Evan Williams has left the building. A decade after launching the independent digital publishing site Medium, Evan “Ev” Williams announced he was stepping away from day-to-day operations, effective July 20. The serial tech entrepreneur said he would remain with the company as chairman of the board and hand the reins over to Tony Stubblebine, a long-term partner of Medium.
“Tony is a builder, a writer, an open-minded thinker, and a keen businessperson,” Williams said. “I’m confident Medium will benefit greatly from his vision, integrity, energy, and pragmatic leadership.”
Also the co-founder of Twitter and Blogger, Williams started Medium 10 years ago as an alternative to traditional media by offering writers the opportunity to share their perspectives with global audiences on the Medium platform. In a July 12, 2022 blog post, Williams said that Medium continues to serve that purpose, and he is proud of the work they’ve done. He also clarified that this is just a new chapter for Medium.
“To be clear, Medium’s story is far from over. The team today is probably the most capable I’ve seen at this company. I’m excited to see what they do,” Williams wrote.
“I have learned a tremendous amount during my time as CEO. When you go to start your third or fourth company, it’s easy to assume you know the likely pitfalls and challenges you will face. And that’s true, to some extent. But every new company is like climbing a new mountain no one’s ever been on. Just because you have some basic skills doesn’t mean you know what lies ahead. There are always new mistakes to make — new ways to die. Navigating those is what makes this job endlessly challenging and rewarding. As would be appropriate for Medium, I do plan to write more about my learnings when I have some time to reflect,” said Williams.
What’s next for Williams
Williams didn’t share specifics, but he said is planning to start a holding company/research lab and to support Medium and other companies that he feels have worthwhile missions.
“Outside of lots of time with friends and family, I plan to spend the next few months (or years) learning as much as I can about things I don’t know a lot about,” wrote Williams.
We have written about Medium many times in recent years, as the company has tested new business models, trying to find the right mix of membership and advertising. For example, in April 2016, Medium added a suite of monetization tools for publishers, including monthly subscription options. In January 2017, Williams said Medium was changing their focus and eliminating about 50 jobs along the way. Since then, Medium has launched a subscription program, paid membership program, and digital subscription-based magazines. The site has grown to more than 10 million readers though it isn’t clear how many readers are paying subscribers. For unlimited access to content, Medium readers pay $5 a month or $50 a year for an ad-free experience accessible from any device. Medium says they use that money to pay writers and to eliminate the need for advertising.
Innovative entrepreneurs like Williams are, by their very nature, restless creators who are always thinking about the next big thing. Williams had a dream with Medium, and he created what he envisioned digital publishing should be. But it wasn’t without challenges, primarily finding a way to be popular and paying writers for their work. The digital publishing model isn’t perfect, but Williams gave it a valiant effort. Stubblebine will likely make his own mark with the company, and we anticipate some more business model changes along the way. Meanwhile, we’ll be watching for Williams’ next move.