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I invested my savings to build a media brand from scratch. Here’s how much it costs

October 14, 2022, 11:02 AM UTC
Alexis Grant is the founder of They Got Acquired.
Courtesy of Alexis Grant

When you start a new business, how should you decide how much of your personal savings to invest?

For the first time, I’m using what feels like a significant amount of my own money to launch a new business.

I’ve grown media companies before, but never dipped into my own savings. A decade ago, I ran a boutique services agency, and we reinvested some of our revenue into another arm of the business, a website for writers. I believe this is one of the best ways to bootstrap a company if you don’t yet have money in the bank: by offering services that bring in cash flow and investing over time into the growth of the new asset.

Then I went in-house at a personal finance media brand called The Penny Hoarder (they acquired my agency). That company was also bootstrapped, but the founder grew it for five years before I joined as the third employee, and we were so well-resourced that our growth matched the fast pace of a funded startup.

So when I set out to build a new media company last year, I had enough experience to know how I wanted to do it. I would bootstrap–I highly value autonomy–and I had funds to invest from a mid-six-figure sale of a content site the previous year, that website for writers we’d launched during my agency days.

Investing in a new media brand

Why would you put your own money into launching a company, someone asked me, when you could run a Substack or get a job at a media company? 

Because building something from nothing–something bigger than myself–is exhilarating. I’m skilled at writing, but my true superpower is building: spotting opportunities, putting all the pieces together, and sticking with it long enough to create something valuable.

There’s also the financial upside of running a scalable business that doesn’t just rely on me, and the freedom of playing by my own rules. If you’re an entrepreneur, you understand this well; it’s impossible to stay away from the next challenge. Every small win is a thrill.

So I began working about 30 hours a week (that’s my version of full-time work now that I have a family) on my new project in September 2021. I called it They Got Acquired

Through our newsletter, we share stories about online companies that have sold for six, seven, or low-eight figures, the kinds of exits that don’t typically get media attention but can be life-changing for founders, especially those who bootstrap or raise only minimal funding. We’re also building resources to help entrepreneurs sell their businesses, including a database that tracks acquisitions of this size. 

I chose this topic because it solved a pain point I’d experienced myself: both times I sold my businesses, I didn’t know where to turn for advice or professionals to help. Most of the information I could find was geared toward much bigger sales. And I pulled “comps,” or comparative sales, manually–because no one was tracking them for deals of this size.

So I set out to build this resource for entrepreneurs–but it turned out that investors, M&A professionals, and entrepreneurs looking to buy businesses are hungry for this information, too.

By the time we launched in February 2022, we had an email list of about 1,000 people and we’d spent about $30,000. Most of that money went toward creating content, and designing and building the website. 

While I’m our only employee, I work with a team of freelancers who do a lot of the heavy lifting: reporters, researchers, a podcast producer and designer, plus an operations manager. My goal is to eventually hire a few employees, but I don’t want to build a huge team. My preferred model–and this is possible largely because it’s an online business–is lean team, big revenue.

Fast-forward to six months after launch, and I publicly shared what our numbers looked like. This was through the end of July 2022:

Spent: $115,000

Revenue: $42,000 (reinvested into the brand)

My investment: $73,000

It felt scary putting my own money into this brand. But even scarier? Telling others how much I invested.

Is it too much, or not enough?

It’s easy to publicly share these kinds of numbers once you’re successful and looking back on what it took to get there. But being transparent about my investment when we’re not yet profitable? I found that far more intimidating.

Others might look at what I’ve spent and say it’s too much. I should’ve spent less on an MVP to find out whether anyone cares before putting serious money into it.

Others might say it’s not enough. Some media startups I follow on Twitter have raised millions to fund their first few years of growth. How will I make a dent with just $73,000?

Yet that transparency felt important, both to show others what it really takes to launch a business, and because it matches our brand ethos. We ask entrepreneurs to share sensitive information with They Got Acquired, metrics about their business, or behind-the-scenes details about the toughest parts of their acquisition experience. They trust us with that information because they know transparency helps other entrepreneurs succeed; it’s one tiny way to pay it forward. 

So by sharing my own scary milestones, I’m practicing what we preach. That investment, while high to some and low to others, was right for me. By putting these dollars in, the brand was just polished enough at launch to be taken seriously.

The trickiest part for me in deciding how much to invest wasn’t the initial investment, it was committing to investing more as needed. My original plan called for investing $60,000 to get our operations up and running, with the hope that soon after, we’d be revenue-funded. 

After launch, we had some fantastic wins. We grew our email subscribers to several thousand organically, with open rates that are higher than the industry average. We landed sponsors who wanted to reach our audience of acquisition-minded entrepreneurs. Our mission resonated.

Of course, I don’t want to suggest it was easy; there have been plenty of challenges, too. It’s been hard to hire great reporters with the right skillset even though I have a background in building content teams. And my expectations of how fast we might grow were not always aligned with the size of our team and resources.

However, we had traction, so I decided to put in more money. And I will continue to do so if needed because we’re in a different place now than we were when I drafted our pre-launch strategic plan. 

Now I don’t just believe this idea will work–I know it will.

Moving toward profitability

My goal is to bring in enough revenue to cover expenses by the end of this year. Our monthly burn rate right now is $10,500/month, but things change quickly at a startup, so in reality that might look different next month.

I had to push myself to publicly share those numbers–yet the reaction when I did was overwhelming. Other bootstrappers were so grateful for the transparency. We often hear about a new company’s successes, but the details around what investments it took to get there tend to be hush-hush. My fellow entrepreneurs were relieved to hear someone say, I put my own money in, and this is scary. They felt seen.

Yes, it’s a risk to invest your savings rather than raising money and transferring at least some of that risk to someone else. It’s certainly not a risk everyone should take, nor is it one everyone can take. 

But for me, in this phase of my life and career, betting on myself is the right way to go. 

Alexis Grant is a media entrepreneur and founder of They Got Acquired.

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