Millennials: The Rise of Mic

Jake Horowitz and Chris Altcheck were frustrated with the mainstream coverage of the news in 2011. Where were the voices of the 18–30 year olds that were leading the Arab Spring? Who was covering the perspective of the unemployed youth in the Mediterranean during the European Debt Crisis?

In 2011, the concept of the ‘millennial’ was gaining popularity. Yet, this new generation seemed to be poorly understood. This demographic was often represented in mainstream media as self-obsessed and addicted to instant gratification. However, Jake and Chris strongly believed that while this group craved constant connection, they were also keen to engage with meaty issues. The rise of social media was creating a generation that was more self-absorbed, but also more diverse, open-minded and global than the previous one.

In the midst of their building annoyance, the two friends took a leap of faith. They decided to quit their jobs, and build a digital news platform that would become the trusted voice of the millennial generation.

This decision was startling in more ways than one. On the surface, it seemed hard to find a more unlikely pair of business partners. At the time, Chris was earning a six figure salary as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in New York, while Jake was struggling to make ends meet while working in Beirut as a journalist. Moreover, both had no prior business experience. After all, they were only 23.

Their family and friends were taken aback by this seemingly hasty move. They tried to convince the pair to wait for a few years, and gain more relevant experience before attempting to break into the ruthlessly competitive, rapidly evolving news industry.

However, Jake and Chris were determined. They knew there was a growing hunger amongst their peer group for what they called “smart content”. As recent college graduates, they had personally experienced how social media was reshaping the way their peers across college campuses in America engaged with news.

They decided that this was a problem that couldn’t wait to be solved. They began building a highly targeted, digital news platform that would allow millennials to create, engage with and share content from their shared Harlem brownstone. The initial content on the site- mainly focused on global political issues- was generated by their friends.

Over the past five years, Mic has grown at breakneck speed, and evolved to keep up with the rapidly changing social media landscape. The two millennials have built a media startup for millennials that is currently valued at $100 million. Their newsroom now employs 50 full-time editors, and reaches 30 million monthly viewers, over 70% of whom are under 35. Interestingly, the pair has also built a team that is made up of- and aggressively represents- its own young, constantly connected, entrepreneurial, curious, simultaneously cynical and optimistic readers.

Mic has developed a reputation for its high quality content, focused strategy and comfort with capitalizing on quickly changing social media trends to accelerate site traffic. The company has embraced the video imperative over the past three years, and is now increasingly focused on generating high quality video content to reach its users. In 2015, 30% of their readers chose to engage with Mic’s video content. The founders expect this number to double over the next year.

Mic has also fostered strong relationships with advertisers such as Netflix and Goldman Sachs, who are eager to target millennials. This makes the business highly attractive to once skeptical investors. The platform has already raised over $30m (the most recent financing round was a series B round in 2015) from the likes of Lightspeed Venture Partners and Axel Springer. The company has is also rumored to have batted off multiple acquisition offers, given their unique positioning in the industry. It is thought that Twitter tried to acquire the company in 2015, but the offer was quickly rejected.

These days, Jake and Chris are continuing to build on their complementary skill sets. Jake travels the world, covering critical news stories. He has had the chance to cover the refugee crisis in depth from Greece, and conduct an exclusive interview with Obama. Chris runs their thriving business from their new offices at 1 World Trade Centre.

Going forward, the founders plan to continue to exploit new technologies, such as VR, in order to understand, reach and engage with their target market. Given their obsessive focus on brand management and user loyalty, Mic is also exploring new ways to measure trust and engagement amongst their users. The partners aim to reach all 40 million college educated graduates in America, before they begin their international expansion.

Jake and Chris are as energized by their mission as they were in 2011. They believe that can now see clearly see the path to building the next $10 billion global media conglomerate, by continuing to redefine what a media company looks like in the digital age.