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Ozy CEO now says media startup will have its ‘Lazarus moment’—and will not shut down

October 4, 2021, 3:48 PM UTC

Beleaguered media startup Ozy Media will not shut down after all, according to CEO Carlos Watson. He claimed in an interview Monday that the startup will reopen, just days after its board of directors announced Ozy Media would shut down

“We’re back—it’s not going to be easy,” Watson told the Today show on Monday. “We’re gonna open for business. This is our Lazarus moment, if you will; this is our Tylenol moment.” The announcement comes just over a week after the New York Times reported that an Ozy Media executive had impersonated a YouTube executive during a funding meeting with Goldman Sachs

The report spurred a number of articles questioning Ozy’s business practices, including claims that the company’s subscriber and traffic numbers were overinflated; that its marketing materials were full of misattributed accolades and quotes; that its signature Ozy Fest event was not as popular as portrayed; that the newsroom didn’t actually “discover” many of the now-prominent politicians and entertainers it had claimed to; and that the media startup’s workplace culture prompted burnout and panic attacks among its employees

The reports prompted a number of company departures, including chair Marc Lasry, who resigned on Thursday, and star anchor Katty Kay. Investor SV Angel also announced it would give up its shares in the company.

On Friday, the company effectively said it was going out of business. “We said we’re going to suspend operations and begin an orderly wind down,” Watson told CNBC’s Squawk Box. But over the weekend, said Watson, he started rethinking that decision after talking with investors, advertisers, and readers: “I realized that we were premature; I realize we have something special here. I think that there’s a really good opportunity.” 

Watson used his appearance on the morning shows to note that he had received “bad advice” last week about keeping silent, adding that he wanted to clear the air. “What ended up over the next week was some half truths and, in some cases, some real things that we did not do well that we should’ve done different,” he said. 

As for what’s up next for Ozy, Watson was short on details, but told Squawk Box that he’s focusing on making sure that the team is in a “good place” and regaining the trust of investors—neither of which is going to be easy, he added. 

“So I think the first thing I have to do is think about my team,” said Watson, who added that he’s talked to some of them. 

Ultimately, however, Watson said, Ozy will have to change: “We have to change substantially on data, on leadership and culture, on marketing.”

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