Glam: the Next Media Giant?

Samir Arora

Glam Media is a rather glamorous operation in this down economy. The media network, which includes more than 1,500 women’s blogs and media sites, turned a profit in October in the U.S., snagging ad dollars where others struggled. The five-year-old company has $40 million in the bank, and has built its own ad tool to rival Google’s DoubleClick.

We asked CEO Samir Arora about the significance of his recent acquisition of Sportgenic, why he hasn’t been paid a full salary in three years, and why advertisers love women.

Why did you start this venture?

I had an "aha" moment on a beach in Santa Barbara. I realized content and traffic were getting fragmented. A perfect storm leading to the decline of portals. So we threw away the notion of what was a media company and started Glam Media.

Are you a media company or a technology company?

Unlike Facebook, which was a technology company first, we went the opposite way. We started as a media company.

Of your 250 employees, how many are focused on the tech?

About 100. Two years ago that number was 40. In another year it will be 200.

And the rest?

In curation and and publishing, probably about 40. And in ad sales and ad packaging, about 110. That’s approximate for our company’s three hearts.

Three hearts?

Yes, the three pieces to our business. The first is all about finding authors and journalists. The second is technology. The third is our relationship to ad agencies and brands.

How hard is it to find good writing?

Extremely hard. We have a team of curators who look for good talent who deliver consistently over time.

So why did you invest so heavily in technology?

We realized two years ago we were one of the biggest users of DoubleClick. We launched GlamAdapt to replace DoubleClick. As of last week 100 percent of all business that was on DoubleClick is on GlamAdapt. We’re delivering more ads today than all of CBS, the New York Times and Viacom combined.

How does that translate into revenue?

Over time we’ll make this available to other publishers that are not part of Glam. Then it will be part of our revenue.

What is your revenue?

That's private.

You turned a profit in the U.S. last October during a pretty miserable economic time for everyone else. How’d you get in the black?

It's not our first rodeo. I’ve been through three downturns already. When this one hit, we were in massive expansion mode. We had just opened in the U.K., Germany, and Japan and were about to go into three other countries. But I said "no more." We wanted to make sure the economy wasn’t going into a recession. Guess what? It did.

We couldn’t only do layoffs. We were in the middle of scaling. So we cut salaries. It was a 50 percent cut for me, 40 percent for the rest of the management team and 10 percent variable for everyone else. The variable was tied to the company’s performance. If you couldn’t live on that then you couldn’t stay with us. I was advised against doing it that way, but I did it anyway.

How’d that work out?

We grew 35% in revenue in a period of six quarters. All others were down. Yahoo was down 15-20%, AOL was down 30%. Our gut level instinct about the business was right. Because of that, and hard financial and cash management, we are profitable.

So you’re back to normal salaries now?

The recession is not over. We are managing it. I’m still here with a 25% cut of my salary.

You’ve focused on compiling content for women. You’ve also done it for men. What’s next? Tweens? Little People?

Our main focus is servicing large, saleable audiences that advertisers use. The spenders are the women. No question. Eighty-three percent of consumer spending is women. Ad money goes where the spending goes, and women are the decision makers in the buying process. That’s why NBC has done so well in the downturn--they have a very strong offering for women.

You completed the acquisition of Sportgenic, the sports media ad network, last week. How will that help revenue?

It has two parts: The sports media ad network and its ad platform, AdPortal. We are integrating them now both with Brash and focusing on sports. With this, we’re the No. 3 most popular men’s site.

You've raised some serious VC cash. Are you looking for more?

We’ve raised $130 million. If we do any more fund-raising it will be to help scale up in Europe through acquisitions. As of this year in the U.S. we are at scale.

How much shopping money do you have left?

About $40 million in cash plus stock.

How has Tinker, your social media project, evolved?

It’s our first Glam Labs project. We’re learning a lot about social media and how it can be used for us. It’s not mainstream, and we want to keep it that way.

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