Hugh Marks backs, even when it’s ‘slamming MAFS trailers’

Despite the occasional clash in editorial focus, Nine boss Hugh Marks is keen to let keep doing what made it popular, according to co-founder Chris Wirasinha.

Speaking at Mumbrella360, Wirasinha said that during the 2015 sale to Nine, the company had promised the youth publisher it could stay independent with its editorial content and that there was no desire to change what had made it successful.

“There was a little bit of trepidation after telling the staff. Different media companies that we’d had offers from wanted different things, some of them wanted to take the whole business, and wanted Oscar [Martin, co-founder] and I to leave in a year, or we wanted to take us in-house. Whereas Nine basically said we like what you’re doing, we think it’s different to what we’re doing, it’s a different culture, a different audience,” said Wirasinha, who has since exited the business entirely.

“Nine has never once intervened in the editorial product. We slammed some MAFS trailers and I know some people within Nine, at the middle level ranks, would call up Hugh and be like ‘why are they slamming us, we own them, tell them to change the story’ and Hugh would always defend the editorial integrity and say ‘that’s what they do, let them do their thing’.”

In the process, because Nine allowed Pedestrian to maintain independence, the company was able to retain the key staff and has grown from $4m to $21m in revenue since the sale.

Inexperienced in selling a business, Wirasinha said he and Martin originally expected the big players would come knocking on their door once Pedestrian had grown into a sizable operation, but instead he said the only businesses which showed interest were medium sized companies looking to merge.

“Unless you’re really unseating the bigger player they don’t really look at it like that. As well as Pedestrian was doing, the $4m in revenue we were doing at the time, we had a great broker and a great growth story and delivered a great asset to Nine. But none of the big media players like a Nine or a Seven are looking at us as a threat,” said Wirasinha.

However, when they got in the room with the bigger companies, Wirasinha said they were keen to talk, but it was Nine’s willingness to leave the team to their own devices that got them over the line.

Another key factor in the selling of the business was the ability for Wirasinha and Martin to exit without jeopardising the product. Part of that was them not being a face of the brand, something which can hamper a media business when it comes time to sell.

“Not having a really active face of the business was a big benefit, there’s definitely one notable media brand for instance that is very closely tied to the person who started it and that can be a blessing or a curse, people can buy into that person and it can help you build an audience, but at some point that founder will probably leave if they’re selling the business and then what’s the business without that person?”

The most stressful part of the sale was the leak to the AFR, which happened the day before the deal was meant to go through said Wirasinha. While it didn’t impact the deal, it did put the co-founders on the backfoot for telling the Pedestrian team about the sale.

Wirasinha also jokingly mentioned that the duo had been trying to nab a bit more money from Nine for the deal in the final days.

“We were trying to hit up Nine for a bit more money in the last few days which didn’t end up working out but we got it eventually,” he said.


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