Gigaom Lost Battle, Won War

When you storm a new market, not all of the foot soldiers and leaders survive. A case in point: More than a decade into the digital media revolution, one of its early generals -- the Gigaom media site -- has died. 

Founded in 2006, Gigaom blended tech news with opinion. Instead of leaning on third-party analysts for an endless stream of quotes, founder Om Malik injected his personal views into the site. It was a somewhat radical approach at the time.

Follow That Leader

But Gigaom was more than a blog with an outspoken, opinionated, analytical lead blogger. It was a digital media business -- a platform that would grow to include events, research and other services. 

As traditional media imploded, plenty of industry veterans either quit their jobs -- or quit the unemployment line -- by launching their own online brands. For many of us, Gigaom helped to chart the way forward. 

A case in point: In 2007, I traded email with Om Malik -- seeking some general advice on launching a business, using WordPress as the underlying plumbing. At the same time, my long-time business collaborator Amy Katz was working on MuniWireless -- a niche blog that she helped to transform into a complete media business -- events, research, etc.

Inspired by Gigaom, Muniwireless and our mentors at Microcast Communications, Amy and I quit our jobs and co-launched Nine Lives Media Inc. in January 2008. That business grew and we had a blast. We sold it in 2011, stuck around to help drive more growth, then exited in May 2014.

We certainly aren't unique. Dozens of tech media entrepreneurs need to tip their hats to Gigaom's team and its founder: Om Malik.

Not all trailblazers survive. But their stories and strategies ultimately reveal the path forward for the rest of us. A range of Digital Media business models are now proven and profitable, thanks in part to Gigaom's pioneering work.

A Closer Look

If that's the case, why is Gigaom shutting down? While I don't have access to the company's financials, I can take a few educated guesses -- based on the company's market positioning documents:

  • The company says more than 6.5 million monthly unique readers turn to Gigaom to better understand major technology disruptions. Gigaom "demystifies emerging technology" through news, events and research.
  • "With a strong mobile reach of over 2 million monthly readers, our mobile advertising on Flipboard is highly targeted."
  • "We have a campaign offering to fit any clients budget and marketing goals."

That sounds like an impressive, far-reaching platform built for everyone. Ironically, that may have been the problem...

  • Of those 6.5 million monthly unique readers, how many actually control IT budgets, spending and strategic IT decisions? By going for mass audience, Gigaom may have polluted its own readership waters -- which surely included some big IT buyers...
  • Gigaom solved the mobile challenge by partnering with Flipboard. Again, that move supports mass audience. But did Gigaom lose revenue, ad or margin control through such a move?
  • Gigaom designed marketing campaigns that fit any budget or marketing goal. But do you really want every customer out there -- including the low-budget clients that typically bleed you to death with support inquiries?
  • Four of Gigaom's five board members were venture capitalists. I realize you have to give up some control when you raise VC funding. But 80 percent of the board for an estimated $8 million in VC funding?

Moving Forward

My speculation aside, several indisputable facts remain. Chief among them: Poke around the IT media industry. Ask entrepreneurs where they found inspiration. Then ask established media companies how they made the transition to digital media.

At some point in your conversations -- with startups and the establishment -- multiple threads will lead back to Gigaom. What the business did right, what the business did wrong. And how we were all inspired to follow Om Malik's lead into the age of digital media.

Indeed, digital won the media war -- thanks in part to Gigaom's pioneering efforts.

Subscribe: Want to receive our blog headlines in your inbox each business day? Then subscribe to our enewsletter. Thanks to those who already have.