Joshua Topolsky, Former Verge Editor, Raises Funding for Digital Media Venture – Wall Street Journal
Joshua Topolsky is ready for his next act, and he’s setting out to fix digital media.
Mr. Topolsky, who helped co-launch The Verge and most recently served as the top digital editor at Bloomberg, has raised $5 million to found The Outline, a new digital publication set to debut this fall.
The funding round was led by the New York-based RRE Ventures, which has invested in the likes of BuzzFeed, Business Insider and the Skimm. Other investors include Advancit Capital, Boat Rocker Ventures and Nextview Ventures.
Mr. Topolsky is touting The Outline as something of the antidote to a rising crop of digital media brands that are reliant on social media distribution and, in his mind, are too focused on reaching massive user totals.
Instead, with The Outline, Mr. Topolsky said he is aiming to reach roughly 10 to 15 million users, most of whom come directly to his site. “This has to be a real brand,” he said. The site’s content will focus on three areas: power, as it relates to subjects like politics and business; culture; and the future. He said he’s aiming for a smart, influential readership.
The plan is to produce roughly 15 to 20 pieces of content a day, including text articles, more visual stories and video.
“I really want to move away from the impressions-based way of judging success,” he said. “We want to focus on the best way to tell a story. Digital media has millions of colors to paint with, and most of the time we only use like four.”
To help, he has hired 10 staffers, including journalists such as Aaron Edwards, formally of BuzzFeed News, and Adrianne Jeffries, who was most recently a managing editor at Vice. In addition, Mr. Topolsky has brought on Amanda Hale, formerly of the politics site Talking Points Memo, as head of revenue. The Outline staff may grow to 20 or 30 over the next few months, Mr. Topolsky added.
On the video front, Boat Rocker Ventures could prove to be valuable partner. The company has a sister production company that has worked on such projects at the BBC America series “Orphan Black.”
Mr. Topolsky said he wants The Outline to think and act like a technology company–one that is constantly iterating and launching new products.
That’s often the way that digital native publishers like BuzzFeed and The Verge describe themselves. But too often, “you get trapped into chasing just a little more audience, and you never change your product,” he said. “You get locked in. We are not interested in a horserace.”
However, many digital media companies chase audiences driven by a belief that advertisers want to see huge numbers. Mr. Topolsky acknowledged that reality, but said he’s confident he can build a strong enough brand and a readership that will be desirable to marketers.
Will Porteous, general partner at RRE, said the fact that The Outline isn’t treating digital advertising as an afterthought “is refreshing.”
“It’s really a recognition that quality ads haven’t been core or a fundamental part of many digital media businesses,” he said.
Mr. Porteous said he likes that Mr. Topolsky was going against the grain in not emphasizing volume and trying to build a massive audience quickly–and praised The Outline for being data-driven in its approach.
But still, it remains to be seen how much of an audience the new site will be able to build “on its owned and operated properties versus distribution,” he said. “That’s the big question.”