Refinery29 is among the most successful media startups worldwide. The women’s magazine was founded by a German – and is now coming to Berlin.
School drew the Cologne-born Philippe von Borries to the USA. After a few years in a boarding school in Massachusetts, he studied at prestigious Columbia University in New York. In 2005, two years after graduating, he developed the concept for Refinery29 with his college friend Justin Stefano in the cliche setting of his trendy Brooklyn kitchen. The two started with just $ 5,000.
This was more than eleven years ago now, a long time in the startup cosmos – especially in the US. But the work has paid off: Today Refinery29 is among the most successful media startups worldwide. More than 300 employees work at three locations for the magazine, which is now valued at 290 million US dollars. On the site, there are all sorts of entertaining articles on topics that interest young women worldwide: Fashion, lifestyle, beauty, celebrities – but also politics, business and religion. The content is written in small bites, illustrated with photos in bright neon colors.
Refinery29 just concluded a financing round of 50 million US dollars in the fall, led by the media company Scripps Network Interactive from Tennessee and the British advertising company WPP. This brings the total funding to 80 million. Since then the magazine is regarded as being in the same league as BuzzFeed and Vox Media – although with Buzzfeed being valued at more than one billion US dollars they’re not quite the same.
Journalistic startups that have long been neglected as competition for established media, but are currently looked at with great interest by investors. Especially because young readers are turning away from traditional media, Buzzfeed and others are grabbing their attention. This may be a promising business. But in the case of Refinery29 market observers are surprised by the success – afterall the magazine is aimed exclusively at women, for whom there are a number of platforms already.
But apparently Refinery29 does it better than all the others. On the homepage the startup proudly announces its figures: 36 million visits and 258 million page impressions are counted on the “millennial magazine” per month. German media makers might be envious. With around 984,000 fans on Instagram and more than 3.1 million fans on Facebook, their mission is “To be the # 1 new-media brand for smart, creative and stylish women everywhere.”
Now, according to Manager Magazin, it is clear that Refinery29 wants to open an office in Berlin in the spring. As early as last September, several US media outlets had reported that Refinery29 was planning expansion into France and Germany, creating offices next to their London one.
That’s a bold move. US sites like BuzzFeed or Business Insider show clearly how difficult it is to create a German offshoot to attract new readers. The target audience frequently prefers to read in English – and the content in German often loses its wit and charm. But founder Philippe von Borries has an advantage: He knows exactly how Germans tick.
This article was originally published on Gründerszene.
Philippe von Borries will be a speaker at this year’s HEUREKA conference.