BY SYDNEY MAHL
Nicholas White is not your typical entrepreneur. He doesn’t claim the ability to predict future business trends, but instead believes in dumb luck — the kind of luck that got him promoted to web editor at his former paper while throwing up in front of his boss after a night out.
White, a successful entrepreneur, is the editor-in-chief, CEO and founder of the Daily Dot, a digital news site that calls itself “the paper of record for the web.” He is a sixth-generation journalist who left the Sandusky Register, a family-owned and -operated paper since 1869, to found the Daily Dot.
Beginning with $600,000, a Google Doc and a small team in Austin, Texas, in 2011, the Daily Dot has grown into a leading digital publication. From March 2016 to March 2017, the Daily Dot received an estimated 153.8 million global visits and 186.9 million global views, according to Quantcast.
The site’s traffic has increased 50 percent year-over-year and includes more readers from the target 18- to 34-year-old market than competitors like Buzzfeed and Vice, according to last year’s April comScore data.
Some of the Daily Dot’s more popular content sections include Layer 8, which covers cyberwar and internet politics, and Debug, which covers technology news.
Even with the Daily Dot’s numerous successes, White was hesitant when he spoke about future business plans.
“I don’t really know,” White said when asked about the Daily Dot’s future. “Part of the impulse to start a company is because you think you know what the future looks like, and part of what you learn is that the biggest and best opportunities are unexpected.”
White believes uncertainty is the only certain thing about the future and advises potential journalists to get comfortable with ambiguity.
“I view it as a process of discovery rather than prediction, and what I’ve discovered so far is that we can grow a lot more given the more we focus,” White said. “You just can’t try to predict the future.”
While growing his business, White found success in his unique mix of entrepreneurial characteristics. However, he might be the antithesis of any conventional definition of entrepreneur.
White scoffs at articles that ascribe entrepreneurial success to innovation and thinking outside of the box. Instead, he attributes success to one’s capacity for suffering. Instead of being motivated, forward-thinking or optimistic, White is a self-described lazy person who has a realist outlook that dissuades him from trying to predict the future.
His journey from reporter to CEO and internet aficionado began when White was a newspaper reporter attending a conference with the vice president of his paper’s managing group.
White had asked to be promoted to web editor, which led to a night out with the vice president as White made his case for the promotion while drinking shots of single malt liquor at a cigar lounge. The next morning, White woke with a severe hangover. Yet, between bouts of vomiting, he continued to pitch for the promotion. Thirty days later, White became web editor of the paper, “for better or worse,” he said.
“I had a tendency to b—- about things I think are stupid, particularly with the way we were handling the internet,” White said. “Somebody was finally annoyed enough [that] they said, ‘Okay fine. If you’re so smart, you do it.’”
White confesses he’s lazy, even laughing when asked about his work ethic. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a diligent worker.
“It’s a weird combination of the ability to work but also laziness,” he said.
White focuses on minimizing effort by finding the shortest and therefore most efficient route when trying to accomplish a goal.
“I’m really not good at doing tasks that I think are pointless or stupid,” he said. “In seventh grade, a teacher told me I was good at math because I’m lazy. I don’t want to take extra steps, so I’m good at finding the shortest distance between two points.”
If White finds something that he thinks can be done in a better way, he said he will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the better way. He admits he’s still failed “tons.”
“You have to learn a lot, but people are successful for a variety of reasons, including dumb f—ing luck,” White said. “I have less faith that things will come together. You have to make them work out, and even statistically by doing that, you’re just making them more likely to work out, not actually making it happen.”
That’s White for what William Butler Yeats once said: “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
Therein lies the sturdy, yet unconventional, foundation of White’s entrepreneurial spirit.