Making Moves: Ben Bator, Texts From Last Night
By Rosemary Dorsett > Senior > Journalism > University of Maryland
It’s 2 p.m. on a Saturday and you’re waking up to a pounding headache, pizza on the floor and your phone’s empty outbox. Uh oh, do you know where your texts are? Chances are, Ben Bator does. The co-founder of Texts From Last Night has been collecting up to 15,000 texts a day, showcased them in a book and is working with FOX on a new TV show. Bator and his classmate Lauren Leto, started TFLN in February 2009 with one mission, to prolong their college career as long as possible.
Before TFLN, Bator graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Advertising and was offered a scholarship to law school. Leto, also a MSU alumna, was already in law school and living in the Detroit area.
“We pretty much graduated and realized we didn’t really love what we had to put up with out of school. We saw our friends who were still in school and having a lot more fun than we were,” Bator said.
The two regularly exchanged crazy texts from last night before realizing they had enough material to dedicate an entire site to. At first, Bator and Leto used Facebook statuses, a fan page and Twitter to market TFLN, which quickly garnered a college cult following.
Last June, Bator and Leto were offered a book deal and realized they had more than a few funny texts in their inbox. “That’s when we realized, okay this could actually be something where we might have a career in doing Internet based businesses,” Bator said. “July  was when we started to advertise on the site. Part of it was to keep the site going, the rest was because realized now we can actually pay off our bar tabs.”
This texter isn’t anxious to get back grad school. “I think there’s a lot more that we can do with TFLN and I know that we’re focused on making sure we have it so the site’s as much fun as it could possibly be. Also, this is so much more fun than sitting in a library crying because I have an exam in two days, so yeah, I’ll keep doing this,” Bator said.
A typical day for Bator is a lot like his college schedule. “There’s really no set day. It’s a very non-traditional way of working and we’re pretty luck to be able to craft our career around the way we want to work so early. You still have to be places at certain times,” said Bator. “It’s not like you can’t do something like this while you’re still in class. Up until this May, our editor — my brother [Philip] — was still in school at Michigan State. It’s definitely do-able.”
Philip Bator is responsible for sorting through 7-15,000 daily text message submissions, determining the phony from the funny and posting 30-40 new texts everyday on the site. Bator attributes a consistent, manageable flow of quality content as the foundation of a successful blog.
“You have to really focus on the quality of the content you’re putting up and the frequency that you’re doing it. If there’s not content everyday, there’s not going to be enough traffic to make any sort of monetary gain from incremental growth,” Bator said.
Bator waited four months before deciding to put advertising on the website, another key move to TFLN’s success. “We could have better looking ads, and it was going to be a win-win for basically everyone. If you could focus on growing the site and growing readership of the audience that you want, that’s probably a better way to do it than just to throw as many ads as possible to try to make some kind of money right away,” Bator said.
TFLN now has anywhere from 4 to 5 million page views a day but success and a loyal fan base doesn’t happen overnight. The redesign of TFLN last January proved Bator and Leto had a lot of texters invested in their brand. “We were all nervous, we had to bail on our logo, our layout. We were a little worried that might hinder our growth and our progress. We got some complaints like we like the old one better, you guys fail,” Bator said. The redesign opened up a dialogue between the site and its users, which allowed TFLN to integrate more interactive features.
“You can’t be afraid. Even if things are going really well, that doesn’t mean they can’t go better. You can always go back if things really backfire. So take chances,” Bator said.