Mr. Peabody and Ms. Miller

August 3rd, 2003 by Larry Smith

On one of the hottest days I the year, I hauled my ass and big blue case all over town for four meetings, sweating like an animal, and hoping I didn’t smell. I walked into Doug Peabody’s home/office not exactly understanding who he was, because I have been doing too much and am clearly a bozo. All I knew was that the editor of National Geographic Traveler (who loves Smith) gave me his email and said he invests in magazines. Doug was an early investor – maybe on the board? – of AOL. He was a founder of Health mag, Saveur (and its offshoots), and somehow was involved in George. He’s a little hard to get a read on and obviously very smart and the only person I’ve ever met with a conference room in his apartment. . I thought he was going to kick me out of his apartment when I said I thought Smith was 400-700,000 circ (“I thought you were creating the next People!”) but talked him out of kicking me out. He pulled out the list of top 100 magazines, and #100 had 990,000 circ. “You want to be on this list.”He’s an odd duck. Dry as a bone, but he clearly loves the mag game, and has a room full of leather bound biz plans to prove it.

After countering every small thing I tried to say about the business aspect, and asking me if I was committed to Priest’s design (he liked another designer more), I realized I was getting nowhere. The whole time the boards sat on this conference table with no apparent interest on his part to actually see them (a week earlier, Terry McDonell practically ripped them out of my hands), I just started presenting the thing and he warmed up a bit.

I explained that I wasn’t a publisher, but I have been taken on many sales calls because I can sell a product I believe in, and that editors create magazines, which is why I was waiting until now to find a business partner.
He said that yes, editors make magazines, and the best ones are nervous and fidgety and don’t ever get too comfortable.

Ultimately, why, he wanted to know, would Smith capture the attention of the masses? I explained in a messy way but I think this idea can be honed and worked into the b-plan and kit:
Rolling Stone – Music – ’60s & ’70s
Wired – Tech – ’90s
Fast Company – Business –’90s
Smith – Real People, Reality, “The star in this world is YOU” – 2000s and beyond

What else:
-thinks you need 30 million to do a magazine right.
-didn’t know what a blog was

I said, well, we’ve got a rough plan done, and he said, “I don’t think you have any business doing a business plan.” True that.

Suddenly, I was late for another meeting 6 blocks away. As I got up to leave, he says, “So what do you want from me.” I explained that with a guy like him involved, Smith could launch and launch the right way. He said, “In a way, all you can go on is gut and I think you may have something here. If I decide I have time and interest I can help you put together a board of advisors who will raise you a lot of money. Send me more materials.”

I booked out of there, called Andrea Miller of TANGO (new mag for couples; don’t think she has much of a chance but she’s raised 600K and 18 months ago worked for Enron, so I tip my hat to her) to apologize for running late and ran 6 blocks in 90 degree heat from 90 and Broadway to 84th and Amsterdam. I arrived completely sweaty, and had 10 minutes with her before she had to go. She was blond and cute and cool and said sure we’ll reschedule. I put a writer from Folio who’s doing a piece on budgeting for start-ups (“6 Million is the new 10 million”) in touch with her to make it up.

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