MsMojo and Mojo Travels were the result of my flings with Meredith and Time Inc. who ended up shacking up
Back in 2015, my friend Matt Minoff had sold his company Selectable Media (fka Nabbr) to Meredith. When asked what Meredith’s video strategy should be, he apparently replied “buy WatchMojo.” Having finally crawled out of financial losses in 2012, we had experienced a couple of years of profitability. But as a student of business, I was lured by the possibilities of partnering with a publicly-traded media company, so I trecked down to Des Moines, Iowa to meet the brass. We flirted a bit, I ate the best steak of my life… but in the end didn’t shack up. We did however have a love child as a result of that fling, which was MsMojo (to avoid any confusion and to appease my wonderful lawyers: our wonderfully popular MsMojo is a wholly owned unit of WatchMojo and Meredith never had any involvement or ownership therein. This is, what my English teacher would call a metaphor… or is this a simile). Anyway… Meredith wanted to get younger, expand into consumer video on the Web (more below on the rationale). I was focused on serving young male viewers around pop culture… so in the end, we weren’t on the same page. It’s complicated. But I stuck to my vision and realized we needed to better serve our female viewership (I’ll expand on the origins of MsMojo in #AnotherArticle). Today MsMojo has nearly 4 million subscribers, serves 20 million unique viewers a month and I consider it our version of People magazine in our house of brands. People, ironically, is now part of Meredith after it bought Time Inc.’s assets.
Which takes me to my other love child, MojoTravels.
Same way that one old-media-trying-to-reinvent itself took me out on a date and bought me steak, another one (Time Inc) got me tipsy and made an advance or two during that same decade. I got very close to Time Inc over multiple regimes (I alluded to it here a tad) because I grew up reading Fortune, Sports Illustrated and who doesn’t admire venerable Time magazine and felt that we could video-fy those brands and propel them into the 21st century. Alas, we could never get far ahead down the M&A funnel and in the end, they ended up marrying Meredith (I am the Forrest Gump and Rodney Dangerfield of my trade, what can I say?!)
But those Time Inc. talks led to another love child: MojoTravels, which was how we envisioned adapting Travel & Leisure for a YouTube/Instagram audience (again, my lawyers would like me to add: Time Inc. wasn’t involved with the brand, it was just easier to brainstorm using a brand that wasn’t such an establishment like Fortune/Time/SI, and once our talks ended, I proceeded by moving the concept into reality).
When I read today that Wyndham Destinations bought T&L for $100M (technically $35M with further payments until 2024), I did get a tear in my eye wondering, what could have been (to be candid, obviously staying independent was the better outcome, but I’m a sentimental lad with a vivid imagination). More on old media’s rationale below, an except from the 10-Year Overnight Success:
In January 2015, Matt Minoff called me again. He’d sold his company Nabbr/Selectable Media to Meredith, the women’s oriented magazine publisher. He told me Meredith was looking at addressing their video strategy, or lack thereof. He was lobbying their brass to buy WatchMojo, and asked if I would be interested in first meeting his New York-based head of digital, and eventually visiting the mothership over in Des Moines, Iowa. I could never pass up holding court with the management team of a publicly-traded company, so I visited him in New York in January, 2015. I then headed down to Des Moines the next month and met their senior team. I was asked what my asking price was. By then it was far more than the $10 million I used to throw out, but they didn’t seem to flinch. Times had changed.
From the time Belo approached us (whom Matt had originally introduced me to) in October 2012 to when Meredith came knocking in January 2015, annual views grew from 436 million in 2013, to 1.6 billion in 2014, to 2.5 billion in 2015, and 3 billion in 2016. Watch time in minutes grew from 2 billion in 2013, to 9.2 billion in 2014, to 14 billion in 2015, and 20 billion in 2016. Subscribers grew from 1 million to 13 million. Few channels have managed to put up such strong numbers on YouTube over such a long period of time. Naturally, as ground zero for video advertising, our revenues grew tenfold throughout that period. Since we didn’t have a large, expensive sales force and YouTube handled the hosting and bandwidth fees, profits grew handsomely, too.
Any media company that owned our channel could, through sales/financial engineering, double or even triple revenues by selling ads and paying out a cut to YouTube, instead of the way we’ve largely worked with YouTube, which is them selling the ads, booking it as their gross revenues, and then paying us a net portion (less their commission). As our gross revenue is their net revenue, the fact that Google booked tens of millions of dollars off our content made me extremely proud.