5 Questions with John Byrne of BusinessWeek, Fast Company, and Now, C-Change Media

john_byrne_185x250.jpgLast week, former BusinessWeek and Fast Company editor John Byrne’s new company, C-Change Media, launched the first site in a network he says will become “the Huffington Post of business.” The new site, Poets and Quants, combines original and curated content with a social network for MBA students, both current and prospective. The next site on deck, Slingshots for David, will launch later this year with a focus on disrupters. Others among the dozen or so planned niches for the network include doing business in China, doing business in India, management, finance, and the economy.

We caught up with Byrne to ask him about C-Change—and why he thinks he has a winning strategy.

WebNewser: Why focus on MBAs for your first site?

Byrne: There is some strategy here. Back in 1988, when I created the [business school] rankings for BusinessWeek, I was concerned about who would read BusinessWeek in the future. I felt we had to do something on a regular basis, that was big and substantial, to attract the next generation of readers.

As I thought about which site to launch first [for C-Change], I thought: If I go for the twenty-something audience, who attend the best business schools in the world, I’m getting people who are already Web-savvy. It’s an incredibly elite and lucrative audience of really smart people. If I can provide a really good service and introduce the brand to them in their 20s, they’ll get it and stay with it.

After the jump: Where the revenues will come from.

Photo credit: Brad Trent

You’re currently funding C-Change out of your own pocket. Where’s the future cash flow going to come from?

Multiple sources. Display advertising. From day one, [Poets and Quants] is generating revenue. Also, lead generation. There are a lot of business schools that are a little off the radar, but they’re very good schools and they’re anxious to have the names of and information on applicants they’d like to send marketing materials to.

There is an e-commerce shop, not yet open, and I’ll be selling things like in-depth reports on the top schools. So if you’re an applicant, and you really want to know a school inside and out, and how the admissions office works, and what can possibly give you a little edge over everyone else, you’ll be able to get that from this report. There will be webinars and virtual tradeshows. And we’ll be selling pre-rolls and interstitials on the videos.

Poets and Quants, which you say is going to be a template for the other niche sites in the network, doesn’t look like a typical online magazine.

The approach simply reflects my belief that you need to bring three things together to be successful in the future. Traditional media players play in one category: original content. Portals play in another category: aggregation. Facebook and the social media people play in another category: community. I’m trying to bring all three categories together and take the full strength of the Web and apply it and leverage it against my audience. This three-pronged approach—community, curation, and original content—I think is the right formula.

What’s one a-ha you’ve had in the last six months, as you’ve put this together?

I probably underestimated the amount of time it would take to get the technology right. As easy as it is today, and as open-sourced as it is, there are still a lot of funky things that go on that need fixing. The platforms aren’t as stable as you’d expect them to be. I probably assumed it would be an easy ride, but it wasn’t.

What’s one of the more surprising reactions you received as you told people about your plan for C-Change?

Early on, I went to a few angel investors to pitch my idea. The basic advice I got was: “To do what you want to do, you don’t need our money yet. Go do it yourself. Use the cash flow that you’ll get to generate your growth. Get to a certain level and then come back.” Luckily, I didn’t waste too much of my time [shopping for money]. It’s a sinkhole. If you want to do it, you have to do it. You have to put your money up and make it happen. Running around asking people for money wastes time that’s too precious.

Interview edited for length and clarity