BI profiles Maven’s efficiencies, goal to create dominant platform

Removing duplication key move as company creates healthy alternative outside of Facebook for small publishers

By Lauren Johnson /Business Insider

  • Say Media let go of 17 staffers in merger with Maven and HubSpace to create one digital publishing entity.
  • Maven recently cut $5 million in operating costs but says that it's on track to hit a $30 million run rate this year.
  • Matt Sanchez will not stay on with Maven's leadership, according to CEO Jim Heckman.

Serial entrepreneur James Heckman wants to create a healthy alternative outside of Facebook for small publishers — and is making cuts to do so.

In March, Maven announced plans to acquire Say Media. The company also acquired HubPages in January and said that the combination of Maven, Say Media and HubPages "will bring together former competitors to create a dominant platform for professional, independent publishers," according to a press release.

Maven offers publishers a platform that reaches more than 90 million monthly readers and includes 300 channels with 6,000 writers, the company says.

As part of the transition to becoming a single company, Say Media laid off 17 staffers across roles in its creative studio, development, engineering, sales and general and administrative departments two weeks ago. The company's Toronto and London offices have closed and some of the company will operate out of Maven's office in Seattle.

Say Media also has also let got of some employees in its New York, San Francisco and Portland offices.

"All three companies do the same thing," Heckman told Business Insider. "It would be really irresponsible for us to not finish the merger as planned. It's a shame on a personal basis but obviously it's an exciting move for the company to get to profitability.”

Maven says the cuts shave $5 million off of operating costs and the firm is on track to hit its previous revenue goal of a $30 million run rate this year. Matt Sanchez, CEO and founder of Say Media, will help in the transition but is leaving the company. Heckman expects for the Say Media deal to close in September.

SAY MEDIA HAS BEEN THROUGH MULTIPLE EVOLUTIONS ...

Sanchez founded a video advertising company called VideoEgg in 2005 that was renamed Say Media in 2010 after acquiring ad network Six Apart. Say Media owned media brands like xoJane, ReadWrite and Remodelista for a few years before selling them off in 2014 to focus solely on providing technology for publishers.

According to one source, Say Media team leads were notified to make decisions about "major" staff cuts within 24 to 48 hours.

At the time of the acquisition in March, it seemed like Sanchez would be included in Maven's new leadership, which included being featured in a 7-minute video that Maven distributed to explain how the coalition would work.

On April 6, Say Media employees received a memo written from Heckman sent via Sanchez's email address detailing how the three companies would work together. The bottom of the email listed bios on 18 of Maven's leadership team at the time — including Sanchez.

"The destruction of an online news and information ecosystem that took two decades to build has created a vacuum, and an opportunity as big as Facebook's forfeiture of the news space," he wrote. "So it makes sense our three founding teams agreed to join hands and align complementary skill sets to restore sustainability by fairly empowering independent, professional content creators — 'mavens.' To ensure success, it's critical we move forward as one, and without hesitation. Success means fair rewards for everyone: advertisers, publishers, consumers, all of you as well as investors.”

He went on to explain Maven's mission to provide a unified publishing platform, ad-tech stack and sales operations for independent publishers. The idea is to create an alternative to the duopoly of Facebook and Google that often controls how publishers distribute content and sell ads.

"There's an extraordinary, urgent need to solve for independent publisher sustainability," Heckman wrote. "Frankly, we're at ground zero of the biggest cultural and news shift of our era, including the impact of fake news, fake traffic, election fraud, destroyed livelihoods, data theft, broken promises and Silicon Valley executives playing God on lots of levels. We're in position now to help in a meaningful way.”

Maven's leadership team now consists of Heckman as CEO and member of the board; president and executive chair of the board Josh Jacobs; chief operating officer and former HubPages CEO/founder Paul Edmondson; CMO Michelle Panzer, formerly Say Media's vp of global marketing and brand development; and chief product officer Ben Trott, formerly Say Media's vp of engineering. Maven co-founder and chief technology officer Ben Joldersma will continue in his role as well as becoming chief architect. (This story originally appeared in Business Insider)

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