How a college dropout turned Tumblr curation into a family business
If content is king, Thomas Ellington reigns supreme on Tumblr.
In the last three years, the Oklahoma City-based curator has developed a powerful network on the microblogging site, an incorporated enterprise that pushes out 700 pieces of content a day to more than one million followers. Not bad for a high-school dropout who taught himself HTML.
“I had big plans,” said Ellington, who was inspired by eBaumsWorld, an entertainment site featuring GIFs, videos, and celebrity soundboards. “I wanted to build up websites and have friends visit them.”
In 2009, Ellington worked in telecommunications. He spent most of his days coordinating high-speed Internet setups around the country and scouring Tumblr for funny posts while tending to his newborn son.
The premise of his own blog was to find and curate content with at least 1,000 notes. It was a place for Ellington, 31, to share photos and animations—everything from kissing booths for cats and vacation pictures to Disney GIFs—that lightened his workday, while the site’s small ads helped generate some extra money for diapers every month.
"I became disillusioned quickly with my day job because I began to see that no matter how far I progressed, the amount I would be paid wouldn't be enough to supply my family with the kind of life I had hoped,” Ellington told the Daily Dot. “So, I sort of maneuvered my way into a position that would require about 30 minutes of work per day out of me, while still occupying a solid position of importance.”
As he faded into the shadows of the telecommunications company, Ellington’s Tumblr status was on the rise. By reblogging constantly, networking with other Tumblr influencers, and employing some search engine optimization techniques, Ellington had collected more than 20,000 followers in just a few months. And by the end of 2010, he was earning more than $1,000 every few weeks just from one blog.
Ellington expanded his Tumblr network to seven different blogs over the next two years, each curating only the most popular content from around the community. Each blog follows a similar theme, posting images and GIFs that have a certain amount of notes. TheBeautyofWords focuses on inspirational quotes, for example, while TumbleFunny sticks to LOL-worth GIFS and Photoshopped images. Think of his blogs as a continuous greatest hits collection for the blog community.
By June 2011, Ellington’s network had collected more than 300,000 followers.
He was earning four times as much on Tumblr than he was at his day gig thanks to advertising and promotions. The decision at that point was clear. It was time to quit telecommunications.
“There was a lot of worries,” Ellington said, remembering his wife’s reaction to the news. “I knew that it could be successful. I had a vision and how I was going to take it. She stood by me.”
Today, blogging on Tumblr is the Ellington family business. He incorporated his network as a small business, 1000Notes, in January and now employs his wife, cousin, and a small team of volunteers who post content to their more than 1.25 million followers.
Their jobs are fairly simple. Each day Ellington’s team is responsible for reblogging or posting about 700 pieces of content—which range from a photo of a sheep lying on its back to a tweet from @bill_nye_tho—to his blogs like 10knotes.
The network also receives more than 400 public submissions a day, which are parsed and posted according to their subject matter.
“I don’t want my blogs to be divisive at all,” Ellington said, noting that he avoids posting content that is vulgar, pornographic, or political.
Despite the success of his formula, it has not been without heartache and headache. Ellington said he occasionally receives emails and messages from people asking him to take a photo of theirs down—he complies—and others dislike his curation style.
“There are a number people who have an issue with my blogging model,” Ellington noted.
“It’s the way Tumblr works. Tumblr is built on reblogs and sharing content. It’s just that my blogs center around reblogging.”
And that formula has proven to be successful. This year Ellington’s’ company will earn into the high six figures, even though monthly traffic across the network has dropped more than 30 percent, from about 2.5 million unique visitors to about 1.5 million in recent months. Ellington chalks it up to the poor economy and a growing marketplace.
“The monopoly is gone,” he said. “When I started, there were only two or three blogs that did I what I did. Now it seems like there are hundreds of blogs that do this. Everyone wants to start a humor blog.”
The times are changing on Tumblr, but Ellington’s proud of what he has achieved so far and knows that he’ll always have his family’s support.
“I'm very lucky, because I do make more money than many career professionals do, and I don't have a college degree or a high school diploma,” he added. “We’ve become more successful than anyone in my family for generations and stretching far out on my family tree, more successful than anyone in my wife's family, so we've experienced things that we've never known or been exposed to before.”
Photo via Thomas Ellington