There’s been no shortage of bearish discussion recently about the viability of digital media companies. Rupert Murdoch’s tablet magazine, The Daily, was very publicly shuttered, and plenty of others have struggled to find appreciable traction. But none of this sentiment stopped Jason Wachob from closing a $635,000 seed round this week for his online holistic wellness publication MindBodyGreen. It likely didn’t hurt matters that MindBodyGreen grew its traffic by 10 times over the last 12 months and has been profitable throughout the bulk of its existence.
“Wellness” as a brand used to be the purview of socially outside, new-agey, granola types. But recently, the mainstream has picked up on it, led by celebrities and world class athletes. This is the audience to which MindBodyGreen caters. Its founder, Wachob, describes himself as a former college basketball player and all around “guy.” The last thing he ever thought he’d be into was yoga. But when a 100,000 plus airline mile year of corporate travel wreaked havoc on the sciatic nerve in his back, he turned to the ancient practice to avoid surgery. Physically transformed and convinced of the all around benefits of taking care of one’s body, the accidental-founder launched MindBodyGreen to spread the word.
The New York City-based publication which relies on user generated content (UGC), offers unusually approachable news, articles, tips, and interviews around around holistic health for the everyday consumer. For nearly a year, Wachob was the only full time employee and yet he was able to grow monthly unique visitors from 100,000 to 1.3 million. Earlier this summer he hired an editor and an ad salesperson, and in the last few weeks hired a developer and designer.
According to Wachnob, the traditional wellness enthusiast market tops out around 600,000 unique viewers per month. Most competitors focus on a single vertical such as Yoga Journal, for Yoga, Treehugger, for green living, and Beliefnet, for spirituality. They also lean toward a more hardcore audience.
MindBodyGreen’s ability to reach 1.3 million unique visitors is a result of expanding beyond this hardcore demographic to engage a more mainstream crowd, and also of covering each of the above aspects of the wellness lifestyle equally. The site’s audience is incredibly engaged, with 22 percent visiting the site more than 30 times per month, and 10 percent visiting more than 100 times per month. The media startup, which has been profitable since its early days – and continues to be – was wise to raise capital when it least needed it.
Investors in the MindBodyGreen round include former MySpace SVP Jamie Kantrowitz, fashion designer Steven Alan, former Lionsgate Music President Jay Faires, Organic Avenue Juice investor Arthur Pergament, yogi to the stars Tara Stiles, Emmy-nominated producer Gus Roxburgh, and Equinox and ABC Home Strategic Advisor Ari Bloom.
Wachob says that he plans to use the new funding to focus on design and user experience with the goal of making evergreen content more available to readers and encouraging community interaction. Much like PandoDaily in its early days, MindBodyGreen currently relies on a chronological blog format that does a disservice to its content library. His co-founders, developers, Tim Glenister and Carver Anderson, will be coming on full-time. They’ll also be bringing aboard current contractors full time, and adding a second editor and ad salesperson.
The founder and the above group of investors will be hoping that MindBodyGreen can go the route of The Huffington Post, Bleacher Report, or even CafeMom, three of the most notable success stories among UGC-driven media properties. The graveyard of once-skyrocketing media startups offers a cautionary tale about the challenges of building a sustainable business in this space. But Yogis and wellness enthusiasts tend to be a pretty rabid affinity market. If MindBodyGreen can continue to be a thought-leader in this increasingly popular space, particularly within the growing niche of mainstream consumers, it’s well positioned to succeed.
[Image courtesy Wikimedia]