The pilot issue, published in May 2012, featured contributions from Mark Ames (“You Can’t Handle The Truth”), Jason Heller (“On A Raft With Taft”), Patrick Sauer (“This Is Why They Hate Us”), Sarah Bee and James Aylett (“That We Know Of”) and Nathan Pensky (“Walt Disney’s Head”), illustrations by Molly Crabapple, Hallie Bateman, PJ Perez, Molly Choma and the first ever appearance in NSFWCORP by Brad Jonas…
Most of the articles aren’t online, annoyingly, but there’s an ebook of the whole thing on Amazon.
The response to the pilot was, thank goodness, very positive – both from readers and investors. Mike Arrington sent a nice email (“this is awesome”), as did Tony Hsieh.
And yet. Amongst the positive feedback was plenty of helpful, critical stuff: Pleas for more jokes, an easier to use interface, that kind of stuff. The joke feedback struck a particular chord with me: The writing in the pilot was tremendous, but the overall package still lacked – something. There was nothing that made me think holy shit, I can’t believe I just read that in the way that reading old issues of Spy or Private Eye still does. To be clear: This was entirely on me. The writers and illustrators did exactly what I asked, and in many cases far more so. Thinking back now, I think all the money we had in the bank made me lose my nerve.
So next the real work began: Hiring more writers, tweaking our editorial tone, rebuilding and redesigning our app from the ground up, ensuring we had a viable business model — that kind of thing. But also — finding my own courage, and enabling the courage of our writers, to be funnier, angrier and just plain voicier than in the pilot.
To keep the editorial momentum going while I figured all that out, we continued to publish articles behind the password wall (hidden from subscribers). The idea was that, once NSFWCORP went fully live, we’d have an archive packed with fun stuff like Jason’s Hbo Makes A Star Of George W. Bush’s Decapitated Head and Mark’s Chen Guang Cheng Needs A Makeover . June 26th saw the first appearance of Hallie’s brother, Ben Bateman on NSFWCORP with Tennessee Legislates Against ‘gateway Sexual Behavior’.
All in all, we published 17 hidden pieces on NSFWCORP in the two months between the pilot and our official launch. You can read them all in the archive. Hopefully you’ll notice the pieces getting steadily funnier and more NSFWCORPy as time progresses. Meanwhile Josh and Roger hustled to build v2 of NSFWCORP as I hustled to raise more money to keep the wheels on the whole thing.
Fortunately Tony was suitably impressed with the pilot that he agreed to invest an additional (I think) $300k in NSFWCORP (I’m trying to find the term sheet so I can confirm how much, and the dates). What I know for sure is we announced the new round on July 4th. Now NSFWCORP was a real, fully funded company we could actually launch the fucking thing for year.
And so on July 4th 2012, NSFWCORP officially launched and we started letting the sponsored beta subscribers in for real…
From: Paul Carr<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Subject: NSFW Corp has launched. You’re in.
Well hello there,
Just a quick note to let you know that Not Safe For Work Corporation
has *finally* launched, and your subscription has been activated.
You can log in at http://www.nsfwcorp.com using your email address and
the password you entered when you signed up. If you’ve forgotten your
password, there’s a handy reminder link on the front page.
Welcome to the future of journalism (with jokes).
Editor in Chief, NSFW Corp
Here’s the editorial letter I wrote on NSFWCORP, announcing the launch. You’ll note from the opening line that I had found some of my missing courage.
Friends, Romans, Cunts.
So here we go, then, the public launch of Not Safe For Work Corporation. This is the moment when all of our work over the past six months or so comes to glorious fruition or humiliating anticlimax.
Given the transatlantic nature of our 17-strong (!) team, and the “without fear or favour” principles on which this plucky enterprise is founded, when better to launch than on Independence Day? Also, 4th July is the ultimate slow news day in America so unless the New York Times is caught plagiarizing from Playboy or Arianna eats Tim Armstrong, we should pretty much have the cycle to ourselves.
So here, then, are some useful notes to have in hand when the world’s media hacks inevitably beat a path to your door demanding answers about what we’re all doing here. Remember first and foremost: we only ever talk on the record – and “you own your words” as The Well used to say before they sold those same words to a succession of different owners.
The main note is that we don’t really have very much at all to say about what NSFW Corp stands for. Not because we’re dicks (although, to be clear … ). But rather because, as I wrote in the Pilot, we have no interest in making bold mission statements. Better instead to have an actual mission, and to let the fuckers figure out what that is. If they get persistent, just tell them we pay all of our writers. That’ll give them plenty to chew on.
Logistics: our daily publishing schedule begins today, and continues until the last of us is dead. NSFW Live resumes Monday, broadcasting from our sound-and-bullet-proof studio, high above the Las Vegas strip. Today we’re letting in everyone who signed up for the Pilot. From the end of next week, we’ll be admitting subscribers, by invitation. Once invited, everyone – EVERYONE – pays $3 a month.
The email address for reader correspondence is email@example.com, or @nsfwcorp on Twitter. Rosalie will read everything, and we’ll publish the best correspondence as Desk Notes. Subjects of Dispatches have an automatic right to reply. Everyone else: only if they’re funny or interesting.
The front page illustration was created by Hallie Bateman, who observed NSFW Corp HQ with the eye of a courtroom artist. The technology was built by Josh Ellis and the “look and feel” was designed by Roger Erik Tinch. Our editorial co-ordinator is Rosalie Miletich. Editor-at-Large is Mark Ames. Everyone else is credited as we go along.
The scribble dog doesn’t have a name yet. Suggestions welcome.
Okay. That’s it.
…and here’s how I explained the difference between the pilot and the final product to Sarah on WITN…
Finally, here’s how Sarah covered the launch on Pando…
As discussed on WITN earlier today, NSFW Corp has finally — FINALLY — launched. Go here now to subscribe. Paul won’t actually let you in for another week, but after that you can read all the NSFW you want. Really, this time.
What’s that you say? You don’t want to risk $3 on unseen content? Here’s a snippet of content by James Aylett about one of Paul’s favorite topics, Julian Assange:
Julian Assange is the diplomatic equivalent of syphilis. The Australians gave him to the Swedes. Then the Brits had him and, in all probability, the Americans will be next. For now, though, he has holed up in Ecuador’s embassy to the UK, presumably after reading a travel advisory from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office warning of an elevated risk of sexual assault in the South American country and thinking, “Oh yes, I’ll fit right in there.”One of Paul’s gripes with the pilot published some two months ago is that it wasn’t as acerbic, funny, or offensive as a typical day hanging out with him. After spending the last four years hanging out with Paul, and my morning reading NSFW, I can easily say mission pretty much accomplished this time around. The trick will be keeping it up.
I also have to say I love the design, the more I read. Once you figure out where to click (Hint: It’s not what appears to be the headline. It’s the text. Confusing, I know. I think it’s some kind of “cool” test. Don’t worry. I failed too.) the page swooshes and moves in nice but not overstated ways. Paul’s developer Josh Ellis rebuilt it from the ground up after the pilot, and he did a great job, along with designer Roger Erik Tinch. And — not surprisingly — I love the illustrations by our own Hallie Bateman.
She also published this Q&A, also with illustrations by Hallie…
Sarah: Why didn’t you raise more — are you one of those lean startup nut cases?
Paul: Yeah, I’m renowned for my financial prudence. No, the simple truth is we didn’t need more. Aside from some design and tech, our major outlay is the writing. (We pay every one of our writers, and I think pretty well.) Unlike hiring brilliant developers, hiring brilliant writers is a reasonably affordable proposition, providing you can find them in the first place. Also, I suppose I like the idea of pseudo bootstrapping the thing: Comedy publications with millions of dollars in the bank are very rarely funny, for some reason. Maybe it’s an underdog thing.
Sarah: How many subscribers do you have to sign up to make the economics work?
Paul: For the first year, none. After that, things go south pretty quickly unless we have at least 10,000. 50,000 would mean we can keep doing this thing for the rest of our natural lives. 100,000 and I’m selling to AOL and handing over the reins to a 12-year-old drunk.
Sarah: Why’d you raise so much from Vegas? Don’t most people go there to lose money?
Paul: It’s not really about taking money from Vegas, it’s about taking money from investors who aren’t scared off by the idea of a crazy Brit wanting to spend their money swearing at politicians and journalists. That’s a short list. It’s basically just Tony Hseih, CrunchFund and Judith Clegg.
That said, Tony was the first investor to encourage me to start the company, and to move to Vegas. Both turned out to be pretty good ideas. I love it here, and I love what’s happening with the regeneration of Downtown. I love the fact that you avoid all of the assumptions people make about a media company being based on the East Coast (or in London) or a tech company on the West Coast. Also: interesting people come to Vegas all the time — I want to have as many talented, funny people in the room at the same time as I can.
SO, given all of the above, when we decided to raise more money, Tony (and Vegas Tech Fund) was the obvious first call. He’s been a model investor: zero interest in influencing editorial, zero attempt at telling us what to do generally (apart from encouraging us to be in Vegas) and willing to offer — in our attorney’s words — “ridiculously generous terms.”
Sarah: How are things going with the whole Downtown Project generally?
Paul: From my point of view, fantastic. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now. The regeneration means there’s always something interesting — a bar, a concert hall, a startup — popping up. The people, as you know, are fascinating. There’s a real entrepreneurial spirit. As for the Downtown Project generally, you’d have to ask Tony but signs point to so-far-so-good. I’ve said before, his biggest challenge will be avoiding the whole thing becoming Zappos Town. Hopefully we can do our bit in helping with that.
Sarah: Back to NSFW — what parts of the original vision are still there; what’s gone?
Paul: The original vision: a paid subscription publication that talks about the week’s news, with jokes, is entirely intact. Most of the specifics have evolved through the pilot period though. For one thing, it’s not weekly any more — we realized (embarrassingly slowly) that grouping stuff together into a weekly package makes zero sense, no matter how much we’d like it to. Also, we’re not on the Apple Newsstand. I actually can’t believe I was willing to entertain the idea of giving anyone — let alone apple — an effective editorial veto on what we could publish. The 30 percent is fine, but the approval process is bullshit. We’re HTML5 all the way, even if the path to purchase is slightly more painful.
That said, we’re publishing our ebooks through Apple and Kindle and Nook because, well, that’s how people buy and read ebooks. Re: my point about editorial approval, we’re already embroiled in a fight with Amazon over our first title, so my HTML5 decision is looking good. On the content side, as I said in this week’s WITN, I realized that we pulled too many punches. I don’t know if it was fear stemming from having raised a bunch of money, or just he fact that I haven’t edited comedy for a while, but too much of the pilot wasn’t funny, it was “humorous”, which is the fucking worst. That’s entirely my fault, by the way. The writers did an amazing job (and they’re all still with us) — I just forced them into a box.
Sarah: Is this the last launch? Will it be published regularly from today on?
Sarah: You love to joke about being a failed entrepreneur, but my sense is you have legitimately learned a lot of lessons from those failures that could help other entrepreneurs. Can you share some with us?
Paul: The number one lesson is to make sure that you are the best in the world at whatever your core offering is. I co-founded a print publishing house in 2005, despite having no experience with books back then (leaving my business partner to do all the heavy lifting). Then I created a social network, despite the fact I hate people. Other lessons: you can be a boss or you can be a drunk, you can’t be both. Trust your gut and retain as much control as you can. You’ll need it.
Sarah: You and I share a Messianic view about saving journalism. What are you trying to bring back that has been lost?
Paul: In the words of Monty Python (and possibly Kara Swisher), I’m not the messiah, I’m a very naughty boy. Yeah, I think we’re both trying to build companies that achieve the (some say) impossible feat of producing genuinely high quality editorial, produced by world-class writers and journalists who are being paid a respectable (maybe even generous) wage for their talents.
The two biggest things that NSFW Corp is trying to bring back are a satirical magazine that readers are excited (and a bit scared) to read every day/week/month (like I was with Private Eye in the UK of my youth, and I guess people had here with Spy) — and from a writer’s point of view, a place to call home. Somewhere where you can write your heart and soul and gut and know that your editor relishes the ensuing fight as much as you do. If this isn’t fun, we might as well kill ourselves, right?
For the first week the LIVE version of NSFWCORP was only available to beta subscribers. At the start of the second, we turned on our payments system for the first time.
In the next post I’ll tell you how many people actually signed up.
All photography (unless otherwise credited) by Molly Choma