Q + A: Ning Zhou, CTO of blankslate
We recently had the privilege of sitting down with BlankSlate CTO Ning Zhou, to speak about BlankSlate's recent acquisition of the local media site DUMBO NYC, and the one-year milestone reached after its procurement of Brownstoner in 2015. BlankSlate and its two new additions forge connections between key businesses, local publishers and audiences in Brooklyn.
How did BlankSlate come to be?
BlankSlate was created by our co-founder and CEO, Kael, and me almost 8 years ago as a do-it-yourself software platform. One of the first things we made with the platform was a business directory for Brownstoner.com, then a real estate blog. The business directory allowed local service providers such as architects and plumbers to really get in front of a Brooklyn audience and that worked well. From that experience, we saw that bloggers and local publisher needed help with tech and monetization so they can focus on creating great content. BlankSlate evolved from that need, and today, we’re a digital media company that specializes in forging connections between businesses, local publishers and audiences. So, that’s what we do today, and last year, we acquired Brownstoner and re-launched it in March of this year. We completely overhauled the site with a clean aesthetic, introduced a new logo and revamped the real estate, services sections and added a concierge service. Marking the transformation of a real estate blog into a Brooklyn media brand that helps people learn about Brooklyn, find a home, sell a home, or make their homes better.
Why did you decide to take on Brownstoner and DUMBO NYC?
For us, it was a natural evolution. We had been working with both blogs for a number of years along with other publishers in our network. We were operating their websites and running their ad sales. As time went on, we saw a an opportunity to converge some Brooklyn-centric brands and it made a lot of sense for businesses and advertisers who wants to reach a common audience. So we decided to take them forward and give them some renewed energy.
How do you see these websites impacting culture?
So Brownstoner used to be purely a real estate blog, where people would come to learn about real estate, home renovation, etc. That’s still true today but we’ve also expanded on that to include more lifestyle and cultural topics. I think that gives people a pulse of what's happening in and around Brooklyn through the lens of a Brooklynite. We’re also adding valuable services for the Brooklyn Community. The thing I’m excited about right now is the Brownstone concierge which we just launched last month, where a human concierge in our office is helping the community find home services and real estate professionals. We’ve gotten hundreds of requests already: ‘Help me find an architect’ ; ‘I’m hearing weird noises in my attic, who should I call?’ and we connect them to someone who can help. So far, it’s been really interesting to see the demand, whether they’re buying a home, or the odd job, it’s really about helping people make a life in Brooklyn.
How has being in DUMBO benefited your work?
It’s been great. So, when we first started, believe it or not, we were in lower Manhattan, right across from the Wall Street bull. We had an office there during the time when the financial crisis hit. We’d see a lot of depressed Wall Street guys walking around and were like, hey, we’re tech guys, we don’t have to be here, and DUMBO was already transforming into a great place for that. We moved here in 2009, so we’ve been here seven years, and have been loving it since. The energy, the creative vibe that everyone has here, has really helped us. Also, I’m on the tech side, so from a recruiting perspective, it also helps. Developers want to go where other developers are, and where the cool tech companies are, DUMBO is definitely one of those places.
Were you always in the office you’re in now?
When we first moved to DUMBO we were on the third floor of 68 Jay. A couple of years after that, as we grew, we moved to the fifth floor, got a larger office space, and that’s where we are today.
Do you have any favorite spots in DUMBO?
I love to run, and at least a couple of times a week I’m out here on the Brooklyn Bridge paths, and every time I’m out here I can’t believe this is my normal running route.
Yeah, sometimes I’ll grab a drink with friends at Gran Electrica, Atrium, but mostly, to be super-frank, I go to the Bridge Fresh Deli, pick up lunch, and am back at work.