Owner/Marketer: Paul Brunskill, Surf2Surf

By tapping into the unwavering need of surfers to know exactly what the conditions are like at their local spots, surf2surf.co..nz has become an essential pitstop for the nation’s wave lovers on the way to the beach. And the company’s founder and director Paul Brunskill explains that this simple model also makes business sense, attracting a slew of advertisers and making it possible to launch similar services abroad.

What is the backstory of Surf2Surf? How did it come into being?

I worked in advertising as an art director, starting in New Zealand and then mostly as a freelancer in Los Angeles. We returned to New Zealand after several years and started this business with my original partner. It was started more out of chance than anything. I was keen to take the next step from freelancing and get into my own business. We published a book at the time, and the site was just a side project [to help market the book], but it ended up taking on a life of its own.

How many people visit the site across  devices these days?

Surf2Surf.com records up to 600,000 visits per month right now, and up to 230,000 page views daily, and we’re really proud to lead the New Zealand sports category in user loyalty. Our second website marineweather.co.nz has a solid user base as well, and we recently expanded into Brazil with a new site called swellxl.com.br

What were some of the challenges involved in getting it off the ground? 

The challenge was starting without any investment – getting the site built and the tools in place. So we did it carefully and slowly over a long period of time. We’ve always tried to run the business lean and simple.

How does the site make revenue? 

Multiple advertising and sponsorship channels, along with some subscriber services. The site is broken up into different channels. 

Was it difficult to attract advertisers at first? 

The top surf brands have always supported us and continue to be excellent advertisers. The corporate brands took a little longer to come on board, as they came to understand and accept our user base. Most people still think we cater to the classic surfer stereotype, but in fact most of our users are professionals escaping through their work PCs and planning their weekend adventures (and sick days). We have CEOs of some of the country’s largest companies who use our site, professionals, entrepreneurs, you name it. We do have a lot of the younger surfers using the site, but it’s more likely that their parents have the site as their home page. Surfing is definitely a mainstream leisure activity and growing strongly. It’s a very family-friendly pastime. Our demographic is quite affluent, which his why many of our corporate advertisers are banks, technology companies and so forth.

Who are some of your major advertisers now?

Our main website sponsors are Subaru NZ and Gull NZ. We have excellent relationships with these companies, and they both produce an excellent product. Working with sponsors is one of the things I enjoy most about running the site. Also, our users aren’t just surfers; they’re mountain bikers, fisherman and hunters. In fact, most of our users have at least three outdoor adventure pursuits that they’re active in. When I pull up in the Redwoods parking lot in the branded Surf 2 Surf Subaru, it’s always amusing to hear the conversations flick from mountain biking to what the surf is doing and where the waves are that day.

What draws commercial partners to the site? 

Our users are extremely loyal and hungry for information because the ocean is changing constantly. I think we offer quality engagement with our users. Every day is an event. And again, our user demographic is a key draw card.

How do you market the business to potential advertisers?

With the surf industry and sponsorships we deal direct with brands. Our corporate advertising is sold by Adhub, which has a great team to work with. We were one of the first publishers to sign on. Paul Mant who [previously ran]Adhub is a surfer, so he has been a great support in growing this area for us.

The site is starting to incorporate more news. What is the thinking behind this strategy?

We’ve always featured a lot of content, especially native advertising. This is an area we’ve always worked hard on, enhancing our advertisers’ presence through use of related media and stories in content areas on site. Our content is just supporting media though, and only accounts for ten percent of our page views. We’re primarily an information and planning tool.

Has mobile changed the business?

We’ve seen strong growth in mobile for sure. But most of our core user base access through their PCs, then take us mobile for the weekend. So we have a mix of both. Mobile advertising is highly effective, we see the highest click-through rates from mobile and it’s a geographically powerful medium to use. Phones are getting bigger, so the user experience and interaction will get better.

Is it difficult to keep up with the fast pace of technological advances?

Yes, we need to be on it daily. And we’re realising that we’ll all just become another online channel on whatever box is in use (including smart TVs). It’s fascinating to see television completely fragment. We’re on Netflix at home. Watching mainstream TV is just bizarre these days. The days of sitting there being fed content and advertising you don’t want to see are gone. It’s clear that television advertising will most probably cease to exist in the near future, and that spend will have to transfer somewhere else; probably into content or online channel sponsorships. Who knows?

How is the site set to evolve? 

Our core information tools and technology will improve with technology. And it’s likely that we’ll become a smart TV channel as website interfaces continue to change.

Your site offers utility to a very niche group of New Zealanders. Is this the sweet spot for creating a successful online enterprise?

I suppose so, but I think it’s simply about solving a problem for a user. The key thing I like about our business is that we get people off couches and active into healthy outdoor adventure.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs thinking of starting an online business?

For anyone starting any kind of business, I would recommend doing a Startup Weekend event. 

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