Each week, staff writer Paul Wood interviews a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet STEVEN LI, a University of Illinois student who is the former publisher of Youth Business Collective, which grew to over 50,000 readers. He has now started another publication, The Rising.
How did you become interested in publishing?
Writing is such an awesome way to get to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise get to chat with. Everyone has a story, almost everyone wants to share it, and there are almost always people out there who want to hear it. When I started my last publication, we were in the youth business niche — that is, our readers were young people who wanted to learn to start their own businesses from the stories of successful entrepreneurs.
What do you study?
What I study, computer science, has almost nothing to do with publishing. But what’s important is that a lot of media companies don’t leverage tech, and that’s something I want to take advantage of.
What did you learn from your first publication?
I learned more things than I could list, but what was important for us in growing was being able to find interesting people who had interesting stories to tell but weren’t frequently featured in media.
Your publication covers how the environment affects business, technology and politics, lobbyist money from oil and gas companies, and other ways climate change fuels the creation of new enterprises. Tell us a little bit about what you’ve found.
What I’ve found is that the climate-change community is niche, but really passionate. There are a ton of opinions, and oftentimes, when we post on forums, the engagement is insane. I think that’s a good thing. Our goal is to continue that.
How is The Rising unique?
Most of our competitors cover how the environment is changing and the science behind that. We don’t really focus on that. Instead, we cover how these changes impact businesses, how politicians make policy decisions, and how technology companies are tackling climate change.
Has there been a good response?
Within the first week of launching, we have just about 3,000 visitors, with no advertising or social-media ad spend. This week, we grossed 5,000 readers.
Who is on your team?
I’ve got about 10 students writing on my team, and as climate change becomes a larger problem, getting students involved in exposing the ramifications I believe is meaningful.
What do you do when you’re not at work or studying?
From time to time, I’m on Twitter and Reddit, and like to play chess and watch basketball.
What’s your advice for someone starting up?
You should start as early as you can, because it’s important to fail fast and correct. When you’re young, the stakes are low. So you want to fail as much as you can and learn from those failures.
Did you ever make any mistakes that you learned from early on?
For sure. When I started my first publication, I used to ignore search-engine optimization and readability scores for articles. We learned that optimizing readability is super important in media — meaning, on average, shorter sentences, more headers and choosing the proper keywords for SEO.
TECH TIDBITS … from STEVEN LI
What’s your favorite app? It has to be Reddit.
On Twitter I follow … Garry Tan. He tweets a lot of interesting startup stuff.
Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? One of my friends recommended “Outliers: The Story of Success,” by Malcolm Gladwell. I agree deeply with the core idea of the book, that there are a lot of uncontrollable factors that contribute to success.
Do you have an entrepreneurial hero? Probably Chamath Palihapitiya. He’s the founder of Social Capital, an owner of the Golden State Warriors and an early executive at Facebook.
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