It’s been 6 months since we launched Escape Collective and we wanted to give you an update on where we’re headed and provide a level of transparency that I hope you, our members, will appreciate. It’s your money that’s built this, after all.
Purpose of this report
We feel a responsibility to provide a level of transparency to our members who directly fund our operations. We aim for this report to give you insight into our business operations, how we intend on becoming a sustainable business, and how we aspire to be the largest and most impactful cycling community in the world.
Please make no mistake about this. We are running a business and it’s our responsibility to do so profitably. We have families to feed, we need to save for rainy days, we need to invest in new services, and we’ll certainly have mistakes to pay for. Plus, we want to be here for the next 20+ years to serve you, our members.
For context in this report, before we started we challenged a very fundamental premise of our business: Are we in the business of making content, or are we in the business of creating and fostering community?
Without a doubt, we’re in the community business. This is the lens through which we look at everything.
This report is broken down into 6 sections:
- Our mission/vision/values
- Financial summary
We decided to make this report public so that we can ‘pay it forward’ as other projects have done for us such as Defector.com, deCorrespondent.nl, the Lenfest Institute, the Membership Puzzle, and a special shout out to Brian Morrissey’s ‘The Rebooting’ and People vs Algorithms (of which we are keen students of). We couldn’t have done this without their direct and indirect help, so hopefully we add another proof point to other parties within the media who aim to do something similar.
We’re doing an interim transparency report because a lot has happened in the six months since our launch that we feel is worth communicating. Going forward, these transparency reports will be published annually, as long as we have something new and interesting to say.
To inform, inspire, entertain, connect, and improve the lives of people around the world through our common love of cycling and the power of the bike.
To be the world’s largest and most significant cycling community
- Our members are the center of our universe.
- Independence: As a member-led organization, we are proudly independent and not beholden to advertising dollars, allowing us to operate fully in the best interests of our community.
- Inclusivity: Whoever you are, whatever kind of bike you ride and however you like to ride it, we will welcome you as a member.
- Comprehensive: We provide a wide range of content and services to inspire, educate, and entertain our members and be the best people on bikes that they can be.
- The Highest Standards. In everything we deliberately choose to do, we do it to the best of our ability and creativity, in service of our members.
Before embarking on this endeavor we did a small friends and family fund raise to ensure we made it past the first couple of years. That money would see that we have the cashflow to sustain operations given the nature of starting this business and the staggered revenue that results at the beginning of our financial model. If cashflow doesn’t prove to be an issue in the next 6-12 months we will have the confidence to be able to invest in more services for our members. We look forward to announcing those things once we’ve carefully considered member value and the business case for each.
In terms of governance, at this early stage we do not have a Board yet. Personally (I, Wade Wallace), I have a small team of advisors who I meet with weekly who challenge my thinking, help guide difficult decisions, offer practical advice, and keep me accountable.
In 2024 we will assemble a Board who can help guide Escape Collective into the future, manage risk, keep us accountable, and do what’s best for our stakeholders.
We have a Financial Controller working behind the scenes who knows our business well. He was our Controller in our former business also. He not only has experience and expertise in analysing our financial performance which help guide our decisions, but he creates the necessary systems, processes and checks and balances for sound financial discipline.
In our first year our goals are modest. We want to:
- Establish the community, set the foundation for the business
- Establish Escape website, podcast network, build and launch our fantasy competitions
- Launch editorial operation in road cycling (podcasts/website), cover XCO world cups and some MTB tech
- Establish team for all critical roles
What we aim to accomplish in year two:
- Fully committed to XCO (tech, racing, podcasts and columns)
- Member summit (spring 2024) and get all our staff to the Tour Down Under
- Launch app
- Launch more community services (TBD)
In the 6 short months we’ve been in existence, almost 100% of our revenue has been generated from our members. We could not exist without our members’ support as we rely on their contribution to directly fund our editorial operations and the vision towards our future.
At this time our only other small source of revenue is merchandise, which has a 30% gross margin (which is low) because we have chosen to use print-on-demand suppliers. This means we don’t need to worry about exposure to stock or carrying out fulfilment. It might not be the large selection that we desire, but e-commerce is not our core business competency and our scale will always be too small for this to be a meaningful revenue source. We think of merchandise as a marketing opportunity that’s absolutely important to us, but not an area of dependency for revenue.
As we are a private company that is very young, we prefer to not publicise our financial statements. We also prefer to keep our member numbers private for the time being as this is a fairly meaningless scorecard. We don’t want to get into the game of this being a vanity number and employing all the tricks available to make it look as large as possible. We’ve worked for places that do that before. We focus on cash in the bank, because this is our lifeblood. It’s incumbent on us, for our members, that we are profitable so that we’re here to serve you for the next 20+ years.
Currently as of September, 2023 our member split is 2.1% lifetime members, 89.3% yearly members, 8.6% monthly members.
We began with only lifetime and yearly memberships available as it was necessary for our front-loaded costs base to get the business up and running. We were happy with how this started, however we knew upfront that annual memberships were not the norm in many areas of the world and we would see more signups with monthly memberships. In July, after yearly memberships began to slow, we offered monthly memberships as well as a more affordable tier that didn’t include the community benefits. We did this because we knew that not everyone has time or desire to take part in our community activities, but still want to consume our content and support what we do.
We also acknowledge that purchasing power in different countries varies. One of our largest reader bases is in South Africa, and we also have large audiences in regions such as Asia and South America. We have adjusted our prices in these regions to make memberships more affordable to those local currencies.
Before we started we conducted a pricing survey using the Van Westendorp Model. Our prices landed where they are now, which wasn’t a surprise but also was good to have a method that supported our assumptions.
We have not yet discussed price increases in future years yet, but it will be something we monitor closely. Many of our large cost centres (IT, staff, subscriptions) undergo increases each year, so it’s something we need to balance. However, if we can offset cost increases by way of other revenue sources (such as commercial partnerships/advertising) we will consider those if it means that we can deliver a better product with no price increases.
Our largest OpEx (operating expenditures) are staff salaries and a small amount of travel. This accounts for 71% of our cost base, even though everyone has taken salary cuts in order to get this business off the ground.
The other significant portion of our OpEx comes from IT costs. This includes development of our website, hosting costs, our member management system, payment gateway fees, etc.
Legal costs required to set up the business were considerable at the time, but a worthwhile investment. This ensured we were working within previous employment contracts and obligations which were something we treated with great respect and seriousness. Legal admin (shareholder agreements, registration, ESOP scheme, etc.) and accounting fees behind establishing the business were also significant upstart costs.
We’ve operated without an office in the first six months, but now we have one hotdesk at a shared office space where we have a place to have meetings and team catch-ups for those in Melbourne. We consider this a small cost for the important purpose of seeing each other face-to-face.
In terms of budget, we are almost exactly on target in terms of OpEx, CapEx and revenue projections. We have overspent in some areas that we did not expect to be so costly, so we have cut back on others. Among those cost cuts are travel costs and we have also temporarily cut back on freelance budget as we did not find that it was an efficient use of money and resources at this stage of the business.
We currently have 15 full-time and part-time staff and contractors on our editorial team, along with a varying number of freelancers who are on retainer with us.
As a proportion of our overall staff, we have invested heavily in creating a team and infrastructure around a positive membership experience and setting this part of the business up for success. This is comprised of 4 of our 15 people (~17% of our cost base).
We have made a conscious decision to not invest in an advertising operation at this time, which would typically include sales staff, account management and operations staff. This may eventually come, but not until we feel like we’ve executed on our membership experience to our satisfaction.
We see future commercial partnerships being a small but meaningful part of our overall revenue. This will help with one or more of the following:
- Build or strengthen services for our members
- Help fund more content diversity
- Help us produce content with expertise, access, or experiences that we couldn’t otherwise do without the partnership
One of the best things about the Escape Collective community are the volunteers who do so many jobs behind the scenes. We’ve had many offers for assistance in various areas of expertise and we apologise for not being able to take everyone up on their offers.
For those who we have been able to work with, we would like to thank the following:
- Jase de Puit – Product Management / IT stack (this role has now evolved into a more formal staff position)
- Dhruv Chanchani & Jonah Jolly – Fantasy app frontend design
- Luke Beuchat – Fantasy app backend design
- Tom Clayton – branding, website design
- Discord mods: Jase de Puit | Hannah Nicklin | Luca Malatesta | Tom Javoroski | Frank
- Zwift weekly rides: Robert Merkel | Mark Steinwachs
- …and many others in less formalised roles, but just as important
In our most recent survey, one of the main goals of this was to find out what content our members value and keeps them engaged. Overwhelmingly, podcasts were cited.
Podcasts have always been important to us, but we have always put far more effort into our written content than our podcast shows. None of us have any training in radio or podcasting. We’re basically just winging it, but happy with the results so far.
With this feedback we are now embarking on an effort to make our podcasts far better. This doesn’t mean getting better mics (which we do sometimes need). It means receiving training on hosting and format design. Better planning. Better production.
What this also means is that we’ll begin a strategy to better convert podcast listeners to members. We will do this in two ways to see a return on our investment:
- We’ll provide bonus episodes to members
- We’ll begin hosting traditional advertising in podcasts to our free audience with partners to align with our values.
These strategies will allow us to seamlessly send different versions of the same podcast episode to free and paid subscribers. This also means we can put out a substantial free show that serves our entire listener community, while also encouraging free listeners to convert to members. And then, once they upgrade, they’ll never have to hear another pitch from us again.
Creating good content is our most effective form of marketing. On-site paywall mechanisms and email promotions are our most effective means of generating leads and converting readers to members.
We have spent a small amount of money experimenting with social media campaigns but they’ve ultimately shown that they’re ineffective for our type of business.
We’ve run many campaigns, but the most effective was one where we ran a $1 trial campaign during the Tour de France. Of those who signed up, we managed to retain 77% of those sign-ups as full members. Offering trials and moving our free audience from the unknown, to the known appears to be the most effective way to get people to experience our content and community, convince them that being a member is worth their hard earned money.
It’s very difficult to ascertain whether a single article brought in new members or not. Often it takes a number of touch points in various ways to convert a reader to a member. We are starting to get an idea of what types of content converts to membership, but even big investigative pieces such as In Pursuit of UCI Overlord did not result in as many direct conversions as we’d expect. Among our top 5 converting articles were:
- GCN is for sale
- Behind the Facade: Fissures form at Jumbo
- Are Jumbo-Visma really not gonna let Kuss have this?
- Only Jumbo can destroy Jumbo
- Garmin Varia Seatpost Mount Reviews
(Thank you Sepp Kuss and Jumbo-Visma)
Now this is skewed by the fact that we’ve been constantly tweaking our editorial approach over the months and learning what works and what doesn’t. Also, as time moves on our audience keeps growing, so of course the latest articles over the past month have done better than previous months. Last but not least, we have been refining our paywall rules such that it does a better job at converting readers to members.
We don’t see much of a trend here except for that commodity news that everyone else is reporting does not often convert. However, what we do and what we don’t do is not completely guided by these stats. Perhaps the only thing we can determine is that the value we provide exists as an entire package and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
A large portion of our members signed up before we even launched, so it is extremely important for us to keep a pulse on how our members feel about the job we’re doing and if they intend on coming back next year. Otherwise it could lead to disastrous consequences for us.
Far earlier than anticipated, we hired for a member support / retention role as we could not expect that no problems would occur, and we were not equipped to handle the potential for hundreds or even thousands of issues, feedback, as well as proactively making sure our members were sufficiently engaged and that we were keeping our promises to you. We operate under the premise that keeping a member is far more important than getting a new one, so we feel this investment is money well spent.
In July, we designed and sent out our first of many member surveys. From this, we wanted to find out 3 things:
- What the primary reasons were for our members joining.
- What content our members value, and what can be done better.
- Establish our Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is a strong indicator of member retention when renewals come up. We wanted to do this early so that we had time to fix things if we weren’t hitting the mark.
What we discovered was the following:
1. Members joined to support independent journalism; to access the work of beloved editors they knew from previous outlets; to help form or join a community of like-minded members
2a. Members value tech, investigative journalism, racing news & insights, and editorial that was an expression of the unique EC voice (Tangents from Iain, Kate’s expositions, Jonny’s Spin Cycle).
Also, there was a strong indication that members were returning to the site frequently to check for content that would catch their attention (34% visit the site 7 or more times per week, “New content that interests me” was the 2nd most common reason)
2b. Podcasts are hugely popular amongst members (38% listen to at least 3 episodes a week) and a top lead generator/referral source. Based on qualitative feedback, podcasts were somewhat polarising on quality and the topics covered/areas of focus — take away was that members were mostly satisfied with the foundations and looking forward to our maturing these products
3. Our NPS score is +65, which in absolute and relative terms is exceptional. An NPS score above +50 is considered to be excellent and the benchmark in our industry is +39.
Finally, we combed the qualitative feedback for issues and concerns raised by members and responded (when appropriate) to address or discuss the issues raised (for resolution or better understanding).
The primary way members connect with the Escape Collective staff and with each other is through our private Discord server.
Discord is a lively social platform where our members discuss racing, get advice, speak with staff about various topics, chat with each other about common interests (sometimes not even cycling related) and where we host our live podcasts. It’s incredibly powerful and important to us.
The Discord community and the Discord platform are polarising. There are thousands of members who are active on this platform which understandably creates a cacophony for those unfamiliar with how to use it effectively. We will forge ahead with using Discord as our community platform, but we will work to improve the experience as best we can. We’ll do this by:
- Improving the onboarding of new members
- Finding ways to tame the chaos and the sense of feeling overwhelmed
- Fostering an open and inclusive community where members can learn, contribute and thrive
- Continuing to educate users on how to effectively use the platform to its advantages.
About our members
Through surveys conducted we have identified that our members (on average):
- Lead a healthy lifestyle
- Are highly affluent
- Are well educated
- Are socially aware
- 70% male, 30% female
- Between 25-54 years old
- 50% have an individual income of over $100k per annum
- 80% have a university or postgraduate degree
- 80% ride over three days per week
Geography top 10
The top 10 locations our members come from are the following:
The total audience (not necessarily paying members) geography distribution looks like this:
We currently have 5 ways of engaging the Escape Collective community with our staff and with each other:
- Weekly Zwift rides
- Our private Discord server
- Fantasy competitions
- Our comments section
- Our Members Newsletter
Before the end of the year we’ll be announcing our first member summit in the spring (autumn for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere) of 2024.
We aim to have more community services in the future, which we’ll carefully consider as we move forward.
Of course we could not have done any of this without our founding members who didn’t only put their trust in faith in us, but they did so without anything but a promise from us. So far, the majority of our members came through our initial launch campaign in March. You can see the list of our Founding Members here.
As part of our membership initiatives, each year we will be choosing and announcing an Escapee ‘Member #1’. This is an honorary role where we choose someone who has made a valuable contribution to the sport we love and whose values we’re inspired by.
In August of this year we were honoured to announce that Richie Porte is Escape Collective’s very first Member #1. Richie has been a massive supporter over the years and has done so much in the background to help us out. In addition, Richie has recently wrapped up a remarkable career that’s demonstrated an incredible work ethic, a ‘never give up’ attitude, and a genuinely helpful character that says far more about him as a person than a bike rider.
Our member’s input is what guides Escape Collective’s direction and we welcome your voice. We’re proud of the business we’ve built in this short amount of time, and we couldn’t have done it without our member’s trust in us, valuing our work, and putting your money where your mouth is. What we look like now is nothing like where we want to be. There will always be room for improvement and we welcome your constructive feedback, advice or help that you would like to offer.
Please know that we have not yet created policies for important initiatives such as DEI or ESG but it is something we’re aware of and simply have not had the resources to dedicate to these things in the time we’ve been around. Becoming a registered B-Corp is something we’ve considered but we haven’t uncovered all the nuances yet to decide if it’s right for us.
Thank you for your continued support.
The Escape Collective team
Comments on this post are closed so we can consolidate the discussion into one place.
Join us in a live Q&A session on Thursday, Sept 28 at 12:00pm AEST | Wednesday Sept 27, 7pm PST | 2am, Sept 28 GMT (we’re sorry Europe!) where speak about the direction of the business, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions from our members, and anything you have for us during that time.
– Wade Wallace, CEO
– Caley Fretz, Editor-in-Chief
– Andy van Bergen, Head of Membership
Prior to this, we will be on our Discord server collecting and answering questions in the channel #transparency on Sept 26, 2023 from 10am AEST for 48hrs. If you would prefer, you can email us at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com but please note that we may not be able to respond to all emails if the volume is high.
What did you think of this story?