When Carlos Watson received a phone call from a talent agent at ABC, he thought his friend Rachel was messing with him.
“Rachel has pulled an enormous number of pranks on me,” Watson laughed as he recalled the beginning of his news anchor career.
Watson has reinvented himself multiple times. He was first an entrepreneur, then he became a notable MSNBC anchor. Now he’s found a way to combine both careers into a new venture: Ozy Media.
Watson wore a grey fitted T-shirt and a bright smile to our meeting at Times Square’s Blue Fin restaurant. He buzzed excitedly about sports, startups and the media, breaking only once to accept a phone call from his mother.
Watson is the kind of person who is so charismatic, an interview about Ozy required a follow-up phone call. He is a great schmoozer and I admittedly fell for it during our first meeting. He escaped tough business questions the first time around.
The Florida-native was an impoverished teen who worked his way into Harvard. He traveled to California in the early 90s to attend graduate school at Stanford University. Watson then worked for McKinsey & Company, after which he founded Achieva College Prep Service. One of the education startup’s first two investors was Laurene Powell Jobs, the philanthropic widow of Steve Jobs. Watson later sold Achieva to The Washington Post and it merged with Kaplan.
While running Achieva, Watson occasionally made television appearances. There, the ABC scout noticed his effortless charm and asked him to audition for an anchor position. Over the next few years, Watson excelled as broadcast journalist. He had bi-weekly segments on NBC’s Morning Joe and a hour-long program on MSNBC. He was also a political commentator on CNN. But in 2009, Watson lost his day-time slot. Watson went back to his roots.
Watson was comfortable in California from his Stanford and startup days. He returned to the west coast to create a media company for a new generation of curious readers.
Ozy Media is 15-people strong, fuelled by a large seed round from angel investors like Powell Jobs, Larry Sonsini, Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig and SV Angels’ Ron Conway. It has spent half a year in stealth mode working with beta testers. This morning, Ozy Media finally launched.
“I hope it has been a good, thoughtful [launch] plan,” Watson said in a call on Friday. “I’m sure it could have been done in eight weeks but it took eight months..we’ve been building up a store of content.”
“Thoughtful” is the key word. Watson hopes a calculated approach to design and content will separate Ozy from a slew of large, well-funded media competitors. Vox Media, Business Insider, BuzzFeed, Gawker and UpWorthy are just a sampling.
“I think there are a lot of wonderful places where people can go to catch up today,” Watson said of the competitive landscape. He believes most outlets excel in one vertical, like tech or finance, but aren’t great across the board.
“In a broad-based way, Ozy Media is creating something that consistently brings you what’s new and what’s next,” he says. “I don’t think that kind of place [exists]. For a whole generation of us, we’re incredibly curious and we want to peek up ahead.”
Ozy will try to inform people about businesses as they bubble up, emerging bands and rising political stars. It will use image-based slideshows, high quality videos and infographics to tell fresh stories. Watson wants Ozy to profile the next Elon Musk, for example, before anyone knows his or her name.
But Watson’s logic may be flawed. Do people really care about faces and ideas before they’ve gone mainstream? In other words, do people care about nobodies before they’re somebodies?
Watson thinks so.
“I think most people would say, ‘No, we don’t need another news site,'” Watson says. “But if you asked them, ‘Has there been a change, such that people are hungrier now to see more, be more and do more than before?’ I think they’d tell you there has been.
“That’s why Kickstarter exists. That’s why Airbnb has such a robust business. There’s a reason why there are things called 500 startups, and a reason startup accelerators are in every city. There’s a reason why American Idol is still strong 15 years later. There’s a hunger people have for both for themselves and in the world for what’s next and what’s new.”
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