cory booker

The New York Times has a big story on Newark Mayor and US Senate hopeful Cory Booker today, and it shines the spotlight on his relationship with Waywire, the video-curation startup that he founded alongside Nathan Richardson and Sarah Ross.

The story, which carries three by-lines, clarifies Booker’s role at the startup and also reveals that Waywire appears to be struggling. Waywire is backed by $1.75 million in seed funding from Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter, and First Round Capital, among others, but it has already moved out of its temporary New York offices and undergone a round of layoffs. In June, the Times points out, ratings website Compete said Waywire saw just 2,207 visitors.

Waywire’s staff, the Times report says, now works virtually. A company spokesperson wouldn’t disclose the number of people working at the company, but it can’t be high. When I last checked in with Waywire, it had 10 staffers – and that was very likely before the layoffs. The company has also abandoned its plans to produce original content for the site, the Times reports.

Update: Responding to my questions, a Waywire spokesperson said the company had hired more people to its team since my story on the company in March, but that it laid off eight people as a result of switching focus to curation rather than content production for its beta launch in April. The founders refused to disclose how many people currently work for the company. Also, Waywire hasn’t completely abandoned content production, the spokesperson said, but it has been put on the back-burner.

While its traffic numbers are low, the 18-month-old company has done little to press for user acquisition and is still building out its network, the spokesperson said. However, it now has 29,000 registered users, up from 7,500 before its April beta launch.

The Times also raised questions about the ethics of Booker’s involvement with the startup. He owns a greater share in the company than do either Richardson or Ross, even though he is not involved on a day-to-day basis. Richardson and Ross run the company – they call Booker Waywire’s “inspiration architect.” If he were to be elected to the Senate, Booker would have to step down from Waywire’s board and stop promoting the company.

At South By Southwest in March, I asked Booker in an inteview if he thought there was too much of a conflict in holding high office while also selling Waywire. This was his response:

Number one, all throughout history, you’ve had politicians in the media business going in and out of politics. The most recent one I can think of is [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg… But having people with business experience in politics is phenomenal. In fact, I will be a better advocate in the United States Senate – should I go there – for tech entrepreneurs, for innovators, for VC people who are trying to grow companies, because now I have more first-hand experience. I understand the media a lot better through this experience. Technology I understand a lot better. So this is not in any way undermining my job as Mayor, because very few people work round the clock more than I do. To me it’s a positive experience.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]