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The Winning Cocktail for Liquor.com

Kit had never run a media business before and he had never sold an ad in his life, but in 2009 he founded Liquor.com. The business started as a daily email and scaled to become the leading digital media platform for cocktail and spirits lovers. In 2019, the business was acquired by Dotdash (IAC). Hear the story here on The Exit.

As a Princeton University graduate, Kit Codik has spent more than 25 years helping to found, launch, and grow various businesses and brands. Famous companies like Finacity Corporation started with a scratch like any regular business, but Codik succeeded in making it big. Listen to his story as he elaborates how he fused his experiences as a serial entrepreneur to aid companies in their growth.

Codik Before Liquor.com

Kit Codik described his journey as a non-traditional and non-linear path as he didn’t work in the media or the beverage alcohol industry. As Liquor.com – a media platform focusing on beverage stories – does not correlate with Codik’s expertise as an economics and politics graduate, he still managed to grow businesses without any prestigious background. Starting his career as the production manager of Gap Inc., Codik took this almost five-year experience as a good start to build his entrepreneurial path. Codik had the opportunity to achieve his first start-up for the infant healthcare technology space named Infant Advantage as the Vice President for Sourcing and Production. Although this company had insufficient capital to get to the success level Codik and his team hoped, it still got sold more laterally.

During the internet booming in the late 1990s, Codik dove into another company through Della.com (acquired by WeddingChannel.com). After more than a year, Codik worked as a principal at a venture capital firm backed by Texas Pacific Group, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Bain & Co. that helped co-found and fund Finacity Corporation. They were the first online finance platform for accounts receivable, giving Codik another experience about investing in companies.  Codik got invited to be one of the co-founders of Finacity, in which he stayed and grew the company for more than 17 years. This business facilitates over $100 billion in funding and reporting annual receivables flow with obligors in over 175 countries, which was then sold last January at the right time. Codik has gone through many business cycles; he had it all, from funding to selling until starting another business in a different field. 

The Start of Liquor.com

Codik met a guy in 2007 through a domain who was looking for capital for a different business, but it didn’t interest Codik much. Several months later, the guy called Codik back, where they started to formulate a domain that would become an asset they would set up. From the first quarter of 2008 until 2009, Codik and his business partner researched all possible internet businesses that they could start. Their love for food and wine sparked their ideas on founding Liquor.com from those sets of information after lengthy research.

Codik wanted a consumer-focused platform in a world full of cooking shows that only feature celebrity chefs and foods on food networks and magazines. He wanted to build an accessible platform that would educate the consumers that are getting into wines and alcoholic beverages. Codik wanted to centralize wine enthusiasm through an online-based platform for education and appreciation of the wine industry.

Wine Journalism

Codik noticed the emergence of publications about food and wines in prints and online sites, but no one deeply tackled spirits and cocktails. Codik thought this was an interesting niche to be the platform’s subject to give the consumers a more in-depth idea about spirits and cocktails. In a $200+ billion market of this industry in the US, this Liquor.com domain contributes to the wines’ success and emerging appreciation.

Consistent Business Model

Although Codik’s entrepreneurial career is dynamic, Liquor.com’s business model remains fundamentally consistent with the media and targeted advertising over time based on the market and their learnings. Codik emphasized that their business model was grounded in “email,” as advertising companies mostly engaged with this type of platform. By looking at different perspectives on efficiency and high values, Codik and his team assemble these ideas into founding Liquor.com and making it big. The business depended on the daily emails they received full of relentless networks and leading experts in the industry to create the highest quality content for their domain. However, Codik wanted the site to be fun and interactive and to be customer-based instead of the typical seller-based sites.

Resonating with the Customers

When talking about spirits and cocktails, its enthusiasts can get geeky, but regular people might feel confused and uninterested. Thus, Codik stated that it was a trick to make quality content for other people to get interested in wines, cocktails, and spirits without getting bored or confused. It can get more challenging along the way, so Codik and his team could only rely on daily emails to know the mass’ pulse and preferences. Although there were already Google, Facebook, and other applications back then, it was not too prevalent on identifying the target audience and relevant information for their content.

Experimenting For Success

Months after the cycle of getting daily emails, creating content, and waiting for revenues, Codik and his team decided to experiment with upgrading their business pace. They started doing deals by choosing the best possible deals at the best possible places without going down the market and doing the old stereotypes. Liquor.com only accepted deals for the best bars in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, as they wanted to offer the highest quality of information to their consumers.

Codik and his team have a lot to offer for clients regarding spirits, where they connect the dots while thinking about opportunities for beverage companies, and ensuring that the right teams are talking to each other.  With the pandemic’s impact, Liquor.com marked an even more critical purpose on reaching many beverage alcohol brands to collaborate while disseminating quality content for consumers every month.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Steve McGarry:

Hello, and welcome to The Exit presented by Flippa. This is a 30 minute podcast featuring amazing entrepreneurs who have been there and they have done it. The Exit talks to operators who have bought and sold businesses of all different sizes. You’ll learn how they did it, why they did it and get exposure into the world of exits. A world occupied by a small few, but accessible to many. 

And on this episode, I sit down with Kit Codik, the founder of liquor.com. Before we get into this episode, be sure to watch the full episode with Kellyanne that I previously published that is a fantastic overview. So if you have not heard that one yet, definitely check that out wherever you’re streaming this and listen to that before we dive in to this one. But in this episode, I sit down with Kit Codik, the founder of liquor.com, they sold it to Dotdash, which is owned by IAC a couple of years ago. 

And Kit is an operator, everything that he talks about in this episode is inspiring to all young entrepreneurs out there, he talks about doing deals that were years long that fell through, and just the trials and tribulations that come with starting a large media business. And he gives some really great knowledge nuggets throughout this episode. So I don’t want to give any spoilers upfront. But without further ado, let’s dive into this in depth interview with Kit Codik the founder of liquor.com. All right, everybody, I am here with Kit Codik, the founder of liquor.com. How you doing today, Kit?

Kit Codik:

I’m doing well Steve, thanks for having me.

Steve McGarry:

Yeah, for sure. So what we do on the show is we kind of like to start with an origin story. Before we get into the gritty of all the processes that came into you joining Dotdash and IAC. Let’s talk about what your background is. What brought you into starting liquor.com.

Kit Codik:

Sure, it’s actually been a pretty interesting journey that does not have a traditional and kind of linear path. Because I had actually never worked in media, nor had I ever worked in beverage alcohol before starting liquor.com which is a media company, almost exclusively focused on beverage alcohol. I went to university and focused on economics and politics undergrad and actually went to a big company as my first job out in San Francisco, and worked for the Gap at the Gap’s corporate headquarters, which is actually a very fun and interesting kind of first step in my career. I spent about five years at Gap on the merchandising side, and then actually ultimately running global sourcing production supply chain for a variety of divisions. Where I learned a ton. 

But about five years in had a pretty interesting opportunity to dive into my first startup, which of all categories happened to be in the infant healthcare technology space. And helped launch a company called Infant Advantage, which is interesting, I won’t go into all the details, but got sort of my first taste of entrepreneurship, even though I wasn’t the founder, didn’t have any of my money tied up in it, but was one of the first people there and played a key role in getting the product to market. That company never had enough capital to really get to the level of success that we’d hoped, got sold more laterally. 

And in kind of late ’98, ’99 internet boom was happening and dove into another a very early stage company that was pre-launch called della.com, which was the first online gift registry. So that sort of brought me into the online technology internet space. And that was a really interesting business that I spent about a year at, and ultimately led to a role at a venture capital firm that was getting started in 2000. Della.com was acquired by the Wedding Channel and then ultimately The Knot so had an interesting path post my leaving the company. But I spent a little over a year there and then went to the venture side, worked for a corporate venture firm set up by Kleiner Perkins, Texas Pacific group, now referred to as TPG and Bain and Company, the big consulting firm, to do corporate ventures and was a principal there.

And sort of dove into, again, a completely different side of the business on sort of the investing and more putting deals together and then helping to build businesses. And while I was there, the focus was corporate ventures. We had one of the main deals we looked at happen to be one of the first that I looked at was to create an online sort of finance platform for accounts receivables. And went deep and had a bunch of big strategics, like B of A, and Euler Hermes, Amarok Investments, which is now known better as Avenue Capital, leading distressed debt hedge fund. And we created a company called Finacity, we put a lot of capital into it. I was sort of the both co-founder and then and then also person on the deal side working on the investment. And after about a year we capitalized it and a year and a half into it, we found a CEO and I sort of thought my job was done. 

And I got along with him very well. And he asked me to stay and I stayed as the number two guy to help build a company called Finacity, which ultimately has become the leading trade receivable securitization platform, so sort of like a guess you think of it as a boutique investment bank with one product that we just happen to do better than just about anyone in the market. And ultimately got the business to a great place. Very, very profitable, growing, I’d stay there for about six years, and then ultimately left to move back to San Francisco and kept the seat on the board for 13 years. And we actually sold that business last June, which also turned out to be pretty good timing.

And I really wanted to get back. That was a structured finance business where it’s working with treasurers and CFOs on putting together trade receivables, securitization deals of 100 to 500 million in size. So interesting, lucrative business, and all that, but my personal passion kind of is tied to things that touch the consumer. Sort of consumer internet and lifestyle oriented businesses and wanted to get back to San Francisco and dive into things like that. 

So started making some angel investments, and doing some advisory work with a really close friend of mine who became my business partner, did that for a couple years. And then while doing that, ultimately led to meeting the guy that owned the liquor.com domain. Believe it or not, we actually met him at that first TechCrunch conference where we had a company that we had an equity stake in that was launching there, and that was September 2007. That’s the guy that had the domain. And that kind of kicked off the dialogue which ultimately turned into a business.

Steve McGarry:

That’s awesome. That’s fantastic. And I think in the long and short of it, you are an operator to the greatest degree. You have operated young businesses, established businesses, and you have gone through many, many different cycles of businesses. So the start of liquor.com, let’s talk about that. You ran into the guy at the TechCrunch conference in 2007. And you decided, “Okay, this is a big opportunity to just get the domain and then you built the site on top of it with the business partner.” How did that start when you met him, and then you acquired the domain. 

Hey, everyone, Steve here, taking a quick pause on the interview to just talk about this podcast being presented by Flippa. And I know that selling your business can seem way way unattainable and out of reach for everyone that is currently in the trenches operating a business, and something that might be reserved for some of the biggest businesses in the world and require investment bankers and lawyers and everything. But the reality is it’s not the case anymore. With the flip of marketplace, you can literally go on there. And I myself have bought and sold multiple businesses of my own big and small, directly on the marketplace.

You can go on there, they have over 3 million users on their platform, we were looking to acquire everything from content sites, to e-commerce stores, to SaaS platforms, to mobile apps, literally everything. And I think that it’s important to know that you can go to their site without any commitment, and get a valuation. So head over to flippa.com/theexit for a free valuation without any commitment, and check out how much your business is worth today. And let’s dive right back into the interview.

Kit Codik:

Yes, it was actually interesting because we met him and he was raising capital for a different business plan. He’d owned the domain for a while. There’s a whole interesting backstory about the domain that we won’t get into now because it will probably chew up about a half an hour. But it was quite interesting. So he was looking for capital for a different business. And my partner and I at times would help early stage companies raise money and or find the right investors for their businesses. So we spent time looking at it from that perspective. 

And well, we love the guy and his partner and thought there was some great ideas, we just didn’t think there was a great fit. So we actually parted ways and did so very amicably. And when I say parted ways, like we just realized, Hey, this is not a fit. And then he called me back several months later. And we just changed the conversation and said, “Hey, well you’ve got an asset of value here.” And on a bad day, that domain was probably worth a million bucks. And on a good day it was probably worth $4 to $5 million, again, based on market comps of other domains that had traded at the time. But obviously the sale of a domain’s price is going to be dictated by whether or not you have got a couple buyers at the table. And if you only have one might not trade on the high end of the range. Anyway. 

So we actually came to an agreement where we got the domain, and said we’d work on developing what we thought would be the right business model to utilize the domain. And if we did, and if we raised capital for it, that the domain would become an asset in a Newco that we set up. And then this individual would be a shareholder alongside us in Newco with a board seat. So we actually didn’t have to write a big check to get the domain, it was really more of a partnership to explore an opportunity, which started in… I’d say it’s kind of spring or summer of ’08. That was a little fuzzy, I haven’t exactly marked the calendar, but kind of first, second quarter of 2008, we started that process. 

And then spent the better part, latter half of ’08, and early ’09 just doing a lot of research and looking at every possible internet business model, not that there were that many, but probably four or five ways to leverage a domain like that, until ultimately, we landed on an idea that we thought would work that I’ll obviously get into. And that kicked it off. We sort of looked at the space for a while. And what I got super intrigued by was really it was all it was all macro based. Like I love food, I love wine. And I’d seen what had happened in the food world in the previous couple decades with just the rise in consumer interest in cooking and cooking shows and celebrity chefs and Food Network and magazines and all that. But it really educated the consumer. And you saw this huge surge in consumer passion around cooking. 

And then the previous a decade later was wine. And the whole Sideways thing like consumers really getting into wines and different varietals and going beyond Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and getting into other varietals and thinking about other countries and getting into wine tasting and having a greater sort of education and appreciation for wine as a category. We’re starting to see the same thing happen in cocktails and spirits and craft cocktails, and this whole cocktail culture that was starting to bubble up and really gained some steam in kind of the mid-2000 range. And again, we were looking at this in ’08.

So it had some momentum, but had not reached any sort of a crescendo. And what I found really interesting was that, in food and wine, there were a lot of publications, and a lot of media companies that were print, either legacy print that had come online or online focused. And no one had really tackled spirits in cocktails. And I know at times it can seem like a niche, but at the time it was a spirits alone was an $80 billion industry, in the US spending a couple billion dollars a year in advertising, marketing and promotions, but not a single person had gone after it as a pure play. Yet, a lot of the big media companies were creating and writing columns about cocktails and spirits. So we thought it was an interesting sort of niche to go after that we ultimately thought would also have an incredibly targeted audience. That could be a very effective supporting and marketing platform for all the big beverage alcohol companies.

Steve McGarry:

Yeah, yeah. And I think in terms of the opportunity that you guys, were presented with right there when you met this guy, you talked about it, you took a step back, you rekindled the conversation a little while later. Before we jumped on to the episode, I wanted to get a little bit of data in terms of the market opportunity. And in 2017 that was the kind of closest and updated data. It was $234 billion in sales, alcoholic beverage sales in the US. And I love how a domain like liquor.com, could go, like you said for a million dollars on a bad day and 4 or 5 million on a good day in a 200 plus billion dollar market, current times this was in 2007, 2009 timeframe. But what made you eventually land on this business model? I mean, with the opportunity ahead of you. You had hundreds of billions of dollars of market to capture with liquor.com, what made you decide on the business model that exists today?

Kit Codik:

Well it’s interesting, while the focus has remained relatively consistent, and the model fundamentally has been about media and targeted advertising, the model has morphed over time, both based on the market, and also just based on our learnings. So the really simple idea that we had, was grounded in email. A friend of mine, had started Daily Candy back in the day. And I know, founders of like, Ben Lerer of Thrillist, and the guys that started Flavor Pill and Urban Daddy, and sort of back at that time period, email based media companies were doing rather well, and email when you looked at the digital advertising ecosystem and landscape, the emails CPMs or effective CPMs, were significantly higher than what one could capture with display based advertising on websites. 

So we tried to look at it from a couple of different angles, both efficiency and then also highest value. So the early idea in how we launched the business was really with a daily email. The thought was, let’s bring from an editorial perspective, I met and relentlessly networked and you can kind of get into that too. Just what you need to do as a founder, especially when you’re new to an industry and how you go deep. But just relentlessly networked and still do, to get to know people in the industry. And like, who was who and who actually knew what they were talking about, and who was influential and who wasn’t. 

And managed to fortunately, meet a lot of the kind of leaders luminaries pioneers in this cocktail space, and get a great handful of them on board as advisory board members. And the early sort of planted thesis was, let’s create the highest quality content possible with the leading experts in the industry. But do it for consumers, let’s make it fun, and educational and entertaining. But still informative, engaging. 

Because look, there’s inside baseball in almost every industry. And you can get very geeky about spirits and cocktail stuff. But the masses are not going to appreciate that and it won’t resonate. So it was really finding this balance of like, let’s create a really, really high quality content for consumers. And let’s just put it out each day in an email. And, again, there’s a lot of naivete on my part, having not run a media business before, I’d never sold an ad in my life. And everything always seems a little bit easier when you’re in the business planning process. 

And as you well know, having been an entrepreneur yourself, it’s a lot tougher when you get going. So the early plan was let’s create a daily email. And when we grow this email list, this will be the most targeted audience of cocktail and spirits lovers that brands will just have to advertise to. That was the thought, even though getting those ad dollars is a whole heck of a lot harder than one actually thinks. 

Also, it wasn’t pre Google and pre Facebook because obviously those platforms existed. But ad targeting as we know it today, with the rise of Google’s platform and Facebook’s platform and also programmatic advertising, it wasn’t quite as prevalent. So the ability to have a targeted audience still seem to be most relevant in sort of contextual targeting and contextually oriented platforms. And that was the thesis, that obviously changed over time. 

But we started with email and grew the list slowly and then we started dabbling with social, again Facebook was rising, like getting our likes. Getting liquor.com likes. Started to create a social presence. And after about six months, we’re realizing like “Hey getting revenues, it’s not really happening.” We sort of needed to try other things. So I don’t know if you remember back in the Groupon and LivingSocial days, this is right in that sweet spot 2010, we launched at the end of 2009. 2010, we started doing deals and started experimenting. We’re like but if we’re going to do it, let’s create the best possible deals at the best places. 

So not going down market and trying to do the old… What was it? $20 for $40 of value at a nail salon or a fast food place or whatever. We were creating really interesting deals with the best bars in San Francisco and LA and New York. And we were creating tasting events, and bourbon and tequila and even going so far as to create aspirational, spirited dinners with some of the best chefs and best bartenders that in most cases we lost money on. And we had such a small list on a relative basis to these guys like Groupon, LivingSocial, and others that we’re spending tons of money. 

But all of a sudden, we were activating, and we were sampling consumers. And that became sort of the first switch that enabled brands to think about us through a different lens. We were now a marketing platform, because we could do email, and we of course, had some site display, and we had social and we also had events. And brands started coming to us first for that, as opposed to what I originally envisioned, which was, “Hey, people are going to advertise.” And the reality is the big clients that we work with now, and that we were talking to back then have huge media buying agencies that essentially control those ad budgets. And when you’re really tiny, getting a slice of that money is very, very, very challenging. So by having a solution that touched consumers directly, initially was a way to sort of go brand direct and start to unlock some dollars. 

Steve McGarry:

Excellent. Excellent. So it kind of started with building this email list. And then once the Groupon model really revolutionized how deals were spread. I remember when that really took off. And you guys started doing some deals with actual events, which I think is a big shift right there. Because you’re able to open the door for brands, which is great. That’s a good kind of leg up, I guess you could say, because it is very difficult to go out and get advertising dollars. For a lot of people that are listening that have blogs that they’re trying to grow and content sites, when you’re reaching out directly to companies can be a little bit difficult when you’re just getting started-

Kit Codik:

Very.

Steve McGarry:

… When you’re smaller.

Kit Codik:

Yeah, very.

Steve McGarry:

[crosstalk 00:22:48] clever way like you guys did. Makes perfect sense. So let’s talk about now that you guys have kind of fine tuned the business model in walks Dotdash. So what was that like, that experience? Did they approach you as an activation? Or what was that experience like for you guys?

Kit Codik:

Well, let me take a tiny half step back and actually clarify then that after doing that for a while, we intentionally got out of the deal business. So one of the things that we recognized was that if we had continued on the path, and we did this for about a year, year and a half of like creating deals and offers and all that, that there was nowhere to go but down. And we were really focused on having the premium leading brand in this space. And if we went from doing great things with top bars to all of a sudden doing deals at dive bars, not that there’s anything wrong with dive bars, we all love them. There wasn’t an opportunity to continue to remain premium. So we completely got out of that and then only did very premium events when appropriate. But no more deals. 

So what happened then is we grew the business, another dimension opened up and that was the whole bartender side. We have the largest consumer audience in bev-alc by far, but we also had and have arguably the largest on the trade side and reach well north of 100,000 bartenders a month. We developed a bartender advocacy, bartender cocktail competition capability and really grew the commercial side of the business from a B2B perspective, while continuing to grow the consumer media business. 

So that was kind of the next wave. And then to your point, I met the Dotdash guys almost 10 years in, it was almost at our 10 year anniversary. And in the prior to that I’d explored you know selling the business and less for how do we get money out and more for the fact that I saw as the media landscape changed, it’s very, very challenging to be a subscale independent media company. To my point earlier about tapping into large scale dollars through agencies. When you’re small and your niche even though we were number one at the top of a relatively large vertical, we were a 30 person company with maybe 25 to 30 freelancers at any given time. 

we were competing with companies that were 10, 20, 30, 50 times our size, where their sales teams were bigger than our entire team put together. So, for me, it was very much about, okay, either we raise a ton of money and try to really blow this out and add other dimensions like e-commerce, which is something that I’ve been very interested in the category, even though it’s regulatorily very complex. It was really about finding a partner that could bring scale that would allow us to grow the business faster and into a much, much larger company. 

And I had lots of discussions along the way. And the funny thing was, I was deep down the path with different strategic on a very large capital raise, very large being a relative term that I’d spent almost a year on, that fell apart at the goal line, at no fault of ours. It was really just a change in strategic direction with a strategic partner. And we were two days before the final committee meeting I got the bad call while I was on vacation, and I was like, “Oh, wow.” 

So I put a lot of legwork in, which I think will touch on the theme of like, how you get prepared for something like this. So everything was in place, we’d gone through a five firm audit, including E&Y on our books, so we were in a great place from a data standpoint. And then I was in conversations about a merger with someone and another about a sale. And then fortunately, one of my teammates knew someone over at Dotdash. And they were just chit chatting. And they had struck up the conversation like, “Oh, I think Kit should chat with so and so.” 

And I was in New York all the time, once or twice a month, and I was out there, had lunch with one of the executives and he’s like, “This is really interesting, you should meet our CEO.” And I literally had this fortuitous, had another meeting canceled because someone couldn’t get into New York due to a storm. And I had an hour and a half open. And I said, “I can meet it this time.” He said, “Come on in.” And that’s how it started. Literally, in the first conversation, 30 minutes in he said, “We have to buy you guys, you’re a perfect fit for our strategy. And here’s why.” And we had a mind meld in the first meeting and he literally said, “We’ll get this deal done in a month.” Which is kind of unheard of. And we actually got it done in about seven weeks.

Steve McGarry:

Wow. Wow, I love that. The, I have an hour and a half. I can do it right now. And then they’re like, “Yep, come on, in.” that’s a magical thing. And I also, you shared the kind of years work, just washed away. And I think that that’s a really important thing to highlight for young people listening to this show. It’s not always going to be bright, shiny, amazing wins left and right. You put a year of work in and then you’re on vacation, getting ready for this exciting meeting, and then it falls through. 

But the reality is you just kept grinding, and then you meet with the CEO, and then it happens. So I think that there’s something there in that years work was ultimately led to where you were at in New York at that time. And I think that’s a really great story in terms of how this unfolded, and how you got in with Dotdash and how that worked out. So getting up to speed now. They bring you in Dotdash, they have an incredible list. I looked through the brands that Dotdash has and IAC is the parent company of Dotdash. So what are you doing now? And where do you sit? Under Dotdash or is it under IAC?

Kit Codik:

Yeah, so IAC’s a great company. But they’re a large publicly traded, almost like a private equity holding company, IAC owns a lot of businesses. They’re all separate and distinct from each other. We sit in different offices, we have different P&Ls, different executive teams, and there’s not a lot of overlap and crossover. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just their businesses are run independently. Dotdash is a wholly owned Business of AIC, which actually is the old about.com, which is part of the interesting backstory of Dotdash. So IAC acquired about.com in 2012. And I won’t get into the details of the whole story even though it is quite interesting. 

But about.com ultimately morphed into Dotdash through them splitting about.com apart into vertical media brands, which started with six de novo brands, very well, The Balance, The Spruce, Tripsavvy, Lifewire, and Thought and CO, which were all launched in succession, the new technology platform, huge investment in content. And after a couple years, the business started to work. And then they realized, let’s start buying businesses and bought Investopedia, and then Birdie, and then Mydomain and then Brides, liquor.com. And then we’ve made four more acquisitions this year Tree Hugger, Mother Nature Network, and then most recently acquired two more food and beverage focused media properties, Serious Eats and Simply Recipes. 

So I share that backstory very quickly just to frame it up. So today, Dotdash is a digital media company that has 14 Media brands liquor.com being one of that address roughly 20, lifestyle verticals, some even a brand like The Spruce, which is huge, started as a home and food, it actually is home, pets, crafts, and Spruce Eats, which is the food and beverage arm. So under one brand, there’s four verticals. 

So it’s a big huge reach, quarter billion sessions a month globally, about 60% of our traffic is in the US reach over 100 million consumers in the US every single month. So we have a third of the US internet population on our sites every month, which is pretty significant scale. Liquor.com is one of those brands. So I stayed on as part of the deal, A, to help with the transition, because it definitely was a transition some people didn’t make it many people did. And are now in different groups, also getting us re-platformed. And then being very externally facing, which is where I was tending to spend a good chunk of my time anyway, focusing on all of our top clients in the space. 

And not so much from a sales perspective, because we have a sales team, more from a strategic partnership standpoint. Because today, we reach 55 million drinkers of beverage alcohol every month across our sites. And we’ve got a phenomenal team of people on our research and insights team every site is on the same tech stack, every site has the same data platform sitting on top and every site is very well structured from a content taxonomy perspective. 

So we had a lot to offer our clients today in spirits that vastly exceeds what we could have done before with just liquor.com. So it’s really about connecting the dots. And I spend most of my time with kind of the CEOs, CMOS of our big clients, the heads of digital, VPs and SVPs of the brands, sometimes the research and insights teams, and really try to connect the dots and think about the opportunity for beverage brands to be marketed across our portfolio, leverage our data, leverage the research and insights and make sure that the right teams are talking to each other. 

And that often is client with our team, it’s often making sure that our teams are connected with the right teams at the various media, buying agencies. And really tying everything together from a big picture perspective. And it’s starting to work very well, notwithstanding the fact that we relaunched and we were ready to go to market two weeks before the pandemic hit, which it’s had some pretty interesting and dramatic impacts on beverage alcohol in some very obvious ways, and some that are rather surprising. 

Steve McGarry:

Yeah, I love that, the collaboration between companies at Dotdash, you have Serious Eats, Simply Recipe. So you can have those two collaborating together and both boats rise. I love that because they have this huge reach all these brands and I encourage everybody that’s listening I’ll be linking everything in the show notes, but just check out the brands that Kit’s referring to because it’s like household names, things that I go to on a regular basis. And it’s really incredible the amount of people that you guys reach on a monthly basis.

100 million, literally a third of people in the United States you guys are reaching on a monthly basis, which is pretty incredible. But with that said, it’s a good kind of transition, I think we’ve covered a ton in terms of your background, the amazing operations that you’ve run through, all these different ventures, and leading up to now, Dotdash and helping these collaborative brands work together. So this leads us to our final kind of finale question that everybody that’s young and hungry out there. Knowing what now Kit, what would you tell yourself 10 years ago? What is that, before the start of liquor.com, let’s say, what would you tell yourself?

Kit Codik:

Well it’s funny if I had a crystal ball at the time, and if I knew what I knew now, I probably, and this may come across kind of funny, I’d probably say don’t start a media business. Because if I knew how the market and the media world was going to change and how challenging it would be, as an independent media brand, to grow over the last decade, even though we succeeded. I would probably tell myself to not start a media business, or at least to think not twice, but ten times before diving in. Because I really went in with a lot of passion and a lot of belief in the macro, but had not lived the micro of selling ads and building an audience and doing things like that, which are the cornerstones of building a successful media company. 

So I know that that’s not going to be helpful to your audience necessarily, because there are also a lot of examples of very successful media companies. But I think from a company building perspective, there’s a couple. A, I would obsessively focus on culture, things that 10 years ago, I thought, just sort of organically would happen. And I read a lot of books, and I try to read as much as I can, since I’m not traveling as much now and have a little more time at home. But just really, really focusing on culture, all the time. 

And that’s a whole separate conversation. And you’ve probably even had podcasts focused on culture, but definitely culture top of mind. Two, I’d say, always hire the absolute best person that you possibly can, and don’t ever settle. And I’m not saying that I did settle. But there were times maybe when probably should have waited another couple months and kept looking for a certain person in a certain role. 

And then probably related to that, and this is a really, really hard one. And people say it all the time, or you read about it. But until you’ve lived it, it’s hard to really fully absorb. That is if someone’s not a fit for your organization, especially when you’re a small company. And we fell into that camp, Dotdash is 500 people now. But the liquor.com was really only about 30. Is if someone’s not a fit, let them go. 

And 99% of the time, it’s going to be better for that person and for your organization. But it’s a really tough thing to do at the time. And I had a few people that just weren’t a great fit, and they stayed longer than they should have. And once they departed, the team worked better and more effectively, even with what felt like was going to be a great big hole with them gone. And in fact, it wasn’t. So anyway, I don’t know if that’s helpful. But those are some top of mind things that I still think about.

Steve McGarry:

Yeah, that’s incredibly helpful and brutally honest, too. I think that the reality is that the people that aren’t a great fit will be a better fit somewhere else. And it’s important to salvage the ship that you’ve built. And everybody that’s on the ship, you have to make sure that there’s one person that’s not rocking the boat too much. And they’ll be a better fit on a different boat. So I love that, you touched on that hiring is a make or break for all startups of all sizes. I totally agree with you. Well, with that said you’ve gone through the gauntlet of my questions, it’s all I have. Where can people go and learn more about what you’re working on if you have some places you want people to check out?

Kit Codik:

Well liquor.com’s one place for sure. Hopefully will help some of your readers find a great cocktail recipe or inspiration. I’m not super active on like posting my thoughts on Twitter and all that but I’m pretty easy to find. I’m Kit Codik on Twitter and Kit Codik on Facebook and Kit Codik on Instagram. So not a hard person to find but liquor.com at Dotdash is where I’m focusing my energies right now and super excited about the potential and future of the business.

Steve McGarry:

Excellent. Excellent. Well, you guys heard here, all the links to what Kit talked about will be in the show notes. If you’re listening on Spotify, iTunes or SoundCloud, you can check out the links, wherever you’re streaming this. And once again, thank you so much for coming on the show Kit.

Kit Codik:

My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Steve.

Steve McGarry

Steve McGarry

Steve McGarry is an entrepreneur, content creator, and investor based in sunny Tampa, Florida. In 2015, while living in San Francisco, Steve sold his first fintech startup LendLayer to Max Levchin’s (founder of PayPal) consumer finance company Affirm. In the last 5 years, Steve has both built an online community that reaches 1.4 million people every month on social media and a portfolio of over a dozen web properties. Currently, he’s the co-founder of a next-generation fintech startup called GrowYourBase while managing his portfolio of online businesses.