The story of Emerson Spartz might make you feel lazy, slow-witted, and unaccomplished–even if you’re a self-starting, super-successful, highly-motivated, bootstrapping entrepreneur extraordinaire. I am not one such entrepreneur, so keep in mind the state of my self-esteem if you begin to experience doubts about your accomplishments as you read on. But trust me, momentary bursts of loathing will pass and the admiration and inspiration will take hold.
A Magical Start
Emerson Spartz began his career working in community-based content with MuggleNet, a Harry Potter fan site. A site that he built when he was 12 years old. The same age when he asked his parents if he could drop out of school and homeschool himself. It goes without saying that he was not a child of ordinary interests, and he didn’t intend to start your average website. He spent more than ten hours a day emailing people around the world and trading links with other Potter fans. They would link to each other, and MuggleNet would grow.
The site went on to traffic in over 50 million page views a month. Spartz would publish three books, including a NYT Bestseller that sold more than 300,000 copies. He lived every Harry Potter fan’s dream to the max, attending premieres, visiting sets, appearing on television (Jimmy Kimmel and Geraldo Rivera), and flying to Scotland to interview J.K. Rowling privately.
Rabid fandom for all things Potter allowed Spartz to run his site with the help of free volunteers. More importantly, he’d tested the community-based content model that would become the foundation of both his vision and Spartz Media. And he kept on learning like few others.
His Very Own Hogwarts
To say that Spartz has an insatiable appetite for learning puts matters mildly. He designed his own curriculum and taught himself all the way through school. A full load of courses in college at Notre Dame didn’t appease him either. Using a complex method of initialisms, mnemonics, and flash-cards to push his memory of concepts, he continued to self-teach in his spare time. He also set himself the task of reading one non-fiction book a day until he graduated.
Somehow, when he wasn’t trying to feed his bottomless intellectual appetite, he managed to meet his future wife, Gaby. She, too, started a website when she was twelve. After college, they would co-found Gives Me Hope and begin expanding the Spartz Media conglomerate. Gives Me Hope is a site where people can post true,Twitter-length stories of uplifting moments. Here’s an example:
A boy was dying of cancer and needed an expensive brain surgery, but his family, broke and desperate, couldn’t afford it.
His 8 year old sister Tess took her piggy bank savings to a pharmacist in order to buy a “miracle.” it just so happens that the right man witnessed the little girl’s tears at the pharmacy counter: a neurosurgeon. He performed the surgery for free.
The site was conceived as an antidote to all the negative news we’re bombarded with daily. Stories are short, encouraging–and popular.
The audience at Spartz Media has now grown to over 160 million pageviews a month. The company boasts a network of more than twelve sites, including OMB Facts, Six Million Secrets, and Daily Viral. OMG-Facts.com alone has 6 million Twitter followers and registers 30 million page views a month. Thanks to social media, the company was able to amass a huge amount of data early on, which Spartz used to create algorithms that now predict what content will go viral.
Spartz Media launches a new online community every month, and claims a success rate higher than 90%. Their brands “make it easy to create and share content so others can learn, laugh, and feel inspired,” according to the company website. Behind all of Spartz’s ventures burns the urge to use the power of community to better people’s lives. Given his record, building a company with over a billion views and providing people with moments of joy, hope, and laughter probably won’t satisfy him. Yes, even I will keep my eyes open to watch eagerly where he takes the power of community-based collaboration next.