Thrillist Expands, Becomes a Blend of Frommer's and Foursquare
Thrillist Media Group has been telling young, urban makes what to eat, drink and buy since it launched as a daily newsletter in 2005. Now it wants to tell them where to go.
The company will expand its local coverage from its current 21 markets to more than 65 cities by the end of 2014, adding add Montreal, New Orleans, Sydney, Rome and Berlin in the next two weeks. In addition, it is introducing a new vertical Thrillist Travel to organize that content for the site's on-the-go audience.
"The real goal behind this is to create a destination here so that anytime someone is going to be traveling, we serve as their guide," said Thrillist Media Group CEO and co-founder Ben Lerer. Former Thrillist senior editor Hayden Lynch will oversee Thrillist Travel.
Editors in each market will compile posts recommending activities and outings for locals and visitors alike, so that a New Yorker could read up on the citywide cronut craze and someone planning a trip to the Big Apple could jot down Dominique Ansel Bakery as a spot to check out while in town.
Articles on Thrillist Travel will also append a listing for venues featured in an article listing its name, contact information, website and a Google Map thumbnail of its location. Clicking on the listing will direct people to a dedicated venue page that adds images of the place and a collection of any relevant Thrillist articles. This venue database underpins Thrillist's aim to be a hybrid of Frommer's and Foursquare's Explore tab editorially curated for guys.
To that end, Thrillist will roll out a new mobile experience in the next few months "so when our guy gets off a plane in Amsterdam, he can get a trusted recommendation of what the best five burgers in Amsterdam are," Mr. Lerer said.
Aware of mobile's importance for digital media -- and a nod to Facebook's newfound ability to make it pay -- Mr. Lerer described the travel vertical as "first and foremost mobile." Almost half of Thrillist's business is currently mobile, including almost half of the e-commerce transactions completed on the company's properties such as JackThreads, he said.
Thrillist's business model relies on advertising as well as commerce, but initially the travel vertical will emphasize the former. "We're not going to try and go help people book hotel rooms and take 8% [as an affiliate fee]," Mr. Lerer said. Nor will the company return to the deals business after shuttering Thrillist Rewards, though the Thrillist Travel features a regular deals roundup article. Instead Thrillist will look to create content with marketers, like a list of the best outdoor drinking locations sponsored by a craft beer brand.
Marketers may be interested in that advertorial approach because Thrillist tends to reach an audience difficult to access through traditional media and dismissive of standard advertising, said Courtney Buechert, CEO of San Francisco-based agency Eleven, whose clients include Virgin America, Visa and Sun Valley.
One of the agency's clients, San Francisco Travel Association, might usually advertise tourist attractions like Fisherman's Wharf or a tour of San Francisco Bay, but on Thrillist Travel it could hypothetically create a branded post listing "places in the Mission [neighborhood] worth getting shot at because the food is so good," Mr. Buechert said.
Eventually Thrillist Travel's content could lead to commerce. "We'll see what markets we are seeing success in content in and how we can build commerce in those markets as well," Mr. Lerer said. Thrillist recently added e-commerce for Australia, London and Canada, and those markets were able to convert their readers into shoppers that now collectively tally more than 10% of the company's commerce business, he said.
All that expansion could weigh down Thrillist's bottom line. However while the company will hire editors in each of the new markets, Mr. Lerer said the 250-person company doesn't plan to open physical offices in those cities.
Thrillist is profitable and expects to generate between $75 million and $100 million in revenue this year, Mr. Lerer said. The company could dip into the $13 million in funding Thrillist received in August 2012. "We haven't spent the money raised last year," he said, adding that the liquidity means the company could make acquisitions as needed.