How A Media Entrepreneur Built Subscribers By Being Hyper-Focused On Hip-Hop Business And Strategy

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
subscribers
Dan Runcie, founder of Trapital, a media company that covers hip-hop business and strategy. Photo provided by Dan Runcie

In the middle of a busy airport, Dan Runcie is waiting for his flight to Miami for the National Association of Black Journalists’ conference. He’s scheduled to participate in a panel discussion in South Florida at the annual event. The topic is “Building a Paid Subscription News Business.” Runcie will be talking with QuHarrison Terry from Inevitable Human, Web Smith from 2 PM Inc and moderator Sherrell Dorsey from The Plug.

Runcie is the founder of Trapital — rhymes with capital” — a media company focused on the business of hip hop and the strategic moves that shape the culture. He has built his media platform on monthly and annual paid subscriptions.

Journalists at the NABJ conference will learn from him ways to monetize their content on their own website.

As the sole writer for Trapital, Runcie built a readership that he said is addicted to — and willing to pay for — the knowledge he shares regularly. Now he’s thinking about expansion.

“When I first started this, I was thinking I would be the only voice. When you received an email in your inbox from Dan Runcie, you would know what that means,” Runcie said. “However, now I’m thinking about what it would look like to have others join the brand as writers.”

Between boarding announcements over the airport intercom, Runcie shares how his love of hip hop and his understanding of business strategy led him to become an expert. Since he launched Trapital in March 2018, hip-hop industry leaders have tuned in for the latest in his business news and insightful analysis on strategies by artists, labels and companies.

“I can remember from a young age always looking at what Bad Boys or Death Row records were doing and thinking about how they compared to what I saw companies like General Electric doing,” he told Moguldom.

“I felt as though no one else was thinking about things from this perspective. But as I got older and the hip-hop culture progressed, I started to see more coverage of the business moves happening in hip hop.”

I’ve had several venture capitalists reach out to me because they believe in the vision for Trapital. I made a decision in the beginning to not take VC funding.

Dan Runcie, founder of Trapital, a media company that covers hip-hop business and strategy.

After earning an MBA from the University of Michigan and working in tech in San Francisco, Runcie began to write his own blog on Medium. Originally the blog focused on business, pop culture and Black culture in general. Since then, it has evolved to become hyper-focused on hip hop and strategy.

As he wrote more, Runcie started being invited to write for other publications and he launched a freelance side hustle while working his 9-to-5 job. He was published in Wired, Complex and others. Seeing the traction from those articles, Runcie began building out Trapital. He has since left his day job to lead the brand full time and no longer writes for those outlets.

How does a writer leave a full-time job with a regular paycheck to write for himself and turn down venture backing?

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He writes about a niche, creates a business model to sustain himself and paves the way for growth.

“Trapital fills a void for representation and it provides insights in a way that is relatable,” Runcie told Moguldom. “It is rare people get this level of writing with the breakdown on the strategy and business model of artists that look like Drake, Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar.”

Trapital’s primary business model is freemium with in-depth content as part of a paid digital subscription-based platform. Being strategic in his revenue model has allowed Runcie to gain readers searching for this type of information, he said. “I knew not everyone would be interested in the strategy for Spotify’s playlists or Beyoncé’s streaming strategy, but there was a select number of people who would be interested in it.”

Media companies can get themselves in a bind when taking funding because of the aggressive growth projections those companies are required to hit. Media growth doesn’t lend itself to the same growth expectations as a SaaS app.

Dan Runcie, founder of Trapital, a media company that covers hip-hop business and strategy.

Building subscribers

Runcie chose to maintain ownership and his original vision without pressure from investors.

“I’ve had several venture capitalists reach out to me because they believe in the vision for Trapital,” he said. “But it was a decision I made, in the beginning, to not take VC funding. Media companies can get themselves in a bind when taking funding because of the aggressive growth projections those companies are required to hit.

“Media growth doesn’t lend itself to the same growth expectations as a SaaS app. Understanding the scalability of what I’m trying to build and looking at what would be the benefits of giving up a piece of the company, I didn’t think it would be necessary when looking at the tradeoffs. I’m fortunate to still get great advice from VCs I trust, but I don’t think Trapital would necessarily benefit me with what I’m currently trying to do.”

And as with any founder, Runcie looks at the future and other revenue streams. He recently launched the Trapital podcast where an advertising model is in play, and he looks at a future for the brand which will include apparel, merchandise and other avenues.

He laughs as he shares how he came up with the Trapital name. It’s derived from “trap” music — a genre of hip-hop — and the word “capital” because of the analysis he does on what happens in the industry from a financial and business point of view.

subscribers
Dan Runcie, founder of Trapital, a media company that covers hip-hop business and strategy. Photo provided by Dan Runcie

“It’s the name that stuck one day. I shared it around to some friends and they told me I needed to go with it and get it trademarked right away.” Pronounced Trap-uh-tl, he laughs again thinking about people who may occasionally say it like “Trap-i-dl.”

Trapital is not for everyone but Runcie has plenty of well-known industry players on his subscriber list, according to the Trapital site. Subscribers include Cory Sparks, director of national urban promotions for Epic Records; Moody Jones, director of marketing for Empire Distribution; Hunter Walk, a partner at Homebrew VC and Russell Okung, the offensive tackle for the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers.

But even after some prodding, Runcie wouldn’t divulge his list of what he describes as the “who’s who” of the music business. “Seeing many of the names on our list so early on was promising for me,” he told Moguldom. “It let me know I was hitting the right audience and target for this vision.”

Vision is what Runcie has for Trapital. When asked what Trapital will look like in five years, he answered without hesitation. “Trapital will be not only known in the music industry but also in the culture for being the platform that elevated the discussion on the business side of hip-hop and the artists.

“People are going to recognize it as always having the cream-of-the-crop information and they will know they can rely on the insights it brings. Also, it’s going to not only be successful as a brand, but influential. I believe a number of other publications will come about as a result of what Trapital has and will do for hip hop.”

Runcie has set his sights on one day soon interviewing the leadership at Parkwood Entertainment, Beyoncé’s entertainment and management company.

“I would love to have a conversation with them on the Trapital podcast. I think they are a role model for what a lot of people in the industry strive towards. Being able to have a conversation with them would give us a sense of how everything fits within the puzzle. It would confirm or deny a lot of the beliefs I have as to where they and even the rest of the industry is going.”

Here’s an excerpt from Runcie’s recent article on sweeping changes at Jay Zs Roc Nation.