Four Things We Learned From The VSB Acquisition

 Very Smart Brothas, Panama Jackson (left) & Damon Young (right)

Very Smart Brothas, Panama Jackson (left) & Damon Young (right)

 

We at Native Aesthetic congratulate the popular digital magazine, Very Smart Brothas (VSB), for their recent acquisition by Univision; a remarkable achievement by two upstarts determined to fulfill their decade long passion. For those unaware, the magazine founded in 2008 by co-founders, Damon Young and Panama Jackson, started as a small blog, but later turned into a top voice within the Black community. Now, millions come to their site to find relevant commentary on news, race, and popular culture.  

The announcement, reported in early July, ushered in waves of admiration, but it also left VSB’s die hard  with equal amounts of anxiety. Will their fervent community change? What will happen to the authentically Black content? Anticipating the flurry of questions, Mr. Young posted an encouraging FAQ explaining the acquisition. However, that’s not all he did. Those with similar aspirations got a bit of a peek into what it takes to create, grow, and eventually monetize their digital media platform.  We appreciated their transparency at NA and decided to compile notable insights from their example, so that others might learn from it and possibly do the same. See below for the four takeaways we learned from the monumental news. Spoiler: it took them nine years!  

1. It’s A Great Time for Digital Platforms Serving Underrepresented Audiences

VSB has leveraged the shifting preferences of young, tech savvy consumers. Technology has enabled consumers to seek out platforms that resonate with their interests. For VSB, that meant becoming a vital cultural source for the growing Black Millennial community. According to Nielsen, over half of Black Millennials spend at least an hour on digital media. And when they’re on, they look for platforms that express the specific needs of their community. Univision acknowledged this trend, and leaped at the chance to grow its already diverse portfolio. It makes sense. Rather than build from scratch, bigger companies are sniffing out smaller platforms that managed to create strong brand identity and connect with underrepresented audiences. Enter VSB. The acquisition was part of a much larger strategy by mega firms to stay relevant in a fast-changing industry.

2. Consistency Is Key

The announcement is even more momentous considering VSB’s small team. Just a two-person nucleus—the team worked to build a platform that hosted a couple dozen unique visitors per month back in 2008, but exploded to over 2 million visitors almost ten years later. In an earlier article, Mr. Jackson explained how they attained such a large following. It was simple. They just kept at it. No other magical additives required. VSB “average[s] almost 355 pieces per year”, equating to roughly one per day. That sort of commitment inspires us at Native Aesthetic. And should for you, too. Because to hone a skill, occasional practice isn’t enough. One has to do the work over and over and over again.

3. A Strong Voice Is Better Than Consistency

Despite the importance of consistent production, a strong perspective matters more. VSB’s brand is incomparable to anything else in digital media. Their wit, lucid cultural analysis, and introspection combines into a product that a lot of people love. VSB has turned casual browsers into passionate fans by carving out a signature niche that’s authentic to them.

4. Leverage Your Following

The strong community VSB managed to create allowed them to leverage their talents in other areas.  Book deals, other writing gigs, and speaking engagements helped monetize the audience they created. And now with more time, the two can focus on “podcasts, short videos and more panels and events”, which helps them monetize even more. But, they warn upstarts of  worrying too much about their audience before the time is right. Create something good first. The audience will come.

There you have it. Much can be accomplished by 1) understanding the market 2) remaining consistent 3) gaining a unique voice and 4) leveraging your following.  Shout out again to VSB for a remarkable achievement! And, good luck to the next group following in their steps.