19.05.2021

How massive failures created our greatest success

To celebrate theCHIVE’s 10th anniversary, I’m looking back at moments in our history that would forever define the force we have become. Part I, In 2014 Playboy Tried To Buy theCHIVE, is pretty bonkers.

Welcome to Part II, Our Failures. Fair warning, I will put my business hat on for this one.

I receive a lot of emails from entrepreneurs, in various stages of their careers, seeking business advice. First and foremost, I have failed miserably and often. And I’m good with it, because success gives you no information, failure gives you tons of it.

For serial entrepreneurs like myself and my brother, failure is a constant companion. We get it wrong almost as much as we get it right. But tiny pieces from our failures, the small successful parts, become the building blocks for future achievements. So let’s talk about a few.

theBOMB.com was exactly that, a bomb. Basically the same format as theCHIVE, but instead of themed photo galleries, it was all videos. In hindsight, we were competing with YouTube, only we released about a million less videos every day. But we learned a lot from from theBOMB. After theBOMB blew up in our faces, we started posting a few videos a day on theCHIVE, but only the best ones. It diversified our content offering. As a side project, we started making themed compilations – fails, trick shots, expectation vs. reality.

Next came Tapiture, which was humming along until we decided to take the girls out of it for a “premium” look and feel. Tapiture tanked like Crystal Pepsi after we made that bonehead move, BUT, if we hadn’t created Tapiture, iCHIVE and all its sexy splendor wouldn’t exist today.

One time we took failure a step further than most ever would – we actually failed on purpose. That was our approach to CHIVE FEST. CHIVE FEST took place during the summer of 2014, which is important to remember because that was the summer clickbait started making the rounds on your browsers.

Around that time Mark Zuckerberg launched the Facebook Newsfeed, which began lavishing publishers with traffic. Publishers saw their “audiences” growing exponentially, but Leo and I were skeptical. The way we saw it, Facebook traffic isn’t your audience, it’s theirs. Publishers were just leasing Facebook’s audience.

While every other publisher in the world was getting hooked on the Facebook morphine drip, we doubled down on the pulse, not the pixel. We invested millions of dollars in CHIVE FEST Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and Dallas, knowing full well we were going to lose (almost) every penny we invested. But we figured a big music festival was the best way to literally meet all our fans, to create a real connection with our community that would serve us years into the future.

Others in the industry thought we had lost our minds. One particular article read:

“As publishers move to a distributed social model, there is a lone holdout, theCHIVE, who told THR they ‘need Facebook like they need a hole in their head.’ Instead, they’re throwing a series of music festivals…”

Facebook traffic dried up in 2016, leaving publishers with their pants down. Only a handful with real, direct traffic would be left standing when the Facebook tide rolled out. theCHIVE was one of them. Because we invested in our community, we survived. Also, I had the fucking best summer of my life.

The road to CHIVE TV, the greatest success in the history of our company, started the day we created KCCO Black Lager.

In 2013, we had launched KCCO Beer in all 50 states. It was a monster undertaking being run by only three highly capable people, but compounding problems was our inability to efficiently market our beer on-premise. Leo and I sat at a bar brainstorming our limited options. Make KCCO-branded coasters? Neon signs, table teepees, napkins? For a tech company, our options were limited and analog. Then, we looked up.

Bars that used to have a single TV in the corner now had 15 flat screens. And when the big game wasn’t on, they were all playing subtitled garbage – talking heads and 24-hour news on mute. Leo said, “If we can own these TVs with our own Chive content, we can promote our beer on the screens.”

Those themed video compilations we experimented with at theBOMB was the key ingredient, enabling us to take a content-first approach to those screens. With streaming technology becoming commoditized (every bar now had internet), we announced we would invest every last dime of company profits in CHIVE TV over the next three years.

If people thought we were crazy for not hitching our wagon to the Facebook train, imagine what people thought when we invested in a rooster wearing pants?

Turns out, a rooster wearing pants is what people want to watch in bar: viral video compilations requiring no sound at all. We called it Ambient TV. We weren’t able to spin up CHIVE TV in time to save KCCO Beer, but CHIVE TV became so popular there’s a one-month wait to get the coveted streaming stick.

Then a recent survey proved bars that stream CHIVE TV experience such a massive lift in dwell time they see at least a $30,000 annual sales spike, we quickly became the largest DOOH channel in the U.S., reaching 230 million people and overtaking Snapchat.

(BTW, if you own/manage a bar and don’t have CHIVE TV yet, it’s free and available right here)

While other tech giants battle for real estate on your mobile device and your home TV, theCHIVE took the entire “3rd Space” in America while nobody was watching.

While other tech giants battle for real estate on your mobile device and your home TV, theCHIVE took the entire “3rd Space” in America while nobody was watching.

We unveiled the ambient TV platform, Atmosphere. Contoured programing for every state of mind and every venue designed for one purpose, to make people happy. One of the channels is actually called Happy TV. With CHIVE TV as the flagship channel, Atmosphere is starting to stream in gyms, nail salons, and waiting rooms. Leo and I refuse to charge a dime for the service. We’re not entirely sure how we’ll monetize the platform but give the people something they love and the money eventually comes, I figure.

Today, everything comes full circle for us. KCCO Beer is back with an Austin-style light lager. Why? Because Chivers don’t drink two beers, they drink six. Our first offering didn’t account for that. Most importantly, we’re only distributing KCCO in bars that carry CHIVE TV, where they will see ads for that sweet, sweet KCCO – courtesy of a failed beer line and theBOMB.com, funded by a failed music festival.

I Hope you’re enjoying the series. It’s been a long time since five kids, none of us with business degrees, started theCHIVE in Venice Beach, California. We dared to mix cleavage and charity, that actually fuckin’ worked. And we dared to fail.

We were naive and made of Tupperware – you could drop us or throw us against a wall and we just popped right back up. We embraced failure because we didn’t know any other way. We took on zero outside capital, had no playbook, failed our nuts off, and grew one of the largest privately held tech companies in the U.S.

I believe to this day that if we can do it, anybody can. Never stop dreaming.

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One thought on “How massive failures created our greatest success

  1. Tapiture tanked like Crystal Pepsi after we made that bonehead move, BUT, if we hadn’t created Tapiture, iCHIVE and all its sexy splendor wouldn’t exist today.

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