Curbed Media was the first investment I ever made. The business was sold to Vox Media this past month and to celebrate there was a closing dinner held the Spotted Pig in their private room up on the 3rd floor. The location was perfect on so many levels.
The evening was shared with all the investors including the top employees who were there from the very beginning that owned a piece of the business too. It was a great night. As the evening wound down there were a few speeches and of course after many tequillas I felt compelled to say something too. Not sure I remember what I said exactly but I do remember I mentioned that all of us in that room were part of the future. That is the thrill of watching ideas turn into businesses.
I learned so much from this investment and that education has certainly been a foundation that has helped me move forward as an investor. I had been reading Eater and Curbed on a daily basis from the get-go. Can't remember exactly when Racked was launched but it was early on after Curbed and Eater. To me this company was the beginning of Web 2.0. How we would use the Internet for not only for making purchases (Amazon) or using technology to change the way we live our lives but for taking in our daily fix of content. The business made absolute sense to me. Grow a company with multiple content channels under one umbrella like Conde Nast did with paper but this would be online.
When I invested I was personally in the stage of my career where I was looking for the next plunge. I really did not want to start a company and truth is I did not want to go work in one either. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. Fred came home one day and mentioned to me that Lockhart was looking for investors and I should think about investing. Really? Fred said I think you would be great at it. I got together with Lockhart, heard his vision, made a commitment and my first investment was made.
I definitely got a little too involved in the beginning but that was part of the learning process. I remember years ago when I said I would chair MOUSE and became so involved that a few of the trustees asked me if I wanted to chair MOUSE or be the Executive Director. That was a big "aha" moment and I had that at Curbed too. We all learned how best to work together and what each of our roles were. After all, it was my first investment and little did I know it was would be the first of many to come.
Generally the first investment gets you through 12-18 months. That is exactly what happened at Curbed but unfortunately the timing wasn't great because the need for more cash was 2009. Not a pretty time. Somehow we (that meant Lock, me and the team) convinced all the investors to do a bridge financing. I believed that we all invested in the future and just because the financial world had just fallen apart does not mean that we will all go back to reading print. We finalized the bridge note and as time went on revenues came in and it was obvious that the company really did not need to raise any more money. We could take out a loan with SVB (Silicon Valley Bank) to help fund our growth shots. Lock did the right thing, the mensch thing, and converted the loan into stock with the discount too even though there was not another round of financing.
A board was formed and I had the opportunity to get to know Brad Inman (salt of the earth) who sat on the board with me including Justin McCarthy who sat on the board for awhile and a reconnect with Dave Kansas who sat on the board over the past year. I also got to know the management team better; Josh Albertson, Eliot Shepard and Alexis Juneja. Throughout the time of the company Lock got engaged and Eliot, Josh and Alexis have had children. Such a great team of people.
The business grew and grew and grew. So many of the conversations we had at the very beginning such as moving into more cities, growing the business into another country ( now we are in Canada ) came to pass. Even launching an app because when the business began that was not important whatsoever. The launching of the Eater, Curbed and Racked awards and the communities built around the product make this company a very unique place. They bridge the eyeballs of business and consumer. If you work in food you have to read Eater everyday, if you work in real estate you have to read Curbed everyday and if you are in fashion you should read Racked everyday. That is the one piece of the business that I have always thought has huge potential that has yet to be reached.
There were plenty of hiccups from partnerships, offers to buy the company several times and of course the hiring and firing of people. This year we decided it was time to either raise a huge amount of money or sell and we opted for the latter. The most important thing to me is that Lock, Josh, Eliot and Alexis thought it was the right thing to do.
Maybe because the investment team was small, the board was consistent over all these years (except for Justin and Dave) and I was the Nyer that the team always made me feel part of everything. I took a trip to Chicago with Josh and Lock to eat and meet the Chicago crew. Two epics meals and of course a Cubs game. I always enjoyed going to the awards particularly the Eater Awards. I got to know some of the editors and could email them freely. I hope that they all know that the door will always be open to hear from any of them as they move forward in their careers.
Personally I will miss this group. As my first investment there will always be a soft spot in my heart for everyone involved. I believed in the company from the very beginning. It takes a long time for a company to grow and being part of this growth has been an amazing experience. Saying I am in as an investor set my career down a path that I am incredibly grateful for.
I don't remember exactly what I said the other night but I do know that I raised my glass to a wonderful group of super smart individuals who have been an integral part of how we read content about a few verticals that have always been of major interest to me. I am beyond proud to have been part of the ride.
Closing out this year with a sale is big for all of us who are part of the Curbed team. It is a big win and another chapter in the life of the company. I hope that in 3 years we can all return to the Spotted Pig to see where we all our in our lives and be blown away by the growth the company still continues to see. Vox is the perfect place for Curbed to hang its hat.
Love the whole story (and the outcome)…I have a feeling you’ve got a lot more of these to share in the coming years! =)
i sure hope so
Love reading true stories like this, Congratulations Joanne!
congrats. way to ring the cash register. Hope the Cubs won. I didn’t know about Eater, and I eat my way through Chicago. (Next time anyone is here try The Radler in Logan Square).
Great post – interesting that most of the things you learned on the first one are captured post-investment. Do you think you would have made different decisions about the investment if you were presented with the deal today?
Good question.You certainly learn something of value from every deal that you can take with you in the deals as you move forward. I can only look back now but I feel pretty confident that there is not much different that I would have done. The only difference is that Curbed was ahead of the content wave and if the same thing crossed my desk today I would probably pass. Timing is everything. I feel that way about many deals that when I invested it was the right time. That does not mean it is the right time to start the same thing a few years down the line.
Nice – do you think if you were investing within an angel group or if you had some mentors to learn from it would have been a different situation?
I have the best mentor living in my house.
haha – Yes you do!
Fred said something to me last summer that really stuck with me: that good investors may not be involved in every day of a company’s life, but that looking back on the company’s life, you should be able to identify a couple of key times where the investor really made a difference.That dark period of 2009 was that moment for Joanne and Curbed. It meant so much to me that during the toasts at the Spotted Pig a few weeks ago, when I forgot to mention it the first time I toasted Joanne, I had to come back around and mention it. That prompted a surprised Joanne to exclaim, “Me again?!”xoxoxo and thanks for everything from everyone at Team Curbed.PS The Cubs lost, 5-1. http://www.flickr.com/photo…
Awesome. Love the story and those sites.
So much goodness in this story. Keep ’em coming.
Great story! Thanks so much for sharing.
A great story an great learning. Thanks for sharing!
Mazel Tov on your first serious exit
Great story… right from the heart…
Great story, Thanks for sharing and I hope to read more of your success stories sprinkled with lessons learned.
Everybody should be so lucky as to have Joanne on their side.
aw…thanks josh. was thinking about you while i wrote this!
great stuff. congrats to all!
Congrats Joanne and thank you for sharing the lovely story behind it.
Congratulations Joanne! That has to be an amazing sense of accomplishment and well, just plain phenomenal fun; a powerful testimony.
Very interesting ..
.This kind of “in the moment” case study of an investment without the coloring of revisionist history is the most powerful learning tool for others.Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed the read.JLM.
met @Lock:disqus in probably 2008 or 2009 while at Inman Connect in NYC…have always been impressed with what’s he’s built & the way he conducts himself (from my limited exposure to him)
He is an impressive guy
congrats. great story. #becauseawesome
Congratulations!Thanks for sharing this — an inspiring story about how your career as an investor began. It helps to know that sometimes you can learn as you go. The hurdles to beginning can seem so huge.
you are so right. sometimes those hurdles hold people back but you must begin somewhere.