Thought Catalog is a digital media company publishing one of the 100 most popular content sites in the U.S.
I joined Chris in the first year of the company's founding to be the founding business person.
Thought Catalog was in the vanguard of a few key trends:
- Millennial first-person confessional-style writing. This was the second wave of non-technical people trying to get famous on the internet (the first was individual blogs, the next wave was Instagram).
- Contributor networks, per above. Thought Catalog gets free content in exchange for distribution and brand imprint.
- Shareable content = identity-based content.
- In 2011, Facebook moved from chronological to algorithmically-recommended content in the News Feed, at the same time their mobile app was hitting an inflection point.
- Branded content emerged as a way for brands to fit into a content-driven ecosystem.
I ran revenue (ad products, strategy, sales, operations, BD) and became a partner in the business. Spoke at conferences, made an acquisition, managed PR crises and moderation issues.
Thought Catalog grew many fold over this time. Consistently a top-100 trafficked site in the U.S. Built a book publishing business, agency business, Facebook ad buying operation, and reached ~50 employees and 8 figures of revenue and growing.
We diversified revenue and never raised money, meaning the company remains a profitable, growing digital media company.
Lessons on how to build an independent media company:
- Find an opening, ideally with a tail wind
- Keep it lean and run it 10% better than your competition. Compound this over years.
- Diversify revenue and distributiion.
- Mindshare is the network effect. Build a brand that matters to someone.
Partial list of awesome people: Chris Lavergne, Steph Georgopolous, Ryan O'Connell, Chelsea Fagan, Annie Atherton, Michael Koh, Robbie Burton, Raven Evans, Cristina Calderon, Preet Rajdeo