Jessica Lessin

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

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 02, 2015

Discussion

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@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@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@jessicalessin
@eriktorenberg Here's a link to our new podcast too. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podc...
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@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@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@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@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@jessicalessin cc @erictwillis has a lot of ideas here
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@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@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@beninato · CEO, FounderLine
@rrhoover Similar to what I was asking. Would love to see some of the content.
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@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@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@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@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_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@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@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@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@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@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 ♛♛@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@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@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@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@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@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@jessicalessin
@thevelorama Definitely don't run away! Run in.. or Lean in.. or something :) find an audience and a business model. period.
Martin Peers@mvpeers · journalist
Where do you think Twitter will be in three years time?
Jessica Lessin@jessicalessin
@mvpeers Still based in San Francisco :)
Martin Peers@mvpeers · journalist
@jessicalessin But will it be a shadow of its current self?
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@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@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@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@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@grahamkins · Digital Marketing Coordinator
Did you go to graduate school? Would you recommend it to others?
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@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@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@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@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.