David Smooke on starting Hacker Noon

The CEO of the leading technology publication talks about how he first got involved with writing and established the site that now boasts a library of over fifty thousand stories.
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David Smooke founded Hacker Noon in 2016, an online technology publication that delivers stories on topics ranging from cryptocurrency to AI. Now the company has developed a strong software offering that is said to rival larger publishing platforms like Medium.

What is Hacker Noon?

Hacker Noon is an independent publishing platform for technologists with the tagline, how hackers start their afternoon. We’ve published 10k+ contributing writers and serve 4M+ monthly readers.

For our readers, we provide a library of 50k+ technology stories and expert articles - accessible without paywalls or pop-up ads. For our contributing writers, we provide a holistic platform encompassing editing, content distribution, and a thriving community of readers and fellow contributors. Sponsors receive impressions upon relevant, high-quality technology stories.

On a weekly basis, what does your role as CEO for Hacker Noon involve?

I spend time on activities that drive our core three metrics: the amount of time visitors spend reading; the amount of words published, and the revenue the company generates.

No matter what, every week, I have three meetings - editorial, sponsorship, and product. I prepare for, attend and build actions around these three core meetings.

We are a publishing company and a software company. So, day-to-day, I spend a lot of time messaging with the team; product planning and advocating; editing contributions from writers; pitching sponsors; writing elaborate and simple business documents; writing blog posts; analysing analytics and just generally thinking who can we be a better place to publish technology stories and expertise?

Why did you start Hacker Noon and how did you decide to focus on tech?

I didn’t set out to build a popular technology site. It was an accumulation of following what worked, after I figured out I could only tolerate working for myself. I suppose many people’s twenties work like that. Overall I took more of the Jackson Pollock approach to startups, throwing a lot of ideas on the web, seeing what resonated, and then either feeding it more resources or stopping work on it.

Originally, the company was my part-time product management adventure that became a location-based photo-sharing app while working my startup day job. Then I went full-time and turned the company into a startup marketing firm (prioritising for revenue) all the while building as many sites as possible in whatever additional time and resources I could create. I really just wanted to make sites with my friends like Jay Zalowitz. In total, the company made 25+ sites, consisting of community-driven publishing destinations and different solutions and marketplaces for monetising digital content. Most of those sites failed or levelled off to moderate success. One of those sites was Hacker Noon: how hackers start their afternoons.

It found the right mix of community, customers, and – just a cool place to spend time on the internet. We’re now up 10k+ contributing writers and 4M+ monthly readers. Each startup is its own living breathing thing. I tried to let the business tell me what it would be, and not the other way around. When Hacker Noon grew, it became the entire focus of the business, and we reached the limits of how much it could grow without its own technology. We’ve been building with the Dane Lyons’ Product Funnel approach.

Technology infiltrates everything we do. And now, we also make the technology that we use to publish about technology. The world is meta. Learn something new everyday by reading Hacker Noon.

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