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How Rafat Ali Found a Job (Part 4)

Posted on Sunday, Sep 7th 2008

SM: How many email newsletter subscribers and website visitors did you have at that point?

RA: This was in 2003 and it was probably a couple of hundred. At that point I was still hoping to find a job in London as a journalist, but some offers to advertise on my site made me think twice. I was interviewing for just about any job possible. I interviewed for a job at a magazine where I would had been writing about mining. Thankfully, I did not get it.

I finally started responding to emails asking if I would take ads, and answered yes. Even though I was covering that industry I did not know much about running a business. I knew the industry, I wrote about the industry, and I knew the terminology, all of which helped. I wanted a monthly flat rate, and I was able to charge $400 a month for a banner on my site.

A US company was the first to advertise on the site. When other companies started seeing their competitors advertising on my site they started contacting me as well, which is how advertising revenues started growing.

SM: When did you start mocoNews?

RA: I launched it about a year after paidContent, which puts it about mid-2003. I started it because I saw what kids in London were doing with their phones. They had different dynamics in their interactions, and while I was covering the mobile space on paidContent I realized it was a large enough space to need separate attention. I also launched a digital music site, which I killed a few months later. Initially I thought online music was going to become this big trend.

SM: Were you writing for all of them?

RA: I was doing it all. The majority was actually aggregation. I was putting it all together when nobody else was. This was after the bubble, and there were no media companies that wanted to touch this space. My site became the only place where anyone was covering the ad industry and viable business models in it. I covered industry movements and other aspects. The digital music site was just too much for me to try to cover on top of everything else.

By this time ads had started coming in, and I started getting more invitations to speak, including invitations in Boston and New York. That was bittersweet for me because when I left the US I was really angry at the whole American system. When I left New York I swore I would never come back. The first blogging business conference was in Boston in 2003. At that point you could see blogging as a business.

SM: You were known in the circle because you were the only one covering the ad space?

RA: I become well known around 2003, when WiredNews did a story on me about blogging for bucks. I had started making $30,000 to $40,000 a year, so it was a business. I started a European Digital Media Weekly, did a few issues of that, and then shut it down because I had decided to return to the US.

SM: What prompted the move back to the US?

RA: I met my future wife when I was living in New York. She was going to NYU. We dated for a while, then she moved to San Francisco and I moved to London. After I had been in London for a year she came to visit an aunt of hers there. We reunited our relationship and decided to get married. I was earning a decent amount of money, and I could do it from anywhere. Initially the idea was that she would move to London. The reality, however, is that I was covering a US market from London. Most of the advertisers were from the US. She was from Los Angeles, so we decided I would move to Los Angeles. That was in March of 2004. We still had not gotten married, but we were engaged. We were not living together because that is not allowed in our religion or culture, but I was in Los Angeles and she was in Orange County, so just an hour’s drive from each other.

SM: Which visa did you come back on?

RA: As a British citizen I could live in the US for three months at a time without a visa. I did a couple of extensions, and in the meantime we got married. It worked out.

This segment is part 4 in the series : How Rafat Ali Found a Job
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