Nine things I learned after launching a women’s cycling website

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Over the weekend the talented women behind Ella won the Iris Dixon Women’s Cycling Champion of the Year award from Cycling Victoria. I couldn’t be more proud of the job Anne-Marije, Simone Giuliani, and Jeanine Laudy and all our awesome contributors are doing for women’s cycling.

But it’s been anything but easy – for all of us. In fact, it’s been the most challenging, stressful and mentally consuming thing I’ve ever done in my professional career. But I’m also confident that one day it will be the most rewarding thing we’ll have done. There have been lots of ups and downs (mostly financial) and there is nobody leading the way so we can take cues on what works and what doesn’t. There are other women’s cycling websites and publications out there, but we want to be something different. We’re figuring it out all for ourselves as we go. We know there’s a gap in the market and a massive market in that gap.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about women’s cycling and how it relates to what we’re doing with Ella:

1. The popular thing for people to say in person and on social media is “I support women’s cycling.” But putting words into action is a completely different thing. It’s easy for people to click a retweet or like button, but anything more than that can be very challenging.

When comparing the reader stats between Ella and CyclingTips sections of the site, it’s easy to get discouraged. But when I imagine what the hundreds of thousands of female readers who come to Ella would look like in real life, that gives me a buzz and reason to be proud.

2. Women’s race coverage attracts a predominantly male audience. Yes, that’s true. If you look at the numbers in isolation, it’s not commercially viable to cover women’s racing (why double our costs to attract the same male audience we already have?). However, covering women’s racing is important. Not only for equality of sport, but once you understand women’s cycling and the characters involved, it’s a completely different narrative and dynamic to men’s racing and it needs to be covered. It deserves a voice and if nobody else is going to show it as the beautiful sport it is, we’ll step up and do it.

3. At first I thought that we didn’t want to attract male readers. This is a women’s cycling site after all. But what I’ve come to realise is that all have partners, wives, daughters and friends who they might influence to get out on bikes and ride.

4. The popular thing for the industry to say is “we support women’s cycling” but few are backing that statement with dollars. We find it just as hard to get advertising and sponsorship dollars as I imagine a female athlete or women’s team is having. With the exception of the generous support of Specialized, Pearl Izumi, Trek, and now Orbea, our support has been extremely limited. Quite often, nothing shuts down a conversation with a prospective advertiser faster than notion of supporting a women’s specific publication. Did I mention that we have hundreds of thousands of female readers?

5. Men can be more aggressive and chauvinistic on Ella than on CyclingTips comments. And as a consequence, women stay silent online, but are very complimentary in person. Understandable.

6. Even the photographers are at a severe disadvantage with women’s cycling. The races are shorter (so very limited opportunities to get in, out and around the race), they have fewer clients to take advantage of the economics (thus photography is extremely expensive for us). Also, there’s much less of a crowd and livery at women’s races to create the same beautiful photographs as we have with men’s racing. I originally thought that if we were able to showcase the beauty of women’s cycling the same as we’re able to do with the men, then half our problem is solved. It hasn’t been that simple.

7. The female audience is extremely hard to reach. The enthusiasts have gotten very savvy at aggregating the fragmented world of women’s cycling coverage from dozens of sites, forums and social media, and don’t necessarily look to us. The rest aren’t people who we are trying to attract from other publications – consuming cycling content isn’t part of their daily routine and we need to rely on Facebook feeds and word of mouth to spread our content. This is where you come in and we thank you for your continued support. If you like something, please share it with your friends.

8. “Fail often, fail fast.” This is bollocks that people from Silicon Valley say with too much venture capital money behind them. For me, the things that stick are the things that are done consistently and well over time. If it’s not working, adjust, test, and try again. There have been many times we could have “failed” and quit, but when you’ve invested your life savings into something, you don’t give up that easily. Where I come from, failure is not an option.

9. Get a woman hooked on cycling and she will have a fire burning in her belly a hundred times hotter than anyone I’ve ever met.

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