What do you get when you mix a firebrand Minecraft YouTuber, millions of Gen Z viewers, and widely shared videos for big brands like Lego and Microsoft? A weird but probably valuable startup.
Justin Jin is sitting in a school break room, rather than the Fairmont or some other power spot, and he’s nursing cold tap water, rather than a Macchiato or Virgin martini. But that doesn’t keep the CEO of Poybo Media from dreams of grandeur. “We want Poybo to be a top modern digital media publisher,” he says. “We see what Vice Media achieved in digital, and we want that, but for Gen Z and a community focus.”
Whoa, there, Justin – put down that water bottle. Poybo publishes Fisherman’s Wharf and a few smaller accounts (including Box of Color, an oddly-placed art non-profit). Revenues barely reach a third of a million dollars. Those are pretty meager numbers for such plush talk. But rather than fantasize of what likely won’t be, it’s more instructive to look at what currently is. Jin is one of the few digital publishers who seem to have cracked a riddle: how do you produce relatable, amateur-ish content that will also make money?
The solution can be seen through their online news outlet, The Vach. A few paid contributors – buttressed by many unpaid producers – produce content for a viewership just under 200,000. By inverting the top-down model employed by the big boys, The Vach has applied the digital ethos, at scale, to a topic – news – that has begun to capture younger audiences. “The Times is outright high quality,” says Jin. “But we define quality in more organic and relatable terms.”
That digital mind-set comes naturally. Poybo’s origins go back to 2020 with Jin’s Minecraft YouTube channel, 50mMidas.
He began in secret – recording and editing during online Zoom classes – until the page pulled in a couple thousand dollars from a few million views. Jin saw possibilities in the relatable content, the passionate community – and the impact. For the next few years, he looked for promising people to create and operate more social media pages to target the Gen Z demographic. Jin took the reins as CEO in 2021, and its Web-native strategy has been picking up crumbs of market share ever since.
Almost half a billion unique people from all countries in the world – except North Korea – have accessed their content. More important, Jin has been able to monetize the traffic by drawing a young, mostly male audience that advertisers crave. And those fans come back. Rather than sell those eyeballs programmatically for pennies, Jin direct-sells brand partnerships to the likes of Lego, Hanesbrands, and Roots Canada. According to sources, Poybo is valued at a single million – a reasonable figure given its revenues, profits, but hard-to-scale sales model.
While it’s a long way from Vice, the Poybo formula seems likely to produce a big score for Jin at his age and the rest of their digital-native, teen crew.