do all of that for free. [Laughter]
Leisa: That was a trick question. I want you to talk to me about what it costs. I don't even care what it costs.
Leisa: But why you're charging and why you brought a subscription-based magazine to Houston, Texas.
Nicole: Well you know I think it's very much the American way that you get what you pay for. It's sort of like when you're at the store and somebody gives you a giveaway. You sort of immediately think it was something they couldn't get rid or elsewhere. It's just kind of how we're wired. And ultimately the paid circulation magazine has really been the rule for 100 years.
Nicole: The original city magazine was Philadelphia. It started in 1980.
Nicole: And has been continuously publishing ever since. So when I say that Houston is actually the largest city in America without a paid circulation magazine the average age of the top 50 city magazines is 46 years old. So they're not fly by nights. Only in the last ten years or so has this controlled, free circulation publication with syndicated content - And what I mean by that is we're going to have a staff of writers in Los Angeles who actually deliver 40 percent of the content. And it'll be the same in any city that you're in. It's a very cost-effective way but we feel like it doesn't engage you the same way.
Honestly when I say you can't get that for free, you can't because ultimately we need the circulation, the subscription revenues, the newsstand buyers. And what we love is that if somebody spends $4.99 on the newsstand that they saw something that they really want. And so their intent to read is much stronger, which is why we get that average time spend of an hour. In a lot of our markets we have free circulation magazines and nobody comes within 45 minutes of time spend. So most people spend under 15 minutes with any of those magazines.
If we were toiling away to the wee hours like we are to have people spend 10 minute with us it would kind of break our hearts.
Leisa: I can appreciate that. Now my next question really goes to more about what our show is about and that's entrepreneurship.
Nicole: It's hard. [Laughter]
Leisa: I know it's hard. I know it's hard but I want to talk about how you got to it. I know you had an extraordinary career, not as an entrepreneur and I'd love for you to tell us a little bit about your background and then how you came to start this magazine or the original magazine that was the first for your company.
Nicole: I had a wonderful career. I had an amazing mentor which I think is such a lucky thing to have happen to somebody. If you find somebody that you think is really great it's like let them know and tell them you want to be taught by them. The retired president of CNN, Turner Broadcasting Sales, Larry Goodman was an incredible mentor to me. So I had a bit of a storied career. I became a very young vice president at Turner Broadcasting, was in New York, was on 300 planes a year my last year at CNN, was doing business development for the interactive properties, and then life has a way of kind of surprising you in good and bad ways. Ultimately I had left CNN and done an internet start-up in California.
And while I was still at CNN my sister, who is an incredible industrial designer had been recruited by Nike and moved there. And six months after she moved there her fiancé was killed in a car accident.
Nicole: And that was the first time anything like that had happened in our family.
Nicole: He was 32-years-old traveling in Spain with his little sister. We traveled there. He never regained consciousness and passed away five days later. I almost moved to Portland. My mom, who'd been in Houston her whole live picks up and moves to Portland, but she was doing all the right things. "He'd want me to move on." Five years goes by. She falls in love and gets married in September of 2000. And unbelievably five months later her husband is diagnosed with terminal cancer and she's one month pregnant. We all just said, "That's it." We quit our jobs and moved to Portland.
And it's like we spend so much of our lives laboring on decisions right? Should I do this? Should I do that? And then there's every once in a while that you get that call and that's it. You have no decision to make.
Leisa: You just went.
Nicole: And we just went.
Leisa: It's just done. So you got to Portland and what were you going to do with yourself?
Nicole: Exactly. [Laughter] Thank you for helping me with that.
Leisa: I've been there and done that. I totally get it.
Nicole: After he passed away - Our goal was to have him see the baby be born, which was a small blessing. And then he passed away four weeks later. We rolled out a map in front of our sister and asked her to pick a brand new city and start over. And she asked us to stay. We said, "Sure." And then we walked out of the room and said, "Holy cow. What are we going to do in Portland Oregon?" And as the saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Three months later we stumbled on the fact that Portland was the biggest city in America without any magazine.
Leisa: Not even the free ones.
Nicole: Right, 23rd largest market.
Nicole: About the same size as Pittsburgh and Sacramento, and yet outpaced the nation in magazine readership, was second only to Seattle in whole number of people who considered themselves avid readers. We couldn't figure it out but there had been 13 trials and failures of magazines in Portland since 1980. And everybody said, "We don't like city magazines here." And we got ahold of any of the ones that we could find we said, "Oh you've never seen one," because they were kind of this, "Hey buy an ad. We'll write an article." One launched while we were in the planning process and the first article was Why Denture Wearing is Right for You, bylined by an insurance company. It was an ______ a _____ article, may I tell you Leisa? [Laughter]
Leisa: I hear you.
Nicole: Yeah and so if you're beholden to whomever your advertisers are you can't have a point of view right? You can't actually decide what is important to talk about the city? You let everybody else decide that for you. And so there's a chaos to that that doesn't give somebody a sense of ownership of it. We absolutely - This is our vision and our voice and we want to entertain you and trust us to be able to do that without you sort of expecting that as an advertiser because we always say it's great when they want to write about you. But what about the competitor that you think is no good? Well if they buy an ad then they get an article about you. It just becomes this death spiral.
Leisa: And I think everybody knows when that's happening. But how did you fund it? Did you fund it yourself?
Nicole: I went out to raise capital in 2002. And I don't remember what a great time that was. [Laughter]
Leisa: Yes, yes.
Nicole: And you know media loves to cover media. Most people - The only thing they knew about magazines and content companies was that they went out of business right?
Leisa: Mm-hmm, right.
Nicole: We went through the process and we had all these trials and failures that had happened. We said, "You know what? Let's just do a bridge round of financing. Let's raise $300,000.00 so we can get a magazine in people's hands. Let's go as long as three issues," which was terribly underfunded ultimately. But we said - And we put in $175,000.00 of that. So we hadn't raised very much capital at all.
Leisa: Mm-hmm, right.
Nicole: And our goal was to beat Oprah. I've told you about dreaming big Leisa. [Laughter]
Leisa: Beat Oprah. Oh my goodness.
Nicole: Yes, well the launch of O Magazine, not quite Oprah. But the launch of O Magazine was the biggest launch of magazine in Portland's history.
Nicole: It had sold 10,000 copies of the launch issue on the newsstand.
Leisa: Oh my gosh, wow.
Nicole: In most markets. It was a huge launch for a magazine.
Leisa: Well yes, yes.
Nicole: As Oprah knows how to do.
Leisa: Well yes
Nicole: So the launch issue of O sold 10,000 copies. The launch issue of Portland Monthly sold 17,622 copies. And I think Oprah is still smarting from it. [Laughter] Doubtful. [Laughter]
Leisa: I'm sure she remembers you. I'm sure she's thinking about you often.
Nicole: And we were profitable our second month.
Leisa: It's really phenomenal. I mean I think you have an incredible story. I think resilience is a big part of it, which I think is a part of every entrepreneur's tale. We all - Very few of us started out to be entrepreneurs. You landed. You became one. You've been so successful. I'm so thrilled that you're going to come here and launch Houstonia.
Nicole: I'm thrilled to be here.
Leisa: Thank you.
Nicole: It's so great to be home.
Leisa: Wow. Thank you for coming back and sharing this extraordinary story.
Nicole: Thanks Leisa.
Leisa: That wraps up my interview with Nicole Vogel. This is the Businessmakers Show heard on the radio and at http://www.thebusinessmakers.com.