On paper, 37-year-old Fred Mwangaguhunga seems a lot like other successful businessmen. He has an MBA and a law degree from Columbia University, as well as a passion for his business that keeps him working seven days a week (and he says he hasn’t taken vacation in five years). But what makes Mwangaguhunga special—besides his difficult to pronounce surname—is his business, MediaTakeOut.com, an extremely popular and controversial urban gossip site.
Starting a gossip site wasn’t a lifelong aspiration of Mwangaguhunga. The son of Ugandan immigrants who stressed education and the security of a good 9-to-5 job, he initially chose a more traditional education and career path. After law school, Mwangaguhunga practiced corporate tax law at a Wall Street firm for four years, but ever since he was a teen he knew that he wanted to run his own business. “I started working at 14. I worked with a bunch of small business guys who videotaped weddings, and they started off pretty small,” he says. “At some point they were the biggest, or certainly the most reputable, wedding photographers in New York.”
Working with the small photography and videography company that did big jobs, like shooting the weddings of Donald Trump and Eddie Murphy, inspired the young New York native. “I knew that I wanted to do what they did—take something small and make it big,” he says. “I liked the idea that they were working for themselves [and] employing people, all that.”
Knowing that he couldn’t ignore the voice in the back of his mind any longer, Mwangaguhunga struck out on his own. He left his six-figure salary job to start his first venture Laundry Spa, a boutique laundering service for professionals like himself. Needless to say, his family and coworkers were taken aback. “Everyone I knew thought I was nuts,” he says with a chuckle. “At the time, I had graduated and was working at one of the better firms in a good practice area. Everyone at the firm liked me. They said, ‘Wow, you could really go far,’ and then I said, ‘Well, I want to leave and start a dry-cleaning business.’ They said, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’”
The business was no joke, and after only two years, Laundry Spa was so successful that one of its main competitors made Mwangaguhunga an offer to buy it. He sold the company and was back at square one, a little richer and wiser, but with no interest in going back to working for someone else. With a desire to fill the void for a different voice in entertainment news and a little less than $600 to buy the domain name and pay a Website developer in Bangladesh, Mwangaguhunga started MediaTakeOut.com.
But why gossip? “There’s this world of entertainment news, and at some point, entertainment news almost turns into just a bunch of press releases where no one was really telling you what’s going on,” he explains. “If you really wanted to know what’s going on, you had to listen to Wendy Williams or go to your barbershop or hair salon and hear the whispers.”
Identifying an untapped market for raw, sensational and often salacious celeb news, he has organically grown the business into “the most visited urban site in the world” as its tagline boasts. Often the first to dish major news on Black celebs, MTO was the first source to break the stories like Chris Brown’s assault on Rihanna and T.I.’s 2007 arrest on federal gun charges. In six short years, Mwangaguhunga has seen the site blossom into a multimillion dollar business with a staff of four that averages over 14 million page views a day.
“Every decision that I make; it all comes down to the No. 1 thing, making sure the consumer has the best experience,” Mwangaguhunga says. ”Whenever I walk around and meet people I talk to them and ask them what they think of the site and I want to hear everything—the good and the bad… The amazing part is that you touch all these people’s lives and that they’re waking up every morning and they’re like, ‘Oh, I wanna see what’s on MTO;” you’re a part of their life, you’re part of what they do. That’s the amazing part, if you can build a business around that that’s incredible.”