Anthony Bourdain Invested in This Website After Founder Sent Him a Drunken Email

Fledgling Roads & Kingdoms Turning a Profit on Custom Work for Marketers

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Among the many ways for a business to raise capital these days, sending a drunken e-mail to Anthony Bourdain probably isn't the most fruitful strategy. But it worked for Roads & Kingdoms, a burgeoning web magazine offering an eclectic mix of food, politics, and travel fare.

"It was like a midnight Hail Mary, but Tony responded right away," said Matt Goulding, one of two veteran journalists behind the media platform. This morning, Roads & Kingdoms announced that Mr. Bourdain has invested an undisclosed sum and joined the startup as a partner and editor-at-large. It's Mr. Bourdain's first personal stake in a company, a purchase that expands to digital media a personal brand largely built on TV and books.

In short, the "many glasses" of sake that fueled Mr. Goulding's midnight missive paid off.

It wasn't an entirely cold query. Mr. Goulding had met Mr. Bourdain in 2011 when they were both covering a snail feast in Spain's Catalonia region. At the time, Mr. Goulding, known for his book series "Eat This, Not That," and then-Time magazine editor Nathan Thornburgh were about to launch Roads & Kingdoms. The idea was to enlist hundreds of professional journalists to occasionally pen an essay, shoot a series of photos, or crib a piece of narrative nonfiction from their overflowing Evernote apps and scribbled bar receipts.

Today, Roads & Kingdoms has a staff of 10 people in Brooklyn, editing and publishing works from some 500 contributors worldwide. This week, the site featured a first-person account of subsisting solely on Chinese military rations, a deep dive into Kashmir's heroin trade, and a celebration of drinking pastis in southern France.

Roads & Kingdoms is "yet more validation that there's a huge, untapped audience out there for smart travel and food and culture related content that doesn't shout at you or talk down to you or boil everything down to click bait or listicles," Mr. Bourdain said in a statement.

That said, Roads & Kingdoms isn't making any media empires quiver in fear.

Mr. Goulding declined to say how many readers frequent the site, and web analytics firm ComScore said it isn't enough to meet its minimum requirement for tracking.

Custom content business model
"We're not a monster website, but anybody who follows us would understand why," Mr. Goulding explained. "Our publishing model, up until recently, has been one long-form story a day, and a lot of those stories are focused on corners of the world that aren't closely watched."

The company doesn't sell traditional advertising or capture any revenue from its list of e-mail subscribers. However, Roads & Kingdoms expects to post its first profit this year, thanks primarily to deals in which it produces stories and custom websites for corporations such as Breville, an Austria-based maker of kitchen appliances, and Dropcam, a Google-owned maker of cameras for live streaming.

Mr. Bourdain should help sweeten the financial pot as well. In today's announcement, Roads & Kingdoms said he's also helping the company publish its first book via HarperCollins, where he has an imprint. "Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture" is scheduled to go on sale in October.

~ Bloomberg News ~