In late 2017, Sophia Amoruso launched Girlboss, a multifaceted platform that included events, a blog, a podcast, and eventually a social network that was dubbed “LinkedIn for Women.” Two years later, Amoruso is selling the company to a new media holding company called Attention Capital, whose goal is to find creative new business models for media businesses at a time when the industry has been suffering financially. The terms of the sale were not disclosed.
Attention Capital, which launched earlier this year, comprises a team of highly qualified media and tech executives who are eager to rewrite the rules of the media industry. And it couldn’t come at a better time. Media companies have been in crisis for years now, as newspapers and magazines around the country have shuttered. Employment at U.S. newsrooms has dropped by a quarter between 2008 and 2018. In the first half of 2019, 3,000 more people in the news industry have been laid off or offered buyouts. And one by one, media outlets are shuttering. Family Circle magazine just announced it is closing after 87 years.
Attention was founded by Joe Marchese, who has spent his career in roles at 21st Century Fox, FX, and National Geographic. Managing partners at the firm include Nick Bell, a former VP at Snap, and Ashlyn Gentry a former SVP at Palantir. Attention’s goal is not to invest in other companies, but to buy them and help run them.
“We’re not a venture capital firm,” Gentry explains. “We’re a holding company.”
Attention aspires to become the next IAC, Condé Nast, or News Corp. But Attention’s leadership believes that established media conglomerates are reliant on an antiquated advertising model that measures the reader’s attention based on things like clicks and page views. This is problematic for many reasons. For one, it’s easy to hack these metrics using bots and click fraud. But perhaps more importantly, the click-based model tends to generate a lot of clickbait and low-quality content that offers very little besides a sensational or misleading headline.
So what’s the solution? Gentry says that Attention’s goal is to find media brands that have managed to create a loyal audience and find alternative ways to monetize besides digital advertising.
“Our thesis is that media businesses with the most potential are the ones with loyal followers who are willing to let the brand curate some aspect of their lives, from what they read to what they buy,” says Gentry. “And that’s something that Sophia Amoruso has created with Girlboss.”
From dumpsters to influencer
Amoruso launched Girlboss to capitalize on the success of her memoir of the same name, which came out in 2014 and was an instant hit. In the book, Amoruso traced her transformation from digging through dumpsters in San Francisco to find vintage clothes to sell on eBay to launching her own fashion label, Nasty Gal. The book allowed Amoruso to cultivate an army of fans eager to follow in her footsteps and take their career into their own hands.
“I went on a 12-city book tour and whenever I went to a Barnes & Noble, there would be women in line talking to one another about their dreams and ambitions,”Amoruso says. “The book created a community and I wanted to find a way to help support this community.”
Remarkably, this fan base continued to stay loyal even when Nasty Gal fell apart. Shortly after the publication of the book, Nasty Gal’s sales began declining. By 2016, Amoruso had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. And British online retailer Boohoo acquired Nasty Gal’s intellectual property for $20 million. This meant that Nasty Gal’s investors, who had poured $65 million into the company, had lost a lot of money.
In the ashes of this failure, Amoruso decided to launch an entirely new business, one built on the women who were inspired by her book. She launched Girlboss in November 2017 with a “Girlboss Rally” in downtown L.A., which brought women together to hear from thought leaders about career development, money management, and leadership.
Based on the success of this event, Amoruso secured $6.6 million in funding to build out a larger platform that included newsletters, podcasts, and blogs. The most ambitious project Amoruso tackled was a Girlboss social network that was designed to help women forge professional relationships with one another. It is a women’s alternative to LinkedIn, where users can have discussions about career-related issues that affect them, seek advice, and actually land jobs. It’s currently still in beta, being tested by tens of thousands of women, but will soon be open to the public.
Now, Amoruso is ceding ownership, and some measure of control, of her company to Attention Capital. She’s continuing on as CEO and her COO, Neha Gandhi, will also stay on. But the team at Attention will be on hand to steer the company toward profitability.
“I know what my own strengths and weaknesses are,” says Amoruso. “I’m good at brand building, and it was clear that I could trust Joe Marchese and his team, who are experts at creating successful media companies.”
Gentry says that when a media brand has a strong following, like Girlboss does, it is possible to begin creating many revenue streams around them. For instance, she believes that there are many untapped opportunities for Girlboss to build partnerships with other companies. And once the Girlboss networking app is off the ground, the team could continue to create new digital products that would be useful and exciting to the Girlboss community.
“We see our role as advisors who are here to support Amoruso and her team,” says Gentry. “We will work alongside her to grow the company.”
If Attention’s plan with Girlboss succeeds, it will serve as a playbook for other media companies that are struggling in the current climate. And Gentry says that the company has big plans to help turn around, or grow, other media companies on the landscape. It plans to acquire more businesses next year. “We’re only just starting,” she says. “We’ll have more to announce soon.”