Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Dude, Here’s Your Series A: Ben Lerer’s Thrillist Raises $13 Million

In 2008, Fred Harman and Oak Investment Partners bet big on Ken Lerer and the Huffington Post, and that worked out pretty well. Now Harman is putting his money into another Lerer project.

The twist: This one is from Ken’s son Ben, and his dude-centric Thrillist Media Group empire.

Oak is leading a $13 million round for the newsletter/e-commerce company, along with the Lerers’ own Lerer Ventures and Bob Pittman’s Pilot Group. It’s just the second round Thrillist has used since Lerer started the company in 2005, when he was backed by $2 million from Pilot.

It used to be tempting to write Ben Lerer off as a privileged kid playing around in start-up land. Seven years later, that has become a very hard argument to make.

Thrillist started out as a Daily-Candy-newsletter-for-dudes, but has since branched into e-commerce with the 2010 acquisition of Jackthreads, a Gilt-Groupe-for-dudes. Lerer says the combined company is on track to make a profit on $60 million in revenue this year. And while he won’t disclose a valuation for the new round, my hunch is that it’s more than two times those revenues — at least $120 million.

The new version of Thrillist is now more e-commerce than media business, with about 65 percent of its revenue coming from Jackthreads. And many pure-play e-commerce companies have been struggling recently (see this excellent Chris Dixon post about the industry’s challenges).

But Lerer plans to plow a bunch of the new money into an M&A plan focused on media sites, so he can build out that part of the business again.

The idea: Find more dude-ish sites that would compliment the food, booze and clothes verticals Thrillist already covers — like gadgets and travel. Cue requisite go-big-or-go-home mission plan: “What we’re looking at is, what does Condé Nast look like if it starts today?”

Meanwhile, we should point out that this is Harman’s second Lerer investment this year: He has also invested in a $5 million round for the Web news start-up Ken and Ben are backing, which is supposed to launch soonish.

Harman didn’t want to talk about that one, which is still in semi-stealth mode (and apparently won’t be called Planet Daily) but he was happy to jump on the phone and talk up the merits of the Lerers in general and Thrillist in particular.

Thrillist is intriguing enough, Harman said, that he was willing to buy less than his standard 20 percent to 30 percent stake with his investment.

“It’s a departure, but I was was so enthralled with the direction Ben is headed with this venture,” Harman said. “I think they’re pioneering a lot of things around the edge of the media business model that I’m quite fascinated with.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik