Last week we invited Richard Kong to Indie Worldwide for a Q&A about how he built an online publishing empire in high-school and sold it to Tencent for $2 million dollars at age 18.
The full recording is available to watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vqu9QhS6dGg
So what is Gravity Tales first off?
Gravity Tales publishes translated Chinese and Korean novels online.
It started as a way for me to learn to read and write English better. I would take Chinese novels and translate them into English as my way of studying for the SAT exam.
Once I'd translated my first novel I felt like I might as well post in online and not waste the work, so I put it up on a Wordpress blog.
I wasn't thinking about turning it into a business at all.
After awhile thought I started to get a lot of traffic, 3-5k users every day were reading my translations, so one day I decided to turn on donations and that first day I got over $300.
That's when I realized it was serious.
How were you getting so much traffic?
So our first spike in traffic came from posting it on Reddit. After that it spread very organically. We never spent money on ads.
Once I started inviting other translators to work with us is when it really started to take off.
Each translator would bring their audience with them and add new novels to the website.
Because of the serial-nature of the books we were publishing it was naturally very sticky. Readers would stick around for a long time to read each new chapter of their favor novel as it came out.
And you were still in high-school at the time? What did your parents think about what you were building?
Yea, I started it in my sophomore year. I kept it hidden from them for awhile, but eventually I needed my Dad's help to open up a bank account.
Once I started working on Gravity Tales, my grades plummeted, so they weren't too happy about it, but they let me keep working on it.
I don't remember their exact reaction when I first showed them what I'd been up to, but at least they understood why my grades had gone down.
They said as long as I didn't let my grades slip any further I could keep working on Gravity Tales.
How much money was the site making by the end of high-school?
Yeah, so, we were making around $200,000 per year from our Patreon, I think we were one of the top 2 or 3 blog sites on Patreon at that time. We were also making a similar amount of money every year from Ads on the website.
By then we were getting millions of hits on the website every day.
That's when you sold to Tencent? How did that acquisition come to be?
Well it started as a potential partnership opportunity for us to license their content.
The main reason we ended up selling was because it was becoming difficult to manage the licenses and IP disputes. When we were relatively small, it didn't matter, but eventually the Chinese publishers were looking at us and had to decide to publish with us or to self-publish.
And it we licensed with one publisher, it would make other publishers less likely to want to work with us, they didn't want to share a platform with their competition.
Tencent was initially hesitant about working with us, as their publishing arm is the largest in China, but over a few months the relationship developed from talking about partnering or doing a licensing deal, to them investing in us, to them buying us outright.
Finally I ended up selling the company to them for $2 million dollars just out of high-school, then I dropped out of college to work with them full-time for 2-years....
That's just the beginning of Richard's story, in the full interview we talk about what it was like working for Tencent, more details about how he grew the company, and his later work with Scale AI and as a gemstone re-seller.
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