December 28, 2014

Waylon Lewis: the State of Elephant Report, 2014.

new year

My Final State of the Elephant Report of 2014.

I’m pretty excited. We’ve grown almost a million readers this month alone—that’s nearly 10% lifetime growth in 30 days. We stand to close out the year at 11 million readers, after finally breaking the 10 million mark just last month. We had one of our best days yesterday (nearly 500,000 readers), and had 300,000 readers on Christmas, a day that historically is dead quiet for web sites.

Numbers aren’t numbers: they’re human beings, who choose to slow down and connect with our mission—to cover anything that helps us to live a good life, a life that also happens to be good for others, and our planet. This mission manifests through 600 articles a month in a fun or serious, light or deep way.

We pay dozens of consistent writers, and will pay more of them more next year. Our new web site redesign debuts soon and will automate those payments through a reader vote system that’s something like Threadless meets Kickstarter spliced with Reddit mixed with Edward R. Murrow (editor’s picks for quality will still weigh heavily, preventing us from becoming overridden by memes, kittens and titillation).

elephant journal

We’re up to 15 staff, as of next month, and that’s not just a number, either: each one of them is independent, opinionated yet a good listener and communicator. I spend just about everything we make on staff, and offer them free yoga, a commuter bicycle and access to slippers at my house (I keep the thermostat low). When I was young I worked for a series of great businesses that trained and paid me very little, and I learned a lot about how to be a good mentor and leader by bad example.

I’ve been able to pay my home mortgage and help support someone dear to me for the last four years without a second thought for the first time in my life.

We’re becoming a real business: redesigning our site, looking at a reader app for daily wakefulness, and partnering with mindful sponsors. A business that is idealistic but unsustainable can’t change squat. But a business that is successful yet unethical won’t better our world, either. We aim to do well and do good and be a positive example for the business world, a Small Giant.

We’re reinvesting in events, for the first time in years—we’ll host talk shows and happy hours and continue to donate ads and throw events for good causes.

walk the talk show waylon lewis bob morehouse boulder city council macon cowles ryan van duzer shine

We’ll invest in an office for our Boulder staff (half our editors live elsewhere) for the first time since our days as a print magazine—elephant is historically a working-in-cafés kind of outfit, so we’ve built all this while being nomadic.

Down the pike a bit we’ll work on a “mindful” short or a film to tour festivals with, and…

We’re forming “Elephant Academy”—a formalization of a successful online “Apprentice” training program in social media, blogging, journalism ethics and mindful living that we’ve run for years. We will continue to offer three trainings a year, and will now hold a public gathering in Boulder once a year for all Apprentice graduates.

things I would like to do with you

My first book, Things I Would Like to Do with You, is done, and I’m launching my first Kickstarter to print and distribute it to its 60,000 plus Facebook fans (a gratifying number considering it hasn’t been printed yet). The book will be USA-printed on eco paper, and kept affordable. I’ll bicycle my book tour around the country in partnership with a mindful big company and…

joan halifax roshi walk the talk show waylon lewis

…we’ll video mindful heroines and heroes for Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis along the way. We’ve already hosted Arianna Huffington, Joel Salatin, Alice Walker, Dr. Weil, Congressmen Jared Polis and Tim Ryan, governors, Byron Katie, Sakyong Mipham, Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan, Deepak Chopra and 400 others. For the first time in years, we’ve been able to hire a talented young videographer to work and play with us, so our videos will finally be art, not just content (check the last few recent videos; they’re gorgeous).


Things is a guinea pig for our new publishing endeavour, Elephant Books, which will publish e-books to share with our 11 million (and up) readers. Profits from the sales of The Mindful Cookbook and other titles will be divided among authors who may have forgotten entirely about articles they wrote years ago but that we selected for inclusion. I’m a writer and a journalist and it’s my dream to show the modern world that writers and journalists ought once again to be valued.

We still get complaints everyday about our “paygate,” which I created years ago (before the NY Times and now 100s of other papers created fancy versions of our paygate). Elephant’s paygate allows you to read 3 free articles a day, 21 a week—or, if you want to read more, to pay $1/month. With thousands of paying readers (who also write: elephantjournal.com/submit), we rarely field those complaints about our paygate: our readers usually comment first, and say, hey, $1/month is so worth it, that’s the price of a sip of coffee, it’s the best subscription I’ve ever paid for! Really. The paygate, in turn, directly pays for our best writers and editors to do good work for you.

All these efforts are focused on one thing: creating better and better content from and for an increasingly diverse readership. Our mission has always been to share the good word about “the mindful life” beyond the core or choir, to all those who may give a care. Preaching about bicycle commuting or fracking or plastic consumption to environmentalists won’t change much: we need to get out of our bubble and reach those who may disagree with us.

It’s a wonderful world, but it’s also a world with great sadness and confusion and aggression, and if I die having been able to establish a reference point for sanity that will carry on the legacy of Chögyam Trungpa in a non-secular yet genuine fashion, well, that’ll be a good day to die.

trungpa rinpoche

While I’m a bit burnt out all the time, I’m also fired up!

Here’s to changing the world, and having a fun time doing so! elephant would not exist without those of you who read, share, subscribe or offer direct advice and caring criticism. Every day I run into mentors who have been there for me a little or a lot, and I am reminded that the greatest skill in business is not knowledge: it is an avid curiosity and openness to those who know more than we do.

In my case, that’s everyone.

So, thank you. Here’s to the adventure of 2015.

May it be of benefit! Ki ki, so so!

Yours in the the Vision of Enlightened Society,

Waylon Lewis

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