Retooling: Shifting Gears

by Laura Rich on May 5, 2009 in Work

pliers tool 150When your industry is shrinking like Lily Tomlin in that movie, what can you do to keep your growth on track?

As a few of the victims of the Great Media Meltdown of 2008, we’re impressed by anyone who’s found a way to beat that incredible shrinking business. Andrea Miller’s story is pretty compelling.

Miller is the CEO and founder of Tango Media, which publishes YourTango.com, a website about love and relationships, with about 700,000 monthly visitors. After an early incarnation as a magazine, Tango launched as a website and, last fall, as something else altogether. (By way of full disclosure, YourTango is a content partner of Recessionwire.)

From all appearances, YourTango looks, acts and talks like a website. It has stories, pictures, videos and some user-generated content. But don’t even think about valuing Tango as a media company. You might, actually, call it a tech company.

“It makes us much more attractive to traditional investors and opens more doors to investors who require a technology component.”

Even before there was a recession-capital-R, Miller looked for ways to keep costs way down. Instead of expensive customized software, or even the still expensive off-the-shelf stuff, she opted for open source – WordPress — and with the help of her CTO/husband did the customization in-house. They stretched and pulled the software to the point where what they’d created was a pretty sophisticated publishing system.

“There was quite a lot of buzz around Tango in the tight-knit WordPress community,” says Miller. “We helped prove that WordPress could do much more than be a blogging platform; we used it as a full-fledged, interactive CMS.”

But WordPress had its shortcomings, even for the whizzes at Tango, and as the company looked to move into more interactivity and user-generated content, the tech question came up again. And again, Miller chose to pair open source with the crack team she had on hand.

“We decided to move to Drupal because we wanted to create a rich social media environment and highly scalable CMS,” she says. “At the time, WordPress hadn’t released the tools we’d need to do this effectively. Now we’re similarly customizing and innovating around Drupal. We are leveraging technology in a variety of additional ways from creating an iPhone app to implementing Facebook Connect to creating social media tools and algorithms to facilitate a richer community experience.”

But there was another reason for switching to Drupal.

“We had heard that traditional media companies were investing in independent media companies often times based on their technological prowess,” she says. “We felt that by having a robust open source CMS, like Drupal, we would ultimately be more attractive to such strategic investors in the long run as well to tech focused investors in the shorter run.”

When Miller went out shopping for capital last year, amid the media industry’s cratering, she had another card to play.

“Having so much to tout in terms of our expertise with Drupal, all that we’re doing to leverage existing technology, and the steps we’re taking to innovate technologically have been important points of differentiation to YourTango as a media company,” says Miller. “It makes us much more attractive to traditional investors and opens more doors to investors who require a technology component.”

Investors were intrigued by Tango’s expertise in developing publishing systems and saw a potential revenue stream for the company in marketing their platform to major publishers. Since tech companies get better valuation multiples than media companies, Miller was now looking at a bigger company, and therefore, a better investment.

That’s some good recession-dodging repositioning.

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