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Refinery29 Joins the Big Media Startup Club, With a $50 Million Funding Round

The site aimed at millennial women is now worth nearly $300 million.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

It’s no longer surprising when investors write big checks to a media startup. But here’s a fun game — see if you can find the outlier in this group:

Okay, okay — we didn’t make it that hard. Refinery29’s raise is news because it’s news — the company just announced the new round, led by Scripps Network Interactive and ad giant WPP, in time for its “NewFronts” presentation for ad buyers on this week. People familiar with the company, which has raised $80 million to date, say it’s now valued at $290 million.

But the raise is also news because it’s the biggest funding round — as far as I can tell — for a media company aimed specifically at women.

Refinery29 has 250 employees and an audience of 25 million readers, and says it’s built specifically for millennial women. You won’t be surprised to learn that the site has articles about fashion, food, and decorating; you may or may not be surprised to see a story about a 24-year-old golfer next to a report about unrest in Baltimore.

While their target audience separates them from most new media magnates (a notable exception is Bustle’s Bryan Goldberg), Refinery29 co-founders Justin Stefano and Philippe von Borries have a pitch that’s right in line with their peers: The media business is in flux, and they’re part of a new breed of digital publishers that’s going to build the new Time Incs and Conde Nasts.

Actually, why stop at magazine publishers? “We want to build a brand that’s as iconic as MTV or ESPN for a new generation,” said von Borries.

A couple of years ago, Refinery29 was known as one of a new breed of companies trying to marry content and e-commerce. But the commerce part is all but gone now, and the company is focused on generating money from advertising — both via standard display ads and, increasingly, “branded content” that it creates for its clients.

The company says it will use the money to build out its video capabilities, to generate more stuff for new distribution outlets like Snapchat and to expand globally.

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