When was the last time you visited MediaTakeOut? Last week? Yesterday? This morning? Hell, the site is probably open in one your browser tabs right now. We know this because since it launched in 2006, MediaTakeOut.com (MTO) has carved out a comfortable niche for itself as one of—if not the—premier urban celebrity news website. We would tell you to think of it like a mix between TMZ and The Drudge Report, but we’re sure you already know that seeing as how there’s a good chance you’re one of the 14 million people who make their way to the site to find out which celeb is cheating on their spouse, peep the latest nude picture leak, or to just see where your favorite celeb is currently eating and with whom. @mediatakeouttv.
However, unlike other extremely popular websites, the guy behind MTO is relatively unknown. Founder and CEO, Fred Mwangaguhunga, doesn't have his identity tied up in the identity of the site. He stays in the background, making sure people get their daily fix of whatever it is they came to the site to see. In his mind, MTO simply generates content its viewers want, nothing more. Think there's been a lot of Kim Kardashian coverage lately? Well, that's because lately a lot of visitors have been clicking on Kim Kardashian stories. It may sound like a simple, even tired, formula, but it works. It works so well, its enabled Mr. Mwangaguhunga to branch out into the world of online video. Yesterday, MTO aired the first episode of its dating show, First Date (peep the trailer below), and plans to launch more shows in the future. We met up with Fred a few months ago at the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle to talk about how the site came to be, how the operation runs, and why MediaTakeOut is not bad for black people.
Before we get to MediaTakeOut, let’s talk about your childhood.
I grew up in New York. I was a typical teen growing up in the late 80s, early 90s. I listened to hip-hop. Growing up in Queens, Run DMC was always there as well as a ton of other rappers, so urban culture has always been big, but I had this other side of me where I went to school I studied pre-law, then went to law school and business school. You kind have this one side of you that has traditional school telling you to go through the mainstream business and Wall Street, then you have the stuff that you’re really into—the music you listen to, the clubs you go to. On a personal standpoint the world of entertainment was a lot more interesting to me than the world of Wall Street. But if you do well enough in school and you try to do well in life, you always find your way to Wall Street. I ended up on Wall Street and did well. It was hard to turn down.
Why was it so hard to turn down?
When I graduated from Columbia, there I was on Wall Street at 25 yrs old making $150,000. It’s hard at that age—here I am ballin’ hard—you almost feel like an NFL or NBA player. All my boys and me would go to the club and we’d have bottle service. I did that for a while and actually got pretty good at it. I feel like if you’re in entrepreneurship you’re thrust into it.
What exactly were you doing on Wall Street?
I was a corporate tax return lawyer. The business I was working for was particularly good at doing financial products, so we advised companies, especially banks, and educated them on financial products, it wasn’t really exciting or mentally challenging—there were very few people that understood what I did so I was in unity with 10,000 people in the world and no one else knew. I was good at it so I was plugged away, getting better at it, learning a lot and the people at the firm actually liked me. The firm had a good amount of black people, but I was the only black person in the section I was in. As far as colleague went at that level, I don’t think there were any black people in New York. Maybe there was one or two. That’s how it was back then. So it was tough to come to this decision to give up all this money and this job that I don’t love but am still pretty good at. I decided that I had to get out on my own and start my own business ‘cause that’s what I wanted to do. I made the jump and initially started a laundry service.
You left Wall Street to start a laundry service?
Yeah, it was similar to Fresh Direct. People would log on and schedule a pickup and delivery time then we’d come by with our van, pick it up and take it back to our factory in Long Island City and do the laundry and return it to them. We did that for two years. It was tough; the Laundry business and restaurant business are probably the two toughest businesses to get into and I probably underestimated how difficult it was. That being said we did a lot of good planning and what made it different was that we had a lot of room for error and we didn’t suck at it.
What happened to it?
The laundry spot grew a lot faster than we expected, it started off slow but it grew quickly in the second year of operations and we were posed with this dilemma of we didn’t have the facilities to actually continue the way that we were and we could either go out and raise a good amount of money and then build it in the way it should’ve been built all along. The alternative was to sell it off to one of our competitors. We decided to sell for a number of reasons. Sometimes I look back at it and I still believe in the idea and think it would’ve been really great, but that’s not what happened, so we got out of the business, we didn’t make a ton of money we didn’t lose any money.
Is this when you decided to start MediaTakeOut?
Yes. After that, I could’ve went back to practice law but I wasn’t interested in that so I said, let me see if there’s another business I was interested in, but there weren’t a lot of business opportunities out there. With the laundry service, we didn’t spend a lot of money on ads, when we did it was on ads on small websites that were popping up called blogs. At the time no one really knew about ‘em they were really, really niche but they worked really well for the market demographic we were targeting: female, 25-44 years old, professional. That was exactly who were reading the blogs all the time so we advertised to a ton of them.
It’s easy to take for granted what a blog is now but then it was so new. I could see that there was real growth in that area and it wasn’t just me seeing it. A couple months later we could no longer afford ads on Gothamist. I remember when we just started it was about $150 for the month and you’d be the only person advertising and you’d have 100% coverage but by the time we sold the [laundry] business the best ad you could get for a month was $45,000. The explosive growth was obvious. So when I decided to sell the laundry spot I was like, Why not go into this blog thing there weren’t yet a ton of them out there. I didn’t necessarily think about urban blogging at first. I knew that there were maybe two or three at the time so I was like let me at least tap into that urban market by putting something out there. But I wasn’t necessarily sold initially on just being the urban blog, I was more so interested in putting out stuff that I thought people would be interested in.