Over in venture capital land, where I have my day job, we keep an ample supply of clichés, analogies and tropes that keep us from jumping out of our windows when things aren’t going so hot. For example, “lemons ripen early” means that your crappy deals get crappy quickly, so your portfolio isn’t really as bad as it looks. “Too much candy spoils the baby” means that even though your company can’t raise enough money to keep Diet Coke in the fridge, such penury breeds the resourcefulness requisite of entrepreneurial success. You get the picture.
One of the handiest clichés for the past decade or so has been, “The best companies are started in the worst times.” This one actually makes some sense, if you believe that Schumpeter was onto something what with his rantings about the power of creative destruction.
With some luck and a lot of hard work, we’ll pause at the dawn of the next decade and declare that The Texas Tribune is Exhibit A for the notion that the reason clichés become clichés is because they’re true. For media businesses generally and newspapers in particular, 2009 was about as horribilis an annus as we would ever want to see. By the perverse logic of the cliché, then, it should have been a great time to start a media business. Which is what we did.
You may be thinking: "A business? I thought the Tribune was a nonprofit." True enough. But we must behave like a business if we hope to achieve our mission of maximizing the public good we produce. And as you — our audience — are stakeholders in our venture, I owe you an update on how we are doing in this respect. In short, I’d say, “So far so good, above expectations, but with a lot of work to do.” Here’s where we stand on some key metrics as we come to the end of our 12th week.
Launch campaign. Our target was to raise $3.5 million by the end of 2009; we are happy to report that we raised close to $4 million. In nonprofit fundraising, enough is never enough and more is always better, but I’m pleased as punch by this result, especially in a very difficult economic environment. We will continue to seek large contributions from wealthy families and foundations, but the right way to think of this is truly as equity capital rather than revenue. In that sense, we’re no different than a startup that my firm would fund. Such a venture seeks to raise enough equity capital to sustain it until its revenue and expense lines cross. The more we raise, the longer we have to establish a sustainable business model.
Members. There are currently more than 1,500 good and decent souls out there who've contributed between $50 and $5,000 to the Trib; the average gift is just short of $98. Membership is perhaps our most important revenue line, both because of the dollars attached and because this is how we will demonstrate the breadth of our support to our prospective sources of equity. I’m pretty sure we launched with more founding members than any other online nonprofit news startup, but we have a long way to go. Texas is a big state; I can’t for the life of me see why we shouldn’t have 20,000 members.
Corporate sponsorships. We currently have 68 corporate sponsors. Most of these made a $2,500 commitment to be co-founders of the business and in so doing demonstrated their faith in us before we were able to be very specific in showing what we would do for them. In the coming months, we intend to become far more sophisticated in the way we market corporate sponsorships of both our site and our events series, TribLive.
Specialty publications. The venerable Texas Weekly continues to be a reliable source of income for us, and we have ambitious goals to expand its paid subscribership even as we evolve its content in exciting new directions. Also in the very early stages of planning is at least one other very targeted subscription offering. We’re confident that specialty pubs can be a third and very important revenue stream for the Tribune.
As I tell anyone who will listen (and a few who I suspect are only faking it), I continue to believe passionately in our mission and remain dedicated to building a great public media organization. You can help by becoming a member, a corporate sponsor or a Texas Weekly subscriber. Thanks!
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