Update: not just me, apparently…
[Source: TechCrunch comments]
Update: not just me, apparently…
[Source: TechCrunch comments]
I’ll be writing more about this soon but, yes, Lora Kolodny from the Wall Street Journal’s VentureWire is correct — NSFWCORP has a brand new investor in the form of Erik Moore and Base Ventures. They’ve invested $250,000 as a “series seed” round.
We don’t really do press releases, but I asked Erik for a quote to explain why he invested. Here’s what he sent back…
If you spend more than five minutes with Paul, you will understand my interest in investing in NSFWCORP. All of the obvious boxes checked out: rockstar team, domain expertise, big market. But what took me over the top was his tremendous passion and love for the industry. He’s a journalist interested in real journalism. He doesn’t take the easy road of cynicism and write about the 10 ways to beat the summer heat. I was enthralled by his goal of going against the grain and bringing print back. It’s a huge bet, but that’s what true investors do.
On Tuesday, NSFWCORP will host its first “Conflictathon”, a live radio show that begins at noon pacific and ends… well… when it ends.
The first hour will be business as usual: a regular episode of NSFWLIVE with special guests discussing the big news stories of the day (with jokes). We’ll also welcome callers, start some fights and might even have time to play some music. All the while, we’ll be encouraging listeners to help support the future of journalism (with jokes) by subscribing to our digital and/or print editions, buying a unit in Conflict Tower or agreeing to buy one of several dozen weird things we hope to sell on the air.
After hour one is where things get interesting, and terrifying. After hour one, for every ten dollars we’ve raised during the first hour (and for the remainder of the show), we’ll add one minute to the running time. If one person buys a print subscription and one buys a digital edition (total: $10), the show will end after 1hr 1minute. If, however, someone buys a top-floor Tower room ($1400 and change), we’ll be stuck in the studio for almost three more hours. We’ve also built a system (also launching at noon tomorrow) that allows you to bid for us to do almost anything, starting at $1.
Assuming we make it past the first hour, we have all kinds of ridiculous stuff planned — becoming even more ridiculous as time goes on. We have convinced some bona fide celebrity guests to join us during hours two onwards, our sex and science editor has an amazing plan for hour three (spoiler alert: the costume arrived yesterday) and after hour five we have a musical extravaganza that you absolutely won’t want to miss. (Update: on last night’s Why Isn’t This News, Sarah Lacy agreed to co-host part of the 4th/5th hour of the show with me. Assuming we make it that far.)
So why are we doing it? Because, as I wrote last month, NSFWCORP doesn’t have a billionaire benefactor. Our last funding round was $300k, late last year, and we’ve spent a very significant chunk of that already, hiring journalists and doing — if I say so myself — some pretty great journalism. We’ve unseated university chancellors, laid bare the government’s assassination policy, exposed corruption at NPR and even uncovered the financial ties between BuzzFeed and the Koch brothers. The jokes are OK too.
But, as I also explained last month, we’re excruciatingly close to breaking even. Our burn last month was just $8k. Our outgoings and income are in a knife-edge race to the finish line; a race which will either see us prove that you can launch a profitable consumer journalistic venture, employing real journalists (with healthcare benefits and other basic human rights) without resorting to cat videos and bullshit slideshows — or will see us crash in a mangled wreck of words and ego.
This skin-of-our-teeth existence gives us the incentive, and the excuse, to try stuff that most media companies can’t. Our daily radio show has been picking up listeners like crazy recently and we figured that some of those listeners might enjoy the madness of a telethon enough to buy a subscription to the magazine or a Tower room or — I dunno — to bribe us to send Chris out on to the Las Vegas Strip to embarrass himself in an upward spiral of entertaining ways.
But, of course, there’s every chance you’ll never get to hear any of this. There’s every chance that, like so many brilliant plans to crowdsource funding for journalism, the Conflictathon will fall completely and embarrassingly flat. If no-one tunes in, if no-one buys a subscription or thinks it’d be funny to pledge $25 to ensure Leigh gets to wear her fucked up costume, then all of our planning will be for nothing, and — even better — you’ll be able to hear our failure live and in stereo, right from your browser. There will be no excuses — just a whole lot of embarrassment.
NSFWCORP’s first (and possibly last) Conflictathon begins on Tuesday 28th (tomorrow) at noon Pacific and continues as long as you want it to…
Oh, and did I mention I’ll be doing the whole thing on antibiotics? Ahahahahahaha. Talk to you tomorrow.
(UPDATE II: Want to give us a head start by getting your message on the show? Buy an audio slot now!)
Just received this email from the W Washington DC. Short version: “Thanks for booking at W Washington DC. Now, are you sure you want to stay here? It’s pretty fucking awful…”
You’re set to escape to W Washington, D.C., Paul I’ve got to say, we’re as excited as you must be. Below are some tips for a wonderful time.
RECHARGE/ A MPLIFY
Sunday through Wednesday, W Washington, D.C. offers a more relaxing vibe / Thursday through Saturday…things around here are definitely more amped-up. And a word to the wise about weekends: nighttime music & post-party sounds can travel through the entire building.
We want you to rest assured that we respond to any concerns about parties taking place within the guestrooms and suites of W very seriously. Any reports of disruptive conduct on the guestroom levels of W will be immediately addressed.
If you aren’t convinced the vibe at W is the best fit, we can assist you with changing your booking to another SPG destination that might be a little more your speed. We would hate to see you leave us so W won’t charge you a cancellation fee – unless you have booked an online pre-paid rate (This is indicated both on our website & on your confirmation email that this non-refundable rate and charged at the time of booking).
POINT OF VIEW
Capitalize on night-time perspective only offered at P.O.V, the rooftop terrace and lounge at W Washington, D.C. P.O.V offers dynamic views, tapas-style cuisine, and craft-inspired libations. While everyone is welcome at P.O.V until 5 P.M., P.O.V goes 21-and-up thereafter (valid I.D. is required for all guests). Don’t forget: 1) Dress to impress and 2) For a table, reservations are highly recommended. To book a table or learn more information, visit pointofviewdc.com or dial 202 661 2478.
W Washington, D.C. is a completely smoke-free environment. To ensure this is always the case, there is a fee $300 for smoking in one of our Wonderful, Spectacular, or Fabulous rooms; there is a fee of $500 for smoking in one of our Marvelous, Fantastic, or Wow suites. So don’t let that money go up in smoke…why don’t you plan to take it to the street.
Staying more than one night – Go GREEN. Make a Green Choice is exclusively offered by SPG at W Washington, D.C. Each day you go green by forgoing your daily room styling, we’ll throw 500 extra SPG Starpoints your way.
Thanks for taking time to become familiar with the wonder of it all at W Washington, D.C.! You are welcome to contact me directly with any questions. We look forward to welcoming you soon!
If you have to send that email to every guest — before they even check in — then maybe there’s something wrong with your hotel.
“You get a lot of people saying that their model is the best and that everyone else has got it wrong. Or they are unwilling to admit what exactly their business model is. Take Paul Carr – I disagree with much of the content of his work, but he’s just a brilliant writer: He never says that nsfwcorp is bankrolled by Tony Hsieh. He doesn’t go out and say, ‘my organization works because a millionaire thinks I’m great and other newspapers cannot necessarily replicate that.’”
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Clay Shirky for saying those words. Not just the kind ones about my writing (although, in point of fact, Clay, I’m not just a brilliant writer. I also cook a mean beef stroganoff) — but also for setting my mind at ease, apropos the Future of Journalism (With Jokes).
To think, for the past few months, I’ve lived the constant near-panic of a start-up founder: obsessing over cash flow spreadsheets (which I update sometimes a dozen times a day), tweaking and re-tweaking freelance budgets, agonizing over healthcare options and waking in the middle of the night from nightmares of having to close down the entire company because of some miscalculation I’ve made during commissioning or hiring.
And all for nothing! Because everything is totally fine. Thanks to our millionaire benefactor, Scrooge McHsieh (John D Hsiehafeller? Bill McHsiehates?), I can rip up those cashflow forecasts, tear down our paywall and pour the team another pint of Krug 1928. Happy days are here the fuck again.
Careful readers will have detected my sarcasm in the lines above. I wonder, though, if my anger and frustration are coming through clearly enough?
In just a few smug words, Clay Shirky, one of our most respected media commentators, dismisses the entire business model of NSFWCORP — our paywall, our print edition, our ebooks, Conflict Tower — as a gimmick, a fig leaf to distract from the comfortable reality: that NSFWCORP is nothing more than a rich man’s plaything. We’re not the future of anything, we’ve solved nothing. At best, we’re lucky; at worst, frauds.
That’s just the kind of cuttin’-through-the-bullshit tellin’-it-like-it-is statement for which Shirky is famous, and for which institutions like Columbia and NYU keep cutting him checks. And, by happy coincidence, it allows Shirky to neatly slot NSFWCORP into the broader premise of his report: that no-one has yet figured out a viable business model for journalism in the Internet era. But maybe — just maybe — if we follow Clay Shirky’s advice then one day we might. (There’s actually a name for institutions — media pundits, say — trying to preserve the problem to which they are the solution. It’s called the Shirky Principle.)
Few people are better informed on the collision of media and technology as Clay Shirky, even if he is a little obsessed with the idea that EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED. Likewise, he’s absolutely entitled to have his doubts about the viability of NSFWCORP. God knows, I share many of them (more on that in a moment). But there’s just one problem with his demand that I acknowledge his description of our financial position.
It isn’t true.
In fact, it’s embarrassingly, infuriatingly, dangerously wrong.
Shirky says I should be honest about how NSFWCORP works, that I should “go out” and explain how the company is financed and what exactly our business model is. Well alrighty then….
NSFWCORP has raised a total of $640k from three investors, including Tony Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund (VTF), all of whom invested on exactly the same terms, as covertible debt. VTF is by far the largest investor, responsible for $600k of that total (the other $40k came from CrunchFund and Judith Clegg. It’s all disclosed here.) VTF’s $600k takes us right up to the maximum amount the fund invests in startups, and the fund’s partners have made absolutely clear: that’s it. Indeed, when I last saw Tony and asked for advice on future funding, his advice was that we shouldn’t raise any money if we can avoid it but if we did need to, he could introduce us to another possible investor. That’s it. There is no more money coming from Tony or Vegas Tech Fund. We are not “bankrolled” by anyone, except in the same way as any other company that has ever raised a seed round.
(Another important point, and I mean this as a positive thing: since we started publishing I have not once had a conversation with Tony about the content of NSFWCORP. In that regard, he is absolutely the perfect media investor.)
How am I doing so far, Clay? Honesty-wise?
Great! Let’s go on…
NSFWCORP was founded with two goals: 1) to create a brilliant news magazine (with jokes) and 2) to prove that it is still possible to build an innovative, independently profitable journalistic organisation: one that treats its journalists well, allowing them to produce great work which readers are willing (eager even) to pay for.
Journalistically, I think we’re doing pretty great. Earlier this week, the chancellor of Appalachian State resigned, just days after we published David Forbes’ exposé on how the university covers up rape and sexual assault by athletes. On Wednesday, NSFWCORP’s Yasha Levine broke the story of how California parents are being “empowered” by billionaires to destroy public education. Our first print edition featured Mark Ames’ first-hand account of being spied on by the ADL — the same issue in which we published the definitive list of the 100 people most culpable for misinforming the public in the run up the Iraq war.
How about innovation? Our entire publishing platform was built in-house, including our paywall that allows subscribers to “unlock” paid content for outside sharing. We’ve launched “Desknotes”, allowing subscribers to eavesdrop on our internal editorial discussions, and Conflict Tower to ensure transparency for everything we do. We’ve launched a nightly radio show and a monthly print edition. And that’s just the start: our product road map reaches from here to the moon.
Financially — well, I wish we had a millionaire benefactor. To put our funding in perspective, the total amount raised (converted to/from 2013 dollars) would barely cover the New York Times’ weekly payroll in 1916, or the cost of producing a single issue of Scanlan’s in 1970.
And yet… our entire business is perilously close to breaking even, thanks to the thousands of people who have signed up for monthly subscriptions ($3 for web / $7 for web and print) or our Conflict Towers membership program. (Conflict Towers “residents” can buy a virtual room for anywhere between $3 and $1500 to support our work. Residents get a lifetime subscription to web and print and a public profile on the site. Starting this summer, we’re hosting a series of Future Of… dinner parties for Conflict Tower residents and their guests, in cities across the US and internationally. Buy a damn room already.)
This month, even after paying good salaries to our reporters, paying the hilariously high travel costs required for serious reporting, finally setting up a healthcare plan for full-time staffers and expanding into print, our burn rate will drop to under $25k. Three months ago it was three times that high. We only need to sell 4000 more print subscriptions, or a dozen or so more floors in Conflict Tower, and we’ll break even.
That — that, Clay — is the honest truth about NSFWCORP’s business. We, like every other publication since the beginning of time, have raised a relatively modest amount of start-up capital, mostly from a fund in which Tony Hsieh is a partner. But what we’ve built with that start-up cash is a real, fiercely independent journalistic enterprise, delivering scoop after scoop (with jokes) for a growing audience across multiple platforms (while, by the way, solving the problem of porous paywalls, and proving that print isn’t dead).
So all of the above is why Clay Shirky’s comments make me feel like being sarcastic. Now here’s why they make me feel frustrated, and angry…
As founder and editor in chief, I am terrified, TERRIFIED of fucking this up. The closer we get to profitability, the more terrified I get. We are so close to pulling this off. So close to proving that it is possible to pay brilliant journalists a good salary (with full benefits) to do great work, in a profitable, sustainable way. And yet, with no immediate prospect of raising more money (I mean, what? Is now a good time to ask Mike Arrington for more cash?), I’m acutely aware that we’re going to take this right down to the wire.
All it takes is one unexpected expense — a rise in print costs, a story that goes over budget, or any one of a thousand other calamities that I failed to account for — and I’ll have to close the doors and lay off the best team of people I’ve ever worked with, all of whom risked their careers to help prove that great journalism has a profitable future.
It’ll only take a few thousand more subscribers for us to reach profitability, but it only needs a similar number to think “oh, NSFWCORP doesn’t need my support right now… they have their own pet millionaire” in order to doom us. With the stakes that high, Clay Shirky’s blithe, inaccurate claims could become the precise opposite of a self-fulfilling prophesy.
So, Clay, maybe next time you smack me and my business in the face with a velvet-wrapped two-by-four, you could at least pick up the phone first to check that we’re really as rich as you think we are.
Or better yet, buy a Conflict Tower room and you can ask me in person at one of our residents’ Dinner Parties. Appropriately enough, the first one is themed around The Future Of Journalism. I suspect we’ll have a lot to talk about.
(This post also appeared on PandoDaily)
Illustration by Brad Jonas, NSFWCORP