My Magic City Success: Will Pearson

This is the first installment of a three-part series that explores the nature of successful businessmen and women in Birmingham.

Success is a difficult term to define, and it can be hard to pinpoint where you draw the line between successful and unsuccessful. Some Birmingham entrepreneurs have found that success is never quite achieved. As a result, they keep pushing themselves and their companies to innovate and create engaging products that promote culture and creativity in the Magic City.

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“A lot of people hesitate to start something if they feel like it won’t be great from day one. There is something to be said about being willing to just get out there even before you know it’s going to be a premium product.”

Passion drives some people to set goals and to work to make them happen. Will Pearson concocted the magazine Mental Floss through conversations with college friends who had the desire to be intellectually stimulated and help others learn about areas outside of their realm of study.

“From day one, we were waking up every day and thinking, ‘How do we take Mental Floss a step forward?’” Pearson said.

Hard work stems from passion and is essential to a start-up, and “non-stop focus” made Pearson’s dream a reality. From working summer jobs to asking campus departments for donations, there is nothing Pearson wouldn’t do to get his magazine started. “The term ‘irrational commitment’ is something we talk about quite frequently that it has taken to make this work,” Pearson said.

Mental Floss has taken off since its initial conception in Pearson’s Duke University dorm room, with more than 160,000 magazines in circulation per issue and 20 million unique visitors to its website every month. The growth only fuels his eagerness for the brand. “We were just as excited about it when it was 5,000 people as we are now,” Pearson said.

Although Pearson sold the company to Dennis Publishing in 2011, he is still active in finding the most reliable and relatable avenues for the magazine and digital components to give information to its consumers.

Connections inside the industry push careers and business ideas to the next level. Passionate conversations about your goals can open doors, leading to more doors, that will eventually bring you to the audience you want in front of you. Pearson communicated his ideas to anyone that would listen. Even through telling a friend’s mom in New York City about the magazine’s plans connected him to a future publisher.

“It’s about getting something out there and saying ‘we’re going to do this,’” Pearson said. “It’s not where it needs to be, but have people look at it, understand where we want it to go and see it evolve over time.”

In a successful business, you must always think about the audience you are trying to reach. Pearson has had to adapt with Mental Floss over the years in order to best engage his audience in a world of communication that is constantly changing and shifting. In fact, Mental Floss is moving away from the magazine altogether at the end of 2016 and will move to a completely digital world.

But Pearson continues to be open to ideas that allow him to invest in new areas where the company can engage its audience. He is experimenting with new methods to communicate with consumers while also using effective digital platforms such as YouTube and Twitter to provide enough information that they are able to stand alone from their print counterpart. “Part of why it worked was because we didn’t have a rule book saying if you launch a magazine you must do these things exactly. I think we brought a fresh perspective to it,” said Pearson.

Research about your industry will also move your career plans forward. Keep learning and stay updated on the latest news in your field because it will unfailingly fuel your passion. Pearson owes a lot of the magazine’s success to studying what was happening in the media world around him. “Learning as much as we possibly could about the industry and about anything we could do was such a huge part of this and then communicating that with as many people as we could,” he said, as Mental Floss continues to blend the ever-changing world of intellect and culture.