Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of the Huffington Post, surprised many when she announced last year that she would be stepping down. She is throwing her energy behind a second startup, Thrive Global. In just under six months, New York City-based Thrive has signed deals worth "multiple millions of dollars." Clients include Uber (where she's a board member), Accenture, and Airbnb. Thrive recently doubled its sales targets for 2017. The company generates revenue primarily by charging businesses for its workshops and seminars focused on health and wellness, and via branded content that runs on its platform, the Thrive Journal. It also sells some consumer products, such as a $100 iPhone bed. The biggest challenge, Huffington admits, has been learning how to focus.
--As told to Zoë Henry
The big challenge has been prioritization. I'm the kind of person who wants to do it all and work with every company that comes to me. Early on at Thrive, though, we needed to decide what to focus on.
On the corporate side, we made the tough decision to create what we call "below the line"--potential partners that we'll get to, but only after we take advantage of the big opportunities. For example, we recently launched with SAP, which will put us in front of more than 3,000 corporations in one fell swoop. We are also developing a digital coaching program with IBM's virtual assistant, Watson.
On the media platform, we had to be narrow. That was a big shift for me, coming from HuffPost, where the goal was to cover everything: Be it James Comey's firing or Beyoncé's twins, we were supposed to be there. Our media platform, Thrive Journal, is like HuffPost in some ways--we encourage outside contributions, for instance. But it's different in that we focus solely on this one thing: How do we reduce stress and improve well-being?
What helped was identifying the two things that resonate with our readers. The first is science. We bring you the latest research around recharging, and the connection between recharging and productivity. The second is telling stories around the data. For example, we got Jeff Bezos to write about why his getting enough sleep is good for Amazon shareholders. We also got Selena Gomez to write about how doing a "digital detox" helped her in her life. We saw that giving readers a role model makes a difference to them.
These early decisions about what to prioritize, like all decisions you make as a leader, required a combination of data and gut. It's very important for leaders to realize that it's not all data-driven. I first met Jennifer Morgan--the president of SAP--a year ago, when I was still at HuffPost. We had this amazing connection. Now that Thrive and SAP are partnering, the fact that Jennifer and I have a personal friendship is helpful. When you're dealing with a big corporation, there are a lot of institutional layers that have to be brought into the process. But when something gets stuck, I can simply pick up the phone and talk to Jennifer.
At the moment, the corporate side accounts for more than half our sales. That's partly a function of what we staffed first. In the startup phase, where you hire first makes a big difference in where the revenue comes from. But the media platform is growing too. In less than six months, we're reaching more than 20 million viewers.
It was very hard stepping down from HuffPost, because, after all, it's like my third child. But once I made the decision, it was completely clear to me that it was the right one.