Why the Startup Workweek Newsletter Wants to Sell Chicken Sandwiches

  • Workweek is a media company built around a roster of 21 newsletter editors.
  • Unlike some media brands, she is focused on growing name recognition for her talent, not herself.
  • It closed a $6 million seed round in July and has an annualized revenue run rate of about $10 million.

This summer, the business team at media-focused startup Workweek began studying the best way to open a chicken restaurant.

One of its authors, a franchise expert who publishes under the moniker “The Wolf of Franchises,” had posted a cheeky meme about taking on Chick-fil-A by selling sandwiches from a truck near its stores on Sundays, the one day a week the chain is closed.

The team created a simple website to promote the idea, called “Sunday Side Chicks,” selling T-shirts and collecting fans’ email addresses and zip codes as the team brainstormed where to launch either a pop-up food truck or a MrBeast-franchise. ghost-kitchen style.

Whether Workweek starts selling chicken or not, the project is already a success in CEO Adam Ryan’s eyes.

“It helps the Wolf’s credibility,” Ryan said. “We were interviewed by Restaurant Business Magazine. They reached out to other chicken franchises. It creates this bigger brand for him.”

Launched in November, Workweek has a roster of 21 newsletter editors (including its two co-founders and its people-in-chief), podcasters and social media creators covering a range of topics, from fintech to healthcare to social media marketing. His business capitalizes on some recent trends in media, including Substack’s accelerating growth in newsletter publishing, the rise of the creator economy, and the idea of ​​building a team of influencer journalists.

In addition to employee benefits like health insurance, Workweek offers its talent a number of media-specific services, such as running ads to help them grow subscribers, in-house ghostwriters, and meme creators for the creating fresh content for Twitter and LinkedIn, an advertising sales team to fund their newsletters and podcasts, and a business team that can dream up unique stunts like a chicken coop.

Its talent are hired as full-time Workweek employees, but often leave out their affiliation with the company on their public profiles.

“My goal over time is not for Workweek, the brand, to be front and center for the audience of these creators,” said co-founder and COO Becca Sherman. Instead, he hopes the company can develop a suite of individual media brands that stand on their own, much as Architectural Digest exists as its own entity under Condé Nast.

Other news outlets built around newsletters like Morning Brew (which is majority owned by Insider Inc.), Puck News and Punchbowl News may be better for comparison. Similarly, Morning Brew has leaned toward digital personalities, launching its own creator program in April. Semafor, a news brand started by media veterans Justin Smith and Ben Smith, plans to be similar in size to its journalists’ headlines to draw attention to the company’s talent.

“Labor Week is a sign of a shift from institutional brands to individual brands,” said Brian Morrissey, former president and editor-in-chief of Digiday Media, who now has his own newsletter and podcast brand, The Rebooting. “There’s been this idea that publishers are going to be completely detached and just people. I think there’s some truth to that, but like everything, it ends up somewhere in between.”

About a year after its launch, Workweek said it has 350,000 subscribers to its newsletters. The company said it is operating at a breakeven rate of nearly $10 million a year. It announced $1.5 million in upfront funding in November and raised an additional $6 million in July. Both rounds were led by LightShed Ventures, whose general partner and co-founder Jamie Seltzer is now on its board. Workweek and LightShed declined to share the company’s current valuation.

“No one has really attacked the business-to-business creator economy,” said LightShed general partner Rich Greenfield. “How do you monetize thought leadership better if you’re a creator focused on the business market for whatever industry you’re in? And how do you scale that business? It’s really hard to do well on your own.”

Differentiation away from ads

Much of Workweek’s near-term strategy is focused on revenue diversification, its co-founders said.

Like other media companies navigating a volatile advertising climate, Workweek wants to avoid relying solely on ad sales. It is pushing into other areas such as events, commercial products and pay-to-download publishing. The company predicts that less than 50% of October’s revenue will come from advertising.

The company announced in January that it was launching a $10 million venture fund to invest in businesses brought in by its creators, and it currently runs a job search and recruiting business that uses newsletter editors’ email lists for its talent pool. Workweek writers are compensated when one of their readers ends up being placed with a company through the service.

“One of the things we wanted to answer was, could we have 10 times more revenue per subscriber than the average media company?” Ryan said. “If we could generate 10x the revenue per user, our creators would be paid 10x the average revenue.”

What creators get out of Workweek instead of doing it themselves

Each writer on Workweek’s talent roster has a slightly different business deal with the company. But everyone is given some cut of the profits from their work, whether it’s a share of the sponsorship revenue from an event or a portion of the profits from merchandise sales.

“Every dollar that we draw from a creator’s brand goes back to a creator,” Sherman said. “Too often, executives and operators take a lot off the backs of people who create a tremendous amount of value. We’re trying to really turn that model on its head here.”

Heading into 2023, Workweek plans to expand its talent roster and grow into new content disciplines.

“As we grow the business, we want to be able to support all the voices of authority across all industries,” Ryan said. “It’s not just a rinse and repeat process. You have to really know this category very well.”

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