MCN acquisitions streaked 2014, and for most startup founders, the “exit” is the best (and often only) focal point.
But what if an acquisition is not the only target? That’s exactly what Michael Wayne, CEO and co-founder of Kin Community, formerly known as DECA, is banking on — building a sustainable long term business structured around digital video content, its creators, and the platforms that enable the creation and distribution of amazing content.
It’s hard to believe that a founder wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon and aim for a high price tag given the hype around multi-channel networks, but for Wayne, Kin Community has much greater potential playing for the long tail.
“I’m thrilled that we’re an independent company. By staying independent you provide great focus for your team, and you’re not saddled with big-media company issues,” Wayne told me in an interview. “That [freedom] you can give the space to really grow and provide the most value to your partners, whether advertisers, creators, or consumers.”
If you buy into the beat that “slow and steady wins the race” then Wayne is certainly driving the right approach. In many ways, and despite a few pivots, the business has ended up right back where it started when it was founded in 2007, as DECA (Digital Entertainment Company of America).
Built upon the original thesis of being a digital studio oriented around multiple verticals, the company raised a $5 million Series A round at a time when online video was in its original hey-day, with money pouring into the space much like it has again over the past two years. Next New Networks (acquired by YouTube), Revision3 (acquired by Discovery), Blip (acquired by Maker Studios), Mania TV, and 60Frames (both of which shuttered), were alongside Wayne as a rookie generation of video-enthusiastic entrepreneurs set sail.
By 2008, the company was cranking — it churned out multiple productions including a major deal with Boing Boing TV, acquired Smosh, the number one channel on YouTube at the time, launched a weekly talk show
presented by Target, Momversation, and brokered numerous deals with blue-chip brands such as Verizon, FedEx, and Visa. The company also raised another $10 million round of funding.
Based on the early success of Momversation and food blogger show “Good Bite,” DECA decided to make the move to focus solely on women’s lifestyle content — a shift that would land them a YouTube-funded channel and ultimately lead to the sale of Smosh in 2011 to Alloy Digital (now Defy Media).
“When we decided to focus on women and women’s lifestyle, women hadn’t really adopted YouTube yet,” Wayne claims. But “by 2011, when we had a YouTube-funded channel, [Kin Community], we were really well prepared because of [our learnings] from Smosh, and YouTube had also evolved so it was more prepared for food and women’s lifestyle [content]. It just took awhile for our business and YouTube’s audience to cross paths.”
The Birth of the MCN — Kin Community Takes Shape
What started as a YouTube-funded channel powered by DECA has since become the public-facing brand — a multi-channel network premised to “empower creators” to build global businesses in video; a studio arm; and an incubator for creator-driven businesses.
The main driver behind phasing DECA out in favor of Kin Community was lack of brand recognition and consumer
relevance for DECA, whereas Kin Community, because of its presence on YouTube, had established real brand equity among consumers.
Home to some of the biggest YouTube creators in the food, style, and home space, including Rosanna Pansino, Ellen, Byron Talbott, Robert Mahar, Rachel Talbott, and Beth LeManach, the MCN portion of Wayne’s business is by many standards “boutique,” with 100 creators, 30 million subscribers, and roughly 304 million monthly video views, as well as an audience that is 63% women between 18 and 54, and 77% women overall.
Now, less than a year into the rebrand, Kin Community is poised for a big 2015. Wayne has just closed another $12 million round, bringing the total raised to date to $27 million (not including funding from YouTube), to help the business scale its infrastructure and talent-centric development capabilities. They’ve already begun expanding sales efforts with the hire of VP of sales, Lauren Merriam, as well as other key hires like that of Spencer McClung as COO, Sarah Passe as VP of business development, and Chantelle Siegel as VP of communications.
“As a company, we’ve had very good foundation — last year was a profitable year for us and now the company is focused on growth,” said Michael Wayne on the recent funding. “First [goal from the funding] was rounding out senior management and we have a really fantastic senior management in place. Now we’re in position to grow.”
From the funding, Kin Community will also continue investing in the creators within its network much in the way it did in 2012 with Bernie Su’s Pemberley Digital, which produced mega-successful multi-media franchises “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” “Emma Approved,” and “Frankenstein, MD.” DECA has also partnered with Entertaining with Beth and SealemonDIY. In these co-ventures, Kin Community absorbs the back-end infrastructure of running a startup so that the creator can focus on producing high-quality programming.
On Kin’s studios side, development and production has steadily has ramped up as the team continues to invest in Kin-creator-driven series and projects with goals of releasing three to four new shows each quarter in 2015. The company will also look to continue its push to elevate the Kin brand among consumers, advertisers, and the creative community. With talent, in 2015, you’ll see Kin helping talent expand to new platforms, bolster business on YouTube, and look for ways to creatively partner with the creators within the Kin Community network.
“When you’re working with a macro view at an agency you get such good insight into so many companies and the deeper I dug into Kin the more quality I found. I think this company is a business being built to run not a business being built to sell,” said recent biz-dev hire and former CAA agent Sarah Passe.
And it seems Michael Wayne, would agree: “Media brands aren’t built overnight. They take time. Our business has not been a hockey stick business because content and media businesses don’t do that. They might be manufactured to look like a hockey stick business, but I think we are in a long protracted disruption of a business.”