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Entertaining Entrepreneurship

VV Show #55 – Graham Hill of TreeHugger

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Graham Hill started the blog TreeHugger to cover green issues in 2003. After a steady climb in traffic and advertising, Graham sold the company to Discovery Communications in 2007 for $10 million. Since launch and even after the acquisition, Graham ran his business virtually. Graham lived in different cities from New York to Barcelona while working many hours to grow his company. His team of writers, ad sales people and developers chatted over Skype, got paid through PayPal and used Google documents to collaborate. Simultaneously, Graham launched a ceramic version of the iconic New York paper coffee cup (video below). Listen to how Graham built his businesses without an office or home town.

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2:30 Studying architecture and product design at Carlton University & Emily Carr University of Art + Design

3:20 Ceramic coffee cups replicas at We Are Happy to Serve You, launched late 2003

6:30 Started a web development firm, sold for “millions of dollars.”

8:45 “As a boyscout I would sell the most calendars… I was a good salesman.”

10:20 Regarding the coffee cup: “I was very persistent in finding out who had the license.”

11:55 “Once we got the MOMA, everything changed.”

12:20 “It’s a consistent theme. I look back at Siteworks, the web development company. When you get that key client, it really changes things for you. When we landed Microsoft it made all the other sales that much easier.”

15:50 The origin of TreeHugger

18:15 On TreeHugger: “It’s pretty much what I set out to do.”

18:18 “Green equaled hippie.”

19:13 “So I wanted to, basically, make green cool and convenient.”

22:00 “I think that for-profits play a really important role in socially, environmentally progressive areas… The advantage is that, as we start to get some traction, we prove that there’s a market there.”

24:48 “You want to set the DNA for the company being scrappy.”

25:20 Launched TreeHugger on “a couple grand”

28:00 Price per post: “started at $10 & $15… [now] a bunch up from that”

28:35 On-site advertising: “The ads should be part of the content.”

33:00 On working virtually

33:45 “Paypal made the company.”

35:30 “We’ve put some effort into marketing but it’s never really worked that well.”

36:00 Virtual Tools: GMail, Google Docs, Paypal & Skype w/ “water cooler”

40:45 Does it get lonely working virtually?

41:50 TreeHugger stats: Reached profitability in 2006, prior to acquisition, on $150,000 out the door. Hit a “couple million” pageviews a month. Monetized primarily through advertising using a number of ad networks. In 2007, 60/40 direct ad sales/ networks. Did well with AdSense, “green is good.”

46:20 Work-a-holic: “The concept of taking a weekend off is still a new one.”

46:45 “My role is taking something from nothing to something… That my interest. That’s where I add value.”

48:30 Discovery acquires TreeHugger

50:15 Mechanics of an acquisition

50:40 “We could bring on a banker, but we wouldn’t be a big deal to them.”

54:50 TreeHugger acquired for $10MM

57:15 Thoughts on the future

57:50 Planet Green: “The first 24-hour eco-lifestyle channel” and website from Discovery. “Planet Green is about getting people to take action.”

58:50 What gets you excited? Aviation: “I can be green in most of my life, except flying is a very hard thing for me.” Also, kite surfing.

1:00:30 Parting thoughts for entrepreneurs: 1) “Raising money can be dangerous.” 2) “Do something you’re really interested. It is said and it can’t be said enough.” 3) “Most of the people listening to this… don’t have a lot to lose… so take some risks.”

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