How a former Cosmo editor built Australia's largest women-focused media company
Mia Freedman started Mamamia as a one-person blog and bootstrapped it into a multi-media outlet that reaches 7 million people.
Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:
Mia Freedman had the kind of magazine career that most journalists can only dream of.
She was hired as an intern at Cleo at the age of 19 and quickly worked her way up to feature writing. Then, after bouncing around as a freelancer, Freedman accepted the role as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan’s Australia edition. She was only 24 years old. “That made me the youngest editor of Cosmo's 65 international editions,” she told me in an interview. “I was the editor-in-chief of Cosmo for seven years and took it to number one in the Australian market.”
Despite achieving the kind of success that most journalists don’t see until they’re in their 40s, Freedman grew frustrated by her corporate bosses’ refusal to embrace the then-burgeoning web. “I really struggled with trying to convince them that we had to move our brands to digital,” she said. “They saw themselves very much as a magazine company and a print company, not a company of brands.” Rather than getting its own website, Cosmo’s content was licensed out to one of the major web portals that dominated the internet in the late 90s and early 2000s. “They really saw the websites as only a way to try to get people to buy more magazines. It ultimately led to the demise of all those women's magazine brands that I used to work on.”
After Freedman left Cosmo, she did a brief stint in TV that involved launching a daytime women’s talk show. It was a job that she later described as “god awful” and full of “big swinging dicks,” and it seemed obvious to her that the male executives she worked with didn’t understand women at all. So during her free time she began to sketch out an idea for a website that would cater to women, but not in a patronizing way. “At that time, the only women's websites in Australia were niche,” she explained “So there were parenting sites, beauty and fashion sites, gossip sites, and cooking sites. And every woman I knew was interested in all those things, but also 10 other things like news, current affairs, and pop culture.”
One day in 2007, Freedman put some of her ideas to paper. As she explained later in an essay, “I sat down at my kitchen bench, cut some letters out of a magazine to spell ‘Mamamia’ and sent it to a friend of a friend who was a website designer.” By this point, the internet had firmly entered the Web 2.0 era, and blogs were proliferating. When Freedman was editor of Cosmo, a would-be internet publisher needed to build a website from scratch, but now there were any number of blogging platforms that could be launched in a matter of minutes.
At work, she was growing more miserable by the day, and she knew she wouldn’t last much longer. The only question that remained was whether she would leave on her own terms. It didn’t take long for her to make a decision. As she wrote later in that essay, “I took those magazine cutouts, registered the URL Mamamia.com.au, negotiated a redundancy, and created Mamamia.”
At first, Mamamia was just a one-person blog, a project she ran from a laptop in her lounge room. But then it quickly found an audience, with each post spawning sometimes thousands of comments. Over the span of the next decade, Freedman brought on her husband to help run the business, hired dozens of employees, and launched a thriving podcast network.
Today, Mamamia is not only one of the most successful independent media businesses in Australia, but it operates the largest women-focused podcast network in the world. It monetizes through multiple revenue streams that include branded content, ecommerce, and paid subscriptions. And it did all this without taking on VC investment.
How? In an interview last July, Freedman and her husband Jason Lavigne walked me through how they built the business, why they avoided programmatic advertising, and what compelled them to launch a podcast network when most other publishers were focused on video. Let’s jump into my findings…
A humble blog
Visit the Mamamia headquarters today, and you’ll find a sprawling network of editors, journalists, and other media specialists, but in the early days it was just Freedman on her laptop. “I was writing about six articles a day, trying to do some basic coding, and moderating all the comments,” she said. “This was before social media, and there would be up to 2,000 comments on a post, sometimes.”
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial