Jessica Lessin

Jessica Lessin

Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Information. Former WSJ reporter.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 02, 2015

Discussion

Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
Hi. My name is Jessica Lessin, and in 2013, I left my job at the Wall Street Journal to start the technology publication The Information because I believed that tech news needed a reboot. More than 18 months later we have the best team of tech reporters in the Bay Area, digging up important stories every day. I've got strong opinions on everything from the fate of Twitter to the best SoulCycle class in San Francisco. So ask away!
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Jessica - Thanks for joining us. As a susbcriber, I'm a HUGE fan of the content and the community and would encourage others to join. You guys have obviously done a great job assembling world class journalists, but i'm curious: how do you see The Information as a product evolving in the future?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@eriktorenberg Great question. As a subscription business our product is all about giving subscribers more value. We're testing share links that allow subscribers to share full text with anyone they want. That's a perfect example of the kind of stuff we're excited about.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@eriktorenberg Here's a link to our new podcast too. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podc...
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@jessicalessin oooh exciting! is it going to be similar to Recode (interview + tech news?) any awesome guests confirmed?
If you could invest in one of the top 5 private tech companies (by valuation) right now, which one would it be and why? Uber, Xiaomi, Airbnb, Palantir or Snapchat? (In other words, which one are you most bullish about.) Bonus question: would you invest in Alphabet?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@amir At current prices, I wouldn't invest in any of them. That's basically because I think The Information is a better investment :) But as for being bullish.. Airbnb has a real business. Big questions: can it break luxury and business. Uber is operationally very strong but internationally a mess (no one talks enough about that.) Snapchat: I am too old. Palantir don't know enough of the financials. Yes, I would invest in Alphabet. It's a bet on tech and Larry Page and I'm long both. (of course, as a journalist, I don't invest yadda yadda.. disclosure.)
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
You've organized your community into a thriving slack community. What have you seen is are the main differences/advantages between community management on Slack vs over on Facebook or Twitter? cc @erictwillis @davidspinks
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@eriktorenberg We're really learning and would love to hear from others on this too. Slack is great because it is threaded. I tried a very small experience like that in Messenger and after like two days, we knew it had to be threaded. I like Slack a lot but I know Stewart doesn't think of it as cross-company community so not sure how the product will evolve...
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@jessicalessin cc @erictwillis has a lot of ideas here
Joe Beninato
Joe Beninato@beninato · CEO, FounderLine
Hi Jessica, thanks for doing this chat today. In publishing, there's a dilemma between publishing for free and achieving wider distribution vs. a subscription model like yours where fewer people see the content, but you generate revenue. Do you ever feel like you're missing out on the wider audience with the paywall? I know many people would love to see the content. Any ideas here? I know Pando has a bit of a hybrid model now where subscribers can unlock content for a limited time, which allows people to sample their content before buying.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@beninato Great question. Our business is really really different. I know that's hard to believe but I think of us as much more of a SaaS company. We obsess over customer and lifetime value. Now, audience is really really important. We write to inform people and change the way people think about the world - but we're focus on doing that for people interested in what we have to say. THAT IS A BIG DEAL. We think that if you're writing for everyone you're not saying anything interest. We have to work hard to build awareness about our content and we're doing that through allowing subscribers to share stories. But the minute we say we want the whole universe of people interested in business and tech to read us we lose our edge.
Ryan Hoover
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hey, Jessica! To follow up on @sydney_liu_sl's question, I like that you're going "against the grain" by charging for access at The Information. What will you do if too few people pay to grow your business? Will you transition to a different business model, experiment with other types of content, etc.?
Joe Beninato
Joe Beninato@beninato · CEO, FounderLine
@rrhoover Similar to what I was asking. Would love to see some of the content.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@rrhoover Great question. Our mission is to be the most valuable business publication so yes, we'll have to iterate a lot. But subscription is in our bones and it's working. We've been basically covering our costs all along and it is very very scalable. Over time, I am sure we're have different prices etc. But that's a long way away.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@beninato email hello@theinformation.com and we'll give you a month free! That goes for everyone. That's our standard for new subs.
Hey @jessicalessin what under the radar startup or tech sub-sector are you most excited about?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
Hey Alex. Thanks for the first question! I'll think of a sector in a sec, but I am excited to finally see a couple of startups come out of stealth. One is Sean Parker's Airtime and other other is UpThere, started by Bertrand Serlet. I hear good things about both and we've written a little about them.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@alfink92 Ask for sectors: I think we're on the cusp of some cool AI companies -- not the big picture "Her" stuff yet but much more focused on verticals like autos. I also think food is interesting. Amir and I reported that Google tried to buy the fake Hamburger company Impossible Foods and I think that's a space to watch, for sure. (You can read the full text of that here: go.theinformation.com/357cac)
Niels
Niels@hi_niels · Commercial Cofounder
@jessicalessin If not quite delivering on the big picture Her proposition yet, at what stage is Fin at the moment?
Sydney Liu
Sydney Liu@sydney_liu_sl · Co-Founder of Commaful.com
Hi Jessica! Thanks for doing this. You were able to charge a premium for content, something many people weren’t used to paying for or at least the industry didn’t believe you could just pay a subscription for. You had completely different metrics of success (not page views and ad optimization). What allowed you to differentiate and attract subscribers who were willing to pay that high premium in a market where there were already so many big players? and what were your key metrics of success? Thanks! Sydney
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@sydney_liu_sl Totally on metrics. For every story, we look at things like the percentage of subscribers who read it and how many subscriptions it drove. To this day, the number one thing that moves the needle for us is stories that aren't elsewhere: really in-depth stuff, news etc. People pay when you give them something that's valuable. It's not sexy but it is hard.
Jim Payne
Jim Payne@jpjr6130 · Program Analyst
Hello Jessica, Thanks for doing this. What made you decide that it was the right time to leave your "day job" and start your own business?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@jpjr6130 Hey Jim. It's corny but I was just really really excited about the opportunity. There have been a lot of news startups but they are all pursuing the same (broken) business model. I thought: could we get together a team of awesome reporters to focus on doing it the right way, and once I was convinced we could, I went for it.
Niv Dror
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
@jessicalessin unlike many comment sections on the interwebs, the the discussion in the comments on The Information are one of the best parts! Which comment have you found most memorable since The Information was founded?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@nivo0o0 Thanks for saying that! I adore our comments and learn a lot from them. One of my favorites was from the late Dave Goldberg about RegFD. Diego's comment here is also priceless. https://www.theinformation.com/S...
♛♛ Holly Knowlman ♛♛
♛♛ Holly Knowlman ♛♛@hollyknowlman · Impact Director @ TWG.io
@JessicaLessin It's been inspiring to watch you build an impactful news organization with a number of great writers on staff. What do you think of the idea of influence (as opposed to scale) being the most important thing for media entrepreneurs to focus on?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@hollyknowlman Thanks Holly. I think influence and scale are abstract terms that matter to the degree they affect business objectives. I think picking a market and a goal and finding the business that is going to be your engine of growth matters. Also, influence raises a lot of questions: among whom? to whom? Good entrepreneurs find their market and focus on that. I remember someone at Airbnb telling me they wanted to be loved by 100 before they were liked by 1,000. Media entrepreneurs need to learn that lesson!
Eric Willis
Eric Willis@erictwillis · Working on something new
@jessicalessin Hello, Jessica. Thanks for doing this AMA. Would you participate in a service where users paid a fixed price per month ($20 for example) to have access to a small set of sites and the revenue would be distributed to participating sites based on usage. If I spent 50% of my time on your site, you would get $10? There are a few sites that I would pay access for, but I don't like the idea of subscribing to multiple sites for tech news/content. I guess I want it all Netflix style. edit: I see someone asked the same question above.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@erictwillis I believe in simplicity. We need to focus on delivering value with our core product, which is the standard subscription. If the model wasn't working, we'd have to get cute and iterate. But it is so I think it is important we focus.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
You guys have some wonderful questions. Thank you. I love how passionate everyone is about the media business. If you haven't checked us out, just email hello@theinformation.com and we'll give you a month free. Our Subscriber Summit is coming up Oct. 8, so you'll want to subscribe before then :) Thanks again. And please reach out to me personally at any time at jessica@theinformation.com. We're hiring a lot too -- reporters, engineers, and people passionate about growing our subscriber community. Signing off!
Alex Mather
Alex Mather@alex3780 · Founder, The Athletic
what advice would you give someone outside of media thinking about starting a media co? besides, of course, "run away as fast as you can."
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@thevelorama Definitely don't run away! Run in.. or Lean in.. or something :) find an audience and a business model. period.
Martin Peers
Martin Peers@mvpeers · journalist
Where do you think Twitter will be in three years time?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@mvpeers Still based in San Francisco :)
Martin Peers
Martin Peers@mvpeers · journalist
@jessicalessin But will it be a shadow of its current self?
Vlad Ciurca
Vlad Ciurca@vladciurca · Executive Producer, Techsylvania
Hey Jessica. I have two questions: 1) are you thinking of implementing different types of subscriptions? While the content is top notch, the price is a bit high compared to other similar publications (e.g. Pando) 2) the community right now is small and intimate, which is amazing, but how do you plan to have the same level of attention for your subscribers, if you'll grow massively? Thanks
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@vladciurca (1) Our competition is really the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and business publications that reach broad audiences. We're on par with them but I totally agree that we have to work to keep making sure we're delivering value at $1 a day. (2) It's a great question. We're gone from hundreds to thousands and tens of thousands who are getting our Digest by focusing on great content and intimate events where people get to meet each other. Events aren't scalable but they help and they're free to subscribers. We're doing our first flagship Summit Oct. 8 in San Francisco! Subscribers, email me for deets!
Zach Kahn
Zach Kahn@zkahn94 · Lead Podcast Marketing @ Vox Media
@jessicalessin Hey Jessica — jumping off of this Q&A, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal both offer subscriptions for students at a reduced monthly or yearly rate, sometimes at as much as 75% off the standard rate. To my knowledge, The Information does not currently offer a similar plan. If this is true, what are your thoughts on student subscriptions broadly and does The Information plan on offering one in the near future?
AJ
AJ@alanaut24 · Engitrepresigner
Hi Jessica! Do you think tech publications should support party lines? If you look at Mashable and other uber popular media sites, they are either right or left. Doesn't this erode the very fabric of a free and fair election?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@alanaut24 I think publications should be upfront with their readers and ones that do support party lines risk losing credibility. But journalists are people with perspectives and I don't think they should have to hide that if it is relevant.
Graham Kinsinger
Graham Kinsinger@grahamkins · Digital Marketing Coordinator
Did you go to graduate school? Would you recommend it to others?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@grahamkins I didn't and wouldn't. Experience writing is what matters. Grad schools can be great and we've hired some great people from them. But only if they're the best option for getting clips at the time.
Jeff Needles
Jeff Needles@jsneedles · Data @ Houseparty & Maker of Things
@jessicalessin Hey! Thanks for the chat :) Wondering how you've thought about the live streaming space and its connection news gathering... and more specifically The Information? #Meerkat
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@jsneedles I had some fun talking to our subscribers on Meerkat in the beginning but the audience got a little spammy and then it was less fun and hard to get a really big audience. I don't think there's enough consistent UGC news content to drive those platforms. A big fire here or there, sure, but that's not consistent.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@Km tweeted the other day something along the lines of "What startups have been successful relying on an influencer strategy?" Any come to mind?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@eriktorenberg I don't think influencer is a strategy. It's a marketing tactic but you gotta have a business that delivers value even if famous people aren't talking about it.
Tom Dotan
Tom Dotan@cityofthetown · Reporter
Which areas in tech/media are the most primed for a shake-out/consolidation and why? Online publishing, on demand services? Cloud infra? Something else? Ad tech is a copout answer. Also, what will that consolidation look like?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@cityofthetown Well thank you for preanswering! tech news... wait that's happened. On demand won't consolidate -- the losers will close up shop. That's what we saw with Homejoy and Handy. I think that will be true of a lot of the startups. Take food delivery. If Postmates couldn't get its economics to work, buying them wouldn't benefit Instacart, for example. So more shutdowns than deals.
Alex Mather
Alex Mather@alex3780 · Founder, The Athletic
will there eventually be a "Netflix of premium written media" where readers pay one price and get access to lots of great premium content and companies like yours can maintain their business model? or is it all too disconnected? just seems like FB Instant Articles and Apple News perpetuate the frustrating business models of eyeballs, breadth not depth, click-bait yet provide fantastic user experiences...
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@thevelorama Great question Alex. Let me find a column on this...
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@thevelorama This covers some of my thoughts (full text) more eloquently than I could muster right now. TDLR is I think a successful existing publication has to do it -- not a tech company. go.theinformation.com/0d3b92
Alex Mather
Alex Mather@alex3780 · Founder, The Athletic
@jessicalessin thank you, makes sense.
Eric Willis
Eric Willis@erictwillis · Working on something new
@thevelorama I just asked this same question. I should have read all the questions first.
Jeff Umbro
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
The business model of publishing has been scrutinized for years, especially the last decade or so. Is there anyone that you think has been exceptionally far sighted when it came to building out a new model? And then possibly related, what are your thoughts on The Atlantic, Vox, Fusion, Buzzfeed, etc?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@jeffumbro For sure. Bloomberg. Found a business model and than made a meaningful impact on the news industry through it. Very inspiring. BuzzFeed for sure. I respect the heck out of them even those our businesses are very very different. The built a new model and built it beyond what people thought was possible. Not the question is how far is there to go. I am very confident it is a multi-billion dollar business. Not sure it can multiply its valuation many more times though. I just see the tech companies getting more of the ad market over time than media cos.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@jeffumbro Couple thoughts on Fusion too. Don't know a lot about it but talked to some people who work there who are skeptical about the synergies between TV and digital. I thought that was interesting because it's kind the pitch, but I think in practice they are very different.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
For sure. Bloomberg. Found a business model and than made a meaningful impact on the news industry through it. Very inspiring. BuzzFeed for sure. I respect the heck out of them even those our businesses are very very different. The built a new model and built it beyond what people thought was possible. Not the question is how far is there to go. I am very confident it is a multi-billion dollar business. Not sure it can multiply its valuation many more times though. I just see the tech companies getting more of the ad market over time than media cos.
Russ Frushtick
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@Jessicalessin Do you have general favorite interview questions that you always go to?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@russfrushtick Ooh. I like this question and don't often get asked it. Many of my former WSJ colleagues liked to break the ice with things like "What book are you reading?" I find that asking people what they worry about is a decent question but people usually dodge it. I like asking investors which investment they passed on that they most regret. Will keep thinking and get back to you...
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hey Jessica, thanks for joining today! What are the goals of starting your podcast? What can we expect from it?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@ems_hodge Hey Emily. The podcast is the brainchild of @tomdotan who felt it could help us add more behind the scenes stuff from our stories and reach more people. We're really excited with how the first one went.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Makerpad.co
@jessicalessin Hey :) What type of people read the information and how do you plan to get out of your core demographic?
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@bentossell Decision makers in tech, media and finance... everyone from entrepreneurs to the CEOs of the biggest tech companies. We think that demo is pretty big for now.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
Hey Emily. The podcast is the brainchild of @tomdotan who felt it could help us add more behind the scenes stuff from our stories and reach more people. We're really excited with how the first one went.
Jessica Lessin
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
Hey guys. Probably got 5 min more and then I have to publish a story!!! Shoot away!
Kelsi Kamin
Kelsi Kamin@kelskamin · Data @ CrunchBase
Hi @jessicalessin. What is one cultural topic you've grown increasingly curious to learn more about as it relates to tech journalism? Also, I would really appreciate it if you could please describe a project you've undertaken that has been impactful to your career so far. (feel free to pick one or the other. thank you so much!)
Eric Willis
Eric Willis@erictwillis · Working on something new
@jessicalessin What do you least enjoy about reporting on tech news and why?
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
HUGE Thank you to @Jessicalessin for taking the time to chat with us today. We have loved subscribing to The Information and hope you do too! Let us know if/when you do :)
James Lethem
James Lethem@sycren · Head Mentor of Google Launchpad
Hi @Jessica, What do you think is the biggest reason why businesses are failing? And what business failure story stands out to you the most?