At age 20, Pete Cashmore launched a social news site called Mashable out of his home in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Six years later Mashable is one of the largest news sites on the web, with more than 20 million unique visitors each month.
The guy built a huge business in his pajamas with no outside investors. That’s impressive.
With the bigger reach, Cashmore’s ambitions have also widened.
It now aims to be a global news organisation, covering not just social media, but also business, entertainment, and sports.
To get there, Mashable hired a new leader in September of this year: Lance Ulanoff, the former editor in chief of PC Mag. He is the new adult in charge.
Like always when a business brings in a new boss, Ulanoff’s arrival changed things and that change upset some people.
To find out why, we asked multiple sources familiar with the company to tell us just what happened at Mashable. These sources, who asked to remain anonymous, could have an axe to grind, so it’s important to take what they say with a grain of salt. Mashable did confirm some of what we heard from them.
Here’s what we were told:
Mashable’s new regime
- Cashmore brought in Ulanoff to expand the site’s news coverage to general news and launched entertainment and world news verticals.
- Sources told us pageviews became the dominating metric for success, rather than unique visitors. Writers were told to insert a gallery whenever possible to generate additional pageviews.
- Adam Ostrow, who had been editor in chief since the company started, relinquished his position. One source close to Ostrow described it as a “demotion disguised as a promotion.”
Ben Parr’s big payday
- Ben Parr was offered an enormous cash payout as long as he stays until 2012. One source said Parr was offered a compensation package, on top of salary, worth more than $100,000 and less than $300,000.
- One source said Mashable held onto Parr because he was described as Mashable’s “front man” and had a large brand. Another source told us Parr was offered equity, but wanted a cash compensation plan.
Heaps of turnover
- Mashable lost five writers over the course of a few months: Jolie O’Dell, Jennifer Van Grove, Radhika Marya, Brenna Ehrlich, and Erica Swallow. One of those writers left due to differences with Ulanoff, a source told us.
- Mashable also let go most of its events staff: Kate Hayden. Karen Hartline. Site manager Brett Petersel was laid off in February. Mashable describes all its departures as “mutual.” Sources told us that they left because they disagreed with the direction of the company.
- Not even senior Mashable members held equity in the company, sources told us. Multiple sources said not even Parr held equity and it was just Cashmore and his senior staff.
Seeking an exit
- Multiple sources told us Cashmore is looking to sell Mashable in the same way The Huffington Post sold to Aol.
- Mashable started to change direction and become a more mainstream news site around the time Aol bought The Huffington Post. Sources told us the buyout gave Cashmore the impression he could sell Mashable for as high a price.
- Mashable experienced record unique visitors under Ulanoff’s regime, the company told us. The site has hired five new writers since Ulanoff took over and is starting an intern program. It is also looking for another New York-based writer and two San Francisco-based writers.
Are you a former Mashable employee or have heard something about what’s happening in the company? Shoot me an email at [email protected]
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