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Inside The Mighty: A New Year and New Challenges Ahead

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I was excited to get our team back in the office today and start the New Year together. We accomplished so much in our first full calendar year, but we have many challenges ahead in 2016. Over the holidays I took a step back to consider what we’re building, where we’re at in the process and the changes we have to make as we grow. 

More than anything, I was struck by a feeling of gratitude. We’re a work in progress for sure, but our team, our contributors, our partners and our investors have helped build a brand that is truly having a positive impact. As the parent of a child with Dup15q syndrome, I’ve learned so much this year from our community of readers and commenters, both those who have become big fans of us, as well as those questioning our work.

The ultimate goal of The Mighty is to empower people. We’re in the very early stages of building a platform that connects people with disabilities, diseases and mental illnesses and others in those communities – parents, doctors, therapists and more.

Here’s a brief example:

Google the word “fibromyalgia” and you’ll find a wealth of medical information from health sites, but for someone living with the condition, stories of personal experiences can often be far more helpful.

On The Mighty you’ll find dozens of stories like these:

The Impact of Chronic Illness on My Marriage

5 Ways ‘Fibro Fog’ Affects Me

Why I’m Showing These Private Photos of My Life With Chronic Illnesses

That last story begins with the words, “I want to invite you into my life. This will be extremely difficult for me. I’m a private and sometimes quiet person, but what I have to show you is important.” It kicked off a discussion with more than 20 others about their own experiences.

That discussion is what we’re really going after. In the end, the best communities help and support each other. We want to connect people. I don’t know of anything that connects people better than stories. So that is where The Mighty began.

We bootstrapped the operation in the spring of 2014, began 2015 with three full-time employees and we now have a team of 13. Seven of those team members have disabilities or diseases and the other six have at least one family member with a condition. Our purpose is what drew them to the company.

I’m proud to say that our stories have resonated with people. We’ve grown to 200,000 readers a day and national news organizations are covering our stories, giving them a much bigger spotlight. Several of our contributors have gone on Good Morning America, The Today Show and other programs to share their personal stories in their own words.

Our most powerful story in terms of sheer impact this year was that of Jean Sharon Abbot, who was misdiagnosed with cerebral palsy for 30 years. Since it appeared on The Mighty and gained international attention, more than 20 people have reached out to Jean to say they learned of the same misdiagnosis – and got life-changing treatments — because of her story. She’s since published a book.

Video will become a big part of The Mighty as we grow, but it was really just a place for us to experiment in 2015. Still, our very first video — on what it feels like to have obsessive compulsive disorder — won the audience award in a mental health film festival and has picked up more than 750,000 views on YouTube. To help kickstart our video efforts in 2016, a young man who has produced his own videos about living with Asperger’s syndrome is joining our team, working both in front of and behind the camera. He’s got some great ideas in store for our community.

We hope to strike many more partnerships with non-profit organizations this year, but also deepen existing ones. For instance, we’ll be working with NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders) to offer our contributors opportunities to speak to medical schools about their patient experiences.

The Mighty was designed to help non-profits do the two things needed to accomplish their goals: drive awareness and drive fundraising. You’ll soon see non-profit badges with logos and resource links on our site. We also have plans to help non-profits with funding down the road, but that will come later. We currently have no sales team and no revenue. Our focus is on building the community.

On the tech side, we launched two key features last month. Our new site taxonomy now organizes thousands of stories, making it much easier for readers to find what they’re looking for. Like everything else, it’s not perfect, but it’s a big step in the right direction. And Mighty Voices Portal, our new publishing tool, will allow contributors to submit and track stories more easily. It will also allow our editorial team to get more stories onto the site each day.

Back when we launched, it took more than a week to get our first story submission. It received more than 5,000 visits in its first week and has since been read nearly 150,000 times. At the beginning of 2015, we had 5-10 submissions coming in each day. As we begin 2016, that number has grown to 75-100.

We’re thrilled that we’ve become a platform where people in the disability community want their voices heard, but it also presents many challenges.

We’ve taken criticism from some within the disability community recently over who should be permitted to write and how they should be permitted to write about their experiences. Those are valid concerns. The passions of this community run deep and they are multi-layered. Our team lives with disabilities and diseases so we understand this.

Our goal is to provide this platform for people to share their life experiences in a respectful and responsible manner. We’re discussing editorial guidelines not just internally, but with many others in the community, which will result in updated guidelines for contributors. We listen, we learn and we move forward.

That path forward for us is best embodied by Sarah Schuster. Sarah joined us first as a contributor in 2014, writing about both her personal and family experiences with mental illness. She was steeped in the community, helped others as a volunteer, and had lots of good ideas on how to expand our mental health coverage. We eventually offered her an opportunity to join us as a freelance editor. She did a fantastic job so we brought her out to Los Angeles and made her our full-time mental health editor. Her job is three-fold: she writes stories, edits stories by contributors, and develops partnerships within the mental health community. In her first six months, Sarah has grown our mental health community into more than 2 million readers a month. I’m incredibly proud of her and what she’s done.

I hope one day we have hundreds of people like Sarah on the team, qualified editors who live in the community they help lead. But we are still at the very early stages of this process, and we have to hit many, many milestones to get there. 

Today, our team is excited to get started on year two. Thanks to everyone for being a part of this and to those helping us make this better.

Originally published: January 4, 2016
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