Alex explains what he believes went wrong with DriveTribe as the social media platform started by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May confirms it’s permanently coming to an end.
I was one of the first people to be accepted onto the DriveTribe platform when it first started in 2016. It feels like a long time ago now, but it came moments after I started my own website where I’d write about my experiences behind the wheel and as I really started exploring the world of online motoring journalism as a career.
Wanting to break into the industry, I wasted no time in signing up to the site which was yet to launch. The signup process was extensive. You needed some experience in media – my website fulfilled that part – and I needed to send off not only examples of my work, but also the idea behind what would become my ‘tribe’.
What was a ‘Tribe’?
My tribe would be my home on the site. My niche that no one else could touch unless I invited them to. Running with the same theme as what I’d been doing until now, I chose to call mine ‘Car Torque’ and promote it as a place where people could write about their general experiences with cars and share stories. For example, I wrote about attending my first car show and what it was like to grow into and explore the rapidly evolving motoring world.
In hindsight, this was maybe too broad as other users started tribes on specific car makes or ideas. But I was accepted, and from then on, I formed a little corner of the website that I quite liked. It grew quickly, and soon my posts were garnering a similar number of views as the trio. My name was often found on the home page, and while I was initially doing this for the love of writing and the idea behind the website, I eventually got closer to the company.
My relationship with DriveTribe
I travelled to London a few times to talk with the team about how they could improve their site. Here I met some brilliant people such as its original CEO Ernesto and Jeremy, Richard, and James, and while this was all unpaid, I felt like the community was worth the time and effort. Eventually, this did translate into a paid writer’s job with DriveTribe, but more on that later.
As I said, I was one of the first users on the site. And it was very different back then.
Because each user had gone through some form of interview process, the quality of the content was extremely high and each tribe had its own niche where it excelled. But, as expected by many, the flood doors opened and these barriers to entry removed. At once there were hundreds, maybe thousands of tribes, each overlapping in subject and with a range of quality levels. This clean-cut digital magazine suddenly became a Yellow Pages, and to new users, was very difficult to navigate.
It was at this point I was asked to become a paid writer for the site. I agreed after promises of training and behind the scenes access, but while I believe the intent was there, nothing ever came of this. After just five months, the site’s payment structure changed and, while the potential was there, my work at GTN was building in both responsibility and enjoyment. There was no competition.
While I still had the opportunity to make money on DriveTribe, I didn’t like what it had turned into so left the site for good.
What went wrong?
DriveTribe was initially tagged as social media for cars. But when the site opened it was more like looking at a collage of different interests. These interests, or tribes as they were named, each had a knowledgeable person to lead them, of which were chosen by the company itself. There was one tribe for Alfa Romeos, one for motorsport, one for The Grand Tour. There was even a tribe that blew up Ford Transits for fun. That was it. And it was brilliant.
Yes, things were a bit crap at the beginning as the site was finding its feet. Its article writing system was flawed, and there were no analytics to speak of or any way for us to embed a YouTube video to support our writing, but the community was buzzing and the DriveTribe family quickly formed. It was here I met two fellow users who eventually became the best men at my wedding.
But the business model wasn’t making any money. In the first two years it lost $16 million, and this is why I suspect it was opened up to the public completely. At this point, it became less of a place to find content, and more of a place to compete with everyone else by producing your own content on the same subject. Suddenly, our warm little family opened up to a world where everyone wanted to win.
What actually killed DriveTribe?
I don’t know. But obviously this stems from a lack of revenue and an initial investment that was just too high. I believe, as does a source who used to work at DriveTribe who has now talked to Grand Tour Nation, that the real idea behind the site was to build a site structure that could be applied to any industry – food for example – but it was just too expensive and the returns too low.
From a user standpoint, it was the fact that our family – a cherry-picked number of passionate content creators – quickly became an endless swarm of Facebook Groups competing with each other. The ability to start your own tribe was eventually removed, but by then, it was too late.
What now? Join us to build a community.
I’m sad to see DriveTribe coming to an end, so want to extend an invite to anyone who used to create content on the site to come here and continue doing the same thing. I loved the community we had and would do anything to bring that aspect of the site back, so please get in touch with me at alex@grandtournation (or our contact page) and we can get you doing what you love once again.
If you want to keep content from your tribe, DriveTribe is allowing you to download articles as PDFs. Click here for instructions on how to do that.
It is such a loss, but DriveTribe will always be what kickstarted my career doing what I love while introducing me to the best people in my life, and I will always be grateful for that.