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This article was published on August 20, 2012

Here’s what Thrillist is going to do with its $13.1M check

Here’s what Thrillist is going to do with its $13.1M check
Harrison Weber
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Harrison Weber

Harrison Weber is TNW's Features Editor in NYC. Part writer, part designer. Stay in touch: Twitter @harrisonweber, Google+ and Email. Harrison Weber is TNW's Features Editor in NYC. Part writer, part designer. Stay in touch: Twitter @harrisonweber, Google+ and Email.

After going strong for 7 years with just $2M in funding from Pilot, male-focused media and ecommerce company Thrillist announced a new $13.1M fund from Oak Investment Partners late last week.

This news comes as Thrillist reaches new heights. It’s on track to hit $60M in revenues this year (doubling last year’s revenues), has 215 employees, has been profitable since 2007 and recently reached some 5 million total subscribers across its properties.

Now, we’re left wondering why this Series A was raised. And so, TNW spoke with Thrillist CEO Ben Lerer to find out more.

The basics

Let’s start with the simplest questions: You may be wondering, after all this time, why did Thrillist raise (given its current growth rate) and what is it going to do with that big fat check? To this, Lerer answers: “the real reason we’re raising is about flexibility.”

More specifically, beyond having capital for a rainy day, these new funds have “created enough financial flexibility for [Thrillist] to focus on the audience and not the advertisers.” Lerer says that “when you’re cash strapped, you often make decisions that are short-sighted.”

In other words, instead of solely focusing on short-term returns, Thrillist is thinking about long-term improvement and growth, which mostly means creating a lot more original content.

Why Oak?

$13.1M is a handsomely sized Series A, but odds are, Lerer could have made investors out of most of the people he approached. So why go to Oak Investment Partners and what does it mean that Oak’s Fred Harman is joining Thrillist’s Board of Directors? Surely, it doesn’t hurt that Lerer’s father has already worked directly with Harman during his days at the Huffington Post.

Lerer responds:

There are only a few digital brands out there that are able to scale on both the content and the advertising side. This is one of the things we’re going to need to figure out. Fred knows how to do both, and having him on the board, he’ll be there to help Thrillist decide what directions are the most sensible to invest in.

At the same time, having access to Oak as a large firm is going to be helpful. Beyond money, we wanted advisors to make sure money was spent the right way.

Changes: mobile, hires & acquisitions

As for what needs work, Lerer spoke candidly about what will have to change:

We need to do a way better job repackaging existing content to fit into different consumption patterns. Beyond the fact that we have a great email product that works, [we need to focus on creating] more content and deeper content.

With these changes, mobile and video are going to receive a lot of attention. As for Thrillist’s mobile presence, Lerer says targeting specific devices is one of the most important steps:

Right now you get an email from Thrillist and you read the same email no matter what device you’re on. That shouldn’t be the case. It’s a different consumption experience. There are different consumer behaviors, and we are doing a lot of work focusing on what that experience should look like.

According to Lerer, users will see some of these changes over the next month or two. To support these changes, Thrillist made a number of new hires prior to raising funds. This includes hiring an Editor-in-chief for Thrillist’s website, as well as “a team of additional editors to make sure [Thrillist builds] a better service.” Lerer is also bringing on additional designers and front end engineers.

Beyond hires, however, Lerer says Thrillist “needs the flexibility to consider acquiring another brand or two.” It’s happened before, and while no plans have been shared with the public, there’s a good chance it will happen again.

“The best experience for our guys”

When it comes to expanding verticals beyond where Thrillist currently dominates (drinks, food and events), Lerer says he’s “always going to want to be deep in specific categories. Thrillist DNA is about local entertainment, food, drink and culture, but the sensibility of the brand is one that extends more broadly beyond local curiosities — like travel, entertainment, gadgets. We think there’s lots of room to grow.”

Long story short, this raise allows us to focus on the right thing: our users, across the board. We are not going to be creating things that are about chasing short-term revenue. The question is: how do we deliver the best experience for our guys?

The big picture here? At least according to Lerer, success is all about the users. As that comes together, everything else (sales, happy advertisers, etc) falls into place.