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Mic screenshot June 2015
Courtesy: Mic

Mic’s plans to become a millennial media powerhouse

Jun 02, 2015

Digital media startup Mic has kept a lower profile than its venture-backed peers BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Vice Media, and even Refinery29. While those companies have made headlines for splashy, big-name hires, massive rounds of funding, and fast-growing audiences of young readers, Mic, previously known as PolicyMic, has quietly built up an audience of 30 million monthly unique visitors, according to its internal measurements. (ComScore puts that number at 16 million.) The company has made a few headlines this year: It rejected a buyout offer from Twitter. And it fired a news director who was caught plagiarizing.

Now, Mic joins the ranks of its well-funded peers, having raised $17 million in new funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners. That round brings Mic’s total funding to more than $32 million. The company has also scored a big-name hire that will lend journalistic integrity to the company: Madhulika Sikka, the former executive editor of NPR, who will run its newsroom and increase its headcount from 45 people to more than 100.

Altchek says his team had been looking to bring on someone like Sikka for the past six months. In addition to running a newsroom with more than 100 people, she understood the way to balance multiple platforms including video and radio. Sikka is also is also “super cool and gets our generation at a fundamental level,” Altchek says.

Mic hasn't reached the scale of other millennial-whisperers like BuzzFeed, which claims 200 million monthly unique visitors, or Vox, which claims 150 million uniques. But Altchek plans to build Mic into “one of the biggest new media companies out there,”without the same mass audience scale, he says. He aims to accumulate between 40 million and 50 million monthly unique visitors. Any more, and the site loses its ability to charge premium ad rates. Rather, the site will sell targeted to its smaller audience of college-educated millennial readers.

“We don’t want to be a 100 million, 200 million monthly unique site in the U.S. because that means there is nothing premium about us,” he says. Referring to the relatively small scale of valuable legacy media companies like CNN, News Corp. or the New York Times, he added, “There are not 100 million super affluent people in the U.S.”

Mic began monetizing in December with sponsored content and video ads. The company has closed six-figure advertising deals with such brands as Grey Goose, GE, and Microsoft, and will soon close seven-figure deals, he says.

As the site grows in scale, Mic will also grow up with its millennial audience. “We’re going to definitely age with millennials,” Altchek says, rather than stay focused on 20-somethings. He noted the sheer size of the millennial generation, defined as ages 18 to 34. The category is expected to become larger than the Baby Boomer generation this year, according to Pew. It is also larger than the “post-millennial” generation that follows it.

The thing that makes Mic’s content millennial, Altchek says, is its smart, approachable voice, and the simple fact that its content is optimized for all the new platforms and devices its audience consumes news on. “We’ve built our company around this generation, and previous companies built their companies around previous generations with previous ways of doing things that just no longer apply,” he says.

That message was clear at a Friday afternoon meeting attended by Fortune in March. Held in the small kitchen of the startup's West Village office, Mic’s young, stylishly-dressed employees bequeathed high-fives to each other for various accomplishments throughout the week (a good story, or landing a new advertiser) and took turns asking questions to Altchek and other members of the management team. Top of mind was when the company would move – it was already on the verge of outgrowing its office space.

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