Federated Media founder John Battelle on the company’s five-year anniversary. FM is a Business Insider partner.
Five years and about two months ago, I wrote a blog post announcing the creation of Federated Media Publishing. I will admit I was scratching an itch, not certain that it would work out. In that post I hedged a my bet – mainly because I was still smarting from the loss of my previous business – The Industry Standard – and I was not certain that I (or the world) was really ready for me to run a company again.
In short, I said that if the company succeeded, I might not stick around – after all, The Standard succeeded, and I stuck around, and that didn’t quite work out…well you can see where the psychology is going. This time, I remember telling myself, I’ll pull a Costanza and go out when I’m still ahead.
Well, that didn’t happen.
So as to not bury the lead too deeply, today marks my five-year anniversary as an employee of Federated Media Publishing, Inc. Apparently it was five years ago today that I signed some legal paperwork that officially made me an employee. At the time, I owned 100% of FM’s voting shares, and to this day, I am still the largest shareholder. That was a very intentional move on my part, and one that has served me – and I daresay FM – very well over the past five years.
By the Fall of 2005 I had assembled a team, an extraordinary group, some of whom are still with us, some of whom, after four years or so, have moved on. To my mind that is also a great accomplishment – the original team stayed for a very long time, at least in the life of a startup, and together we built a company that will endure. I’m proud of that, and of them, and of where we are today. Indulge me some pride, but the story of FM isn’t often told, and while I won’t take much more of your time here telling it, it’s certainly worth hearing should you be interested. (I’m happy to stretch this into a few hours, but the bourbon is on you).
I’m particularly proud that the core idea driving FM has not changed – thanks to search and social, media models have shifted, and a new approach was needed that understood the “conversational web.” FM set out to be a media company native to the social web, and five years in, I think we’ve succeeded.
But that’s not to say FM hasn’t changed. A few stats:
– FM had under half a million dollars in revenue in 2005. Five years later, we’re in the high eight figures of revenue. I’d love to brag about our current growth rate, but I think that’d be, well, bragging.
– FM launched with one segment – technology – and about 10 blogs. We reached a few million uniques a month, and had roughly 25 million pageviews. Today, FM reaches 36 million uniques in four major segments (tech, business, lifestyle, and the real time web), and that’s just in the US (we’re past 70mm globally). We stopped counting pageviews when they eclipsed a billion. We’re the fourth largest pure play social media company on the web, behind Facebook, Blogger, and Myspace.
– FM has been a pioneer in bringing integrated, scaleable brand marketing to social media, first with blogs (2005), and then Digg (2006), the Facebook platform (2007), live events (Crowdfire 2008), Twitter (2009) and now location services like Foursquare (2010). Our partners, executions and programs have won countless awards, but we’re most proud of the tens of millions of dollars of revenue we’ve driven into the emerging world of independent content and platform creators online.
– The brilliant folks who invested in FM back in 2005 (including the New York Times, Omidyar Network, and various angels) have seen their investment increase 20-fold, based on the valuation of FM in our last round (I’d argue we’re worth a lot more than that, but let’s stick with what’s on paper for now). Perhaps to their consternation, we have so far refused to sell the company, so they’ll have to be content with looking good on paper for the time being. And since that initial investment, we’ve brought in tens of millions of dollars through some extraordinary partners, and we’ve spent almost none of it. In fact, we’re now on track to add to our cash holdings year over year. I’m quite proud of that feat.
– FM was EBIDTA profitable for 2009, and so far this year, FM has turned a net income, with the best still ahead of us.
– Earlier this year, we established a new division focused on bringing the skills of publishers to marketers across digital platforms. This promises to be a very large and very scaled business. We also invested heavily in our technology platform, and while I won’t give away all that we are working on, it’s a very exciting platform indeed. In short, there’s nothing like it in market. I never thought, five years ago, we’d become a player in technology and data as well as in media, but then again, that’s the beauty of a startup.
– Perhaps most significantly, FM has evolved into a troop of 130 or so dedicated employees, led by an amazing President, who we hired this past Fall. And my work has changed, so much so that I can’t really imagine a better job than the one I have right now. I spend most of my time with partners – either media or platform and publishing, and in between I’m allowed to think a bit out loud, and work on my writing. I haven’t really changed my work hours, but I most certainly have changed what I work on.
And this, to me, is probably my greatest career accomplishment to date. I’ve never worked anywhere for five years – not Wired, where I lasted four years and change, or The Standard, where I almost made it to four. But somehow, as I enter year six at FM, I find myself energized, engaged, and thrilled to be here.
I think it’s because, way back in 2005, I made a promise to myself that I’d leave if I ever felt that I was in the way, or if I was consistently unhappy in my work.
I’ll admit, I’ve flirted with both of those demons over the past few years. And who knows, I may well again. But right now, sitting in a hotel lobby writing to you as I prepare for four meetings with clients in Atlanta, I just feel lucky.
Thanks, everyone – to our publishing partners, our clients, our investors and our employees, as well as all of you, who’ve read my thoughts here and cheered me on, criticised me, or both. I hope to make you all proud in the next five years of this journey.
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