Rufus Griscom made his name helping people hook up. He made his money helping mommy bloggers talk to one another. And now, for his next act, Griscom wants to help thought leaders spread their thoughts.
Wait! Where are you going?
Griscom, who founded dating service Nerve.com in the first Web boom, then built parenting site Babble before selling it to Disney, is a smart, accomplished guy. So if the term “thought leaders,” which Griscom embraces, makes you uneasy, try this description of Heleo, his new site: It wants to let people who write books and give speeches find a wider audience, using techniques that sites like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post used to get really big.
From the company’s mission statement: “We think it’s high time that content is organized around the brands of the people who created it … We want to meet great ideas the way you meet people at a cocktail party.” Better, right?
Heleo is starting out by focusing on a few dozen high-profile authors and TED-Talk-givers like Daniel Pink, Gretchen Rubin and Eric Ries. It provides them with an online hub and creates content for them, based on the work they’ve already done, optimized for sharing on platforms like Facebook.
That means short articles about their theories and strategies, as well as custom-made videos, packaged with A/B tested headlines and other state-of-the-art click inducers.
“Why a Starbucks Barista Has More Willpower Than You Do,” for instance, is a (slightly confusing) parable about management techniques based on the work of New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who is better known to most people as the guy who wrote the best-selling “The Power of Habit.”
And here’s Steven Johnson, who wrote “Where Good Ideas Come From,” explaining how he files away all of his ideas:
Heleo does that work for its big thinkers for free; early next year, Griscom says they’ll start offering subscription services that offer special access and extra content. He says Heleo will split the revenue 50/50 with the talent.
That business model sounds vaguely like the one that several people are trying, which is to try to pull off what Glenn Beck has done: Take a well-known person with lots of fans/followers/listeners/watchers and try to get some of those people to pay money to hear or see more of them.
So far, no one has been able to replicate Beck’s success, but Griscom figures the people he’s working with, who tend to make a lot of money speaking to small groups, should be able to find more people who will pay them a modest fee to see them online.
Heleo’s real plan is to move beyond its initial, high-profile group, and create another tier of self-service thought leaders (sorry!) who will use the site’s software and services on their own — and presumably get into the subscription business themselves.
That’s the idea that gives Heleo real (theoretical) scale. And that’s the idea that has let it raise what Griscom says is a “few million dollars” from investors including Comcast*, the New York Times, Bloomberg and Greylock.
That idea is also a bit parallel to the one that eventually worked for Babble.com, which Griscom co-founded with his wife, Alisa Volkman, and initially conceived of as a “next generation parenting site.” It eventually turned into a platform for mommy bloggers, and Disney bought that one for a reported $40 million in 2011.
Griscom used some of that cash to get Heleo going; Volkman is also working on her next startup.
* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which has invested in Vox Media, which owns this site.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.