With the Matter reboot, has Medium actually pulled off what Pierre Omidyar only promised?


Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.22.28 AMInvestors and advisors in Medium who I’ve spoken with say one thing has consistently surprised them about the company: That famed founder Evan Williams is not “religious” about anything. Typically when someone has two successes under their belt– albeit Blogger far smaller of a win that Twitter– they think they know it all. And let’s be honest: Williams doesn’t really need anyone else’s money to build whatever he wants. Add to that the fact that Blogger sold early and he was ousted as CEO of Twitter and you could imagine him having something to prove.

But everyone who has been involved with the company tells me that Williams’ heels couldn’t be less dug in. He wants Medium to work– whatever Medium turns out to be. He recognizes when one vision isn’t working and shifts accordingly.

That couldn’t be farther from the demeanor of another man who built a multi billion platform and started a media company: Pierre Omidyar. It seems little at First Look Media has worked according to Omidyar’s grand plan — at least so far. The Intercept, which was supposed to be a great bastion of investigative journalism, still looks more like a sporadically published WordPress blog staffed by Gawker cast offs. Meanwhile, Omidyar’s own role at First Look changes, sometimes hourly, between hands-on editor and arm’s-length investor.

But while all evidence points to a ship adrift at sea, Omidyar has only dug in more when it comes to publicly explaining his strategy for his $ 250m media startup, defensively rebutting critiques on Twitter while refusing to submit to interviews that might clarify his actual strategy.

Today, as I was reading a remarkable piece of journalism on Medium’s recently relaunched  “Matter” vertical, it occurred to me that Evan Williams has quietly pulled off what Omidyar and Greenwald only (loudly) promised. He has built a technology platform providing useful tools for writers — even innovating in things like in-line comments and design– while building and funding an increasingly stellar long-form news team around the acquired brand Matter.

The pivot around Matter is emblematic of what investors say about Williams’ approach with Medium. Matter was originally a crowdfunded science magazine– and a headscratcher of an acquisition. Now the founding team is (apparently) gone, so is the mission to focus on science. In its place, something fascinating is emerging.

Last week, I clicked on my first Matter piece: A global survey about “Eye Fucking.” We discussed it on PandoLIVE last week, and I noted that it wasn’t terribly well written or quite as insightful as I’d hoped but it was original, thought provoking and well designed.

Today, though, a bombshell of a piece arrived in my inbox. Written by Sarah A. Topol, “If we run and they kill us, so be it. But we have to run now” is an exclusive, in-depth profile of the Nigerian school girls who escaped Boko Haram. I say without any hyperbole that it’s one of the best pieces of international reporting that I’ve ever read. Up there in style, power, and reporting with Philip Gourevitch’s “We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.”

Williams deserves serious kudos for assembling a team that’s able to produce work like this. I hope more is coming. I’ve long had doubts about Medium– or anyone’s– ability to run a platform and real, groundbreaking editorial. If this is where Medium is going, I’m happy to be proven wrong.



How a small family business pulled off one of the greatest successes in YouTube history


Mirabeau wine

This is the story of how an entrepreneur used a shoe and a wine bottle to create one of the most successful videos in YouTube history and transform his small family-owned business.

A few years ago, I was approached by a fellow named Stephen Cronk for help on developing a new marketing strategy. Here was his story:

  • Left his corporate job in London.
  • Moved his family to Provence.
  • In the teeth of a recession, started a new winery called Mirabeau.
  • Has 600 established competitors.

You read that correctly. 600 established Rosé producers – just in Provence!

This was a tough assignment but I do love a challenge and most important, I believed in Stephen. He possesses an excellent business mind, an urgency to learn digital marketing, and is a wonderful story teller. I had to say yes!

We DID NOT begin with a social media strategy.

We had to step back and figure out where he could maneuver in a highly saturated, low-growth market. We could not be a “me too.” Our initial activity was to come up with the data that could lead to insight. We conducted a complete market and competitive analysis — there was a lot of existing material out there so we could bootstrap most of the research.

We discovered that among the hundreds of wineries in his region making Rosé wine, none of them demonstrated any capacity to do digital marketing. At the same time, his potential retail customers were trying to gain a foothold in the social media space and were creating a pull for digital competency (especially in key markets of the US and UK). We found our opportunity.

And so, we began.

We had to scale a content marketing effort quickly and decided that Stephen’s primary source of “rich content” would be video. He was a natural on camera and the lush and ancient countryside of Provence proved to be an ideal backdrop to explore wine making, food. history, art and local color of the region.

Stephen was in it for the long haul and consistently documented his wine-making journey in a very human and entertaining way. He talked about a labeling crisis that almost crushed his business. He created a funny video about the ridiculous paperwork he faced from the French government, what it was like to attend a wine-tasting competition, how the grapes were harvested in the first morning sunlight, and many other interesting little vignettes. He shined a light on his village, his pets, his family. He lost his balance on a grape harvester. He put a human and modern face to a stodgy, traditional business.

In addition to producing content, we also had a network strategy and continuously worked on building an active wine-loving audience. As his numbers and engagement grew, Stephen was able to use this data with huge wine retailers to prove a point of differentiation. No winemaker in the region had the presence and audience that the upstart Mirabeau had. The strategy worked and the orders started coming in.

Then viral happened.

On his 222nd video, Stephen hit paydirt. In a 29-second video, he demonstrated how to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew. It has now attracted well over 6 million views!

Why this one?

There is no way you can predict “viral” but this video had four key elements going for it. The video was high quality, it was short, it was entertaining, and it was practical.

Those elements alone won’t guarantee anything. You also need a heaping dose of luck, which he received by having the video syndicated through several content sites and apps.


For most businesses, slow and steady is the way to build an audience that leads to business benefits on the social web. But what happens when that “once in a lifetime” event occurs?

YouTube views: 4.2 million (and climbing)

Website video views: 1.8 million (not counted in the YouTube numbers)

Total video views (approx): 6 million

At one point, Mirabeau was receiving more hits in an hour than their previous best video had received in three years.

The viral attention gave a significant lift to all the content on the site. Since Stephen had worked so long and hard to provide entertaining videos, the viral visitors stuck around to see what else he had for them. SInce the “shoe video,” the little winery has received more than 9,000 views of its “About Mirabeau” video on its YouTube channel. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest accounts and newsletter subscriptions had massive gains. This is a critical accomplishment for a business trying to show a differentiated position through social media engagement.

He received massive media attention from both mainstream press and wine industry bloggers who marveled at his authentic and human storytelling:

“The lesson wannabe Cronks should take on board is that throughout his video-creating efforts, he has never sought to use the clips to directly promote his wines or the brand. They are all intended to be interesting in their own terms and often contain no direct reference to the brand at all. People who watch them are merely invited to visit the website if they want to know more”

But what about the money?

It’s too early to project the economic impact of the video since this occurred just a few weeks ago, but this is what Stephen had to say: “We’ve had loads of new inquiries from retailers in the US. That is where the video has received the most views and it is also the most important place for us to grow.”

“The success emphasizes our strategy – we can demonstrate the strength of social media to US buyers. It helps us explain our difference to the decision makers at the big retailers. Choosing Mirabeau is the right thing to do because it ‘de-risks’ their buying decision. We are helping them build demand for our wine. We have all the ingredients in place: critically-acclaimed wine, great back-story, great package, great marketing. What’s there not to love about Mirabeau?”

Last week I taught a class at Rutgers University. Out of 30 students, three had heard of Mirabeau Wine because of this video. There is no other way a small family business in a tiny French village could have received this kind of exposure without a social media strategy!

What an amazing time to be in business, What an amazing time for Mirabeau!

I would love to hear your questions and comments on this case study.

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