Content Curator: Mike Payne of TheCoolist (Part 1 of 2)

Inspired by the short film Influencers, we've decided to start a new series here at theMET called Content Curators. It's about the people behind some of the most influential websites around. They're the ones who sort through hundreds of blogs a day, who find the creative content that thousands, if not millions, of trendspotters see each month. They're our modern-day curators, the ones who not only possess the power to start trends, they have the confidence and courage to bring new ideas into the mainstream.

If you're a blogger, this series will give you some behind-the-scene stories that will inspire you on your own journey. Or, if you just love blogs, we'll unlock some modern-day mysteries. You'll finally get to know who the ambitious people are running your favorite sites!

The first person who we've decided to profile is Mike Payne from TheCoolist. TheCoolist has been in publication for 18 months, but it was just over a year ago that TheCoolist became Mike's full-time job.

Visit Mike's site and you'll notice that all of his content is visually stunning. Mike has a great eye for design and the way he researches and writes his articles makes TheCoolist one of the best design-related websites around. He was gracious enough to answer our interview questions, telling us how he got started and where he hopes to take TheCoolist brand from here.

Can you please introduce yourself?
I was born in Detroit and raised on its outskirts for 19 years, in a family that revolved around the American auto industry. My father, my hero, is a retired car designer who designed some of the Big Three's most celebrated vehicles throughout his 40+ year career at Ford, American Motors and Chrysler. Growing up, I was surrounded by design. Pantone color palettes, modern furniture and rotating company test cars were my creative jungle gym as a kid, and the resulting experiences really helped to mold the man I am today. One of my earliest memories as a kid involved climbing out of a woodgrain Jeep Wagoneer at age 4 and hopping on my Mom's lap on an Eames lounge chair in our living room. You know, looking back, my parents were pretty awesome!

Why did you start TheCoolist?
TheCoolist is the culmination of my own creative spirit, a central point of focus where I can share the works of human culture that I find truly amazing. “Design” is the lifeblood of TheCoolist, but I feel that word is a bit too limited to truly express just how amazing and dynamic human creation can be. “Cool” is a long-standing term used to describe things that are cutting edge, inspiring and lust-worthy. On TheCoolist, we study cool. Hence– The Cool “ist”.

What sets it apart from other design sites?
There are a lot of design sites I have tremendous respect for, and each of them influenced the development in TheCoolist in some way. DesignBoom, NotCot, MyModernMet, Archdaily– these are publications that rival anything you can find in print at your local design-minded magazine stand. I wanted the same for my own site. The things that separates TheCoolist from the others, in my mind, are 1) the qualitative approach to editorial content, 2) the broad spectrum of content we cover and 3) the singular source from which it is produced.

What have you learned about running a site?
I worked in publishing for about two years before going on my own with TheCoolist. It was there that I developed my own personal voice and technique, and it was there that I learned just how capable I was at going about this on my own. I co-founded a group of websites that share a similar coverage focus as TheCoolist, but realized that the innovations were coming from me while the financial reward was going to someone else. TheCoolist was my chance to be 100% selfish with a publication, to exercise the ideas I had created elsewhere while developing new ones as I worked.

The most new and interesting aspect of my new role on TheCoolist was managing the advertising as well as the editorial itself. Within the site's first year in business, TheCoolist cracked the 1,000,000 pageview per month level and we signed with Federated Media to represent our advertising. They are a truly great group of people, they take excellent care of us and absolutely live up to their slogan of “author driven”. Before TheCoolist signed with FM, however, advertising was the most difficult challenge as a publisher trying to live off of their own work. So many ad networks promise so many things, but none of them ever came to fruition.

What advice would you give others about taking their sites to the next level?
First, don't even get started if you can't develop a unique voice and a special content focus. If you aren't doing something different, you're fighting an uphill battle that will most likely end in failure. You don't need to be completely brand new, but you most certainly need to be able to explain why you are different in one minute flat.

Second, branding is just as important as SEO and almost as important as your content. If you're going to toss up a basic logo and use a common wordpress theme, you're killing the efficacy of your content. If you've got a special message, it needs a special visual focus. Find a great designer, spend the money it takes to develop something special and create compelling content. If you keep working, success is much easier to attain.

Look for Part II of this interview soon. For now, hop on over to TheCoolist to check Mike's beautifully organized and well-curated site.
*EDIT: Check out Part II, here.

Thanks for the interview, Mike. Love your site.

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