Rufus Griscom knows a thing or two about media companies.
In 1997, when online magazines were still in their infancy—Slate and Salon had only just launched—Griscom founded Nerve, a site that published smart, edgy articles about sex; last year, he sold it to IAC for an undisclosed amount. In 2006, when Griscom and his wife began having kids, the couple launched Babble Media, a platform for mommy bloggers, which Disney bought in 2011 for a reported $40 million. “The joke was that if you closely followed the instructions on Nerve, you would end up having to read Babble,” Griscom says.
Initially, he’s catering to individuals who have built large audiences through their blogs, book deals, speaking engagements, or TV shows. This may seem like a very niche group of people, but Heleo has already partnered with 15 thought leaders who fit into this category, including the best-selling authors Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project), Susan Cain (Quiet: The Power of Introverts), and Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit).
As Heleo launches, Griscom has focused on bringing on thought leaders who have created successful personal brands by writing books and giving speeches that deal with business, science, and self-improvement. In other words, your typical TED talk speaker. “These are charismatic personalities who are taking scientific learnings and applying them to how to improve your life or your business,” Griscom says. “These are the types of people who write the best-selling business books every year.”
But while these people have found great success by shilling their ideas, not all of them have tried to distribute or monetize their content without the help of a publisher or some other middleman. Many aren’t even particularly active on social media.
With Heleo, Griscom gives thought leaders a blog where they can distill content from their books and their speeches to attract more fans. It also gives them a place to sell books, videos, or whatever other content their fans might be interested in purchasing. Heleo will generate revenue primarily from these direct transactions, rather than through advertising, and take a 50% cut of what thought leaders bring in. The Heleo platform also makes it easy for these thought leaders to spread their content on social media, which allows them to effectively grow their audience.
While Griscom is currently reaching out to people individually, over time, he expects people to request to join Heleo, and his team will play a role in curating who appears on the site. In other words, the platform will function as a combination of a talent agency and a media site. And ultimately, he believes the concept of “one-person media companies” will only strengthen. “Our thesis is that social media has created an environment in which people are more interested in following individuals than they are in following institutions,” he says.
A range of top investors believe that Griscom is on the right track. Heleo’s angel funders include the New York Times, Comcast, Bloomberg Beta, and Greylock Partners. The company has also brought on key advisors including Bryan Goldberg, the founder of Bustle, Eli Pariser, the CEO of Upworthy, and Jacob Weisberg, the Chairman of the Slate Group.