Ben Lerer is living the dream of many post-college men, assuming it involves beer and ad sales pitches in equal proportions.
Lerer is a founder of Thrillist. com, one of the most visible recent entrants into the buzzing e-mail newsletter field. Billed often as "the male version of Daily Candy" (the fashion-focused newsletter recently valued at more than $100 million), Lerer's site caters to the elusive young-male-with-disposable-income demographic.
Its quick growth has attracted a slew of high-profile advertisers, enthusiastic devotees, and eye-rolling appraisals of its liquor-soaked manly tone from the Inter- net cognoscenti. It has also left the 24-year-old Lerer, not far removed from his days as an undergraduate party promoter at Penn, gamely trying to keep up with the expansion of a business that was mostly unplanned and unexpected.
Lerer and his college friend Adam Rich started Thrillist last fall on a lark, as an unofficial urban advisory service for friends. "It was a pet project. We didn't know any of the business that actually was behind it. We didn't know what numbers looked like or how you would possibly make money," Lerer says. "We just figured it was... something that guys would find useful and entertaining."
Thrillist's forte is digging up new and interesting products, places, and things for guys to do, and wrapping them in a tone of high and low humor. A listing for a new happy hour, for example, ends with musings on how "man's happiness is a many-headed hydra." Its subscription list spread rapidly and organically (it's now up to 25,000), and the company soon attracted venture financing.
The staff numbers a modest six, including ad sales and editorial, but Thrillist has already begun publishing a national newsletter in addition to its original New York City edition, and expansion to other cities like LA is in the works.
Advertisers almost immediately approached Thrillist because of its similarities to the wildly successful Daily Candy business model, but Lerer says the newsletter is already able to create revenue on its own merits. It has international brands as advertisers, including a current six-month deal with Jose Cuervo.
"It makes sense for us because, honestly, I think our audience really likes Jose Cuervo," says Lerer. "We want to provide, even in our ads, information that's useful and adds value for our readers, so they don't feel like they're just reading some corporate shill."
A.J. Daulerio, editor of Thrillist's national edition, believes that the newsletter's brevity and wit have attracted a fiercely loyal following and that its potential market throughout the country is huge.
"The more it becomes rote for our [subscribers] to open up the e-mail and use it as a shopping/ information resource, the bigger it'll become," he predicts. "And the more they become acquainted with the voice, well, the easier it'll be for them to actually find value in an e-mail about where to buy the best sweater vest."
For a relatively small business, Thrillist has attracted more than its share of media attention. Much of it has been generated by personal connections. But some may be a result of a fundamentally unshakable male fascination.
"Thrillist taps into a very specific male demographic," Gawker.com editor Jessica Coen, who occasionally plugs - or ridicules - the publication, says via e-mail. "These are the guys who have a disposable income and think it would be awesome to spend their money on a prosthetic beer belly, and Thrillist is one of the few publications that will tell them where to buy one."
Lerer admits it can be hard to get enough quality content with a skeleton staff and says he welcomes all types of pitches. But he adds a single caveat that neatly sums up Thrillist's appeal: "We'll never cover something that sucks."
University of Pennsylvania, undergraduate student