One of Canberra’s most successful tech entrepreneurs has just bought into the RiotACT.
Tech prodigy Michael McGoogan founded what would become one of Australia’s largest cloud service providers, UberGlobal, in his Rivett bedroom when he was just 14. Few of his early clients knew they were dealing with a Year 8 student who took support calls during classes at Melrose High.
By the time Michael was 27, UberGlobal’s customer base had reached 130,000+ and Melbourne IT had come calling. They acquired the business for $15.5 million in April 2015.
Within hours of that sale, another Australian hosting giant, Crucial, had appointed Michael as chairman of its board. He assisted the founders in structuring that business for a trade sale exit, leading to Crucial’s acquisition by Digital Pacific for $6.5 million in June 2015.
So what drew an investor with Michael’s track record to the RiotACT?
In the first instance, it was the traffic the site attracts.
“The statistics speak for themselves, with 140,000+ monthly active users that come from Canberra, we’re talking about greater than one in three Canberrans check the site each month, and when anything major goes on, 100% of Canberrans will hear, either directly or indirectly, about something that goes on through the RiotACT,” Michael says.
But it was also about potential.
“With the right resources provided in terms of editorial, professional journalism, more contributors and refreshing all of our policies through a consultative process, I think that an already extremely popular successful Canberra website can actually become a very, very powerful regional player in terms of news, information and entertainment.”
Michael believes there are no successful digital regional news plays in this country.
“That’s a gap, a risk and an opportunity. I think that the team that we’re pulling together now to execute for the new RiotACT probably stands the greatest chance at being successful in this space.”
And this entrepreneur is not afraid of a challenge. In fact, one of his key philosophies is “Bite off more than you can chew and chew like hell”.
Michael has been watching the RiotACT closely for months, and believes the platform as a powerful tool, which reflects a really tight, engaged community that cares about what’s going on in their city and region. But he says it’s been somewhat neglected.
“RiotACT hasn’t had any love, whether it be strategic or financial, for a significant period of time,” he says.
“I see an opportunity to build on an already strong foundation of an engaged, loyal Canberra fan base, by stepping up from an owner’s perspective and from an investor’s perspective to give RiotACT the resources it needs in order to execute well around our new strategic direction of digital regional news.”
Michael will be putting not just money but time and energy and effort into turning the RiotACT into a success as part of a long term play.
“You won’t see me writing articles or participating in comments directly necessarily, or certainly not very often, because I trust the team and part of being a good director is to back the people that we’ve brought on to manage the rough and tumble daily work that goes into running a site like the RiotACT,” he says.
“But certainly as we make big strategic moves, significant investments, as we launch new features, you’ll absolutely see me involved from an announcement perspective as well as things that we’re driving behind the scenes.”
Readers recognise how important transparency is in this space.
“I’m prepared to publicly declare that I do have agenda, however, that agenda is commercial and not political. I am looking to build a successful site through great, professional news and media coverage that is entertaining for people to participate in, that the business community can support,” he says.
“I hope everyone appreciates that to run a successful site in the long term depends on the successful confluence of these things. The magic only happens when you run a successful business that can pump in the money to produce the content that people actually want to consume.”
“I think being very transparent about the fact that that’s what I’m doing, publicly putting my name to the site, and being accessible to the community is the right way to go.”
While the RiotACT is one of a number of business interests that Michael has, he sees it as purely complementary.
He never imagined he’d end up running a media business – it wasn’t on his list of life goals.
“Oh look, everyone dreams of being a media mogul one day!” Michael jokes.
“No, I never thought I’d play an active role in the media, and my personality probably doesn’t lend to that, I’m an IT geek at heart, and love having a good chat, don’t mind giving a speech every now and then, but in terms of being actively involved in a media play, that has never been on my agenda.”
He says it is all new territory for him, and he is 100% sure that he will make a series of mistakes.
“When we’ve been doing the strategic planning, we’ve reached the conclusion that paywalls don’t work and that banner advertising is not going to be sustainable in the long term, so in order for any media-focused organisation to be successful, we’re going to have to try new and different things,” he says.
“Most of things won’t work, but as long as we’re doing them in the best overall interest of our readers and the community at large, then I hope and believe that people will be understanding as we give those things a try.”
He says you can expect the new RiotACT “to dare to be controversial and fun while remaining constructive, responsible, relevant and factual”.
To ensure that the balance between controversy and responsibility is just right, Michael is driving a complete refresh of the site’s policies on editorial, contributor submissions and comment moderation. The RiotACT will next month publish a draft public engagement policy for reader and stakeholder feedback.
Michael acknowledges that it’s a particularly challenging time to be in the media game, but can’t see any potential downsides to his investment in the RiotACT.
“The fallback position is, even if this is not a commercial success, it just adds to the strength of an already really powerful site, and it’ll add entertainment and value to all of our loyal users,” he says.
“The new RiotACT team are local Canberrans, I’m born and bred in the Territory. When failure would be giving something back to the Canberra community in a meaningful way, then I don’t think I actually have anything to lose.”
Michael attended Rivett Primary, Stromlo and Melrose High schools, and Canberra College (though he dropped out at the end of Year 11 to focus on the web hosting business).
“My background is as a Canberra public school local, and I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to achieve in business given that heritage,” he says.
“I think it’s a testament to great strong family environment and strong community feel that Canberra provides that young people can be given the kinds of opportunities that I was lucky enough to enjoy while I was growing up.”
This article is part of a series introducing the new team behind the RiotACT. We’ll publish the next piece, introducing the other co-owner/director in the RiotACT, on October 1.