Inc.com ranked Thrillist - a men's lifestyle webzine - #93 in their list of 500 fastest-growing companies in America.
The concept is simple...
Imagine being able to see everything – the perfect table, the right music and ambiance – that a restaurant has to offer before bringing a date in for a special evening
For young men wanting to orchestrate the perfect evening, a new Web site, Thrillist.com, promises to help them do just that. Thrillist, a six-year-old Web site, was started by two fraternity brothers wanting to navigate single men around the city’s restaurant and club scene and impress their dates in the process.
Acting as an insider’s guide to affordable and trendy places, Thrillist distributes a daily newsletter to more than 2.5 million subscribers and the number increases at a rate of 100,000 subscribers every month. The media company has grown at a rate of 2702 percent in the past three years.
The daily newsletters introduce something new, unknown or underappreciated, such as an underground supper club, a maker of custom shoes operating out of a warehouse in Brooklyn or a restaurant with an off-the-menu three martini lunch special.
The two fraternity brothers behind the operation – Adam Rich and Ben Lerer – decided to start the company when they moved to New York City and realized city guide publications, such as NYMag.com or Citysearch, weren’t written for “guys like them.”
The recent graduates from the University of Pennsylvania saw a problem with daily deal sites, such as Groupon, since they typically featured everything in the area. Rich, 31, and Lerer, 29, wanted a guide that would eliminate all the extra materials and focus solely on the targeted demographic. Other national men’s magazine had the tone, but most of the content is written months in advance with little, local information.
The gap in the market encouraged the two co-founders to start something specifically for their demographic of educated, twenty-something, affluent, urban guys with decent-sized wallets.
“We couldn’t trust other city guides – it was written for everyone in New York,” Lerer said. “Were my mom and I supposed to have the same idea of what a romantic restaurant is?”
Rich and Lerer started Thrillist.com with a $250,000 investment from Pilot Group, the same company who funded DailyCandy, a similar e-commerce company geared towards women.
The private investment firm’s interest in DailyCandy proved profitable when the company sold its first investment – DailyCandy – to Comcast for $125 million in 2008.
Along with its second investment, Thrillist, the equity firm invests in other corporations, such as David’s Bridal, Double O Radio and Barrington Broadcasting.
“Thrillist is getting close to the size of DailyCandy when we sold it,” said an associate at Pilot Group. “[The company] caught our attention because they are able to evolve and expand into new markets…we saw great potential in them.”
Since their beginnings in 2005, Thrillist currently has 60 employees and has expanded to 16 editions in U.S. cities and London. In 2009, the Web site raked in $7.1 million in revenues.
Their business model is simple – a daily email is sent to subscribers’ inboxes across the nation – and London – of hip places to dine, wine, play and shop. The ubiquitous email system is preferred since most working men in their mid- to late-twenties possess an email address.
“It’s been said that by 2014, there will be over 2 billion people with email addresses,” Lerer said. “Email’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.”
The use of email, an opt-in service, assures potential subscribers that anyone who has been exposed to their advertisements have consented to communications with Thrillist. Email is also an inherently viral medium, making sharing between users uncomplicated and doesn’t require one to visit a different site.
For the content itself, Thrillist ensues a team of edition editors – at least one in each of the 16 cities Thrillist covers – and senior editors to scour the cities, reach out to different venues, gather information and choose only the places they believe will most likely appeal to their audience.
“We’re no B.S…We’re speaking as guys to guys and that definitely sets us apart,“ Lerer said.
The recommendations are strictly editorial and the company does not make a profit from any places they recommend.
Recently, the Web site incorporated online video tours of many of the recommended venues along with useful information as whether the filet is tastier than the strip or which table angle provides the perfect setting for intimate conversations.
Kings County Jerky Co., a homemade jerky operation in Brooklyn, N.Y., reached out to Thrillist and witnessed an uptick in sales the day the Web site featured them.
“Thrillist is successful because they have a distinctive voice,” said Chris Woerhrle, the company’s co-founder. “They cater to an urban male audience which tend to be more liberal and open to a bit of sass, snark, impolite language…there’s no reason to worry about their tone because it’s right for their audience.”
In 2010, Thrillist switched gears from online media company to commerce corporation when they acquired JackThreads, a member-only retailer Web site. Although terms of the deal has yet to be disclosed, the digital lifestyle publication will allow subscribers access to JackThreads’ exclusive shopping community.
JackThreads.com is part of the group buying industry, offering significant discounts with numerous brands, such as Mishka, ALIFE, WeSC and Shades of Greige, through bulk purchases.
At the end of 2010, Thrillist launched Rewards, a Groupon-like program allowing local businesses to participate in deals Thrillist believes would appeal to its subscribers, such as “Unlimited Beer and Ribs at Hill Country BBQ” and “A Strip and a Strip at Robert’s and Score’s.” The latter deal offered actually includes an exotic dance alongside a strip of steak.
“It is our way of helping to curate fantastic experiences on a local level, and give another round of exposure to our audience for the participating businesses,” Lerer said.
Last June, the company launched their iPhone app and recently, the Android app became available. The idea is more of a supplement to the daily email and Web site with geo-targeted recommendations for eating, drinking and shopping, depending on where you are. The app also allows users to check into recommended places, similar to the frenzy behind Foursquare.
“We’ve also evolved into more than just the original business model…so in that respect, we’ve developed far beyond any other publication that could have previously been considered a competitor,” Lerer said. “We zone in on a very specific part of the male demographic that is untouched by any of the other email newsletters.”
The testosterone-driven editorials seem to be appealing to their target demographic; last year, Thrillist raked in anywhere between $5 and $10 million, the actual numbers are unknown since Lerer and Rich are keeping quiet.
“[Men] are probably even more graphic,” Lerer said. “We speak to guys as guys, so what may seem shocking to someone outside the demographic is exactly what builds trust within it. “
“We've never aimed to be all things to all people.”