Ten years ago today, the very first article on the Art of Manliness went live.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been at this a decade!
I started AoM back in January 2008 when I was a 25-year-old, second-year law student. The idea for the site came a few months before that when I was in a Borders bookstore (RIP) browsing the magazines while taking a break from studying. As I was scanning the headlines of the men’s magazines, I realized that every month you could expect the same types of articles in these rags: How to Get Six-Pack Abs, Sex Positions You Must Try Tonight, Coolest Cars of the Year, Exotic Trips Every Man Should Take, The $1,000 Sweater You Should Buy This Winter.
As a broke, married student, the lifestyle these magazines promoted didn’t resonate with me. But more importantly, their idea of being a man just felt superficial and rang hollow.
It was then that the idea came to me: “Why don’t I start a men’s magazine that I’d want to read?”
I figured I could just spend a few bucks for a domain name and hosting and run the site on WordPress, which was free. I took out the Moleskine notebook I carried in my back pocket, and right there in the magazine section at Borders, I started scribbling ideas for the type of content I’d have on this new blog. Then I started brainstorming ideas on what to call it. I had read a book back in college called The Manly Arts, which was about 19th-century bare-knuckle boxing. I thought it sounded cool, but it wasn’t quite there.
I played around with the words.
How about “Art of Manliness”?
That had a ring to it. Bingo!
Now, what would the logo be? Because every publication needs a logo, after all.
Sticking with the pugilistic inspiration, I went with handlebar-mustached, bare-knuckle champion of the world, John L. Sullivan.
I was excited about this idea.
I waited until winter finals were over to start working on it. Since I was a broke law student, I couldn’t afford to hire a web designer, so I did it myself. I didn’t know any HTML, CSS, or PHP — knowledge that comes in handy when designing a website — but through trial and error and a lot of Googling, I got the thing created.
I then set to writing articles. Despite the name, I didn’t intend for the site to be about gender, but rather to be a blog about growing up well, aimed at the particular needs of men. I envisioned concentrating on the kind of practical skills and useful know-how my grandfather had embodied, but which seemed to have disappeared.
For the year prior, I had been shaving using a badger hair brush and a safety razor, which I had picked up for $10 at an antique store in Vermont. I liked the ritual and economics of old-school shaving and figured other guys would want to know about it, too. So the very first article I ever published on AoM was “How to Shave Like Your Grandpa.”
Because I was balancing school, law review, and working a part-time job, I only had time to publish articles 2-3 times a week. I’d wake up early in the morning and write for an hour before I left for school for the day, and then when I was done studying at night, I’d chip in a little more time on AoM.
Even then, it was hard for me to keep up with the site by myself, and Kate thankfully volunteered to help me write and edit content. With her background in history (she was teaching college history and humanities when I was in law school) and master’s degree in religion, she had a lot of interesting insights, an incomparably keen editing eye, and a stellar talent for researching and writing. Together, we realized it would be good to add a little more historical and philosophical content to the site, to give the context for why certain skillsets and mindsets ought to be developed. The result was our very first series, which explored Benjamin Franklin’s list of 13 virtues.
For the first couple months, the site was likely read by just my family, a few friends, and maybe a few random strangers who stumbled upon it. But I didn’t care. I was having fun and it provided a creative outlet and break from my studies.
A few months later, though, I experienced a happy stroke of luck.
That shaving article that I wrote to kick off the website ended up on the front page of Digg.com, which back in the day was one of the most trafficked sites on the web. Thousands of people started coming to my dinky blog. So many, in fact, that it crashed the site.
I, of course, was stoked. After getting the site back online, the traffic kept coming. People who saw the article on Digg posted it to reddit and del.icio.us (RIP), and that sent even more traffic. Lifehacker posted an excerpt on their site and sent even more folks over.
I figured I’d experience this nice burst of traffic, but eventually AoM would go back to being another small outpost on the web. But more articles made it to the front page of Digg, and people kept on coming back.
I started getting emails from men saying how they were so glad to find a men’s publication that didn’t publish the shallow stuff other men’s magazines did. That’s when I started to realize that maybe I was on to something with AoM.
And the site continued to grow.
By the time I graduated law school, I was eking out enough money from the website, that running it full-time was an option. I didn’t take the plunge right away (you can read more about that process here), and though I decided not to take the bar exam, I took a corporate job in the legal field. Finally, by 2011, three years after I started AoM, I quit that job and started doing AoM full-time.
Since then, we’ve published a few books, brought on our one and only full-time employee (we remain a lean and mean team of three), started, stopped, and re-started a podcast, dabbled in YouTube for a few years, launched an e-commerce store, and recently developed a platform to help people put into action the things we’ve been writing about all these years: The Strenuous Life. We’re no longer just a blog, if that was ever really the right word for AoM. Whatever we are, what started off as a hobby, has grown into one of the largest independent men’s lifestyle site on the web, which gets 12 million pageviews and over 2 million podcast downloads a month.
It’s certainly been a wild and fun ride!
If you were to tell 25-year-old me that the idea he had at Borders would end up where it is today, he would have laughed and called you crazy.
Along this wholly unexpected journey, I’ve done my best to keep a level-head and humble perspective.
I feel humble because I’m a big believer in the underestimated role of luck in our lives. If AoM hadn’t come on the scene right when blogging was exploding, and while Digg was so huge, would we be where we are today? Probably not. While Kate and I have worked incredibly hard, we also got really lucky.
I feel humble because I never thought, and still don’t think of myself as an expert on manliness. I had no grand vision for this thing when I started it, nor did I start out with a clear philosophy on what it meant to be a man. I just knew that what was then being put out for men was lackluster and thought I could search out a better alternative.
In truth, Art of Manliness has been my excuse to learn about stuff that interests me or will make me better, and I’ve been learning and growing along with everyone else. I’ve simply tried to share the things I’ve learned the best I could in the hopes that others would find it useful in their own journey to becoming the men they want to be.
Through this process, I’ve had the chance to learn new skills, as well as learn what manliness means from the perspectives of philosophy, history, psychology, and anthropology. If you go back far enough into the archives, you can sort of see an evolution in my thinking and as a man. Instead of trying to come up with some new idea of manhood, I discovered through researching and writing that we simply needed to revive a lost idea of manliness that we’ve always had — one that centers on maturity and competence, and requires living a life of excellence, honor, and virtue.
I also feel humbled because of the incredibly appreciative and encouraging emails and letters Kate and I have received over the years from readers and listeners who’ve told us of the impact AoM has had on them. They’ve shared how our content has assisted them in different seasons of their lives, helping them study and organize their time in college, find their life’s purpose after graduating, take the initiative in asking someone on a date (which in at least one case led to a marriage!), rock a job interview, battle depression, mourn the loss of a loved one, grow as a husband, and become a better father. Men around the world have told us that AoM has inspired them to dress better, practice good manners, join the military, discover new hobbies, change jobs, and start exercising,
My favorite letters are from those who started reading the site when they were in high school and have used it as a resource through college, getting their first job, dating, getting married, buying a home, and welcoming a new baby to the family. With these guys, we’ve kind of grown up together, which is pretty cool.
Because of the way people have let AoM into their lives and the effect it’s had on them, Kate and I honestly have obsessed and stressed every year, every month, every week, and every day over maintaining AoM’s quality, integrity, and values. We never want to let people down, and we’ve always tried to run the site treating folks the way we’d like to be treated. This has meant continuing to invest serious time in researching and writing useful, interesting content, and saying no to popular routes to success and status, even if they might have a short-term payoff: we’ve kept the entirety of articles in our email newsletter instead of making people click to our site, rejected big ad deals from sketchy brands and intrusive ads of any kind, eschewed clickbait, and turned down numerous offers to make AoM into a television show (which always involves giving up some creative control and the risk of handlers dumbing down and compromising AoM’s values). We feel like our relationship with AoM’s followers is a sacred trust, and we never want to violate that trust, even if that means we won’t be as big or make as much money.
Finally, I feel humble because I know AoM didn’t get to where it is because of my efforts alone. I’ve had a ton of help over this past decade, and these folks all deserve a sincere thank you:
First, thank you to Kate. Thank you for being my partner in crime in this crazy thing. Your research, editing, and writing skills have brought a polish and depth to AoM that it wouldn’t have without you. Thank you as well for your help in keeping track of the details and doodads that must be done to keep the site going on a daily basis. I love you, Mate Woman.
To Jeremy Anderberg. Jeremy has been our one and only full-time employee and our managing editor, podcast producer, and consummate jack-of-all-trades here at AoM for the past five years. Believe it or not, he got the job because he left a comment about his side hustle as an editor on a blog post we did on the topic. J, thanks for all the behind-the-scenes work you do to keep AoM going and thriving. Your writing, editing, podcast management, and administrative work have been invaluable to the site. Most importantly, you’re just a good dude and an absolute pleasure to work with.
To all of our regular content contributors, past and present. Antonio Centeno (style articles), Ted Slampyak (awesomely manly vintage illustrations), Kyle Eschenroeder (awesomely meaty, philosophical content), Marcus Brotherton (lessons from WWII), Creek Stewart (survival content), Patrick Hutchinson (how-to primers), Jordan Crowder (YouTube videos), John Corcoran (social and networking skills), Darren Bush (outdoor skills), and Matt Moore (food and cooking). Your contributions have helped millions of men around the world. And to everyone else who has contributed a guest article over the years — thank you for sharing your insights with our readers. The site is richer because of you.
Eric Granata. Eric is a fellow Okie who has been reading the site since 2008. In 2009 he started helping me with the site design and other back end web development to make the site look and run better. He was also instrumental in getting our online shop going with his position at ROBYN Promotions in OKC. In addition to all that, he and his wife have helped in the production of several of our self-published books. Eric, thank you for your partnership and friendship all these years. AoM has your fingerprints all over it.
Jon Daley. Jon is our server guy. After my site kept crashing due to high traffic in the early years of AoM, I switched to Jon’s hosting company, Lime Daley. It’s thanks to him that the site is up 24 hours a day. He’s also done a lot of behind-the-scenes work in optimizing the site, so it runs better. Jon, thank you for your professionalism and all the late nights you’ve put in to help AoM with upgrades and re-designs.
Encore Fulfillment. If you’ve bought something from the AoM Store, it was likely filled by Encore Fulfillment in OKC. (It was ROBYN for the first few years.) Kyle Thompson and Daniel Webb own the company. They’re two young guys with a lot of drive and professionalism. Kyle and Daniel, thanks for your help as the AoM Store has grown and with your help on TSL.
Shannon Bolt. If you’ve run into a problem with an order from the AoM Store, you’ve probably interacted with Shannon. She’s our customer support. She also happens to be my big sister. Shannon, thank you for taking care of AoM’s customers with class and professionalism.
Mike Anderson. Back in 2009, I put out our first AoM t-shirt. It honestly wasn’t very good. A few months later, a reader named Mike Anderson reached out to me and said he loved the site, but our t-shirt was terrible. Mike happened to own a graphic tee printing biz and clothing brand, Tankfarm & Co. He designed a set of better looking tees for us and we’ve been working with him ever since on our apparel. Mike and his brother even hosted a book signing at their store in Seal Beach, CA and allowed me to meet several hundred of you. Thank you Mike for your creative designs, and for all your help and support over the years. You’ve been such a pleasure to work with.
Derek Hart. My Photoshop and graphic design skills are terrible, so I’ve had to rely on the talent of Derek Hart. Those really good looking article headers and Instagram images that we post? Those were done by him. In addition to helping us on AoM, Derek has been instrumental in the design of The Strenuous Life, including designing all its badges. Derek’s always able to nail the AoM ethos, and is incredibly reliable and great to work with.
Sponsors and Ad Agencies. Running a site as large as AoM requires money. To keep it free, we have relied on advertising and affiliates to monetize the site. But we’ve always tried to ensure that the site isn’t overrun with ads, and that the ads that are shown don’t contradict the ethos at AoM. We’ve been lucky to work with a few ad agencies who’ve respected our audience, and our philosophy on this, while working hard to land ad campaigns for us so that we can keep our focus on creating content. In earlier days, that agency was Federated Media (warm shoutouts to Charles Brack and Mugs Buckley!). These days, UrbanDaddy handles the ad inventory on the site, while Midroll handles our podcast ads. Both agencies have been great to work with, and big thanks to them for all the hard work they do to help us keep AoM growing and thriving.
Huckberry. If you’ve been reading AoM for the past 8 years or so, you probably know about these guys! We’ve been an affiliate of theirs since way back when its founders, Andy and Richard, were running the company out of their apartment. It’s been fun to watch them grow into the behemoth they are today, and they’ve always treated us like gold. Warm thanks to all the grade A folks we’ve worked with at HB HQ over the years.
Creative Audio Lab. They edit our podcasts so they sound good. Thanks to you guys for all the work you do to enhance the listener’s experience.
Last, but definitely not least, a deep, hearty, sincere thank you to our readers & listeners! If you all weren’t reading the site, and listening to the podcast, AoM wouldn’t exist! Thanks to everyone who’s been with us since the very beginning and have stuck with us and thanks to those who’ve joined us along the way. You’ve got a bajillion choices for online content, so we appreciate and are humbled that we’re one of the places you visit. Thank you for your letters of encouragement and appreciation over the years. It’s really meant a lot. And thank you for sharing our content with your friends and family. We never take your support for granted, and we’ll ever strive to stay worthy of it.
Like I said earlier, this thing has been a wild and fun ride, and I’m looking forward to sharing the next ten years with you.