Dec 6, 2021 • 55M

Industry Dive’s path to $100m in revenue

CEO Sean Griffey is proving niche doesn't mean small

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Brian Morrissey
The Rebooting Show gets into the weeds with those building and operating media businesses, giving an open view into how the smartest people in the media business are building sustainable media businesses.
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This week’s episode of The Rebooting Show features a conversation I had with one of my favorite media success stories: Industry Dive, a collection of vertical industry sites. Sean and his team have grown Industry Dive into an example of a sturdy media business, on pace to break the $100 million in revenue mark next year with healthy margins. One request: If you listen to The Rebooting Show on Apple Podcasts, please leave a rating and review. Thanks to Alfred Westcott, who left a very nice review that ranked me “one of the best interviewers in media.”

Industry Dive is one of the most successful modern digital media businesses, even if it doesn’t get the attention of splashy consumer titles.

Sean Griffey, who founded Industry Dive in 2012 along with Ryan Willumson and Eli Dickenson, doesn’t mind flying under the radar compared to splashy consumer brands while Industry Dive focuses on industry verticals like retail, marketing, utilities and more. 

“This is a better business. It’s great you’re targeting millennial fashion consumers, but I’m in the electric utilities space and that matters to everyone. The industries we write about touch every person. I leaned into the boring part because I know it’s important. You call it boring, I call it profitable.”

It helps that Sean has receipts.

  • 340 employees

  • 2.5 million email subscriptions

  • 25 publications

  • $85 million in revenue this year, $100 million expected next year

  • EBITDA margins above 25%

Here are key takeaways from our conversation:

Details matter

For all the talk of vision, the media business is an execution game. Industry Dive began in 2012 with a handful of publications and the idea that it would differentiate by providing a better user experience, focusing on the right industries, and sticking to what the team knew best.

“We thought there would be a chance to use the mobile experience to differentiate ourselves. We wanted to invest heavily in design. In business media it was pretty horrific. We wanted to invest in content. We thought niche media had abandoned that for leads over time.”

The power of niche

Scale and niche aren’t in opposition as often presented. But many digital media companies born around the time of Industry Dive took a different path. They focused more on general news audiences instead of specific areas. Industry Dive developed a formula for targeting industry sectors.

  • Industries changing rapidly due to tech and/or regulation

  • High capital spending

  • A buy and a sell side

  • Evidence of a vibrant market in the form of competing publications and trade shows

“There’s real value in 100,000 incredibly targeted, valuable people. In each of these markets, you could create a $10-20 million business, just marketing supported. But if you wanted a $500 million business, you had to do it a lot. For us it was how do you build a scaled niche business.”

Email is more than just a delivery mechanism

Email is the lifeblood of B2B media, allowing a direct connection to an audience – and a way to collect relevant information to understand the audience better. That’s why Industry Dive email subscribers can have a lifetime value of of hundreds of dollars.

“It’s a platform you own and nobody can take away. More importantly, it’s a push platform. There are very few things you can push to audiences vs pull, where they come to you. Email is also personally identifiable. You can start tying behaviors to that profile. It’s a unique platform for media that you can’t do from a website, a podcast or an app.”

Ads are still a great media business model

For all the talk about subscriptions and commerce models, the most successful media business model remains advertising. With highly valuable audience segments and a trove of data about these audiences, Industry Dive’s revenues come almost entirely from marketing budgets.

“We knew there was a lot of money there. It felt like people abandoned marketing at one point. There was this notion that you couldn’t support a media business on advertising. We just felt they were doing it wrong and the pendulum was going to swing back.”

For more on Industry Dive, check out this recent interview Sean did with Press Gazette.

Silverblade Partners was begun in 2019 by Bernard Urban, an advertising and media veteran who knows firsthand the unique cashflow challenges faced by media companies. While a typical bank would blanch at a 60-day payment window for accounts receivable, those terms are well-established as the norm for media, with some blue-chip clients pushing payment terms to 150 days or beyond. For accounts receivable, Silverblade will arrange to finance up to 90% of the amount upfront and the remaining 10% disbursed upon payment. For many reasons, this is a better arrangement than a revolving bank loan. Working with an experienced partner who understands these challenges not only avoids and corrects these mistakes, but delivers a new level of benefits beyond covering outstanding accounts payable. For example, strategic financing can lower costs — Silverblade Partners can secure preferential terms for data by paying upfront for six months rather in increments. Learn more about how Silverblade Partners can work with you to create a strategic advantage with trade finance.

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5 things to check out

TCG has long been ahead of most others about where media is heading. They saw the potential of communities, media as a complement to commerce businesses and the power of fandom. With its newfound focus on crypto, TCG is likely at the forefront again as crypto spreads from decentralized finance to media. Likely only a matter of time before Barstool mints tokens.

If web3 seems like a circus, that’s because it is in many ways. Bearded millennial and TCG crypto point man Jarrod Dicker has been helpful in opening my eyes to the potential of crypto, so I pay attention to what he writes. I’m very interested in the notion that crypto seems to be having its breakthrough as many people rethink how they live and work – and where they live and work. “Home” becomes more, well, fungible. 

BuzzFeed is finally becoming a public company. From SPAC investor withdrawals to lower-than-expected growth in commerce to staff discontent, BuzzFeed’s debut isn’t going to be ideal. But I admire the long, hard road that Jonah Peretti has taken to get the company to this place. The scrapping of the Vice SPAC and rocky reception for BuzzFeed’s lends me to believe we likely will not see more of these.

We’re in media outlook season, and I participated in a roundtable put on by the crew at Media Voices. They’ve turned it into a podcast.

Great read of the week: The complicated life of Stephen Glass, a journalism fabulist from the late 1990s. Airmail has quietly plugged away and started to build an interesting niche as an eclectic newsletter that’s leading the “weekend reads” niche many are now pursuing. 

Thanks for reading The Rebooting. Please send me a note with any thoughts about the podcast, sustainable media or the Eagles brewing quarterback controversy. My email is bmorrissey@gmail.com.