On Top of His Game for Over a Decade, Here's How This Media Mogul Found His Niche

Fred Mwangaguhunga went from owning a laundry business to running one of the most successful Black entertainment sites

You might not know Fred Mwangaguhunga by name, but you've definitely read his work. As the founder and CEO of MediaTakeOut aka MTONews, the media mogul has maintained a quiet empire for over a decade now. The entrepreneur's success hasn't come without relentless hard work, bulletproof business acumen and a superior understanding of his audience. 

Back in 2013, The New York Times wrote that Mwangaguhunga’s “business philosophy is to give his audience what it craves: unvarnished tidbits on celebrities of interest to minorities who are passed over by more mainstream gossip outlets like People and Us." He says this principle still stands today, helping him to remain not only relevant but also on top at a time when so many other websites have attempted to emulate his success. 

Most of the site's headlines are conversation starters, something you might say to a friend. This informal approach has helped the site catapult to success. There's a reason the site is one of the most popular and successful Black entertainment websites on the internet. Mwangaguhunga has said in the past that he admires "what he calls the consistency and straightforward nature of the online Drudge Report, so he has kept the style of his site bare-bones but predictable and accessible, like the Drudge site."

Today, MediaTakeOut is still going strong, so we wanted to find out how Mwangaguhunga has remained on top.

ONE37pm: Tell us about your first business. How'd you get started?

Fred Mwangaguhunga: I have worked at small companies and startups since high school, but the first company that I started was a high-end laundry and dry cleaning service called The Laundry Spa. It was a lot of hard work and sacrifice, and it was pretty successful. We got a lot of attention and had a lot of high-profile clients, like Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

To launch it, I saved up all my money for two years, took out a second mortgage on an apartment that I owned—and just went for it.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a founder?

Mwangaguhunga: When you’re a founder, if you’re serious and passionate about what you’re doing, it can consume you. Along the way, I learned you can’t get caught up in the "now" too much. Always keep your eyes toward the future. You shouldn’t ever get too high or too low on the present. Spend as much of your intellectual energy on future growth. 

What’s one aspect of your job that you knew nothing about? How did you adapt?

Mwangaguhunga: I don’t have a background in sales, and when I first launched, I underestimated its importance. In the beginning, I spent almost all of my time on content—making sure we had the most compelling and interesting stuff on the internet. Content is still the company’s number one priority, but in the early stages, I thought all I needed for success was good content. I was only half right. It wasn’t long, however, before I also realized I had to focus on sales. I was never very good at selling things or closing deals, but I had to become good at it. So I read every book that I could, and I went to seminars and hired some good people that could help me learn. I’m proud to say that now selling is one of my strongest attributes. Nowadays, I spend half my time selling in one way, shape or form.

The content game is constantly evolving—what kinds of things have you done to remain relevant?

Mwangaguhunga: Remaining relevant has a lot to do with awareness, I read constantly, I pay attention to what competitors and non-competitors are doing. I also study how my content is received, what works, what sparks emotion or reaction, and I make sure I know what my audience is focused on and engaging with.

You have to remain compelling with the content you publish or you can’t succeed. What's deemed interesting changes over time. Now, in the era of social media, compelling content looks a lot different than it did five years ago. If you’re still doing what you did five years ago, my guess is your business is probably struggling.

Do you have any advice for people on how you deal with change, especially when it comes to business?

Mwangaguhunga: It sounds so simple, but it’s important, embrace change. You have to. We all tend to get comfortable in a space and want things to remain the same. But they don’t, and that’s life. You have to accept the changes in the landscape and adapt to them. If you don’t, get ready to sink.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to launch a business?

Mwangaguhunga: I'll give you two pieces of advice instead of one.

First, don’t do it alone. Launch a business with at least one partner. I’m not talking about employees—I mean someone with as much to lose and gain as you in the venture. Starting a successful business is probably the toughest thing that you’ll do in your life. It’s foolish to go at it alone.

Second, make sure that you have budgeted enough money to fund the business, and to live life outside of the business. Oftentimes, people forget that you still have to pay living expenses while you’re pouring time and money into a new company.

What three skills do you look for when hiring people or building a team?

Mwangaguhunga: I tend to look for things that can’t be learned from a textbook. Enthusiasm in the business is big for me, so is a willingness to learn and a keen intellect. Those are more characteristics than skills, but those three things are more important than any skills that you can pick up in a classroom setting. You can’t learn enthusiasm, a thirst for knowledge or keen intellect.

What's your goal for 2020 to take things to the next level?

Mwangaguhunga: The downturn in media has opened up a lot of opportunities, especially in Black media. We’re looking to grow and expand into other areas. I also want to grow personally and give back to those less fortunate. I’ve been blessed, and I want to share my blessings.

Special thanks to Brooklyn Chop House for lending their restaurant to us for this interview. 

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