Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Interview with Scott Morrow, Curatemedia
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Last month, Santa Monica-based ThisNext announced that it was acquiring Stylehive, an online site focused on fashion and beauty. As part of that move, the firm created a parent firm called Curatemedia (www.curatemedia.com), to oversee ThisNext, Stylehive, and other efforts. We sat down with Scott Morrow President of Curatemedia, to hear more about the firm's strategy and the thinking behind the acquisition and new investment in the firm
It's been awhile since we did an in-depth profile on ThisNext, tell us a bit about your new business strategy?
Scott Morrow: Recently, a few things have come together that have really set in place our new business strategy. Essentially, we're still oriented around social shopping, where our fundamental value proposition is helping consumers figure out what to buy. That's why we exist, and why we are a company, to help consumers figure out that fundamental question. How we do so, is we help consumers discover new products and shop for them. Historically, ThisNext has always been the umbrella brand to help people shop for product they are interested in, across multiple verticals. Traditionally, that has been products in fashion/beauty, home/garden, sports/outdoors, and parenting and green. So it was an umbrella play that was very horizontal in focus. What we have discovered, over the last three years, is that consumers are really driven by passions and are much more oriented around a single vertical. If I'm a woman, I might really be into fashion and beauty, and would be more apt to engage with content and community and engage in the shopping experience around that vertical, versus a horizontal brand across verticals. That realization set forth our current business strategy, which is to create a portfolio of vertical shopping sites which allow consumers to discover and be passionate about categories they are interested in. That's why we acquired Stylehive, which will become the de-facto fashion/beauty/style brand within our portfolio. ThisNext will continue as a standalone brand, and will be slightly repositioned on design products--by which I mean products that are interesting, unique, specialized, and boutique-like in nature. For additional verticals, we'll expand that through additional acquisition or through organic sites launched internally.
What verticals are you thinking about?
Scott Morrow: Sports/outdoors is quite interesting, that's the fastest growing lifestyle category in e-commerce. Techie gadgets are very attractive, eco/green is also attractive--there's really a number of lifestyle categories we could focus on. But, the collective mission of the company now formed, Curatemedia, is a reflection of two things: one, that we're focused on product discovery, and helping consumers find what they want to buy within their lifestyle categories. And second, that Curate Media will be the corporate brand and organizing unit. The real operating brands will be the vertical sites that operate within the company: ThisNext, Stylehive, and other sites which we gain through acquisition or organic launches. All those sites will crowdsource content through a passionate and engaged community around lifestyle categories. We will then apply filters on top of that crowdsourced content--through algorithms, user voting, and editorial--and those filters will be what will curate that user generated content on the sites. User generated content and crowdsourced content is an essential aspect of all publishing, moving forward, and we're taking the best of crowdsourcing, and the best of technology with its algorithms and intelligence recommendations, leader boarding and user voting, the best of editorial, and amalgamated all those forms of publishing to create and curate the content that programs the site.
Originally, ThisNext was focused a lot on affiliate revenues from shopping. Is that still the case, or has that model changed?
Scott Morrow: 75 percent of our revenue comes from leads or the performance marketing we pass to brands and retailers who want to sell the products discovered on our site. At the end of the day, what we do is create demand and pass that in the form of a lead to someone. That might be a retailer, or a brand that sells a product. It's an extremely valuable service, and we're paid through various commercial relationships--Google AdSense, major affiliate networks, or direct relationships with individual brands and retailers. We receive lead fees to pass users on to the brand. There's also an extremely important media aspect to the model. Because we've created an engaged community of taste makers, brands find it extremely attractive to integrate their marketing and messaging into the community around those tastemakers, to participate where that conversational media is happening. We're paid through CPM, paid sponsorships, paid traditional display type deals we offer to the marketers. About 1/3 of our model is around display or standard media. It's that combination that drives the revenue model. The machine works, because the community use crowd sourced content, we can apply filters to program the site, and that helps consumers and shoppers discover the site.
What's the strategy behind acquisitions?
Scott Morrow: We 100 percent intend to be acquisitive. We're looking for the more vertically driven, product driven sites. If you think about the lifestyle verticals out there that we don't currently cover with Curatemedia brands, the high priority vertical we think is most attractive is sports and outdoors. E-commerce was relatively flat in 2008 and 2009, but if you look at the lifestyle category, the biggest growing area within lifestyle was sports and outdoors. It's a really attractive vertical, but an individual site might have some difficulty sustaining on just sports and outdoor. But, with our existing businesses, joining Curate can be a value add for an entrepreneur or business owner, who has a great initial site with a sports/outdoor focus and just needs a bigger platform. So, those would be attractive targets for us. Another attractive target is tech/gadgets, and there are lots of promising opportunities there. The same with eco/green. The way we determine the lifestyle categories, is to look for passionate consumer demand for the category, as it relates to products. Products are the centerpiece of everything we do. Second, we look at advertising/brand/and marketer appeal for that audience. It's at the intersection between those two elements which will determine which vertical we'll expand into.
This sounds somewhat similar to Demand Media, how do you compare what you're doing with Demand?
Scott Morrow: We do get compared to Demand Media, however, they're creating lots of content to drive their business model and economic engine. It's similar with Curatemedia, but there are differences which are subtle but make a big difference. Demand Media is really a general content engine, whereas all the content we create is around products. However, one of the nice things about being focused on products, is monetization around the activity around products is very clear. It's not a stretch to figure out how to monetize traffic, content, and activity around a product. It's an inherent element of product activity. That's one of the main reasons we remain laser focused around growing social shopping, because monetization, scale, and traffic will be very clear, and easily obtained.
Speaking of traffic, how is growth going for you?
Scott Morrow: We get around 3.3 million monthly unique users, and that's growing at a fast clip. There's a really important distinction there. One hundred percent of our traffic is organic. If you compare that to comparison shopping service, who are basically arbitrage models--they leverage paid search to grow their distribution, buy traffic to arbitrage, and make money off each visit--all 3.3 million monthly uniques of ours are organic. That's a very important and powerful point. We also believe that as we add more verticals, that collectively will improve our search index, and allow us to scale exponentially. Demand has done a good job of that. As we add more verticals, the snowball gets bigger and bigger. We're still at an early phase, but are on a similar path.