Eric Highland & Brittany Highland

BY KATIE WALSH

Like so many startups before them, The Austinot was born on a living room floor.

Husband and wife team Eric and Brittany Highland were anticipating a move from Seattle to Austin and wanted a way to connect to their new home. So in late 2011, the couple launched a blog and started writing about the local businesses that keep Austin weird.

They didn’t take it seriously at first, but within three months, they were logging 20,000 page views, and the numbers grew exponentially from there.

A little more than five years later, The Austinot ranks as one of the top 300,000 websites on the internet, according to Alexa.com, and boast more than 130,000 page views per month. Since its inception, the site has published more than 1,400 articles that feature local businesses, trends and events. A sampling of Austinot articles includes a roundup of the best fried chicken in Austin, a feature on local band Sweet Spirit and news of a park revitalization project.

Other blogs and traditional news publications are taking note. The Austinot ranked on lists of recommended blogs to follow from Austin Mixtape and Hipstercrite and was featured in a KXAN piece in 2016. The site’s success is likely due to the niche it fills among a sea of traditional journalistic outlets. Eric Highland is quick to say he is not a trained journalist. Neither are any of his unpaid writers — and that’s the point.

To Eric, the problem with traditional journalism is that it doesn’t meet readers where they’re at. Bloggers, on the other hand, write as if they are speaking to a room full of friends.

“We are approachable, real people — not just some writer, but someone who lives in your community, breathes the same air and goes to the same places you do,” Eric said.

The community is at the center of every decision the Highlands have made throughout the growth of their website. Eric said The Austinot exists to “support homegrown stuff that makes Austin weird.” That means featuring only local content, hiring only local writers and using only local advertisements.

So when Trader Joes opened up shop downtown, The Austinot didn’t’ cover it. And when national chains Dominos and Buick inquired about ads, Eric politely declined.

For him, it’s not about the money. It never was.  The couple earns a living through another company they founded, Knektion, which provides online marketing consulting and social media education to small businesses. But when it comes to The Austinot, no writers, including Eric and Brittany, have ever taken a dime.

“It is a labor of love,” Eric said.

When he says love, he means it. He refers to the writers, photographers and assistant editors as “a family.” When they greet each other, it’s with a hug, not a handshake. Despite the lack of compensation, Eric said he receives a surplus of applications from freelancers hoping to write for The Austinot. He said he is very selective when hiring and considers not only applicants’ writing ability, but also whether they would “fit into The Austinot family.”

Ultimately, Eric said he hopes the blog can help spread and preserve the culture of the city. The blog is his way of giving back to the community that welcomed him and his wife with open arms five years ago, and he hopes that The Austinot will inspire readers to do their part as well.

“If we are going to keep the Austin we love, we have to be intentional about our decisions, about supporting local businesses and shopping local,” Eric said. “We are doing something about it, and we encourage others not to just talk about how things are changing in the community. Do something about it.”

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