Editor's Note: Inc. Magazine announced its pick for Company of the Year on Tuesday, November 25. It's Airbnb! What's your top pic? Vote now in Inc.'s Readers' Choice poll. Here, we spotlight Vice Media, one of the contenders for the title in 2014.
Twenty years ago in Canada, Shane Smith, Suroosh Alvi, and Gavin McInnes bought The Voice of Montreal, a magazine that was funded by the Canadian government through a welfare program. After a dispute with its publisher, the trio ditched the "o" and Vice became a small, free, independent magazine touting punkish indiscretion, skater culture, sex, drugs, and music.
Over the last two decades, the hipster rag has grown up without losing its core audience, come to Brooklyn (in 1999), and become a leader in new media. Today, Vice Media operates in 36 countries, has its own film production company, clothing brand, a marketing agency, a record label, and a weekly HBO show. The company expects to make $500 million in revenue this year and is valued at $2.5 billion.
During an interview with Inc. executive editor Jon Fine, Alvi recalls the early days of Vice as an English-language magazine for Montreal's ever-shrinking English-speaking population.
"I thought it would be a single issue, and I'd be able to say, 'Hey, I did this,'" he said. "Or maybe this thing could be huge. We were on welfare and eating beans and rice for years, but we'd still joke, 'We're gonna take over the world'--that us-versus-them global domination thing."
Maybe it was Vice's us-versus-them attitude or its revenue-source diversification. Or, maybe it was how it hit the ground running with serious news content and documentaries about African warlords, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and Dennis Rodman's visit to North Korea.
Vice's brash unorthodoxy and unconventional and unapologetic form of storytelling have taken it from niche publication to new media stardom. Earlier this year, Vice reportedly closed two capital investments totaling $500 million--$250 million from Technology Crossover Ventures and $250 million from A&E Networks.
Woody Marshall, general partner at Technology Crossover Ventures, recently told the Washington Post why his firm threw a quarter billion dollars at Vice: "People who are defined around that group of 18- to 35-year olds are totally frustrated with traditional media. There's the liberal ideology on one side, the conservative ideology on another. All they want is a good story. Vice is, pardon my French, no [expletive] and with an authentic voice that is delivering on mobile and online in a way that is most relevant for those users," he says.
It's no secret where Vice plans to be in the near future. Smith, the company's co-founder and CEO, says the company is vying for a 24-hour news network, with an ultimate goal to be bigger than CNN.
"It's either going to be us or it's going to be Buzzfeed or someone else," Smith told David Rowan, the editor of Wired UK, on stage at the F.ounders conference in Dublin. "But we are going to eat their lunch."