Giving Voice to The Mighty
“What can one story do for one person? If we take the formula to impact one person, and scale it to hundreds of millions of people over and over again, then we will create societal and cultural change.”
Those are the words of Mike Porath, Founder of The Mighty.
Twenty years ago, he was a wide-eyed junior at William & Mary mailing out forty internship applications before he received one offer from ABC News. A couple of years later, he was sent off to Kosovo to experiment with digital storytelling while the internet was still nascent.
One New User Every 20 Seconds
Mike’s journey in digital media equipped him with the ideal tools to build The Mighty, a site with social media statistics founders would drool over. On average, one new user signs up every 20 seconds. The content it features has been viewed more than a billion times in just four years.
The impetus for creating The MIghty was their daughter’s diagnosis with the rare disease Dup15q syndrome. As an autistic person, she already has other cognitive, behavioral, and physical challenges that exacerbate this condition.
“I wish I could have taken these parents out for beers and learned about their kids’ lives.”
Mike and his wife realize how unhelpful most medical websites were with navigating their new day-to-day life post-diagnosis. They found the most support by speaking to people in the Dup15q community. Mike ultimately joined the board of directors of the Dup15q Alliance, a non-profit that supports people with his daughter’s syndrome.
The day his daughter was diagnosed at only two years old, Mike surfed the internet for answers. He came upon a PDF featuring six stories written by parents caring for kids with the same diagnosis. These stories moved him profoundly, but he had no way to connect with the storytellers. “I wish I could have taken these parents out for beers and learned about their kids’ lives,” Mike remarks.
“Are we going to do this, or not?”
Since his daughter’s diagnosis, Mike’s digital media skills and experience with the nonprofit led him to believe he could build a platform to help people facing health challenges or disabilities around the world.
Five years later, The Mighty was born, which could never have happened without his wife’s support. Mike joked that she was so tired of him talking about the idea that one night, she asked point blank: “Are we going to do this, or not?“
A few hours later, they searched for a name that represented their most joyful moments with their daughter. Eventually, they agreed on “Mighty”, which was more about the person joining than any particular condition.
Mike leaned on his friends for help and leveraged his community and content skills as the former Editor in Chief of AOL News to launch the site. He hired Megan Griffo, the top-performing writer at The Huffington Post, to help him start it, paying her salary from his savings account while he took on consulting gigs to cover the bills at home.
Once they reached a half million readers a month, Mike brought on investors and finally took a salary after not paying himself for the entire year it took to conceive of, build, launch, and grow the site. Today, The Mighty employs forty people and gives more than 15,000 writers and 2 million members a voice.
The greatest obstacle to getting there? Distribution.
Early on, The Mighty placed as much emphasis on finding an audience the content would resonate with as it did in creating new content itself. The team strategically leveraged social platforms and delivered the right pieces of content on each medium.
As Porath notes, “A video you share on YouTube is going to be different than a video you share on Facebook. Using data to inform and iterate on the approaches we take which has been a key to our success.” Another driver to the success of their content was their discipline from day one to grow their traffic organically which enabled them to not just capture traffic (other startups do so through paid ads), but to really retain an audience.
”Using data to inform and iterate on the approaches we take which has been key to our success.”
One of the platform’s most transformative stories “I Want You to Want to Live” by Jody Betty, who pleads with others on the verge of suicide to not take their own life, showing them and why they are worthy. Read by more than 500,000 people, Betty has had thousands reach out to her and was inspired to become a trauma coach. That’s the power of this platform, helping people feel understood and less alone. Fifteen years ago, this story would have been buried in a print edition of an obscure magazine.
Access & Insights
While millions distrust social platforms as brands serve up unwanted ads in user feeds, The Mighty’s business model is rooted in matching community needs with client needs. Mike calls this principle “Access & Insights.”
Access gives brands the opportunity to appear natively between stories. Imagine scrolling through an article on autism and finding a product at the bottom of a blanket made for calming people who have autism.
Insights goes deeper, matching brand partners with members of The Mighty community who answer questions related to products and research. With thousands of incredible stories at their disposal, the most exciting play might be in what The Mighty does best: produce content, though not in the way you think.
Currently, The Mighty is working on partnerships with companies like Netflix to produce shows or documentaries highlighting their community. When many cringe at the concept of monetization for social advocacy-based companies, making money with integrity is the fuel to The Mighty’s engine for continued growth.
“We can make real social change, erode stigmas, drive research, and do so much more to help people.”
Two years ago, The Mighty was strictly a publisher, but it has since evolved into a far sophisticated platform where you ask questions or share thoughts related to diseases and disabilities. Similarly to LinkedIn, The Mighty’s community is built more around shared experiences rather than just family and friends. People with stories similar to Mike can now go through this process with context, knowledge and empathy.
The Mighty has its sights set on a global future as it expands. Ten percent of its community lives in areas where English is not the first language.
Before we know it, The Mighty will be an adjective used to talk about health.
“When we have over 100 million members,” Mike says, “we can make real social change, erode stigmas, drive research, and do so much more to help people.”