The media landscape is changing rapidly and social media is starting to compete with traditional cable networks. Perhaps no one knows this better than Ben Lerer, CEO of Group Nine Media which manages the brands Thrillist, NowThis, The Dodo, and Seeker.
“I still don’t really have any idea what is going on. And I think that is okay because I don’t think anyone else does either,” Ben Lerer said at CornellTech@Bloomberg’s Content and Capital talk led by Scarlett Fu, the anchor of “Bloomberg Markets.”
But Lerer’s career is evidence that he might know more than he thinks. Lerer has established himself as both an entrepreneur and an investor as co-founder and CEO of Thrillist, an online men’s lifestyle publication, and managing director of Lerer Hippeau Ventures. He has a proven investment track record with high-profile startups including Warby Parker, Giphy, Oscar, Casper, and BuzzFeed. Lerer’s shared his advice and predictions with Cornell Tech students, Bloomberg employees, and the New York City tech industry.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the conversation:
Create great content
Television isn’t dead or dying, but it is changing. “The rules of media and the ecosystem have been flipped upside down multiple times over the last decade. I think the biggest flip is in progress right now with the disruption that is happening with television,” said Lerer pointing to the role that Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and to a lesser extent, Instagram and Twitter play as a media source that can compete with traditional cable networks.
Brands are producing content that gets billions of views, but the compensation structure hasn’t been refined yet. Lerer hopes that Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Netflix, Amazon, and other platforms will provide a structure for scalable monetization for publishers. “There is more competition for great content, and I believe these platforms will create opportunities for brands to create real money to allow the best video media businesses to create great content on those platforms,” he says.
No one knows what’s happening next
Lerer’s business partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures also happens to be his father, Kenneth Lerer. Kenneth Lerer is a fellow managing partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures focusing primarily on consumer technologies. He was previously the chairman and cofounder of The Huffington Post and is currently chairman of Buzzfeed, Betaworks, and a co-founder of NowThis Media.
Of the many lessons Lerer has gleaned from his father, one that has stuck in his mind is “everyone is a fraud.” “By that I mean that whenever I feel insecure or I’m concerned about loosing control he says ‘It’s fine, so is everybody else,'” Lerer said. He interprets the advice as meaning that nobody know what’s going on, not because they aren’t smart, but because the industry is changing drastically.
“If you work in media and you think you have a handle on it you’re screwed.” Learn, adapt, and grow instead of getting complacent and remaining in the status quo. “What he’s done is he’s infused me with confidence to try shit,” said Lerer.
Balance conviction and flexibility
As early state investors, Lerer Hippeau Ventures makes their decisions based upon the teams more than the concepts. “We are looking for an incredibly concise, clear conviction in what you want to build and why it’s right and also a willingness to be open-minded and take feedback and be flexible,” he said when asked what he looks for in a pitch.
“It’s a balance between conviction and flexibility,” he said. When it’s time to make the call, Lerer makes most of his investment decisions based on gut instinct and being decisive. “For me it’s totally gut. It’s not particularly hard for me to make decisions about the things I am going to invest in. I’m pretty decisive and let my gut drive and that often works. More often than not we are sort of right,” he says.
Do your research and be confident in your vision, but be willing to change course. “I have an incredible conviction that I have a game plan and that what I am doing is right, but I’m not afraid to pivot,” Lerer says, “It’s a survival tactic and to thrive you need to survive.”
Watch the full conversation.
Read more at Tech at Bloomberg.