Tag Archives: brief moments of glory

I Started At BuzzFeed Three Years Ago Today, And This Is What Happened.

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Today is my three-year anniversary at BuzzFeed. I remember my first day vividly. My then-boss, Dao Nguyen, was out sick. So Chris Johanesen, our head of product, welcomed me and showed me to my desk. “You know what you’re supposed to do, right?” he asked.

I most certainly did not.

I had built out Stry.us and launched Tools For Reporters. I had launched newsletters with both of those projects, and I had enough experience to know that newsletters could work at scale. But I didn’t know how to launch a project at this level. I didn’t know how to grow it, or even what I was looking for in a team. I wasn’t even sure if I would last long enough at BuzzFeed to hire a team!

And now on my three-year anniversary, I’m looking back with amazement at a few incredible facts:

-On Sunday, BuzzFeed newsletters drove its 100 millionth click to BuzzFeed.com. ONE HUNDRED MILLION CLICKS.

-In the chart at the top of this post, the giant blue hockey stick of a line is traffic to the site on a month-by-month basis. How did we even do that?

-To put everything in perspective: The week I started, our five automated newsletters were driving 14,000 clicks a week. We’ve grown from those five newsletters to a dozen core newsletters, plus another 10 automated newsletters (like this) and original newsletters in four other countries on four different continents. Pretty good!

-When I started, we had fewer than 20,000 subscriptions across our newsletters. Now, we’ve got more than 2 million subscriptions across our lists. (And we’ve got plenty of room to grow!)

-The team’s grown from me to a team of four in New York, plus another half dozen BuzzFeeders around the world who pitch in to write newsletters in three different languages every week.

-Our newsletters used to be automated, and almost unreadable on your phone. Now every newsletter is written by a human, and they’re all responsively designed.

How’d we achieve all this? By testing out lots of weird ideas (This Week In Cats, anyone?) and spending a lot of time looking at the data and trying to figure out where it was pointing us. By being super clear in our mission: to send newsletters that were always useful and delightful. And by seeking out great people who could bring the ideas, energy, and work to take newsletters to amazing places.

Thanks to everyone who’s been a part of growing newsletters into such an tremendous program at BuzzFeed. Here’s to what we’ve accomplished — and to everything we’ll learn between now and our billionth click. (Hey, we’re 10% of the way there already!)

The Window Is Open.

When I was about 3 years old, I used to walk around my house pretending to play guitar on this red plastic pan. By middle school, I’d walk around school breaking into occasional air guitar. By high school, family friends would grab my mom and ask, “Why doesn’t Dan actually take guitar lessons?” And she never had a good answer for them.

When I got to college, though, I had this realization: If there was ever a time to learn to play guitar, it was right then. My freshman year, I made friends with a guy on my floor who played. He needed roommates for the next semester. I agreed to move into his place under one condition: He teach me how to play.

College happened to be an amazing time to learn a new skill.  I had a LOT of free time, and I spent much of it the next 3 years learning how to play. It was just a matter of recognizing that the moment was right to learn a brand new skill — and then putting in a ton of work to learn that skill.

The same thing happened when I realized that I was ready to start Stry.us. The same thing happened when I realized that I was ready to move to New York. I recognized that the window of opportunity was opening, and I had to have the guts to go ahead and take my chance before the window closed.

There are ways to know when the window is opening for you. Sometimes it’ll be obvious: a friend will extend an invitation to do something, and you’ll recognize that you’ve got a chance to do something special right now. Sometimes, it opens when you’re frustrated with what you’re working on, or when an idea nags at you for weeks. Sometimes, there’s no sign — you just know.

But if the window opens, take your shot. It doesn’t always stay open very long.

———

That photo has nothing to do with the window of opportunity — I just like it :-) It comes from Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash.

We Should All Be a Little More Like The Most Interesting Man in the World.

This is not a ground-breaking statement, but I’ll say it anyway: Life is confusing. We have so many questions and so few answers.

And it’s tough to know who our role models should be. There are so many great leaders and thinkers and builders in our world. Who to model a life after? Gandhi? Lincoln? Joan of Arc? Da Vinci?

May I suggest a simple answer:

Do as The Most Interesting Man in the World does.

You know who I’m talking about. The Most Interesting Man in the World is a remarkable guy. I mean, he can speak Russian — in French! Sharks have a week dedicated to him! He’s clearly figured out something about this life that’s worth taking note of.

And I think I’ve figured out his secrets.

Watch enough of his ads, and you’ll notice a few things in common. The Most Interesting Man is almost always:

1. Smiling.(1)
2. Sharing his experiences with friends.
3. Trying new things.
4. Getting into (and out of) trouble.
5. Traveling.

This is the answer, friends. Smile. Share. Try. Do crazy things. Travel.

You don’t need to grow a beard to do as the World’s Most Interesting Man does. You don’t even need to drink Dos Equis. Just follow his five rules.

Do them, and watch your world become more satisfying.

Stay interesting, my friends.

  1. Except in promotional photos for Dos Equis, because that would be unprofessional, obviously.

Why I Am Giving Such a Ridiculous TEDx Talk Tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I will speak at TEDxMU, the TED-approved event happening here at Mizzou. I’m enormously excited to be a part of the speaking list. Astronauts, businessmen, leaders and thinkers will be speaking.

And me, somehow.

Of course, I’m not content giving just any speech. I decided that if I was going to give a TED talk, I was going to make it big.

The advice that I should stay in over my head at all times hit home, I guess.

This is a common theme among my talks. Last summer, I spoke at an event called Disruptathon about a man named Skeet. I had a speaking coach tell me that my speech didn’t make any sense.

I was named runner-up for best presentation.

I spoke in December at NewsFoo. A friend told me that I was an idiot. You’re getting a chance to speak to a big room of powerful journalism folks, and you’re not going to say a single word about your business? You’re going to spend five minutes talking about your mother? That’s just dumb, Dan.

The talk got big applause. Even my friend later conceded: It worked. I don’t know how, but it worked.

So tomorrow? Tomorrow I will get up in front of the TEDxMU crowd and give a 13-minute talk about U2. I will play guitar for the crowd and lead a sing-along, even though I’ve never played guitar in front of a hundred people before, and I’ve certainly never lead a sing-along before.

I do not know how it will go. I hope it will go well. I’ve looked back at my lessons from Disruptathon — know your audience, show (don’t tell), and use your time wisely — and I think I’ve got it down for this thing. I’ve also kept in mind all those times that things have gone horribly wrong. Even in those times, things have always eventually worked out okay.

I’ve practiced the speech. I know the chords to “Elevation” as best I can. When I put public speaking on my List of Things for 2012, and I meant it. No backing down now.

The only thing left is to get up, smile big, be confident and give the most ambitious, most absurd talk I can.

Here goes.

What Mizzou Basketball Taught Me About Understanding the Moment.

So here’s the moment when I absolutely knew that my team was special.

It was back in January. My Missouri Tigers were playing their first Big 12 game of the year. Mizzou had been written off during the summer, when the Tigers lost Laurence Bowers — an All-Conference-caliber power forward — to a knee injury. The Tigers were playing small ball, with nobody on the team above 6’8”. Kim English, a 6’6” shooting guard, was being asked to guard players who were anywhere from three to seven inches taller than him.

And then something weird happened: The Tigers clicked. I was there in Kansas City the night Mizzou beat Notre Dame by 30. The next night, against the Pac-12’s best team, Cal, the Tigers won by 40. I was there in New York when the Tigers steamrolled Villanova at Madison Square Garden. By the time the calendar hit 2012, Mizzou was 13-0 and ranked #6 in America.

I was there in the stands for the Big 12 opener. Mizzou beat Oklahoma by 38, and it was memorable mostly for being such an absurd display of offensive skill. But one play stands out.

There’s 1:17 left in the game. Mizzou’s got three walk-ons in the game, and we’re up 85-49. Our point guard, Mike Dixon, takes a runner and misses. Oklahoma gets the rebound and the run-out. It’s a one-on-none fast break, and Oklahoma’s going to get a meaningless layup.

Except that Mike Dixon starts running. There’s no reason for him to; the team’s up 36, and he plays 30+ minutes a game for Mizzou. Nothing good ever comes from trying to make a play here.

Except that this time, something does. The Oklahoma player slows up for the layup, and Dixon — all 6’1” of him — comes flying from behind. The shot goes up, and Dixon swoops in and blocks it into the fourth row.

Michael Dixon is not a shot blocker. He has blocked five shots in three years at Mizzou.

And yet, there he was, chasing down a player shooting a meaningless bucket in an already-decided win. It was as tremendous a hustle play as I’ve ever seen.

That’s when I knew I loved this team.

One of the things I’ve learned in my 20+ years of watching college basketball is how to recognize when a team is great. Great teams don’t come around every year. It takes talent, and it takes effort, and it takes desire, and it takes a kind of chemistry that you need to see to understand. Few teams have it.

I’ve only seen a few teams in my life that were truly, truly special. But as soon as you saw them, you knew. And you didn’t miss a game.

You don’t miss an opportunity to miss that kind of magic. You have to understand in the moment that they might not be around much longer. When the spark’s there, you can’t not watch.

That’s why I went to Kansas City and New York this year to watch my Tigers. It’s why I snuck into the student section for the final Kansas game this year. It’s why I flew to Austin to see us beat Texas(1). It’s why I’m in Kansas City today for the Big 12 Tournament, and it’s why if Mizzou ends up in New Orleans for the Final Four — and I think we will — I’ll go, even if it means driving all night to get there.

My fellow Mizzou fans, I fear, don’t understand how special this team is, and they might not until after the season is over. They are witnessing an amazing season, but they don’t have a frame of reference to understand it. One day, they will.

Just not this year.

But when they do, they’ll never fail to recognize it again. I feel so blessed to recognize the moment my Tigers are in right now. I know that sounds absurd, but understand: At its core, I watch sports to be inspired. I watch sports for the moments when someone does something that I’ve never seen before — and couldn’t have even imagined until that very moment.

And in those moments, there is an absolute joy in knowing that I’m watching my fellow man push himself to limits that defy all explanation.

And so, yes, I feel blessed to watch a Tiger team as special as this, in a season an amazing as this. When you understand the moment, you’re willing to make sacrifices to appreciate something as special as this.

And yes, understanding the moment goes beyond basketball. Two years ago, in San Antonio, I realized that there was a big conversation happening in journalism, and I wasn’t a part of it. I didn’t yet understand my role, but I recognized the moment. And I did something a little bit — okay, a whole lot — crazy to give myself the time to appreciate and be part of the moment.

Moments like that pass all too quickly. I’ve let the pitch go past before, and I wasn’t going to do it again.

That’s why the Dixon chasedown block versus Oklahoma was so amazing. It was the surest sign that my team had started to understand the moment.

See, the greats don’t take plays off. They have one setting:

Go.

I saw Dixon’s block, and I knew: These boys would not quit. Ever.

Meaningless layup? To the fans, maybe. But not to those players. There is no quit in those players. They may not win the National Championship, but I know they will not quit along the way.

After all, they understand the moment, too.

  1. I’m the tall guy in the yellow shirt in the bottom right corner of that screengrab, above.

The Bums Who Would Be Champs (or: Macho Hercules!)

In the fall of 2007, I decided that I wanted to study abroad. The rationale was simple: I was running out of classes to take at the University of Missouri, and also, I could get away with it. Seemed logical enough at the time.

I decided that I’d go to Spain, and the study abroad office at Mizzou gave me a few options. I took the brochures home, studied the pictures intently, and then did what seemed right.

I Googled to see which of these places had the best soccer teams.

I settled upon Alicante, a sprawling seaside city just south of Valencia. They had miles of beaches, a busy bar district and, most importantly, two soccer teams. The first was Alicante CF, a third division team that made a remarkable run that spring and was promoted to the second division. (1) The other was second division Hercules CF, my team of choice, with a color scheme of royal blue and French’s mustard yellow, and a large Greek bust as their crest.

I’d be lying if I said Hercules was an great team that year. They were bums. But they were my bums, and I loved them for it. They were just good enough to avoid being sent down to third division, and just bad enough to stay well clear of the promotional zone. (2) I went to games, I cheered, and I even bought a scarf from a street vendor. I’d have bought a jersey, too, but Hercules wasn’t good enough to have a team store. I’d have gone beer for beer with Hercules fans, but Hercules had neither fans nor beer. (3)

This was not a team that featured many star athletes. Some teams put their best players on posters. Hercules put Jesus.

Jesus can save, I suppose, but he can’t score. That’s why the year I studied abroad, Hercules finished in sixth place in the second division, almost entirely on the strength of star midfielder Tote. Tote carried the team again in 2008-9, when the team finished fourth, just points away from promotion to La Liga.

This seemed alright with me. Hercules were bums, and I felt that they belonged somewhere right in the middle of second division. In a way, their continued mediocrity reminded me that the city I’d studied abroad in hadn’t gotten too big for its own good.

But then this season, the breakthrough came. I checked the box scores and the post-game reports weekly. I watched as Hercules got out far ahead of the pack, seven points clear of the third place team in the second division. Tote and the boys were a lock to advance to La Liga. But I also watched as that lead disappeared, as Hercules’ new fans panicked and called for the coach’s head.

Alicante, it seemed, would be spared success in the end.

And then, with two weeks to go in the season, my bums got a break. The two teams ahead of them choked; Hercules, meanwhile, got an 87th minute goal and a 2-1 win. In the last game, all Hercules needed to do was beat Real Union, the second-worst team in second division. Win, and Hercules was headed to La Liga. But, I reminded myself, the game was on the road, and besides, this was Hercules. I prepared myself for humiliation.

And then they won.

I don’t know how long it will last — the last time Hercules made La Liga, in 1996, they were sent back down at season’s end. But I do know that next season, Real Madrid and Barcelona, among others, will come to Alicante, Spain, to play. And a team that was lucky to draw a few thousand fans two years ago will be playing in front of a packed house.

I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. I fell in love with a group of bums. But now that they’re in La Liga, they’re heroes. Their fans might be able to buy overpriced Hercules gear in an actual team store, or use bathrooms that have actual working sinks. Their games might actually be broadcast on American ESPN. People might actually expect them to win. It will be different. Not better, necessarily, but different.

It was easy to love them as some second-division bums who nobody had ever heard of. It was easy to root for them because I didn’t have to take them too seriously.

But now that they’re champions? Now that Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be coming to town? It’s all becoming real. I’m suddenly forced to make a decision: do I take my level of fandom up a notch? I root for the Terps, the Caps, the Nats and the Tigers. Do I start really rooting for Hercules too?

It was all so much easier when they were just bums.

  1. They were promptly and harshly sent back down the following season due to an unfortunate tendency to lose games.
  2. In Spain, the top teams play in a division called La Liga, or The League. Anyone outside La Liga is irrelevant.
  3. Their stadium, Estadio Rico Perez, had two bathrooms and one concession stand, which sold non-alcoholic beer, potato chips and soda.