By creating an email content empire with Thrillist that toes the line between editorial and advertorial, Ben Lerer created a brand identity that benefited readers and advertisers. He then has gone on to create a media empire; Group Nine, a holding company for The Dodo, Seeker, Thrillist and Now This. Read this exclusive interview with Zack Rosenberg.
1. What digital/media trends excite you right now?
I am focused on the cross-section of commerce and content. Traditional media companies have, for a long time, monetized the reader and viewer and spoke to them in a separate voice when asking these same people to buy. But, the reader/viewer and buyer is the same person. With content and commerce coexisting there is a way to foster the bottom funnel transactions quickly, which is what The Thrillist Media group (Thrillist and Jack Threads) is beginning to do.
2. How did Thrillist find its (distinct) voice?
The voice of Thrillist is the human, normal, any guy in the know voice of myself and Adam (Rich, co-founder of Thrillist). Fostering this voice into our brand identity took a ton of time and energy to find. We knew that if we missed by just ten or fifteen degrees we would miss the boat with our audience. We hired an awesome team of writers who could write in this voice, and grew our audience by speaking consistently and gaining their trust.
When Thrillist began its dedicated e-newsletters with advertisers we had to be sure to draw the line between an advertorial and an editorial, while keeping our brand identity. Which we know we accomplished.
3. How do you do it all? And, do you sleep?
(laughs) I definitely sleep! Probably more than most of my friends, at least seven hours. What I do at Lerer Ventures (with Dad, Kenneth Lerer) is at least peripherally related to Thrillist Media Group and adds value. For example, Birchbox is a small company, in a similar space as Thrillist, but we do not compete. I like to draw from my experiences with Thrillist to assess the investments made at Lerer Ventures. Thrillist Media Group is my baby, but the investments keep me sharp.
4) What are the qualifications for an investment by Lerer Ventures?
We are investing in a great entrepreneur, someone we believe in. At the stage that we are brought in, it is sometimes too early to tell how and even where the company will go, so we are looking for a magnetic personality, impassioned, someone we want to be close to. Lerer Ventures has credibility with this audience because we (Ben and Kenneth) have done this too, with Thrillist and Huffington Post.
5) What cause is the most important to you and why?
I understand that I was lucky in how I grew up so, poverty in general is a cause that I am very sensitive to. Financial stability for families in New York is extremely important and I am helping to rectify this, and build a larger model for other cities as I work with the East River Development Alliance, a New York non-profit organization (Lerer sits on the board).
Although Thrillist Media Group is not a non-profit, those who have hitched their wagon to this horse, their livelihood and our culture is extremely important to me. I feel solely responsible to keep these people happy.
6) What is your favorite bar in NYC?
I watch football at Slainte on Bowery every Sunday, I’d say I am more a ‘regular’ their than it being my favorite. Puffy’s Tarvern in Tribeca is probably my favorite place to walk into. My two best friends own Puffy’s, so whenever I walk in I know tons of people there; it is a great dive that is consistent.
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