Entrepreneur turns networking site into multi-million dollar venture

Entrepreneur turns networking site into multi-million dollar venture

By CHRIS BOSAK cbosak@wiltonvillager.com
Monday, November 19, 2007

NORWALK — Laurel Touby never set out to become an entrepreneur, yet she recently sold her company for $23 million.

Building
a Web site was never in her mind as she pursued a creative writing
career, yet her Web site has more than 700,000 registered users and
gets more than a million unique visitors each month.

"I
never dreamed of it. It’s been a crazy path from the beginning until
now," said Touby, president and CEO of Mediabistro.com. "Suddenly I’m
on the mountaintop."

Mediabistro.com
is an online gathering place for journalists, publishers and other
media professionals. The site includes job listings, courses, blogs,
and other information about the media industry.

Touby
reflected on her path to success during a "Best Practices" luncheon
meeting of the Fairfield County Public Relations Association held
Wednesday at Meigas Restaurant.

"[The
site] started out as a directory on another Web site. I only did it
because people kept suggesting it," said Touby, wearing a yellow
leather jacket and displaying an effervescent personality. "I started
out working out of my bedroom in my pajamas."

The
foundation of the business, she said, was built long before she
launched the Web site. After graduating from Smith College, she landed
an advertising job at a big agency in New York City, "because I
couldn’t find a job anywhere else."

She
left after a few years because she felt her creativity was not being
utilized. She then joined Working Women Magazine and later became a
business writer, eventually landing an editor position at Business Week.

Her
creative spirit, she said, was still being stifled so she starting
writing on a freelance basis for Glamour Magazine. Working at home as a
freelancer, Touby missed interacting with others.

"So I started hosting cocktail parties with other media professionals," she said.

The first party, held in 1994, drew 10 people, but soon she was hosting parties for more than 100 professionals.

"There
was still no thought of a Web site," she said. "The people there would
thank me for hosting the party. I forced people to engage with each
other. I became known as a great cocktail hostess. I was just doing
what I loved."

At the party, Touby collected business cards to build a data base, or as Touby said it was "magpie for data behavior."

Connections
— both personal and professional — were being made at the parties and
Touby started to think about way to make money off the gatherings.

"Someone
said, ‘You should start a Web site,’" she said, recalling the year was
1996. "There was still no thought of business because what type of
business would it be at this point?"

She
created the Web site as a place for media professionals to mingle
without having to attend the parties every month. She launched the site
as hireminds.com, but after a domain name battle, renamed the site
mediabistro.com

"In
April 1999, I realized I could make money online. The [Internet] market
was finally ready to pay," she said. "By now my site was the hottest
place for media professionals to look for jobs. In just a few months I
realized I was onto something. But, really, I was building this for
years. It’s a classic word-of-mouth story."

Later that year, Touby faced a crossroads: be a writer and use her creativity or "pursue something I never aspired to be."

She
decided to grow the Web site — "people thought I was crazy at the time"
— and, having been a business writer for years, she knew she needed
funding to grow. In March 2000, two separate investors ponied up a
total of $1 million.

"The biggest adjustment was being the boss," she said. "That’s still the hardest part of being an entrepreneur."

As the Internet world began to crash in early 2000, mediabistro needed to find new ways to stay fresh.

"The
answers came from the community," Touby said. "It always comes from the
community. People said, ‘We need training. We’re out of jobs.’ So we
started offering training."

It
was that community that started attracting buyers in last year. In
March of this year, Jupitermedia Corp., a Darien-based media company,
purchased mediabistro.com for $23 million. Touby remains with the
company as CEO.

"It’s
a very unique community that Laurel has created, offline and online,"
Christopher Cardell of Jupitermedia Corp. said at the meeting. "The
community offers so much promise for various business opportunities.

Mediabistro now has four main revenue streams: job listings, subscriptions, training and banner ads.

Looking
ahead to the future, Touby hopes to grow mediabistro.com by extending
the community to other fields such as public relations, television news
and the book industry.

"We’ll
continue doing what we do well and reach into other fields," she said.
"Besides that, whatever you tell us to do. You tell us."

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