Nick Denton, CEO and founder of Gawker Media Group, says minority investment from Columbus Nova Technology Partners, approved by a near unanimous vote of shareholders on Thursday, is "awesome."
"It's actually cool to have somebody you can talk to who isn't motivated by a desire to keep their job or stay on good terms with the founder," says Denton of his new minority partner, Jason Epstein, from Columbus. "So far, it's actually been awesome. I'm sure we will argue about some stuff. But sometimes, that's a good thing."
Denton's optimism about this recent investment stands in direct opposition to his previous, and very public, aversion to taking on outside money. That all began to change this past year, which was as close to an annus horribilis as a CEO generally gets. Denton laughingly calls 2015 "peak drama." The peakest of that drama involves a pending $100 million invasion of privacy lawsuit filed by the wrestler Hulk Hogan (nee Terry Bollea). (It begins in early March. The judge in the case last week strongly suggested that the two sides settle.) In addition, Gawker Media Group is facing a flurry of other legal actions, but none as significant as the Bollea case. This new investment, says Denton, radically reduces the potential that the suit, and its mounting legal costs, will end Gawker.
Denton seems relieved and pleased to embark on a new way of doing business, albeit with an outsider sitting in one of the company's five board seats.
"I have a sneaking suspicion, and maybe this is just the way I think about it, that this is all meant to be. Everything," said Denton. "The Hogan lawsuit, the pressure it put us under, the decisions we made as a result of that pressure, professionalizing the company, streamlining our objectives, focusing on the seven great media brands that we have, taking on outside capital, realizing we can't do it ourselves. Realizing myself that I need people with authority to consult with and that that's a good, healthy process. So all of this is meant to be. It's part of the plan for Gawker Media Group and for me personally. That's how I feel."
Denton claims to like his new minority partner Epstein, who was one of the first two potential investors he spoke to in the past six months. "He's got a buccaneering streak to him," says Denton, "which I think we identified with. He can spot an opportunity and is not afraid of controversy."
The VC firm is owned, in turn by Renova Group, owned by Russian billionaire, Victor Vekselberg, who is one of Russia's richest men and dominates the country's oil and metals industry.
And while Denton might get along famously with Epstein, Mr. Vekselberg is still an unknown commodity who may, at some point, decide to exert some muscle on Gawker. Denton's unconcerned. "I'd be far more concerned about having Comcast as a shareholder and Comcast being upset about a Gizmodo article complaining about Comcast cable service," says Denton. "That's a far more likely scenario of involvement or interference. God save us from the American oligarchs."
Reports indicate that the new investors will have control over some salary and hiring decisions, as well as the ability to block any eventual sale of Gawker Media if a price tag comes in lower than $100 million.