Home Business Hero: Tom Hashemi

Can you sum up your business?

theriskyshift.com (TRS) is a politics and international affairs site. Our aim is to bridge the gap between academia and journalism by providing the depth and breadth that is often lacking from today's sound bite media whilst remaining accessible to those who are unfamiliar with the academic debates on issues that we cover.

What's the business model?

TRS has a three-tiered business strategy. Currently we are on the first tier, that being to build relationships with international institutions in our field, increase unique visitor numbers to the 30,000 per month mark, and continue to attract high quality contributors. We've been doing very well: we're just about to conclude agreements with two leading publishers and a prominent think tank, our average growth rate has been over 50% per month since our launch in January, and our contributors now include journalists from The New York Times, The Guardian, and the Economist, as well as think tank researchers and political advisors to various governments.

What were you doing before?

I've just completed an MA from the Department of War Studies, King's College London. My areas of interest are terrorism, radicalisation, multiculturalism/integration policy in the UK, and Middle Eastern politics.

How did the idea come about?

The idea for something along the lines of TRS came about whilst I was an undergrad in Manchester. Unfortunately dissertation work took over and the idea progressed no further. In London the idea reignited, and in the War Studies Department I found the perfect blend of international student body and prominent local institutions into which TRS could seed and thrive.

How did you fund it?

We take advantage of what's free and only pay for things when it makes sense. For example, we're very aggressive with free social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter, and we heavily use free Google products. The site doesn't pay its contributors or staff, but it does provide them with numerous other benefits that are often of more use (networking and exposure for example). As a result, TRS has spent a mere £264.25 to date.

How did you market it?

TRS uses our organizational social media accounts to announce new articles, but also expects our editors and contributors to 'share' and 'retweet' what we post. We recently ran atrial of paid Facebook advertising and found that it generated a large amount of 'likes' for an extremely low cost. How many of those 'likes' turned into readers? It is still too soon to say (which is why we're holding off on additional spending in this area), but it certainly resulted in increased exposure for the site.

How did you build a list of customers?

TRS readers have been cultivated primarily through word of mouth and the viral nature of our content. This is compounded by having a large number of contributors who share their work and the work ofother contributors on social media. We are also privileged to be one of 4,500 English language websites aggregated by Google News, and we've been working hard to optimize our content for search engines to generate further visits.

How have you grown the business?

We've expanded in two interrelated, but distinct ways. First, we've grown our team of contributors: more writers means more content and more views on the site. Secondly,we've grown in the breadth of content that we write. We've also expanded how we reach our readers by launching a podcast (featured on iTunes) and a non-English section of the site in Italian and Polish (with more languages to come).

How do you attract people to your site?

Beyond social media, organizational partnerships are very important toTRS. Examples of these include relationships with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and the Atlantic Council of Canada, a NATO-affiliated think tank. In practice these partnerships mean we share relevant content, promote one another's work, and provide opportunities for networking between our members. We also try to maintain a strong connection withthe alma mater of many of our contributors and editorial staff: the Department of War Studies King's College London.

How did you manage to attract great columnists?

This was harder in the beginning than it is now. When we first started we would literally beg our friends and fellow students for articles. Now we can market the site to prospective contributors pretty firmly on the basis of our reach. 16,000 unique visitors per month means a lot of exposure for an emerging writer. The challenge now is gettingour best writers to write more often and with increased regularity.  This month we're offering a cash incentive of£100 for our 'article of the month'. Part of the assessment forthat prize will be how well the article is promoted on social media.It's a win for our contributors and a win for us.

Where in the home is your office?

My bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, the park down the road, the coffee shop up the road, sometimes even on the road! All of our data is held on Google Drive: it can all be accessed from anywhere around the world at any time of day - as long as your laptop is working.

Apple Mac desk

Do you have set working hours?

I tend to find that my working hours are dependent on who I need to speak to on that day and where in the world they are. Our editorial meetings, for example, contain individuals from four different time zones. Unfortunately this doesn't lend itself well to having a static set of working hours.

How do you make sure you're focused and never get distracted at home?

I think its probably more an issue of not being able to turn-off!

What was it like at the start?

TRS is unlike any other venture that I have been involved with in that it was not initially set up to derive a financial benefit, simply to put our political ideas and arguments out there. It was only when we started to receive thousands of visitors that the idea to grow it into a business came about. I think it's safe to say that as a result, the start was the most relaxed period to this day.

What's the worst thing about working from home?

I have been known to not leave the house for days on end.

What's the best?

Where do I start?! No commuting, fresh coffee on tap, and the dog gets a walk twice a day!

Will you ever move to an office?

Amusingly, we try to base our organisational structure on that employed by certain cellular terrorist groups in the West (most of our staff have an academic background in terrorism & counter terrorism) and a fair level of decentralization is inherent in this. On a more practical note, our staff are spread around two continents so it wouldn't make sense to have a single office.

For more information head to theriskyshift.com anf follow them on Twitter, @TheRiskyShift

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