WILLIAMS: If you love CF, please check this out

I was having a drink with three of my best friends on Saturday night. We were discussing the media landscape when I described Cyclone Fanatic as my “second child.”

Technically, it was actually my first.

Not to compare this website with the love of my life, Cami (pictured to the right, age 2), but that really is the best way to describe how much this community (which is ultimately what Cyclone Fanatic is) means to me.

Eight years ago, I was doing radio in southwest Iowa and was heavily contemplating getting out of journalism to go to law school. It was never that I didn’t love this business. It was more that some day, I wanted to have a family and actually be able to support it.

That was about the time when I got the best phone call I have ever received in my life. I was fishing down at the Lake of the Ozarks when one of my longtime radio mentors, Ken Miller, gave me the number of a guy named Jason (whom I had never met) to call. I picked up the phone, we put together a vision for what we ultimately wanted CF to be and here we are today.

That first year of transforming CF from a message board to an actual media entity was challenging for multiple reasons.

— I think that our business plan was a couple of years ahead of its time. We wanted to do the free website model in an era where pay sites were still the cat’s meow. Twitter has since come around and all but neutered the pay site model – and it has also greatly taken away from all message boards in general.

— I am not a salesman. I am a writer, radio man, journalist, whatever you want to call it. Going up to strangers and asking for money on a product that at that point wasn’t really proven was very difficult for me. There were a lot of parentheses in our financial reports in those early days, which for a guy who lives with massive anxiety, made for quite a few sleepless nights.

— The biggest hurdle back in the day was my overall lack of computer knowledge. Jeremy Lind, the previous site’s owner, is one of the smartest tech guys I know. CF went from Michael Jordan to Michael Carter-Williams in that aspect overnight.

My first full-time day at Cyclone Fanatic was on Oct. 24, 2009, the same day that Iowa State won at Nebraska in the eight turnover game. I am damn proud of our accomplishments.

At that time, this was a great message board community. Now, we have events, multiple radio shows a week, charter trips and one of, if not the largest, podcast networks in the state of Iowa. The thing I am most proud of is how well we have served our loyal advertisers over the years.

In terms of the number of people who visit our site daily, Cyclone Fanatic has grown exponentially, which is why having to write this today is so annoying to me.

As you saw last week with ESPN laying off 100 employees, this industry is really hurting right now. Don’t get me wrong: We are in a much different spot than the worldwide leader. Our overhead is much lower and we do not rely on cable subscribers. But the trickle-down effect here is real.

Without getting into too many boring details, many of the third-party ads (which means we do not directly sell them) on our site that currently pay about one-sixth of what they paid us three years ago.

Why is this happening? There are a few reasons but mainly because mobile ads do not pay as much. Back in the day, 90 to 95 percent of our site traffic came from desktop computers. Now, approximately 50 percent of you are on cell phones, 40 percent on desktops and 10 percent a tablet.

Mobile devices have absolutely crushed the digital advertising industry.

Because of the site’s growth, our monthly fees for technical support and server fees have continued to increase. In addition, we have had two major site redesigns along with multiple tweaks over the last five years that were significant investments each time.

It is notable that because we aren’t owned by a big media corporation, we do not have in-house developers to do this work.

So here is my goal: At all costs to keep Cyclone Fanatic a free site. One of the big reasons the current ownership group purchased this thing in 2009 was because it felt Iowa State was getting a bad rap locally back in the day. The trio felt that the market was wide open for somebody to come in and intensely cover the Cyclones, which I feel like we have done.

I want to not only keep CF free but maintain and continue to improve the site’s quality too. I want us to cover women’s basketball and wrestling closer than we ever have before. I want us to be at even more events. Most importantly for me, I want to be able to pay our help a livable wage, give our interns some spending money and all together, work hard and watch this site continue to grow.

There are a couple of options here.

I could litter CF with pre-roll video ads and pop-ups to make up for the lost revenue. I’m not stupid though. That would be bad for everybody, we would lose readers and I don’t want to go down that road.

Here is what I want to do: Still be heavily involved in local sales. These ads don’t impact the site’s performance and I love our loyal advertisers. The local aspect brings a lot to the site.

But we need help, which is why today, I am launching the Patreon option to help fund CF. Patreon’s goal is to allow creators to focus more on creating and less on chasing advertising dollars.

Patreon is safe and simple to use. You simply give them credit card information and whatever amount you choose to donate will come out once a month.

Honestly, I think I have written three or four actual columns since the NCAA Tournament ended. My life has revolved around improving the site’s functionality (which we are making serious progress on) and figuring our our future business model.

There is no obligation for you all to do this. The site is going to remain free for everybody, regardless of if you donate or not. But if you appreciate our work and have a few extra bucks to give each month, we would really, really appreciate it.

I hope that I have done a decent job of explaining the situation. Because I view all of you as my massive internet family, shoot me an email to my personal account, [email protected] if you have any questions, comments and/or suggestions.