The whole thing started in 2002 in a Brooklyn kitchen. That's where Ben Wolin, Mike Keriakos and Mark Tauber cooked up the idea for Waterfront Media. The three veterans of the dot-com boom and bust—they met working at then startup Beliefnet (which has since been sold to News Corp.)—saw an opening for a Web portal dedicated to diet and fitness content.
“We saw that more and more consumers were going online for health, diet and fitness information,” Keriakos explains, with Wolin by his side, over lunch at New York City's Blue Fin. “And there were all these [health] experts established in book publishing who weren't doing anything other than, say, delivering information on iVillage or Yahoo.”
The business model behind Waterfront, familiar now, was more outside the box back then: build a subscription site that offers personalized information from established experts and wrap advertising around the content. Although neither Keriakos nor Wolin had a background in publishing—Keriakos worked at iVillage before Beliefnet and Wolin was at Tribune Digital Media—both were employed at companies just beginning to mine the possibilities for monetizing content on the Web.
Today Waterfront has sites built around 20 different properties and an umbrella site, featuring all the content, at EverydayHealth.com. Generating revenue from both subscriptions—users sign up to have meal plans, health advice, etc. e-mailed to them—and online advertising, the company has developed into an online packager for publishers, a place where a print brand can be built out... or just built.
As Wolin explains it, the three friends got their startup capital from family members and their own maxed-out credit. Thankfully, the concept they took to their first client, Dr. Andrew Weil, was an attractive one. The trio flew to Phoenix to pitch Weil, who had written 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. They promised the doctor—who held the digital rights to his book, published by Random House—they would build him a Web site with extensive bells and whistles and market it. By offering Weil an investment in his brand, they were able to get him on board with an untested startup.
But Waterfront really broke out with its second venture, for Dr. Arthur Agatston's South Beach Diet. Partnering with both Agatston and Rodale—the digital rights to the book were co-owned—and working with agent Richard Pine, Waterfront timed SouthBeachDiet.com to go live two weeks after the book was released in April 2003. A blitz of advertising followed—the company pushed the site on the top 100 Web sites for nearly three years—and the brand took off.
The South Beach success put Waterfront on publishers' radar. “[South Beach] proved that it wasn't just that Waterfront could build you a good Web site and make you good money. People started saying, 'these guys are strategic partners who can figure out how to extend my brand online and help me extend my overall business,' ” explains Wolin.
Now with 150 people on staff in Brooklyn and in Massachusetts (where there's a customer service center), the company is looking to launch four to six new sites annually. The pair—Tauber has since left to helm Harper San Francisco—has its sights set on being the go-to Web site for all health information. “We've expanded our focus to general health,” Keriakos says, noting that the company is looking for content partners to build sites on topics ranging from dermatology to sexual health to behavioral health. But, the goal, Wolin and Keriakos note, remains the same, whether the personalities are coming from print, TV or the Web itself: publish sites around people who are among “America's most trusted health experts.”