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Passion, Integrity, Focus: How The Hackers Paradise Monetized Their Love of Golf

Passion, Integrity, Focus: How The Hackers Paradise Monetized Their Love of Golf

For all their success running a popular and financially sustainable website within a passionate niche (golf enthusiasts), Josh Babbitt and the team from The Hackers Paradise (THP) employ a remarkably straightforward approach.

This has meant focusing on principles more than trends or even technology. Everything stems from and is measured against a love of golf – plain and simple.

Kyle and Jason recently sat down with Josh to explore his path to success in more detail. Here are some key takeaways from that chat.

Stay Close to Your Originating Ideas

The genesis of THP itself is a bit of a classic story. Josh and his then fiancé (now wife and business partner) were looking for information that was important to them that they couldn’t easily find, so they decided to create a space for it themselves.

“She wanted to take up [golf] and I was looking for information on clubs,” Babbitt said. “I couldn’t find what I was looking for…and what I decided was to go on a whim and start [the site].”

While this helped ignite the idea for The Hackers Paradise, the origin story for the online destination doesn’t end there.

The organizing principle for starting it was to create a community where the love for golf outranks all. The unrelenting focus on that simple element informs every decision Josh, his wife Morgan, and their team make.

During our interview with Josh, he went out of his way to point out that the internet was a different place when they started THP in 2008. It was easier to create an apolitical gathering place that was also unencumbered by pressures to rapidly monetize at all costs.

He and Morgan definitely cared about monetization (more on this in a moment), but they firmly believed that in pursuing sustainability and growth that they needed to remain focused on a passion for golf – and a thoughtful, measured approach to exploring it through all forms of content on The Hacker’s Paradise.

All-in: Why Josh and Morgan Jumped in, Full-Time, Right Away

One uncommon aspect to Josh and Morgan’s approach was their decision to go all-in on THP from the onset. Many of today’s content creators begin by side-hustling until they reach enough of a critical mass to go full-time. That wasn’t going to work for the Babbitts.

“Looking back, wow, that was really not a great decision, but it worked out," Babbitt said. “What we tried to do was go with gut instinct, be the opposite of what we thought the world was, which was firing off an email with made up statistics.”

In so many words, the Babbitts were able to jump in together head-first because they believed in their idea and their ability to differentiate. Above all other things, they knew they could be authentic and honest, because they were also hardworking and business-minded.

So they banked on what savings they had accrued to that point, and went for it.

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The Money Take: Don't do this! Just kidding. But for real, you probably shouldn't do this. Content businesses are hard, and their business models often unclear or ever-changing. Unless you are exceedingly well-capitalized, do it as a side-hustle, with investment, or with a fallback should it not work.

This is not to say that Josh’s first principles have never been tested in the 15 years he’s been hacking away at running THP.

Initially, the Babbitts had committed to two years of no ads on their site. After one year and 11 months, Josh received a sizable offer from a potential partner. He hung up on her without making a deal.

He simply did not want ads on the site yet. It wasn’t the user experience they had set out to create. Community first, money second.

But they could have used the money.

His wife told him to call back.

The offer was halved, but they were able to find a way to do it without sacrificing the spirit of what’s important to them (more on this in a moment).

@monetizemediahq Hackers Paradise founder nearly turned down his first big ad deal. #business #media #monetization ♬ Ain't Got Money - New District

Seed and Bolster Engagement (and Receipts) with IRL Events

Fast-forward several years, and THP boasts a reliable roster of over 35 partner companies. There’s a definite financial link between partners and THP, but part of the deal that Josh and his team make is that no partner brand will receive preferential treatment compared to a non-partner brand.

“If somebody wants product coverage, I’ll cover their products, exactly the same as everybody else,” Josh explains. ”We’re definitely not pay to play and never will be.”

Partnerships also invariably lead to organic growth, such as in the case of THP’s annual event and contest, The Granddaddy, run in conjunction with Callaway, a major golf equipment brand.

Callaway has a large audience, a sizable marketing budget, and excels at creating their own content. When they cross-promote The Granddaddy – an all-expenses paid trip to play golf where the pros play, with clubs fitted by the same people who work with pros – THP invariably receives new inbound visitors on social and its site.

Such events allow THP to deliver on their value proposition. The Grandaddy is all about love of golf, and as an experience it crosses the threshold from online to IRL. This engages and delights their core audience, and helps Josh and team maintain their rep.

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The Money Take: Josh is obsessed with fostering community. Just look how positive the comments are on his forum when he posted a link to this podcast. That comes from years of developing relationships. His golden rule is brilliant: don't say anything to someone that would make you uncomfortable to play 4 hours of golf with them at a future event 😭.

Sweat Equity: The Hustle Is Real

A final lesson to underscore when it comes to the success of THP in monetizing their site is the sheer amount of hard work Josh, Morgan and their small team has put into maintaining their reputation, and keeping their pipeline of content and their roster of events consistently flowing.

“I wake up at 4:00 AM every morning,” Josh said. “I start my day by 5:00 AM, I don’t stop until 5:00 PM, and still I’m online with a presence until I go to sleep. And that’s not a life for everybody. But it is a path I’ve chosen.”

When pressed, Josh further indicated that, to him, “stagnation is death.” Monetization of The Hackers Paradise has helped his family create a life they enjoy, where their work brings them meaning as well as a steady income. That much he admits. But it’s as much about staying relevant and living up every day to their original goals for THP.

“There are people who have come along, who do what I do better. They don’t work as hard, I can guarantee that, but they do what I do better, whether it’s videos that are more polished, whether it’s search engine optimization. But we’re going to continue to get better at all those things, too, and do them all.”

The result? A site that’s grown and has kept up with the competition, and more modern forms of community, for closing in on two decades. And partnerships with big brands in the industry that have gone on for 10 years.

Over all that time, The Hackers Paradise has stayed true to its earliest goal of keeping integrity and serving the passionate audience of golfers to which they themselves also belong.

It’s that simple.