Last June, Well+Good was acquired for $10 million by Leaf Group, which will pay another $9 million if it hits performance targets through 2020.
Bootstrapped, profitable and diversified, in terms of its revenue streams, the wellness publisher avoided the pitfalls of raising too much money, going all-in on Facebook or relying on only one source of advertising revenue.
But Well+Good ultimately sold because the founders saw that advertisers still wanted it both ways: the engagement of niche audiences with the easy reach of scaled publishers.
“Advertisers want to work with fewer, bigger partners. We wanted to be one of them,” said Alexia Brue, Well+Good’s co-founder who now serves as GM and SVP of Leaf Group’s Fitness and Wellness group.
“Leaf Group has incredible reach through its sites, and a deep experience in data so we can do so much more with our partners,” Brue added.
Leaf Group gathers intent data from readers’ viewing patterns across its sites, including Livestrong.com, according to SVP of revenue Michele Calhoun.
Data also shaped Well+Good’s early trajectory as a wellness publisher.
Brue and co-founder Melisse Gelula wanted to create a New York Magazine-style take on wellness in the city under the URL wellandgoodnyc.com. They then realized that 70% of their traffic came from outside the region, indicating a broader appetite for wellness content.
As it worked to secure wellandgood.com over the next couple of years, it also broadened its content coverage.
At every step of its growth, Well+Good went for the scrappy solution instead of one that required outside funding or taking on debt.
Brue set up Well+Good’s first ad server herself in a coffee shop, drinking caffeine until she finished. She fielded her first insertion order from Athleta via Mediaocean’s Prisma. “We were bootstrapped, so we both taught ourselves a lot of skills,” said Brue, who has a background in journalism.
Only when Well+Good sold a “transformative” campaign would it increase its staff, another lean tactic that kept the company profitable.
Moving into experiential
In the past year, Well+Good has stepped up its in-person connection to its community.
“We love interacting with our community and creating experiences for them – and our editors are so close to the wellness scene, we have built-in capabilities to program events, panels and retreats,” Brue said, adding that events may “sell out from one Instagram post.”
Well+Good formed a partnership with Miraval Wellness Resorts to run four retreats at their properties this year. The events not only nurture the community, but also provide content for the site so that others can virtually join in on the fun.
Well+Good will also publish a cookbook in April, betting that its community will pay for its content.
The influencer threat
Well+Good initially launched to cover the “rock stars of the wellness world,” Brue said, but now it must compete with these influencers’ Instagram feeds for attention and advertising dollars. Brue thinks there’s room for both and cites how influencers and Well+Good can work together.
The wellness space’s other Goliath is part media company, part super influencer: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, which critics complain sells expensive and strange pseudoscience-backed products and $1,000 per-day health conference tickets.
“Goop is a media company with massive cultural impact because of her fame, but the actual audience numbers are quite small,” Brue said, noting that Paltrow personally has many more Instagram followers than Goop.
Well+Good takes a more accessible approach to wellness and doesn’t focus on selling products. “We look at [Goop] as more of a commerce company,” she said.
Well+Good works with a counsel of professionals to add impartiality and weight to its coverage. “Someone can follow 50 influencers but still get something different from Well+Good,” Brue said. “We are always contextualizing and giving takeaways for people.”
Recently, even publications as large as BuzzFeed have floated the idea of creating a holding company for multiple media properties to gain efficiencies. Brue’s teams can tap into broader data, audience development, HR and finance teams at Leaf Group, a public company.
During its third quarter earnings report, media revenue grew 53% from $11 million to $16.7 million, which was “primarily attributable to the acquisition,” according to the earnings statement.
One way Leaf Group gauges the health of its business is by the level of cross-pollination occurring, such as whether its advertisers are working with multiple media brands and buying across experiential, branded content, video and programmatic, Calhoun said. The more advertisers are buying in more places, the better.
“The acquisition thesis has more than borne fruit for all of us,” Brue said.