Skift, the seven-year-old, privately-owned travel industry information and events business, has acquired EventMB, an online news and information service for event professionals. It had been founded by Julius Solaris 12 years ago in Italy and is now based in Las Vegas. Skift which publishes its annual Meetings Innovation Report and hosts four international forums.
This is the second deal in 12 months for the US-based Skift which last year acquired the 15-year-old all-digital Airline Weekly, of Florida. Both acquisitions are believed to have been for modest prices principally geared to future profits and shares.
The opportunistic deals underline the rising success of the mostly bootstrapped Skift, now said to be profitable with revenues of some $10m (primarily from events, research reports, and sponsored content). The company claims to have almost 60 employees, mostly in New York.
It is 10 years since Ali sold his PaidContent media-tech web platform to The Guardian for some $12m. It had some 200k page views but they neatly included the daily newspaper’s senior executives who were momentarily joyous about their first acquisition outside the UK.
Ali was pretty pleased too and managed to fill reporters’ notebooks with the rags-to-riches story that he had created his super-blog about the business of ‘new media’ in 2002 as a kind of job résume: “I was trying to get hired. I was trying to show employers the kind of journalism I could do. I never thought it would be a business” (even though he had private equity funding). But The Guardian deal, whose price would have more than doubled if only growth targets had been met, quickly went sour and ended, two years later, with PaidContent being swallowed up by GigaOM for next to nothing.
Rafat Ali quit with regrets of being sweet-talked by the loss-making UK newspaper. In 2012, he bounced back with the launch of Skift, described at the time as “an online trade publication that writes about the travel business, and primarily for the travel business, with occasional stories that go viral with a much larger audience”.
That’s only part of the story for an (almost) new kind of publisher in a B2B media world that has flipped from being dominated everywhere by large publishers with multi-sector portfolios to versatile global specialists who deep-dive into everything from high-value information to consulting, and research to events.
Rafat Ali is a student of media, and Skift seems like nothing so much as a colourful cocktail of ingredients from four highly-personalised, community-building media successes by new-wave entrepreneurs in the US and UK: Monocle, The Information, The Business of Fashion, and The Wrap. But what happens next is the exciting bit.
Ali’s allegedly painful lessons from his little skirmish with The Guardian and his polished story about “not wanting” to add to the $2.5m he had raised from venture capital in Skift’s early days, can’t really be taken at face value. He may continue to snap up pockets of expertise in travel and also hospitality, into which he has been expanding. He will have noticed how the brilliant “narrow but deep” (and similar revenue) Procurement Leaders was snapped up for 3 x revenue. The question is who will reward Rafat Ali for creating Skift, and when?