How One Woman Bucked the Publishing Trend and Built a New Media Brand in Just 6 Years
Like many veteran journalists, Laura Rich found herself blindsided by the 2008 financial crisis. Many publications began cutting staff and instituting severe cost-saving measures. But rather than move into public relations or to another corporate job, she took a gamble and grew a publication from scratch. Now after six years, she just sold the business and is staying on with the company to help grow it further.
In 2008 Rich was working at Conde Nast‘s ill-fated business magazine, Portfolio. It was the latest in a slew of high-profile publications that she worked at including Inc., Fast Company, The Industry Standard, and AdWeek. But early in 2009, like so many other people, she was out on her own after Portfolio folded. Media chiefs around the world watched in horror as advertising revenues dropped precipitously.
Along with two other women, she launched RecessionWire in December 2008. It was a website aimed at helping people deal with the new economic reality of mass unemployment and reduced access to credit. “We saw there was a whole group of people who needed to understand what was going on,” says Rich. Given that recessions, even bad ones, don’t last forever the website was always going to have a limited shelf life. The site shuttered in 2010.
Planting a new seed
Around that time, with her newly acquired knowledge of running an independent website, Rich saw a new potential opportunity. It was one she thought might have some legs.
“In early 2010 I started noticing that Foursquare, Groupon, and other similar companies were disrupting hyperlocal marketing, and that industry had no name and no center,” she says. “I thought it was interesting and a great opportunity.”
Specifically, such companies were disrupting the way local businesses were interacting with local consumers. The past ways of using local newspapers and the Yellow Pages were now being supplanted.
So with $50,000 raised from family and friends, she launched Street Fight in February 2011 with her as CEO and publisher. The content in Street Fight was about best practices for hyperlocal marketing; and their conference-style events brought this community of people together to meet each other and share stories and ideas. “Street Fight was the place that brought that all together,” Rich says.
The hardest thing?
She says the most difficult part was finding the right people. In Street Fight’s case that would mean employees would need to be comfortable working in remote locations as part of a tiny workforce. It was quite different from the world of glossy magazines where she had worked for so long.
“Many of the people who worked in my past offices would not have survived,” she says, pointing out that her partner in the business worked in Providence while she was located in Boulder. She says, initially, there were some problems in finding the people to fit into the team culture, but eventually it worked out. “We have five people who have been with us since the start,” she says. Such employees were able to work independently without constant supervision.
Moving on and up
In 2016, she had a thought: “We’ve been doing this five years and we need to take it to the next level,” she says. “We needed to juice it, so we went looking for a buyer who would understand our business.”
She had previously developed materials to help raise capital when the company first started.
“So we updated our deck with our current financials and made a list of companies we wanted to approach,” she says, and details that there was a “dream list” of acquirers, a “middle list” and a “if nothing works out list.”
“Then we started going through our contact list and told them we wanted a buyer and a home for Street Fight,” she says. The result was a lot of meetings.
Brandify, a digital marketing company, was not on on the list because the main idea was to find a media company rather than a marketing one. But because the process was under way we mentioned it to them.
“They came back to us and said why don’t you talk to us,” says Rich. The rest is history. Brandify bought Street Fight. The deal closed on February 9, 2017. She won’t disclose the amount but says she’s staying on to help build the brand further.