Corner Office: Engineering Results
Tony Mamone co-founded Livingly Media with Danny Khatib in the spring of 2005. As CEO and co-founder, he is responsible for the overall vision, execution, growth and continued success of Livingly Media and its properties. In July of last year, the company (formerly known as Zimbio, Inc.), added to its portfolio of digital-only properties including Zimbio.com (which focuses on entertainment news) and StyleBistro.com, by acquiring Lonny, an online monthly home décor magazine.
Prior to starting Livingly, Mamone was Senior Vice President of U.S. Sales and Operations for LookSmart, a public company focused on Internet search and advertising. He completed a Sloan Fellowship at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and holds a masters degree from Stanford, a B.E. in Engineering Sciences from the Thayer School of Engineering and a B.A. in Engineering from Dartmouth College.
Publishing Executive: How is Livingly Media different than other magazine publishing companies?
Tony Mamone: Livingly is a digital publisher, a digital media company. One of things that sets us apart is that we focus on technology. We put the technology of publishing at the center and define it as the key competitive advantage of what we do.
As a Silicon Valley start-up, we knew we couldn't compete on spending or access against media giants. For us, the right way to compete in a digital economy was technology.
PE: Tell us about your history.
TM: Zimbio.com launched '06. We built and grew the brand over time, attracting a larger audience. In 2010 we launched StyleBistro.com, a women's site focused on style and beauty. It had even faster success than Zimbio. Zimbio is now #5 and StyleBistro is now ranked 4th in comScore in fashion/beauty. We attribute a lot of that success to fact we've focused on technology.
PE: How does your focus on technology play out?
TM: We use our unique platform to leverage content so readers can discover us in a lot of different ways: go to our website and click around; use search engines; through social media and sharing; and in new formats. The first big one for us was smartphones. Now we're starting to concentrate more and more on the tablet as a new format. [They launched their Lonny iPad app in October 2012.]
PE: How does Lonny fit into the mix?
TM: Lonny is our first foray into the shelter category. Lonny came out of the traditional print magazine business. The two founders were at Domino and brought with them the background of print. They did work in InDesign and Photoshop and made a layout that looked liked print, which lent itself well to the tablet platform.
The first thing we did after the acquisition was we looked into the best growth opportunities and what folks asked for most was the tablet, and the iPad in particular. We built the app and got Lonny up on it and it's our first big push into tablet. Celebrity Pictures is an app related to Zimbio, but it's not a branded push into tablet. The Lonny tablet version mirrors the brand.
PE: Lonny is free online but has a paid app, right?
TM: Lonny looks like a digital replica and it has always been available free. The founders wanted to be unfettered by page count and to not have to worry about cost of printing. But in the business model with tablet publishing, there are costs. Plus we wanted to offer higher resolution photography to give full value to the retina display. You can zoom in and look at titles on books, fabric patterns, etc.
We did feel like it was a premium experience. The content is very similar to what's on the Web, but formatting and functionality is different: we have push, download, higher resolution photography… and over time we will add more and more content for subscribers.
PE: What do you want to provide for your readers?
TM: A solid, awesome experience. We like to get out of the gate and then build from there. We like to learn through increments. We publish a first version—the Silicon Valley model of test and learn. The nice thing about digital publishing is you can try things and get feedback very quickly from your audience. Because that data is readily available it's easier to test and learn than the world of print, where it's difficult to know what's keeping people's attention and market research is not as accurate as direct measurement. A test & learn culture can really thrive in digital publishing.
PE: What does the future hold?
TM: Print is not in our business plan today. We think about it and we like to study and follow the trends in print. I believe print will have a home and lots of times people prefer and enjoy print, but I don't think it's driving growth in the market. It's not core or central to what we do. We define ourselves as a digital publisher.
We're doing a redesign of our website. One of the things driving the decision to acquire Lonny was to move it onto Livingly's platform so we'd get leverage out of that new technology. Soon we will have it on Livingly's technology stack and give readers access to archives, etc.
Our long-term growth strategy is to have five to seven properties over time (we currently have three). It could be from scratch or acquisition. We're studying which pathways we want to enter. Lonny was our first acquisition as a company and it's going very well but acquisition can accelerate you into a market and there can be problems as well. There are pros and cons.
We want to enter the women's lifestyle category. That's a very broad statement but it's defining. There's also the opportunity for a Lonny app on other platforms. We are a relatively small team, so we like to do things in series rather than in parallel.
Lonny is ranked in the top ten in newsstands for the home and garden category and averaging a five-star rating, as well as getting good reception on social media. We're feeling really good about the launch. There's amazing content and a strong editorial crew with an eye for selecting rooms and houses that people find inspiring. It has beautiful content experience but accessible materials.
PE: How is your experience with all this growth and change?
TM: I'm an engineer. I really like the publishing platform and the technology behind publishing in part because it's so easy to see results. I'm driven by data. I like getting the analytics and I've always found that flow of consumer data interesting. At the same time, it's fun to be around these categories. It's useful leisure reading, fun and entertaining. Everyone likes these topics and they're fun to be around. We spend so much time at work that it's nice to be in an environment that's fun. It marries the technical with the personal interest. PE