Henry Blodget Was Banned From the Financial Industry. So He Built a Financial Media Empire
Then Blodget made his comeback. He set up what is now a media giant called Business Insider. Jeff Bezos is a repeat investor in Blodget’s firm – in 2013 and 2014. Astonishingly, Bezos understood better than Blodget that Business Insider would get very big, very fast: “Even in March 2014, when Bezos led another round in Business Insider, this time for $11.9 million, Amazon still had plenty of high-profile detractors.
“He didn’t travel eagerly,” recalls Julie Hansen, Business Insider’s president and chief operating officer at the time. “He scrutinized every trip, but he couldn’t get on that plane fast enough to Seattle when the opportunity arose.”
During the long flight to the West Coast, Blodget remembers writing a single-spaced, multipage memo explaining why he thought Business Insider could reach $50 million to $75 million in annual revenues.
Those numbers “seemed gigantic at the time,” he says.
But Bezos was sanguine.
“I think you can get a lot bigger than that!” he told Blodget, who now admits, “As usual, he was right.’’
The Business Insider editor hoovered up the billionaire’s advice. When he returned from the visit to Amazon headquarters, says Hansen, “Henry was like Moses coming back from the mountain with the tablets.””
What Bezos seems to have done for Blodget is what Bezos is famous for – taking a very long term view: “One important takeaway for the young media site, Blodget said in a recent interview with Institutional Investor, is “you can take a much longer view than what’s happening right now.”
“Amazon is about a seven-year view,” he says. “Most public companies, it’s a one- to two-year view. And, as it turns out, they’re very risk-averse. Jeff and Amazon are willing to make a long-term bet and are very willing to be misunderstood for a long time while they’re building toward that.”
The former analyst speaks from firsthand knowledge of the short-term mind frame on Wall Street — a mind frame he rejected in the creation of Business Insider.
Now 13 years old, Business Insider — which, like Amazon, had a plethora of doubters along the way — was still in its relative infancy when Bezos came on board. But in 2015, the startup was sold to Axel Springer, one of Germany’s biggest media companies, which was keen to build a digital media presence in the U.S. With that backing, and Blodget at its helm, Business Insider has ramped up to be one of the most vibrant — and popular — media companies in the world: By December 2018, it had more than 98 million monthly unique visitors in the U.S., ranking second behind CNN in the Comscore general-news category, according to Business Insider. That year, Business Insider hit $100 million in annual revenues and turned a profit, Axel Springer reported.”
As traditional media faces structural decline – accelerated now by Covid – firms like Business Insider could well be the future of media: “There are no layoffs at Business Insider, which is now part of a larger site called simply Insider — a nod to a new expansion of its reporting focus beyond the business world. In fact, Insider is hiring: More than 30 editorial job listings for the U.S. are currently posted on Insider Inc.’s website, as well as 11 internships and fellowships. And that does not include jobs in areas like its new reviews section, nor openings on the data and business side.
Blodget wants to double Insider’s staff, which currently includes 500 journalists, and have 1 million paid subscribers in five years. He also wants to reach 1 billion global readers a month, up significantly from an audience of about 275 million now. The current number, the company says, includes “half of all U.S. millennials on the internet.””
So what is Blodget doing differently that other media firms might want to learn from? Firstly, many of his journalists work from home rather than coming to an expensive city centre office. Secondly, ““We have been focused on our audience and serving our audience. I think lots of companies get distracted with what competitors are doing, or in our industry, sometimes people get distracted by journalism — as opposed to serving an audience with journalism.”” Thirdly, the way Insider collects news & views and disseminates the same is different from what traditional media does: “With its relatively inexperienced staff, Business Insider also depended on aggregating stories from other sites — regurgitating those that appeared behind paywalls at other publications — and it excelled at catchy listicles like “The Sexiest Men on Wall Street.”
The attention to the SEO principles of headline writing and distributing content on places like Facebook and Google helped push its content far and wide. “There’s a lot of news out there that people don’t know they want to read,” says a former Business Insider reporter. “The whole mindset at BI is that the traditional media doesn’t know how to do digital. They don’t know how to make readers want to read something.””