How Mike Shapiro has grown his franchise model TAPinto to nearly 80 websites

TAPinto, a unique business model that franchises websites into markets all over the country, has grown considerably since its first launch in 2008.

The story of what got Founder Mike Shapiro down this path to begin with is inspiring and his desire to grow TAPinto even further is driven by his strong belief in the value that local journalism plays in our world today.

We caught up with Shapiro to learn more about what TAPinto:

Tell us a little about the background and history of TAPinto?

In 2008, after my son’s successful open heart surgery, I wanted to do something to help the community while doing something I really wanted to do and be able to see my wife and son more often.  I created an all-online local newspaper for my town at the time, New Providence, NJ, and for our two neighboring towns.  Word spread and soon people from other towns were asking me to start sites in their towns, at which point I decided to leave my job and dedicate myself to the endeavor full-time.

About two weeks later, AOL launched Patch, at which point we stopped expanding and focused on putting out the highest quality original local news reporting we could and continuing to develop relationships with local businesses.  We went head to head with Patch in our towns for four years, at which point, Patch laid off most of their journalists and salespeople across the country.

As a result, residents from other Patch towns reached out to me and asked us to expand to their town.  But we couldn’t do any more sites ourselves.  So it got me thinking about how we could expand yet keep it really local.  Eventually we came up with the idea of franchising local news and we started franchising TAPinto sites in December 2013 to local owner/publishers.

Today, we have almost 80 TAPinto franchisees in NJ, NY, PA, SC, and FL, including hard copy newspaper publishers, journalists, public relations professionals, nonprofits, business development executives and even St. Bonaventure University’s journalism department.

TAPinto franchisees are pictured with Charles Way formerly of the NY Giants at the Susan G. Komen North Jersey Race for the Cure for which TAPinto is their platinum sponsor.

The franchise model is interesting. Why did you decide to head down that path and do you see a continued growth model with that approach?

While some say local cannot scale, TAPinto’s franchise model proves that local can scale.  Key to our model is how our TAPinto franchisees can share content with each other with a click of a button and how they can sell advertising into each other, creating additional revenue opportunities for all TAPinto sites in our network.  This enables our sites to scale on the content side as well as the advertising side.

What does it take for someone to launch a website through TAPinto?

To be a successful TAPinto franchisee, one needs to create high quality, original local news content on at least a daily basis; develop marketing/advertising sales to local businesses; and generate site traffic.

Once someone is approved and becomes a franchisee, we provide them with all the training they need to successfully operate their site.  From approval to training to launch of their site can take as little as a few days but we work on the franchisee’s timetable so there’s no rush.  Once their physical site is created, the franchisee can easily customize the makeup of the site on their own to fit their readership.

The best part is, once the site is launched, our model allows the franchisee to focus solely on content and ad sales. They don’t have to worry about working with web developers or ad servers. They can focus their attention on their advertisers and readers.

Over the past few years, we have started partnering with local daily, weekly and monthly print publications to be their online home.  Not only do the publications receive a cost-effective website geared specifically towards news, but they also forge a partnership with a company that cares deeply about making local news profitable.

Some of TAPinto’s franchisees are pictured with the staff at the Center for Cooperative Media in NJ where they won the Partner of the Year Award in 2017.

Is there anything in the content or advertising models that stands out in your opening from others trying to make it in the hyper local space?

TAPinto offers a variety of marketing options for our marketing partners.  We also offer a custom DIY content marketing platform, which many businesses find attractive since they can target their content marketing.

Additionally, because the model is exclusively online, we can create an endless amount of revenue opportunities for our franchisees and clients to take advantage of.

For example, in the past month, our leadership team developed a gift-guide program which essentially turns the inserts program at a print publication into an email advertisement. The guide is sent to to all of the town’s subscribers, allowing them to access the local deals directly in their email, instead of worrying about losing a printed coupon. We have seen our open rates grow by 50 percent and our average click-rate almost doubled.

It looks like TAPinto donates to many causes. Why is this so important for the brand?

TAPinto believes in giving back to the community.  Each of our sites are independently owned and operated locally.  We are local and we support local.  It is core to our being.

Where do you see the TAPinto brand heading in the next year?

TAPinto should see continued expansion in NJ, NY, PA, SC, and FL.  We also expect TAPinto to expand to several new states.  Never content with the status quo, TAPinto will continue to innovate to improve upon our model.

Anything else you would like to add?

While many bemoan the state of the media industry, we believe we are in the nascent stages of a renaissance, particularly regarding local news.  People want to know what is going on in their town and are getting tired of “reporting” through forums that are typically inaccurate and often misleading and nasty.  We firmly believe people want objective local news and information in a convenient format, owned and operated locally, not by some multinational corporation. Here at TAPinto, we believe our model for local news is the solution.