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3 Multi-Million Dollar Internet Companies that Sprouted from Blogs

By:     Topics: Entrepreneurship

What’s the difference between $1,000 and $1,000,000?

To make $1,000 with a blog, all you need is a few customers. Provide a few services, post a couple ad spots, and land a handful of consulting gigs. It’s not too hard.

To make $1,000,000 with a blog, you need to have a full-blown, legitimate business behind it. If you’re like most bloggers, this is your goal.

The good news is that it’s been done before. To learn from their successes, I’d like to spotlight three multi-million-dollar internet companies that were started by bloggers.

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SitePoint.com Led to 99designs

99designs, now a 64-person company, was founded by Matt Mickiewicz and Mark Harbottle in 2008. Having paid out over $38 million to their users, they’re the world’s largest online marketplace for outsourcing graphic design.

In this article by The YEC, co-founder Matt Mickiewicz describes how 99designs got started through his blog, SitePoint.com:

“In 2006, some designers in the SitePoint community began challenging one another to games of ‘Photoshop Tennis’ — essentially coming up with fictional projects and competing to see who could create the best design. They did this simply to practice their design skills and because they were passionate about graphic design. Eventually, other members of the SitePoint community jumped in and started offering cash awards for work on real projects, such as logos and WordPress themes.

“After a while, when it was clear that this organic model had lasting power, we began charging each ‘contest proctor’ $10 to post a request for design work in our forums and we quickly started generating thousands in revenue. We chose to invest that revenue by hiring one developer and one designer to hack together some basic software and a user interface to improve the flow of the process and make it more user-friendly on all fronts.”

Takeaways from 99designs

Be profitable from the beginning. Since 99designs started as an offshoot project within the forums of Sitepoint.com, they were able to generate revenue immediately. Then they used that revenue to hire a designer and developer to build the first version of 99designs.com.

Create out of an existing community. One of the under-used benefits of having a blog is having direct access to a specific group of people. If you ask them and observe their interactions, you’ll find out what they want and what they’re willing to pay for. Then, when you launch, you’ll already have an engaged audience.

QuickSprout.com Led to KISSmetrics

Neil Patel published his first QuickSprout blog post in April 2007. At that point, Neil had been working on his startup, Crazy Egg, for a year-and-a-half and he had been consulting through his Internet marketing agency for a few years.

On his about page, Neil describes what it was like at that time struggling to make money before he had QuickSprout:

“Because we needed income to make up for the losses in Crazy Egg, we continued to run our Internet marketing agency. Although we were making millions from the consulting company, none of us really enjoyed what we were doing.”

So he started QuickSprout, continued learning through Crazy Egg (and a few other projects), and decided to start another business with his co-founder:

“With our new found knowledge, we decided to create another analytics company that would solve a much larger problem than what Crazy Egg solved. Crazy Egg was doing well, but it is never going to be that 100 million dollar company because the market size for that one product is very limited.

“The product that we happened to come up with was KISSmetrics.”

KISSmetrics wasn’t a direct spin-off of QuickSprout like 99designs was from Sitepoint, but Neil had written well over 100 blog posts on QuickSprout prior to starting KISSmetrics in May 2008. I can’t help but think that blogging had a substantial impact on the success of the now 27-person company.

In fact, while pulling together Web Domination, Neil revealed to us that between all three of his sites, he gets the highest return on investment from blogging.

Takeaways from KISSmetrics

Expand to software. Neil made a small fortune through his consulting business but didn’t start enjoying what he was doing until he got into the software business. As you build your blog, think about different software that you can create for your audience.

Blog for traffic. Neil Patel, perhaps the most sought-after SEO consultant in the world, says that he gets the highest marketing return on investment within his companies from blogging.

Copyblogger.com Led to Copyblogger Media

Before starting Copyblogger.com in 2006, Brian Clark was an attorney.

When TopRankBlog.com asked him how he made the transition from attorney to blogger, he said:

“Easy… I hated practicing law and I was fascinated by the Internet. The transition was extreme I suppose, but I always had a thing for writing, so I started creating online content over a decade ago. Now it’s just part of me.”

For four years, Brian and crew pumped out post after post, several times per week with a smattering of guest posts in between. With a network of other projects and partnerships brewing, Brian brought them together in 2010 to create Copyblogger Media:

“Over the last 4 years, I’ve launched several companies from this simple blog of mine. The idea that building an audience with content and letting the revenue-generating ideas, products, and services reveal themselves based on what the audience actually wants has worked out amazingly well.”

Today, with over 20 employees, Copyblogger Media is the parent company for a number of online services and properties including StudioPress, Scribe, Premise, Synthesis, Third Tribe Marketing, Authority Rules, and Teaching Sells.

In the Copyblogger Media press release, Brian continued to say:

“Any great company exists not for its shareholders or employees, but for the people it serves. And we’re aiming to be a great company.”

Takeaways from Copyblogger Media

Use your blog as a platform to launch other businesses. One reason Copyblogger.com does so well to attract an audience is that everything on the site is totally free. Despite one million monthly page views, Copyblogger.com doesn’t make a dime. Instead, all of their revenue-generating platforms exist on other domains and they use Copyblogger to make people aware of them.

Attract great people through blogging. If Copyblogger wasn’t on the upslope when Brian first reached out to all of his existing partnerships, they wouldn’t have been as willing to work with him. As it turns out, the blog gave him credibility and a tool to barter with. Not to mention, all of the great readers he accrued along the way.

My Favorite Companies have High-Profile Blogs

The purpose of marketing is to build an audience of people who love what you sell. And I think the best way to build and nurture an audience, especially online, is with a blog.

Here are a number of other companies who host great blogs:

You’re on the Right Path

Maybe you haven’t cracked the code on how to make even $1,000 with your blog. That’s ok.

Take comfort in the fact that you’re learning how to build an audience through a blog. At the very least, you’re developing a skill that’s valuable to other people.

Do you know of any other companies that were started by bloggers?

Photo by: Brian Tomlinson

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  • http://authoritysitenomad.com Bruce Stewart

    I am 65 and love the internet plus blogging. Never ever get bored so much to do.

    Yes blogging can be good plus you can make some money from it. The biggest mistake most people make is they are hell bent on starting a blog because they need to make money because they have none.

    We shouldn’t be going at it with the mindset of having to make money. You will soon get disappointed and give up.

    There are tons of blog wrecks online dreams that have fizzled out, so sad.

    Simple answer is to just blog away each week about what you are passionate about and see where you end up you maybe surprised. Keep your expectations low and then you will achieve.

    Build a Authority site blog with the wordpress.org platform thats what I did and it is successful.

    • Nicholas Tart

      Hey Bruce, yeah, there’s so much to learn. I think the best way to learn is to look at what other people have done successfully. What do you think makes a blog successful?

  • Cheptiony Mutai

    Great inspiration. Most people never sees the bigger picture of a blog at their initial stages…Hence they give up on their first year of existence after blogging without earning a single dime. Those are the kind of people who spend a lifetime developing blog after another blog(too much workload for nothing). Focus is the key.I think on-line biz like any other business needs consistency in order to be trusted in the market. If 99 designs was not consistent..it could have dropped dead in the second year of existence. Try changing few things on your blog every week….One single auto-tune will translate to lots of cash someday. Keep up the good work..Income diary is the next big thing.

    • Nicholas Tart

      We appreciate it, Cheptiony. What do you do to stay consistent?

  • http://www.renegadeascent.com David

    Great post Nick,
    I follow Neil on Quicksprout and return to Copyblogger alot.
    They are both definitely great bloggers and have fantastic companies as well.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Nicholas Tart

      Thanks, David. As I mentioned, Copyblogger doesn’t make a dime. But something that not a lot of people know is that Neil donates all of the money that QuickSprout directly brings in. It’s not a big money-maker, but still.

  • http://www.probloggertips.com Yeremi Akpan

    Hi Nicholas,
    Reading blog posts like this is a source of immense inspiration to me.

    Sometimes the going gets tough and you begin to call to question the rationale behind your blog. The blog is not the problem, evidently – it is the business.

    We should all consider how to monetize the traffic we get to our blogs. That may include turning the blog into a platform of sorts by launching products that meet the direction your audience points to.

    Great job on this post. As usual, you score big.

    • Nicholas Tart

      Thank you, Yeremi. I don’t see the blog as the business, but more as a way to build an audience for the businesses.

  • Sheyi | ivblogger.com

    Sure, we are on the right track if we do something worth while.

    I just finished reading a post from Ramit Sethi where he talked about people doing what they really don’t have the foundation and basics about.

    Most people start a blo g thiking after buying $1997 course, they will become the next blog millionaire – infact, the gurus has killed this market with their outrageous useless products.

    I wish they will be able to come back to senses.

    If you are a blogger and you know where you are going, you must be psychological. Buy products but know the ones that works fine for you.

    Sheyi

    • Nicholas Tart

      Do you have any recommendations for products that you think are good, Sheyi?

  • Christina

    Great post. Pete Cashmore started Mashable as a blog and it went on to become the #1 website in the UK. Thanks for this encouraging post.

    • Nicholas Tart

      Ah… There’s another one I should’ve mentioned. That and TechCrunch, huh? Thanks, Christina.

  • http://WWW.EXTRA-CASH-ONLINE.COM RCONNORIII

    Nice information and story – The power of blogs! Have a great day on purpose…

    • Nicholas Tart

      Thanks, RC. What do you mean by, “have a great day on purpose”?

  • metalpig design

    big things come from small beginnings…

    btw, didn’t know that 99designs is sprouted from sitepoint… :)

    • Nicholas Tart

      Yeah, it was awhile ago. Flippa did too. From their forums.

  • Kebabope Morapedi

    Nick,

    What’s the company behind incomediary.com and retire@21.com? I bet it will make a great add to the list?

    What do you think Nick? 😉

    Regards,

    Kebabope Morapedi

    • Nicholas Tart

      You know, I’m not sure, Kebabope. Michael has done well with these two sites.

  • http://www.hungrypiranha.org HungryPiranha

    Another thing to consider is it’s not realistic for everyone to build a $1,000,000 blog. TONS of people have tried, very few have succeeded. Your chance for success trying to build a $100,000 business are much, much higher than a $1,000,000 one, and often times by thinking too big and attempting to compete against a combination of entrenched players AND a significant helping of luck you can go from one failed project to another. Small, incremental, realistic goals can be a better path to success than huge gambles.

    • Nicholas Tart

      That’s exactly what each of them did. None of those businesses were gambles. Each of them resulted from knowing their audience and building what they wanted.

  • Testy McBesty

    Thanks for this information. You guys always have very informative post. I always learn something new coming here.

    • Nicholas Tart

      Sure thing, Testy McBesty, if that is your real name…

  • http://www.writerpresident.com Aqif Azizan

    This post is worth read every words Nicholas. Thank you for providing proven case study on how to bring our blogs to the next level. I really love both Quicksprout and Copyblogger.

    They are my inspiration. And now this post is going to be bookmarked as a future reference. It is your fault Nicholas.

  • codeholda

    Yeah I was going to mention Flippa from Sitepoint too but you beat me to it! An interesting article and yet another reason to stop delaying and start blogging today.

  • Surminga

    Best way to go, build a blog and a following then branch out – might as well put the hard work into one central area then use the traffic and readers to what else you do and offer.
    I run several blogs and branch out new sites and blogs – my latest is an ecommerce site totally the opposite from my blogging topics.