On Coming Back to FMP

Starting a business is a journey, as any founder will tell you. When I started Federated Media Publishing almost eight years ago, I did my best to collect all the lessons learned from Wired, The Industry Standard, and Web 2 Summit, and apply them to my new venture. One of those lessons was that it’s OK to step away when the time is right. Several years ago, I did just that, becoming an “active Chairman” at FMP and handing the operational reigns over to an accomplished executive, Deanna Brown.

Since making that decision, FMP has grown dramatically, but it’s also had its challenges. Last year, for example, we made the difficult but important decision to rethink the company so as to lean into our two most promising lines of business – content marketing (which we lay claim to inventing as “conversational marketing” some seven years ago) and programmatic marketing (which we invested in heavily last year, after acquiring a very fast growing business in Lijit Networks in Fall of 2011). It meant stepping back from something we had been doing for some time – directly selling standard display banners  – but it proved to be the right choice. FMP is having a great first half of 2013, and I couldn’t be more excited about our roadmap and potential for the rest of the year and beyond.

The funny thing is, even as I became “just the Chairman” at FMP over the past two years, I never stopped thinking about the company. It woke me up nearly every night, tugging at my sleeve, asking me questions, demanding my best thinking. Deanna and I would meet every week to talk strategy, review numbers, or just plain chew the fat. Running a company with hundreds of employees, top notch investors, and a big top line revenue number is damn hard, and Deanna not only ran the place, she made it hum. I am in her debt.

So when Deanna told me earlier this year that she wanted – in a thoughtful and appropriate manner – to move on and do something smaller and more directly related to content creation, I immediately understood. As I said above – it’s alright to step away when the time feels right. We spent a month or more thinking about who might be best to replace her. FMP is a unique company – straddling the two fastest-growing sectors of the digital marketing world:  Native content marketing, and programmatic platforms. There aren’t many executives who are fluent in both, and who also might be a cultural fit for a company as storied as this one.

And then it hit me – quite literally in mid-sentence while on a Board call. Why the hell don’t I simply step back in? I love this company, I am passionate about the Independent Web, and to be honest, I see a huge opportunity in front of us. What am I, nuts? Why didn’t I think of it the moment Deanna told me of her decision?

I think the answer lies in how we often try to convince ourselves that the choices we’ve made in the past are the right ones. I agonized about leaving the CEO’s chair, and I’ve spent the two years since then convincing myself (and many of you) that the right path for me was writing a book , running various conferences, and ruminating on what the “next big thing” might be.

But I’ve come to realize that it’s OK to change your mind, as long as you are following your heart. I love the book I’m working on, and I don’t plan to abandon it (I’m bringing on a co-author). And I love the conferences I do, and I’ll still be doing them (though I’ll be hiring someone to run them full time). But my first love is the company I started in 2005, whose story is not only unfinished, it’s at the height of its running narrative. I am utterly convinced that the media company of tomorrow will have both a technology-driven programmatic foundation, as well as the ability to execute bespoke, beautiful ideas on behalf of the entire media ecosystem – creators, marketers, and communities. When you bring the scale and precision of data-driven platforms to the brilliance of great media executions, magic will happen. Delivering on that vision for the Independent Web is the mission of Federated Media Publishing. And I couldn’t be more excited to rejoin the company as its next CEO.

So that’s the news I have for you today. I ask for your support as I embark on this new journey – I know I’m going to need it. I promise I won’t ever stop writing here, nor will I stop asking for your feedback and your insights. And because this is probably the only time I’ll have the chance to say it in a post, I want to say thank you to Deanna Brown for what she’s done not only for Federated, but for me personally. I can’t wait to see what she does next, and, if I’m lucky, to be a partner to her next chapter. Onwards!

Author: John Battelle

A founder of NewCo (current CEO), sovrn (Chair), Federated Media, Web 2 Summit, The Industry Standard, Wired. Author, investor, board member (Acxiom, Sovrn, NewCo), bike rider, yoga practitioner.

59 thoughts on “On Coming Back to FMP”

  1. Of course, feel free to change your mind; meanwhile your under-valued workers get shit-canned and we are forced to make decisions while we duke it out in one of the worst economy’s our country has ever seen. Of course I will be waiting when the shoe is on the other proverbial foot. That laugh you will hear will be from me.

  2. I’m glad to hear that the new book remains on the conveyor belt since the previous one identifying the ‘Database of Intentions’ as the true source of Google’s revenue (common sense now, but
    generally not recognized back then) influenced me greatly. In fact, combining your insight with Doc Searls’ VRM initiative is what motivated me to relocate to the valley to execute a startup applying those concepts to people who work in office buildings. So best wishes from me too!

  3. This line: “I am utterly convinced that the media company of tomorrow will have both a technology-driven programmatic foundation, as well as the ability to execute bespoke, beautiful ideas on behalf of the entire media ecosystem – creators, marketers, and communities.” is dead on. Excited to see what you do with FM!

  4. Both You and Deanna are super classy! It’s rare that such top level management changes end and begin in such a positive way – Congratulations to both of you! Look forward to whats ahead!

  5. Thank you for the update, and all the best to you moving forward! Particularly happy about the return of a regular FM Signal. If that didn’t return, I was going to rally support for bringing back The Industry Standard!

  6. Hi John,

    Congratulations! I was a fan early on but while FM got more successful it also became more of a remnant network and so ends up being in the remnant chain. I hope the new vision takes FM back to being a valuable partner for publishers who don’t have 80 million impressions a month but still do pretty well – and don’t want to hire a sales force.

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