Sean Griffey is the CEO and one of the cofounders of Industry Dive, which produces business news — sent by daily email — about a variety of industries for executives.
He initially got started in media at FierceMarkets where he served as president for 3 years before leaving to found Industry Dive. His cofounders are Eli Dickinson and Ryan Willumson.
Before catching the startup bug, Griffey spent nearly 10 years as a consultant at A.T. Kearney and PricewaterhouseCoopers helping companies with a broad range of strategic and operational issues.
In 2015, he was inducted into the Media Industry News (min) Digital Hall of Fame. Griffey has a B.S. in economics from Penn State and an M.B.A. from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
Griffey spoke by email with Talking Biz News about Industry Dive and its strategy. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did you and your cofounders come up with the idea for Industry Dive?
My co-founders and I have been working together in digital media since 2004. About 7 years ago, we were watching the rise of mobile devices and felt like they would have the same impact on media consumption as the internet.
We also felt that, for a host of valid reasons, incumbents are poorly positioned to adopt disruptive technology.
It felt like the perfect time to start something new.
How long did it take you to launch after you conceived the idea?
We launched our first publications within a few weeks of starting Industry Dive. They were rough and certainly something that I’d be embarrassed to show today. We believed, however, in the launch quickly and iterate approach. We were updating the publications the day after they launched.
What industries did you start with, and why?
We started with five – utility, construction, waste, marketing, and education. It was ambitious to start with that many but we wanted to prove that our model could scale across different industries.
How did you get subscribers in the beginning?
There is no magic bullet to developing an audience. If there was, media would be an easy business. First and foremost, you have to deliver something that adds value to your readers on a daily basis. If you can nail that, you are on your way.
Beyond that, we focused on a number of different channels. We partnered with trade-shows and associations, focused on our SEO, experimented with different paid social campaigns on Twitter and more. We were also very active in LinkedIn Groups which, at the time, were much more robust than today.
How does Industry Dive’s content differ from other business publications?
We spend a significant amount of time talking about insight in our publications. One of the great things about serving niche markets is that you get to go deep in them. Our audience turns to us not necessarily to find out what happened but to find out what it means.
By focusing specifically on a specific market, we can track the larger trends that are impacting and industry and relate the news of the day to it.
You’ve expanded into other industries – how are they picked?
We have a thesis on what makes a good market for our model.
We like industries that are impacted by technology and/or regulation. There is a real need to keep up with the news for our readers. The world is changing around them.
We look for industries that are characterized by a large capital spend. This supports a robust advertising model.
We look for large trade shows in the space. This serves as a proxy for a market. Every attendee at a trade show is a potential reader. Every exhibitor is a potential advertiser.
Finally, we bias industries where there is a strong software component. In general, technology vendors remain more adept and interested in digital marketing.
As for how we pick, we look for good ideas from all over. Retail Dive is currently our largest publication from a revenue standpoint. We launched it at the behest of a trusted advertiser. More often than not, however, ideas for new markets come from the team here. We allow them to pitch their ideas and have ultimately run with a number of them.
How much content is Industry Dive producing on a daily basis?
To be honest, I don’t really track the raw number of stories. I’d guess that we produce about 80-90 stories each day across all the publications.
How many total subscribers do you have now, and how has that grown in recent years?
We just recently crossed the 1 million subscriber mark to our email newsletters. Year-over-year, that is up 56 percent. We’ve really seen the publications accelerate over the last few years.
Where do you see the potential for growth in the future?
I think we see growth coming in two directions. We certainly still see new markets that we want to enter. I would expect us to launch into at least two of them this year.
More importantly, there is still significant room for growth in our existing markets. We are the only niche media company that I know that doesn’t have events, paid research, or subscription products. Those are all on the roadmap and represent real opportunity.
How big is your editorial staff, and how many staffers work on a specific industry?
We have a fulltime editorial staff of just over 50 people today. In general, somewhere between 2 to 6 people work on each vertical industry.
We take a measured approach to growing the team. Industry Dive has been profitable since just about year one and that remains important to us. We pace our hiring to the growth of the publication. As the publication’s audience grows, we can monetize it more. This gives us more resources to add into the insight of the publication – which ultimately grows the audience. It’s the classic virtuous cycle for media.
Anything else you wanted to focus on that I didn’t ask?
The only other thing that I would say is that we’ve always taken a contrarian view of building a media company. We launched at a time when everyone was trying for massive scaled audiences. We deliberately looked for small niches.
We launched at a time when everyone said you couldn’t build a business on an ad-supported model. We felt that, in the right markets, it was the best way to grow.
Finally, we launched at a time when everyone was raising massive rounds of venture dollars. Outside of a few hundred thousand in angel funding, we’ve been bootstrapped the entire way. Today we have over 100 employees, will do north of $20 million in revenue this year, are solidly profitable, and continue to grow.
There are number of great ways to grow a new media business. It’s OK to buck the current conventional wisdom.