The Crunch: Launched in 2010 as a hobby blog that journaled Kyle Taylor’s knack for finding unusual ways to earn money to pay off personal debt, The Penny Hoarder now draws over 19 million readers, supports 56 employees, and topped Inc. 500’s 2016 list of the fastest-growing media companies in America. The Penny Hoarder’s mission to put money in people’s pockets resonates with a significant demographic — Americans who live off less than $50K a year. It all starts with a content team that focuses on ways of earning extra cash and saving money, and extends to coupons and other free offers. The Penny Hoarder plans to become a major player in reporting consumer news and, by investing in cutting-edge technology, anticipate the ways readers will engage with personal finance content in the future.
Many businesses intentionally launch blogs hoping to capitalize on web traffic and inbound marketing, but Kyle Taylor, CEO of The Penny Hoarder, did just the opposite. What started out as a hobby blog turned into what he describes as an “accidental company” that recently led to landing on Inc. 500’s list of the fastest-growing private media companies in America.
In his former career as a political campaign worker, Kyle would use the off-seasons to attend college or work side jobs. Over time, he had amassed $50,000 in student loans and credit card debt and was desperate to find quick sources of income. Thankfully, that was something he was good at.
“I had a knack for finding strange ways to [earn] extra money,” Kyle said, going on to describe one of his favorite gigs. “I got paid to go to the movies and write down all the previews I saw so advertisers could be sure the ads they were paying for were being seen.”
When people started noticing this propensity for penny-pinching and asked Kyle how he found these kinds of jobs, he decided blogging about it would be a fun way to keep track of his progress at paying off his debt. So, in 2010, he launched The Penny Hoarder — a blog dedicated to sharing his adventures in earning, saving, and using money to get out of debt.
While many financial-focused media companies cater to a higher-income demographic that wants advice on how to invest their surplus, The Penny Hoarder addresses Americans who make less than $50K a year.
“We believe there’s an entire market of people out there who just want to start a savings account or make an extra $500,” Kyle said.
Not only does The Penny Hoarder share stories of unusual ways Kyle and others have earned quick cash; it also showcases the latest work-from-home opportunities, and provides budgeting tips, links to coupons, and freebies. By providing these resources, Kyle is making the topic of personal finance more accessible to everyday Americans.
A Blog That Became Inc. 500’s Fastest Growing Media Company
When Kyle launched The Penny Hoarder in 2010, he didn’t know much about SEO, analytics tracking, or email marketing. In fact, he didn’t even have his own domain.
Six months in, Kyle realized it would be a good idea to move from a blog host to an owned domain. The blog started to garner national attention after two years, prompting Kyle to reconsider his casual approach.
“It got mentioned by Oprah.com,” Kyle said. “They reached out and asked for a couple of quotes. This was still, in my mind, just a personal journal. Having a big site like that reach out started to make me re-think that what I was doing might be having a broader impact and might be something more than just a hobby.”
Although he still filled his weekends with strange but lucrative jobs to pay his rent, this recognition spurred Kyle to quit campaigning and start working on the site full time. He quickly caught on to business-building strategies and started to see higher traffic and more income.
“We believe there’s an entire market of people out there who just want to start a savings account or make an extra $500.” — Kyle Taylor, Founder of The Penny Hoarder
By 2015, The Penny Hoarder reached a turning point. Kyle realized his business had grown so much he couldn’t continue to write for the site and handle all the marketing aspects. After struggling to find freelance writers who could resonate with his readership, Kyle discovered a blog management company called Socialexis, founded by Alexis Grant, a former reporter for the Houston Chronicle and U.S. News & World Report.
Alexis took over recruiting and managing freelancers for The Penny Hoarder, producing articles that fit Kyle’s audience and tone perfectly.
“I essentially outsourced all the blog operations, social media, and email marketing for an entire year to her,” Kyle said.
With his business on track to make a few million dollars, Kyle had a big decision to make. He could keep his “cushy little gig” and all the benefits of solopreneurship, or he could hire employees, build an office, and push his revenues even higher.
Finally, in June 2015, Kyle decided to buy out Socialexis and bring Alexis on board as his executive editor.
“Essentially, the decision to bring Lexi on board was a decision to reinvest almost all those profits we made that year,” he said. ”Within a span of 60 days, we opened our first office in St. Petersburg [Florida] and hired 11 other employees, including many of the freelancers Lexi had worked with over the last few years.”
Since he’s decided to go big, Kyle has made it his goal to reinvest at least 50% of profits back into growing the business — and it shows. In 2015, his revenue was $7.6 million. As of January 2017, The Penny Hoarder had 56 employees, 19 million readers, and 1.7 million email subscribers.
Kyle considers his company culture (employees enjoy a fun work environment complete with a shuffleboard table) an extension of his mission: to put more money in people’s pockets.
“I felt like, if that was going to be our mission, we really needed to practice what we were preaching and pay a livable wage to our employees,” he said.
Lessons Learned: Kyle Advises Removing Limitations on Growth
Looking back at what he could have done differently, Kyle realizes he should have hired employees much sooner than he did.
“I think that we could be double or triple what we are now if I’d started hiring a year or two beforehand. I could have easily afforded it then, but I was stuck in my own fear. I think that’s something a lot of entrepreneurs face,” he said. “We all put these limitations on ourselves about what we can accomplish, about what we’re worth.”
Kyle’s second piece of advice for business owners is to be more aggressive with growth projections.
“We’ve had a difficult time projecting growth. If we had projected correctly and raised our goals, we could be doing even more,” he said.
Despite tripling their growth from the previous year, the company only projected a conservative growth rate of 50% in 2016. Sure enough, they tripled again. To remedy this, The Penny Hoarder is being much more aggressive with its 2017 projections.
Missing the mark on growth also cost the company the expense and stress of having to move their office — now for the third time.
“When we opened our first office, it was 3,000 square feet,” Kyle said. “We thought we would hire 10 people, be happy for a year, and then maybe hire a few more people. But we ended up hiring 50 people, and we’re on track to round out 2017 with 100 employees.”
The Penny Hoarder Continues to Invest in Content and Technology
As a part of its mission to learn from the past and cast off self-imposed limitations, The Penny Hoarder’s leadership is not only expecting growth in size, traffic, and revenue but is also looking to the future of consumer content. While it plans to continue providing readers with the practical personal finance content they’ve come to expect, the company hopes to become an authoritative consumer news source with more original journalism and less of a “bloggy” tone.
“We want to break news, break stories, and we think there’s a real opportunity, especially on the consumer news side, to do that,” Kyle said. “Some of our most popular content is consumer-facing – jobs that are hiring, recalls, class-action lawsuits … those pocket-book, kitchen-table issues that get pushed to the back of the business pages in the newspaper but affect the consumer’s wallet. We hope to be a larger player there.”
Another way they’re looking to the future is by investing heavily in technology.
“We’re not thinking about what The Penny Hoarder is now, but what it might be 5 to 10 years from now,” Kyle said. “We want to start making those investments now, and start learning so we’re ready when the technology has wider adoption.”
The Penny Hoarder’s investment in technology was manifested by last year’s launch of a YouTube 360 Channel, which offers an inside look at what it’s like to work in certain careers. This year, The Penny Hoarder will also be releasing a virtual-reality game, available in stores and through most major consoles.
Even as The Penny Hoarder projects higher growth rates and extends its scope into consumer news, media, and technology, Kyle believes the key that started and continues to fuel its growth is still its mission to “put more money into people’s pockets.”