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There are some digital media professionals that shift to working for brands. Brad McCarty is one of those professionals. In this episode, he goes through his startup journey with AngelMD and his vision for building the editorial side for a double-sided marketplace startup for healthcare professionals.

Podcast Transcription

Vahe Arabian: Welcome to the State of Digital Publishing podcast. State of Digital Publishing is an online publication and community providing resources, perspectives, collaboration, and news for digital media and publishing professionals in new media and technology. Our aim is to help industry professionals get more time back to work on what really matters: monetizing content and growing real relationships. In this episode, I speak with Brad McCarty, marketing manager of AngelMD, and he speaks about his startup journey in his new company and of healthcare media publishing.

Vahe Arabian: Hi, Brad, how are you?

Brad McCarty: I’m great, how are you?

Vahe Arabian: I’m good, thank you. Thanks for joining us.

Brad McCarty: Yeah, of course.

Vahe Arabian: I think you’re in a very interesting space. You come from an editorial background but now you’re in a startup space, and you’re an editorial in a startup space and, yeah, I’ll just pass it over to you. If you could just explain a bit about AngelMD and what you guys are doing, and your current setup.

Brad McCarty: Sure. So, AngelMD is, for lack of a better term, a marketplace where startups in the healthcare industry can list themselves, and they can find investors and advisors to help them bring their products to market faster.

Brad McCarty: For the investor, it is a great way to find heavily vetted startups that have also been advised by the professionals within their industry and within their specific set of specialties and then we also have a third group of users, which are doctors who are at that point in their career where they’re ready to invest and they may not have an investment experience as far as Angel investment is concerned, and so they can kind of leverage the wisdom of the crowd. Since they have other doctors, they can help them to make decisions about which companies are the most promising. And they have Angel investors who can help them to make decisions about the best way to be able to invest or provide assistance to those companies.

Vahe Arabian: Cool. So, what’s your role and what are you currently doing with AngelMD?

Brad McCarty: Sure, so my official title is “Marketing manager”. I don’t know that I actually do much managing, I just do a lot of marketing. So, my primary role with the company is that if it is a piece of public facing language, whether that is the language of the website or on the blog, a press release that we put out, or a white paper, chances are that my hands have been on it.

Brad McCarty: I rely pretty heavily on my background coming from years of writing and editing experience and basically just making sure that the messages that we put out there are hitting the right people, the right number of times, and that they are the right message.

Vahe Arabian: So, you decided to leave digital media and come into this space, the health space, the startup space. Why did you decide to do that and how does your past experience helping you in your current role now?

Brad McCarty: It’s interesting because when I worked … The big publication that I worked for before I got kind of in the startups, was called The Next Web, which actually ran very similarly to a startup. We were kind of a young, scrappy, diversified team around the globe, so there wasn’t actually a whole lot of transition there for me as far as the mentality and how things worked. But when I worked with The Next Web, I became just absolutely enthralled by startups. It’s a really infectious lifestyle and kind of being around that brand new technology at every turn was just something that I fell in love with.

Brad McCarty: And so, when an opportunity presented itself for me to transition and actually go work for one of those startups, I then fell back onto one of my previous areas and expertise which was advertising and marketing. And so, I thought, “Okay, well, if I can take what I’ve learned about reaching digital audiences and what I’ve learned about being able to connect with people through The Next Web and I can intertwine that with the somewhat traditional marketing things that I’ve learned in other jobs then maybe I can come up with something”. And fortunately, it’s worked out really well so far.

Vahe Arabian: Do you have any past experience in health that has played a role in this job or sort of learning as you’re going along?

Brad McCarty: Yes, at one point in my life I was a nurse. So, healthcare is a big passion for me. I got into nursing because at the time I just kind of wanted something that was really secure, I didn’t have to worry about ever finding a job or whatever. I found that that actually wasn’t what I liked. What I liked was, I love healthcare. I’m incredibly passionate about new technologies in healthcare and solving really difficult problems like companies that are working on heart disease and diabetes and these conditions that are killing people daily. I’m really passionate about finding a way to help them because those were the things that I dealt with directly as a nurse.

Brad McCarty: It is kind of a best of both world scenario for me where I get to still be involved directly with healthcare, but I do so in a way that I’m no longer on a floor for fourteen hours a day taking care of patients.

Vahe Arabian: It’s very tough and they’re very under-recognized, nurses. We appreciate all the work that they do.

Brad McCarty: Yeah, it’s an incredibly tough job, and I have the utmost respect for people who do it. It just wasn’t where I was going to be best able to help.

Vahe Arabian: Absolutely. And how is the current team set up now? And how long has AngelMD been running for?

Brad McCarty: Sure. So, AngelMD has been around for about four years. We’ve been very quiet honestly up until the past year and a half or so. Really just kind of … There’s a whole lot to AngelMD that the public doesn’t really know about yet and part of that’s because we haven’t actually haven’t done a really good job talking about it. And so, part of my job is to help us to define how to spread that message.

Brad McCarty: So, there is a lot of technology in the background, where it’s more than just kind of a social network thing. We have a very serious vetting process and algorithm and we rely somewhat heavily on artificial intelligence and machine learning to be able to help us make decisions about which companies are most promising.

Brad McCarty: And so, for the first couple of years, that’s really what AngelMD as a company focused on, was just getting that system to operate the way that it should. And it’s an ever-changing process, it’s something that we’re always working on but then in the past year to a year and a half, we started to become more public about who we are and what we’re doing.

Brad McCarty: So, the company has been around for four years but it’s still very young in the regard of how much we’ve been out in the public, public facing, and what we’re doing as far as marketing content is concerned.

Vahe Arabian: I know you said the first couple of years you felt the AngelMD team focused more on the technology. What was the tipping point saying, “Now, we want people to know us. We need to start focusing on the audiences that we can deliver ourselves into”. What was that point, tipping point?

Brad McCarty: Yeah, I think the tipping point really comes when you have proof of concept. That you know that your technology is solid, you have verifiable proof that what you have put all of your work into is actually returning results. And once we saw that, then we knew. And this was kind of before my time with the company as well, so I’m going to try to just echo the sentiments that I have heard because that’s not a question that I’ve asked directly. It seems to me … Let me be very careful how I state that.

Brad McCarty: It seems to me that their tipping point was when they sat back and said, Okay, we know that the technology is working the way that we want it to. We have built a growing network. We’re nowhere … Having the network and expanding that network is never going to be at a place where we can say, okay we can stop now. But we knew that we had enough people between startups, and investors, and doctors, and advisors. We knew that we had enough people in the mix to be able to have viable live product. So, that to me, and what I have understood in speaking with various people across the company, that’s kind of the tipping point was. Kind of understanding that, “Okay, we have all the pieces in place, we may not be completely stable in the way that we eventually want to be, but what startup is?”

Vahe Arabian: That’s great. And you guys are in a unique position. When you look at traditional publishing, it’s usually a one to one relationship between publisher and the audience. The social networks where it’s double-sided, double-sided networks. Are you guys tap into every angle, I guess. How many angles do you think you can tap in, maybe one or two?

Brad McCarty: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I don’t know that I have actually sat down and said, “Here is the number of angles that we’re tackling”. We’re being liberal, I guess is the best word, with how we’re approaching the different audiences. So, you’ll notice, if you go to the blog on AngelMD and you take a look at the different articles there, there are going to be things that are very investor focused about here’s this company, here’s the technology that they’re working on, here’s where they stand in their life cycle, and here’s the amount of money that they’re looking to raise. So, if you’d like to invest in them, here’s who to contact.

Brad McCarty: But then you’re going to find things that are just kind of more healthcare focused as well. Which should for us … What we’ve realized is that where that sort of content becomes valuable is not only for the investor or for the doctor who is too busy in their own lives to kind of keep up with that information, but also for the other startups who are out there to be able to kind of understand what’s happening in the market around them.

Brad McCarty: So, one of the posts, actually the first post that I did when I joined the company I called it the Friday roundup. And it was basically, we go find five really important healthcare stories from this week and chances are that people are going to … Maybe they’ve seen one or two of them, but they probably haven’t seen all five. So, we published that and I got really amazing feedback from the community that said, “Hey, this is great. I had no idea these things were happening”. So, we’ve just kind of kept publishing that.

Brad McCarty: It’s a very low bar, it’s a very low barrier to just pull up a week’s worth of RSS feeds and to flip through and say, “Here are some really important stories, and kind of narrow those down to five”. Healthcare is one of those fields. And for us, it’s healthcare and investing, and innovation, so there’s not much of an either-or there, there’s a lot of ands. It kind of opens up the door for us a little bit more to be able to reach out into areas that otherwise we may not have touched.

Brad McCarty: If we were only focused on healthcare then I would never talk about investing. If I was only focused on investing then I would never talk about innovation. So, all of these fields are critically important to at least one, if not multiple segments of our audience. So, we’ve got a whole lot that we can talk about.

Vahe Arabian: So, that comes to the point around … You have been brought on board to help communicate the message of AngelMD. You’ve got all these different ands, as you said. So, what have you started doing in order to help communicate AngelMD’s message?

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Brad McCarty: The first thing that I did was, AngelMD had a blog, they didn’t use it very often, it was primarily some kind of quick thoughts from a founder, or a press release regurgitated onto it. So, the first thing that I said was, “Okay, let’s own this as an editorial aspect and let’s turn it into something that can eventually become a source of knowledge”.

Brad McCarty: The internet has kind of really, for better or for worse, democratized the ability for a company to be able to dictate how their message is put out there. In the best of cases, it gives a voice to people who might otherwise not have been heard, or companies, or individuals who may not otherwise have been heard. In the worst of cases, it gives the opposite end of the spectrum, people who maybe shouldn’t be heard also have a voice.

Brad McCarty: There’s a whole lot of noise out there. So, the first thing that I wanted to do was, “Let’s open up the blog and let’s talk about … Let’s narrow it down from twenty-five or thirty different categories opposed to these are the four or five things that we’re going to talk about. And if it doesn’t fit these four or five things, we’re not really going to cover it, because there are a thousand other places where people can find that information”. That was kind of my first step.

Brad McCarty: The second step, which has really just started kicking off for us, we have a gentleman on the team by the name of Mark who is developing associations with groups like the American College of Emergency Physicians, or the American College of Cardiology. What we’re doing here is we have these gigantic groups who are essential for us kind of a captive audience because they’re exactly the kind of people that we want to be involved with AngelMD. So, what we’re doing is we’re simultaneously providing content to these groups that they can publish in their newsletter, publish on their websites or whatever. But then we’re also working with them to field content from them that we’re going to publish on our blog or put in our newsletters.

Brad McCarty: We’re doing real live events with them, where we’re doing, like, pitch competitions, the Shark Tank type thing, at their annual conferences. There’s really no ends as far as I can see what limits we’ll go to try to continue to develop these association contents partnerships. I think that we’re finding … If there’s one piece of advice that I could offer to any content creator out there, it’s to find where your audience hangs out and then go to them. And so, for us, our audience hangs out in ACC and in ACEP and then the American Medical Association, and the Heart Association, and all of these other large groups. So, there is no reason why we would not want to work with them as directly as possible.

Vahe Arabian: So, editorial/monetization model/events, how would you define them?

Brad McCarty: The editorial model is primarily focused on two things. Actually, the main focus is our newsletters. At present, we have a weekly newsletter that goes out to all members. I have actually, over the past month or so, been working on a segmenting that it is better focused so that people who are investors really only get newsletters that talk about investment. They can subscribe to the other ones if they so choose but we’re not going to force it onto them.

Brad McCarty: The newsletter is then fed by the blog, plus the association content that we do, plus the events that we do. So, for instance, we held our first annual conference in January of this year out in Napa, California. I don’t wanna say small ’cause that’s the wrong word. It wasn’t huge but it was three hundred and fifty maybe four hundred really great people, instead of tens of thousands of potentially okay people.

Brad McCarty: So, obviously there is a way to sell tickets and to make money off of those events but our monetization model, as far as the content is concerned is, what can we do to … It isn’t so much that I have to get paid monetarily. I want to get paid in attention. I want to make sure that the people who are receiving our messages are the bright people to be paying attention to us. So, sometimes it makes sense then to gate that content behind some sort of, whether it is an email signup or maybe it pays five bucks and sees our latest research or something of that nature.

Brad McCarty: So, there are times when it makes sense for us to ask for a monetary kind of contribution for the stuff that we produce. But generally speaking, because we as a company don’t need to make money from the content side, what we are best served in doing is to work with companies who can make money and who need to make money off that, so we can provide our research to them. And kind of the … I don’t know if you’re familiar with Gary Vaynerchuk.

Brad McCarty: Yeah, so he’s got this theory that he calls “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook”. And it’s basically give, give, give, before you ask. And so, before I ask anyone to give me an email address or to hand over five bucks for a white paper, I’m going to give them as much free stuff as I can and that comes in the newsletter and in the blog post and the association content and everything else we can give them, we’re going to give them before we ask them to pay for anything.

Vahe Arabian: It sounds more legitimate. Do you think it’s correct to say that?

Brad McCarty: Yeah, I think that’s a fair way to put it. My perfect world is, somebody who has never heard of AngelMD runs across one of our blogs, or our podcasts, or sees that someone forwarded the newsletter or tweeted out the web copy of the newsletter, they become familiar with AngelMD. And in that perfect world, that person is either an investor, a doctor, or a startup owner, or a startup executive, and then they sign up to be on the platform. And so, for us, the transactional part of marketing becomes largely about the lead generation and signing up new users.

Vahe Arabian: So, it’s feeling the marketplace, essentially.

Brad McCarty: Yeah, exactly.

Vahe Arabian: How do you think marketplaces now are playing a role in digital media?

Brad McCarty: I think that there’s so much room. Wow, that’s such a broad question to … Because, when you think about marketplaces, right? Let’s think about somebody like Etsy, where Etsy is this kind of behemoth of the handmade market. What role does content play for them? Well, content in their case helps them as a company to align themselves with their users. To communicate what they’re doing for their users and therefore to recruit new people into the platform because those people are then interested based on what they’ve read on the content side. Or what they’ve seen, or what they’ve heard, or what have you. Because content is this gigantic sphere that includes every way to send a message from one person to another.

Brad McCarty: It’s a really interesting thing in marketplaces because you have this kind of open door to really advertise your products but also to really feature the people who are using your platform. And I think that that’s something that so many marketplace type businesses are forgetting about is that at the end of the day they don’t have anything if they don’t have users. So, spend more time showcasing those people, whether there … We do a thing called, just an investors’ spotlight, and then we do spotlights on the startups as well. As a matter of fact, I’m finishing up one this week on an augmented reality startup that’s doing just amazing things and so not only is that going to peak the interest of anybody who happens to read the article, it’s also going to be a service to our members because it helps them understand if they’re a startup they see, “Oh, these people are doing something interesting maybe in the same space that I’m in, or maybe in a space we hadn’t considered”.

Brad McCarty: If they’re an investor it gives them a kind of an inside view of the type of funding that this company needs. If the user who is reading it is a doctor, maybe they’re finding out about a new innovation in technology that they’ve never even thought of before. So, there’s so much that can be done from the marketplace. I think if you ask me my dream content job, I think that marketplace would probably be it.

Vahe Arabian: Do you think that news will play a role in marketplaces or how do you think that would impact? Because, you know, we’ve seen … I don’t want to put Facebooking into the spotlight or…

Brad McCarty: Yeah, but it’s kind of hard to avoid it right now, right?

Vahe Arabian: Twitter as well, like, they’re trying to get into the news game as well. You think marketplaces have a role in playing with news or influencing news? ‘Cause you’re always covering news about startups and that’s an aspect of news, right? You’re featuring them …

Brad McCarty: Yeah, it definitely is. I think that it’s going to be almost impossible for any publication regardless of whether they’re a marketplace or just a startup or whatever. I think it’s going to be impossible for them to avoid being part of that news cycle, because … Let’s talk about Twitter, you know, let’s talk about Facebook as these examples, because these are sites that are filled with user-generated content and so, whatever a user decides to post on Twitter or Facebook suddenly becomes part of that news cycle.

Brad McCarty: And so, it’s critically important to write with authority and to share your messages with honesty and to avoid this kind of clickbaity, this kind of crap that we’ve seen for the past many years. So, what we have found and what I’ve found personally is that users and readers and random people out on the internet really do care about things that are written well and things that are well sourced and not only those things that reinforce their worldview but actually things that challenge their worldview.

Brad McCarty: If you’re willing to put the time in to write and to read and to make sure that you’re putting the right sort of information out there, then I don’t think you have the ability to dictate whether or not you become part of the news cycle, I think you just are by default.

Vahe Arabian: That’s a very realistic view and I appreciate that you’ve mentioned that. So, with that in mind as well, how has it helped startups? ‘Cause we know with startups there’s inc.com and there’re all these business sites where they’re regularly featuring business, new business startups, and educating people about certain topics. How is that the health scene, health startup scene?

Brad McCarty: There’s quite a few out there. Less than there was in the past, but there are some really good ones out there. We’ve got people like Rock Health who kind of take a look at funding in general and what’s happening within the industry. There are publications like MedCity News which do a really good job at covering kind of established healthcare but also new entry providers as well. Kaiser Health does an amazing job at looking at the business aspect of things.

Brad McCarty: So, there’re a lot of options out there. It is a somewhat quiet space as compared to the market that would be covered by inc or entrepreneur or CIO or whatever, but it is still … It’s also a smaller audience. So, it’s noisy for what it is.

Vahe Arabian: Why did you decide to go to the blog instead of an editorial side? What made you go down and continue with the blog if many of your competitors, so-called “competitors”, have editorial sites?

Brad McCarty: So, what’s the difference? And that’s kind of my approach to things. Is an editorial site much different than a blog? Could a blog be an editorial site? It depends on the content that you put into it, right?

Vahe Arabian: It seems it’s how you label it, I guess?

Brad McCarty: Yeah, I think so. To me, in my head, the way that I look at it is, if it is a piece of information that somebody might find interesting, then who am I to say whether or not that’s blog or editorial? Do I really need to go write five hundred words of my own ideas about something? Sometimes. But more often than not, it’s so much easier to just find your own unique voice while giving information that’s actually valuable without having to.

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Brad McCarty: I think if you’re higher in a staff and you’re bringing people on, and you’re going to have an editorial site, they’ve gotta be pretty well versed in what they’re talking about. So, that’s not always very easy to do, especially in healthcare. I, fortunately, have a light healthcare background, I have some clinical health background, some lab background, so I kind of know what I’m talking about, sometimes. That’s been helpful. But do people need another editorial opinion base out there? Well, yes, sometimes, but more often than not, what they need, and what we have found, is that people really respect and give attention to clearly laid out, data-driven, factual information.

Brad McCarty: I could go editorial if I need to, but more often than not, it’s just not as valuable of a service to provide as data-driven.

Vahe Arabian: Well that’s what journalists are supposed to be doing, right? They’re supposed to provide the facts, they’re supposed to be giving us background information. It seems that, to me, blogging is gone into editorial, which is where the blur has become so …

Brad McCarty: And I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Maybe we needed that, maybe we needed something to be a different voice out there. But by the same regard, I also don’t know whether or not we need more of it. The internet, again, going back to something we talked about earlier, the democratization of the voice, and giving a voice to everyone. It has spawned some really incredible things.

Brad McCarty: One of my favorite sites is now owned by the New York Times but they’re still relatively independent, called the Wirecutter. I love Wirecutter because I love their no BS reviews about stuff. I love the fact that they talk about, “Here’s the data behind the decisions that we’re making, or the recommendations that we’re giving, but here’s the real world stuff too”. And so, would Wirecutter have existed if we didn’t also open up the world to having more of an editorial side? Maybe. But probably wouldn’t be as good as it is today.

Vahe Arabian: I understand what you’re saying. I guess it does more come down to how people perceive it. But as long as that person is qualified, they have that expertise …

Brad McCarty: Yeah, and that’s the thing, right? That’s the point that I tried to make with … We have interns who come in every summer. Every summer I have a new crop of college, usually, juniors and seniors, who have written papers for school but they’ve never written something that has been read by a real human being.

Brad McCarty: One of the things that I sit down and I talk to them about, I do a writing one on one class with them, and I tell them, “Forget ninety percent of the stuff you’ve learned in school because the internet doesn’t read that way. Here’s why, as a college junior or senior who has come in and interning with us, here’s why it’s critically important that you source your work because if you give out an opinion or if you lay out an editorial voice and you don’t have a source for it, then people are going to be like, well, who are you? And then they do a little research and they go, oh, okay, well your Twitter says you’re a University Washington grad in 2022. Why should I trust you? But if you say, you’ve done your grad in 2022, but here are the citations from the AMA, from the American Cancer Society, or whatever, about the results that we found here, and here’s what I think. Then it becomes a much more viable piece of content. It becomes something that people want to read and you have done a service to the reader by taking the time to find that data and to write about it”.

Vahe Arabian: So, what are the techniques and technology people are using in the health space at the moment to read a good quality editorial and journalism?

Brad McCarty: Wow, I guess it depends on what your definition of high quality is. I’ll give you my definition. My definition, not that I actually have a written in stone thing, but my definition is, there’s so much data out there, there’re so many numbers that the companies or the publications who can really take that information and put it into words that make sense, those are the ones that I think are amazing. That’s why I love what Rock Health is doing. They do reports about what subspecialties receive the most funding over X amount of time.

Brad McCarty: One of the things, not to toot our own horn, but I’m going to a little bit, because the Rock Health thing kind of enthralled me so much, and so I looked at, “Okay, from an investment perspective, what would happen if we looked at all of the …”. In the United States when you raise funds you have to file what’s called a Form D with the Securities and Exchange Commission. And so, we went and we pulled every form D from 2017 and we said, “Okay, in 2017, which of these were healthcare companies?” And then we had to go through, there’re twenty-some thousand different healthcare companies, and break them down by their subspecialties, so that we could see trend lines, we could see maybe biotechnology, or pharmacology, or pharmaceuticals, or medical devices. Who’s getting the most money right now and where is that money coming from?

Brad McCarty: ‘Cause we can also go in and we can see that it was these seven different investment firms who were part of this Form D filing or part of this investment and so we can see that California kind of still leads the way as far as where the money comes from but they’re closely followed by New York. Texas, for as much healthcare innovation as happens in Texas, Texas isn’t even in the top 5 of the states in the U.S. that are contributing funds toward making these companies successful.

Brad McCarty: You find really interesting things when you get in you start collecting data and giving the narrative of what the data tells you.

Vahe Arabian: I think that’s really good to present that stuff. I’d like to ask you, do you think any of the content that you’re producing on the website now for AngelMD, has that influenced any startup decisions, investment decisions, or anything else like that, or do you think it’s completely neutral what you guys are producing at the moment?

Brad McCarty: No, I absolutely hope that it does influence decisions. That’s kind of my primary goal with this is to hopefully when somebody who is an investor or a doctor reads this, I want them to then make the next step of clicking on either the invest now button, or the startup name and go look at their profile.

Brad McCarty: In some cases, a lot of these companies aren’t really ready to raise money yet, but they’re ready for advisors who can help them to make better choices about their company. I do know that some of the things that we’ve written, some of the things that we’ve put in the newsletter have directly led to funding and have directly led to advisors joining the boards of these companies. That is a primary goal for me and if people are not acting on the information that we’re giving then I need to give different information, I think.

Vahe Arabian: Fair enough, that makes sense. In order to make that sustainable and just to help it become a sustainable business model editorial-wise, what AngelMD doing at the moment? How do you see that pan towards making a sustainable editorial out of your efforts?

Brad McCarty: The fortunate part about what I’m doing on the editorial side and what the marketing team is doing on the editorial side is we don’t have to necessarily, like we talked about before, I don’t have to necessarily have a transactional value of a piece of content earns us five dollars, right? What I need to have is a transactional value of a piece of content brings us X number of users. The downside of that equation is that marketing people don’t work for cheap. So, we do have to be somewhat careful, ’cause it would be easy for me to say, “I want to hire five people, and these five people are only going to write about … This guy is going to write only about biotechnology, this woman’s only going to write about Immuno-Oncology or endocrinology or something that’s hyper-focused”.

Brad McCarty: But that’s not a very smart way for us to spend our marketing budget. And so, for us, the sustainability aspect of it comes into finding the least expensive way to get our name and our data and our information in front of the right audience. As much as I hate to be an advocate for it, I am kind of an advocate for Facebook ads and for getting in touch with people on Linkedin and for taking a little bit of time to put Instagram content together. I think that there’s a great way to …

Brad McCarty: If you’re a giving good stuff, and it’s kind of the sponsored content idea, which I sometimes hate that word because … I think of it like a party. You go to a party, do you really care who paid for the party as long as the party is good? That’s kind of my approach to sponsored content and this sort of transactional nature of making sure that we can continue to justify the cost of the marketing team is, it’s our job to just produce really great content. If we’re producing really great content, then we are going to get the people we need in order to justify the amount of money that we spent.

Brad McCarty: Obviously, it’s never that easy. There are trial and error things out there. I think when you start out with Facebook ads, your cost per acquisition on one user is hundreds of dollars then obviously that’s a terrible idea and it’s not going to be great for you if get hundreds of dollars’ worth of value out of that user. But if you get it down to where you’re ten, fifteen bucks a user, then that becomes just kind of the cost of doing business. And all it takes is the one right user to come into your network who then spreads your information out to their mass of network and you kind of then rely on that sort of, for like of a better term, it’s kind of the viral effect. I don’t shoot for virality, I do shoot for getting something really good into the hands of the right people.

Vahe Arabian: But I guess you have in the underlined point saying that there is a benchmark, there is a certain point where you have to look at numbers, you have to look at progression or measurement of success, right? Otherwise, you can’t justify to spend, you might be proposing to management or to your boss.

Brad McCarty: Yeah, absolutely. And it becomes a question … I had a really stark wake-up call at the first startup that I worked for after leaving The Next Web. ‘Cause at The Next Web, I helped to grow the audience there from something like a quarter million views a month to somewhere around fourteen million views a month. For me, pulling in traffic was never a problem, it was actually kind of an easy thing. And we didn’t really look too much at what each individual person was worth as far as how many page views did their individual writings get. We looked at, were they a great writer and could they help our team. Because that made sense at The Next Web.

Brad McCarty: Now, it doesn’t always make sense at a startup where literally every penny has to be accounted for. And so, one of my stark realizations was when I got to my first quarterly review and they took my full bleed cost of me being employed, which was my salary, my benefits, and my retirement and all these things. And they said, “Okay, so for every person based on a traffic that we have right now, every person who reads the blog is costing us, like, nine dollars, or something like that”. And that was a shock to me, because I went, “Oh, wow. So, that means that I need to dramatically increase the number of people who are reading the blog in order to get that cost per user down”.

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Brad McCarty: So, that was kind of my first real taste of cost per acquisition. There definitely comes a point where I have to sit back and I’m sure that I have to justify to the CIO or the CEO the cost of what we’re doing, and part of that is setting reasonable expectations, making sure that … For instance, we somewhat recently did a URL change. The blog used to sit on a subdomain, we’re now sitting on a regular domain where we’re having to build up that Google presence again because we’ve changed the domain of the blog and we’ve also gone over from a subdomain, which is really terrible for a COO. And so, one of the things that I had to do was set reasonable expectations with my executive team and tell them, “Look, it’s going to take ninety days for us to see anything from this, and then we’re not going to see our really big information come out … We’re not going to see big changes come out for six months or nine months or maybe even a year. But after that time, then we’re going to be in a really good place”.

Brad McCarty: We had all the right stuff going on at the backend, now the front end is working correctly. They’re not always going to like to hear that side of stories but I think it’s critically important for content producers to understand the technical aspects of things and understand what a cost of acquisition is, or total lifetime value of a user, so that they can break those things back into, “Okay, so every user that we acquire pays us four dollars but it’s costing us nine bucks to get them, I need to do something dramatically different”.

Brad McCarty: So, set expectations, be at least familiar with how to find those CAC and LTV numbers and keep track of them.

Vahe Arabian: I agree and it’s a lot to offer in startups but at the same time you’re earning that, so you can commit to taking the direction … You can turn as you need to rather than having to get several letters of approval to make that happen.

Brad McCarty: Yeah, I’m given some pretty good autonomy, which is wonderful, but at the end of the day, I’m still responsible for the results of whatever decisions that I make. You have to not really have fear of failure, you have to embrace the idea that everything that you do may not work and then understand what it means if it doesn’t work and already have your next move planned out.

Vahe Arabian: Exactly, if you’re not accountable for what you’re doing then you’re just going to take it seriously and you’re not going to be able to move forward and see the progression.

Brad McCarty: Right, right.

Vahe Arabian: Looking forward, in concrete terms, what do you see as objectives and initiatives that AngelMD wants to achieve? Editorial, if possible.

Brad McCarty: Yeah. My primary thing is we’re really focused on these partnerships that we’re developing. Things like the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American College of Cardiology. Because, again, like we talked about before, those are really our core audience. Those are doctors who are well versed in their fields. If they’re paying for an ACEP or an ACC membership then they’re probably at the point in their career where they’re fairly well established. Those are the people that we really need to be able to bring into the full potential of AngelMD.

Brad McCarty: So, we’re spending a lot of time and a lot of effort to find the right content which requires a lot of back and forth with these associations, with them telling us, “Okay, here’s what’s worked for us in the past”, and then figuring out, “Is that something that fits within the wheelhouse of AngelMD or do we need to tweak something to make it fit into AngelMD and then is it still valuable for the association?”.

Brad McCarty: That’s probably our biggest push, is this association thing and continuing to really nurture those relationships and to expand to get more of them. ‘Cause we love working with these, I don’t want to call them partners ’cause that can sound like legal terms but we love working with these other organizations and being able to have an association with them that can be mutually beneficial. Because we’re providing information and events and editorial content to their members that they might not otherwise have seen and in return, we’re giving them an opportunity, or it gives us an opportunity to directly connect with these people who are just our real core audience.

Brad McCarty: So, that’s probably our primary focus. I think second to that I’m going to continue to put a heavy focus on our newsletters because we have found … Anybody who has done any kind of research will tell you that email still converts better than anything else. So, I’m spending a lot of time making sure that our newsletters are just as solid as they can possibly be, that they are incredibly well targeted, that they contain the right information, that we’re going through our ECRM or our newsletter management and creation and making sure that the people are actually tagged with the right sorts of whether it is a subspecialty or they’re a doctor or whatever, we want to make sure that we’re giving them the right information to the right people.

Brad McCarty: It’s a lot of manual work but in the end, I think it pays off dramatically when you give the right message to the right people over a number of times. So, those are my two biggest areas of my concern and focus right now and I think that as the year goes on, and our development team continues to make the blog prettier and to get us more ways to produce content, we’re going to continue to branch out into more video and more audio content.

Brad McCarty: I love the podcast that Susana does, called “On Call”. She’s gotten really great reviews of it so far and continues to just do incredible work with it every other week and do interviews with some really inspiring people. So, I’m looking forward to seeing what she continues to do with that. So, that kind of goes back to my other focus for the year is continuing to hopefully influence in hiring the right people to do the job.

Vahe Arabian: That’s exciting to hear. Two questions- Do you think you can replicate the process of collaborating with these other organizations? And … yeah, I’ll start with that and then ask that other question.

Brad McCarty: Yeah, so far we’ve done pretty well in replicating the process with it. Like I said, we’ve got a gentleman by the name of Mark on our staff whose primary job is working to expand the number of associations that we have and to continue to negotiate with them and to find other associations that maybe we weren’t aware of. Having a dedicated person who spends the majority of his time working towards that goal is paramount for us and the success of this venture.

Brad McCarty: His second big job thing is that he’s also the one who puts together our annual conference, so he’s already working on that as well. The conference for us is … Not only whatever happens on those three days, it’s also how many interviews can we record, how many talks can we record that we can then repurpose into whether they’re blog posts or white papers or whatever throughout the year as we lead up to our next conference.

Brad McCarty: So, Mark has done a phenomenal job, he did a phenomenal job putting together the first one, I’m looking forward to the second one. I think his work with the associations is going to be absolutely critical to the success of what AngelMD does.

Vahe Arabian: You also spoke very highly of Susana, especially the fact that she’s a recent graduate, so how do you think people who are fairly new to space can take ownership to the point like Susana is doing in running a podcast?

Brad McCarty: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in asking the question. The magic of Susana Machado is that she is absolutely unafraid to learn and to try. And she will ask questions relentlessly and if she has an idea, she is always learning how to do something new and learning where her boundary is so that she can ask forgiveness instead of permission.

Brad McCarty: The podcast, for instance, I hadn’t really heard much about it and then all of a sudden she says, “Hey, by the way, this is the first episode of the podcast”. I’m like, “Wow. Okay, that’s great”. And it’s not like she needed my permission to do it but it was funny to me in a very positive way to see her go from, “Okay, I’ve kind of got this idea”, to, “Oh, okay, here it is”.

Brad McCarty: If you’re a recent graduate or if you’re somebody trying to break into the content marketing, the field of marketing or writing or whatever just try stuff. Just don’t be afraid to reach out there to put it all out on the line and try something new. There are probably tens of thousands of podcasts out there, not a whole lot of them get a lot of attention, some of them get a massive amount of attention, and by looking at the most successful ones and seeing what areas that you can replicate, there are ways towards success there and you can do the same thing whether it’s editorial writing or factual blogging or whatever content you’re trying to produce, there are so many examples of good stuff out there that are just asking to be made better and I think that that is to me my number one characteristic of what I want to see, whether it’s a new grad or a new hire or whatever, I just want them to be gutsy enough to try something.

Vahe Arabian: Just I finish it off, what over creative advice do you have for people who want to get into digital media and publishing?

Brad McCarty: Wow, where do I start? I guess if I had to narrow it down to one piece of advice, ’cause I could talk about this, we could talk about good advice and bad advice and kind of being the Yoda of digital media.

Vahe Arabian: We’ll have a separate podcast and have you as one of the main speakers about this.

Brad McCarty: So, if I had to offer one piece of advice it would be, don’t do it if you’re not passionate about it, because it’s going to show whether you’re passionate or not. And to be incredibly cliché but very factual, whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. And so, if you are passionate about something and you think that you have something to say, you think you have a voice that deserves to be heard, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from, whether you’re male or female or whatever. If you believe that you can and you actually will put yourself out there, then you can make a difference and you can do something really incredible.

Brad McCarty: Understand that the approach to incredible is a long, slow, sometimes arduous process. Don’t give up, just keep going.

Vahe Arabian: That’s awesome. I really like the fact that whether you think you’re right or wrong … How did you say it again, whether you think you’re right or wrong-

Brad McCarty: Yeah, it was an old thing that I saw actually at church years and years ago on their sign, it said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Vahe Arabian: That’s it.

Brad McCarty: And it’s just the power of believing in what you’re doing and your ability to do it.

Vahe Arabian: That’s awesome. I really appreciate you spending the time speaking with us.

Brad McCarty: My pleasure, absolutely.

Vahe Arabian: Thank you for joining us on episode twelve of the State of Digital Publishing Podcast. For more episodes or upcoming episodes, please feel free to subscribe to our podcast networks, iTunes, SoundCloud, and more. We’re also on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin. And for updated content and exclusive membership subscriptions, feel free to visit stateofdigitalpublishing.com. Thank you, until the next time.