Entrepreneur Profile: Shane Snow, Co-Founder of Contently
Contently is a website that turns a writer into his or her own agent. Joe Coleman,27, Shane Snow, 28, and Dave Goldberg, 30, created Contently for aspiring or established writers and bloggers. Users create their own profile to market, showcase and distribute their work all over the internet, greatly increasing the probability of coming across a high paying gig or reputable publisher.
By becoming a member, anyone can instantly become connected with other freelancers or staffers from extremely popular platforms, ranging from Seventeen or Forbes magazine to The Daily Beast or The Los Angeles Times. The site makes it instantly easier for writers to find work, colleagues and submit pieces to respected sources of all kinds.
As of last year, through the website platform alone, at least one writer was able to earn $60,000 and with many companies willing to pay around $1 per word for stories, it seems as if the career of an inspiring journalist may be a profitable one once again.
With so many successful partnerships and collaborations, what qualities do you look for in a potential business partner?
The most important thing to me in starting a business is making sure my partners are people I've worked well with before. I've seen some cringe-worthy business breakups, and it almost always seems to be because really talented people got together and started something long-term before they knew each other's values, work ethic, and neuroses well enough. My partners at Contently are both people I trust and have worked with extensively. Joe Coleman, the CEO, and I know each other originally from 8th grade math club, and collaborated on a dozen business and tech projects over the years. Dave Goldberg, the CTO, and I met via Hacker News, then proceeded to collaborate on a series of side projects, until we'd proved that a) we got along great, and b) we could collaborate in a complementary way. Trust is essential in business partnerships. That and maturity. You will have debates, you will have frustrations. If you can behave like adults while violently disagreeing and then be able to go out to a party or dinner after work is over, then you know you can make a long-term partnership work.
What was your source of motivation in starting Contently?
I got a master's degree in journalism, and entered the job market caring very much about the future of the industry. I also witnessed my colleagues enter the job market as freelancers rather than salaried workers — a trend that was clearly not reversing any time soon. Through a series of experiments, pivots, and lucky breaks, we built Contently's ecosystem off of that trend.
Everyone aspires for success, but what drives you to work so hard?
Helping journalists navigate the changing media landscape and build careers doing what they love is what motivates me every day. We're building infrastructure beneath a fractured industry, and we're helping the job situation in America. That keeps us going on the tough days as a startup.
We have a tremendous amount of respect for the numerous philanthropic and charity driven initiatives. Which charity organization do you have the strongest connection to?
I really like what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does for education. I believe in that, and I like the fact that it tries to use a technologist's approach to problems. Personally, I've done work to support Stand Up 2 Cancer. I once made a Sad Keanu URL shortener that's generated a little bit of money for SU2C. I also think Fuck Cancer is an amazing organization. The focus on disease prevention in early stages is really important.
What formal education or training do you feel could have best prepared you for the life you live today?
I think the best education you can get as an entrepreneur is working on projects and constantly trading the status for something better, making sure your next project is bigger than the last. I recommend working at a high-growth startup before starting your own if you want to skip a few steps. I wish I would have gotten the chance to do that before starting a bunch of less-inspiring companies in my early career. For me, the formal education I got at Columbia Journalism School was helpful in building my network (your most valuable asset as an entrepreneur) and understanding the industry landscape.
You've surely seen the ups and downs that have come with the .com and tech bubbles, how have you learned how to deal with failures that everyone experiences?
Learn from them. Get out of ruts quickly. If something's not going well, don't just wait for it to smooth out naturally. Climb out of failure as fast as you can.
What was the turning point in your life when you understood that success can only be guaranteed if it's in your hands?
I grew up in a very nice town in Idaho. Eventually, I got stir-crazy and moved to Hawaii. I was surprised how easy it was to move to an island across the world with only a suitcase. There, I had the epiphany that if I could move to Hawaii, I could do whatever I wanted, and only I could determine what I could or could not achieve. People are risk-averse, but you shouldn't let others deter you from taking the risks required to be happy. And besides, the worst-case scenario if you fail is rarely that bad. See Screw Expectations
Between entrepreneurship, innovation,and mentorship the Contently family has always set out to be leaders. Who are the individuals that still inspire you today?
Brilliant entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Jack Dorsey inspire me to swing big. Brilliant journalists like Gene Weingarten inspire me to be proactive and to appreciate the details that make life so interesting.
What core values do you hold to be important for successful journalists in the 21st century?
The most important value for successful modern journalists is to never betray the trust of your audience or your sources. If people can't trust you, your career as a journalist is over. Transparency, honesty, integrity, minimizing harm – those all feed into trust.
What is a dream accomplishment that you still aspire for in your near future?
When I was living in Hawaii, I decided my career aspirations were to 1) build a media company, 2) write books, and 3) teach college. I'm doing #1 right now. After this – or perhaps during it, as we bring on more talented people than me to share the work load – I'd like to help educate people about technology, the environment, and entrepreneurship through writing and teaching. I don't think I'd ever get sick of that.
Where do you wish to see Contently in the future and how to do you plan to achieve those goals?
We want to be the infrastructure that powers the next generation of publishing, the evolution of creative work. That's broad and vague, but we have specific (and presently secret) plans for doing that. It's going to be awesome.
How do you feel this is new innovation will change the media industry?
There's a lot of crap required to be successful in journalism and in publishing. Contently is helping journalists remove obstacles like web design and marketing and accounting from their job, so they can focus on telling great stories. On the flip side we're helping businesses add efficiency and power their publishing operations without having to deal with spreadsheets, paperwork, analog talent search, and manual data reporting. Those changes are helping traditional media companies evolve and brands become better, more ethical publishers. And, of course, we're connecting talent with clients, which is helping journalists survive and, we think, is going to boost the economy.
Any last words or advice for up and coming journalists?
Make a great-looking portfolio on Contently!
Evelyn Pelczar | Elite.