Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Andy Tarnoff, publisher and owner of OnMilwaukee.com, stopped at nothing to get the website to what it is today.
At age 13, Tarnoff’s family moved from their home in the Midwest to the east coast in Rhode Island. Tarnoff attended college at George Washington University in Washington D.C., where he majored in International Affairs with an Electronic Communications focus. During his college years Tarnoff had nine internships.
“I learned so much more out of class than I did in class,” said Tarnoff.
One of his internships included being a “ghost writer” for Bill Clinton. As a part of this position, Tarnoff actually wrote the letter from the President to his own graduating class.
Fast forward years later, and Tarnoff’s site gets over 30-50,000 visitors a day. OnMilwaukee.com differs from the other news outlets in Milwaukee because it displays an array of articles from hard hitting news to lighter stories, such as one that was shown on the website within the past week entitled, “Is Eddie Lacy fat?”
Tarnoff described the motto of OnMilwaukee.com as, “Giving people a combination of what they want and what they should want.”
Tarnoff visited Jessica McBride’s JAMS class to teach first-semester freshmen in a media Living Learning Community, a new way to encounter success within the JAMS major. After Tarnoff told the class his story, freshman and P.R. major, Meggie Hall said, “I want to be Andy Tarnoff.”
Through LLCs, UW-Milwaukee students with similar interests live together in the dorms as a way to encourage a campus environment and freshmen retention.
Since the beginning, the OnMilwaukee.com website has become increasingly grown in success, winning the 2015 Eppy Award for Best Digital Magazine, making this its most successful year with $2.5 million in revenue. 2007 was the previous best year for the company.
“We’re here, we’re local, and we actually care about Milwaukee,” said Tarnoff.
Years before OnMilwaukee was created and Tarnoff was still living in Washington D.C, he made the decision to move back home to Milwaukee.
“I was in the most exciting city in the country getting ready to leave to go to Milwaukee without a job,” said Tarnoff.
Because of his impressive resume and ability to use HTML, he was hired by a P.R. firm within a week from when he got back.
April 7, 1998, Tarnoff decided to take a risk and quit his job at the P.R. firm. He brought in some of his coworkers and colleagues and started building OnMilwaukee.com.
“We knew how to write; we knew Milwaukee,” said Tarnoff.
Going into the business, Tarnoff’s website didn’t have any competition because at this time the internet was still very primitive and people viewed it as a fad.
In 2000, Tarnoff met with investors and, “After an hour conversation we had $500,000,” said Tarnoff.
The website took a hit in 2001 after the terrorist attacks took place on 9/11. The entire nation went into a depression the advertising market “totally dried up,” said Tarnoff. Tarnoff and the site’s other two owners stopped paying themselves for four months afterwards to ensure that the company could make payroll.
Today, at the height of his company’s success, Tarnoff says that his plan for OnMilwaukee is to continue growing the site and perhaps teach other companies how to thrive online.
“There are a lot of crappy websites out there,” said Tarnoff.