CoinDesk, the leading trade publication covering bitcoin and blockchain news, has a new CEO, its first: Kevin Worth, former CFO of Bloomberg Digital Media.
While digital currency may be a non-traditional coverage area, the job otherwise looks like an obvious fit with Worth’s background in managing digital content businesses.
In the late 90s, Worth worked in corporate strategic planning at the New York Times. Then he was founding CEO of The Deal, the financial data and news site funded by investment banker Bruce Wasserstein. Worth stayed on for a year after The Deal sold to The Street. He spent the past couple of years as CFO of Bloomberg’s digital and television businesses.
Many recent changes at CoinDesk
Just over 12 months ago, in January 2016, CoinDesk sold to Digital Currency Group, the biggest investment firm in bitcoin and blockchain startups (with investments in over 90), led by Barry Silbert, the founder of SecondMarket. DCG placed its own Ryan Selkis in charge of CoinDesk on the business side, but pledged that Selkis and DCG would have no involvement in editorial decisions at the site.
Selkis was never CoinDesk’s CEO; Worth is its first. He will run business and editorial, the way that a typical magazine publisher would; the site’s editor is Pete Rizzo.
CoinDesk has 13 full-time employees. Last month, the site made its first acquisition: the bitcoin data app Lawnmower. Lawnmower’s historical price data and charts, as well as its staff, got folded into CoinDesk’s in-house research arm (which produces reports such as a new one on blockchains for insurance), a sign it is serious about the information-selling side of its business.
DCG’s main interest in CoinDesk was always for Consensus, its live bitcoin conference in May, first held in 2015. Last year, the event attracted 1,5000 attendees. Worth, from his time at Bloomberg, has seen the growth of live events as a money-maker for publishers. These days, live programming is a vital arm of the business for news organizations like Time Inc, Business Insider, and Re/code.
Under Worth, expect CoinDesk to place further emphasis on two pillars: live events like Consensus, and research reports for a fee. “To me, if you look at where the value in the content marketplace is being created,” Worth says, “it’s live events and business information products. I see an opportunity for CoinDesk to gain a pole position in becoming the must-have, go-to resource for the industry.”
Worth sounds more fired up about events and information than the news side, which is what CoinDesk is for many of its readers: a vital news outlet. He confirms that Consensus, for now, is his “main focus.”
So, moving forward, will CoinDesk look more like a data resource, or a news blog?
“I think it’s a little all-of-the-above,” Worth says. “I can tell you that the playbooks I have had in the past think about having many different audiences, and how to serve all of them. What got me so excited about coming is that it’s pretty much a whiteboard.”
In terms of news coverage, it sounds like CoinDesk may soon see itself less as a mainstream news site covering bitcoin and blockchain news for the masses. When asked if other business news outlets that cover bitcoin news are competitors, Worth says, “If they are serving a broad, general interest community, then no. We are keeping our eye on serving industry professionals.”
New to bitcoin
Just a few months ago, Worth knew very little about the digital currency bitcoin, and the blockchain technology that underpins it. (What exactly is blockchain? Watch this video.) After Barry Silbert called, “I did a lot of research and started to learn a lot more, and I drank the kool-aid, if you will,” says Worth.
He hasn’t bought any bitcoin as an investment just yet.
Digital currency, Worth says, “feels a little bit to me like when the first Internet hype came. There is a tremendous need to understand all the potential implications, people trying to understand it and make sense of it. From my time at Bloomberg I’m close to the world of institutional finance, and that’s an industry that hasn’t really had the amount of transformation that has gone on in, say, the media business. So, let’s see where the opportunity is for those businesses to transform, which are much more fundamental to the global economy.”
As the interest in blockchain technology (especially from banks) has grown, CoinDesk has grown and expanded its purview from bitcoin, to additional digital assets like Litecoin, Ripple, and Ethereum, to blockchain news. In the near future, Worth sees the challenge and competition coming from data providers, not necessarily media outlets.
“I see this as a wide open field,” he says. “What I’m focused on, to be honest with you, it’s not other media or content companies that are the competition, but other information providers who might move into the space, whether that’s consulting firms or other information providers. But we ought to be smarter than them, because they may just have two or three people looking at it and we have a whole team.”
Other information providers that might move into the bitcoin and blockchain space? That sounds like it could include… Bloomberg, his old employer. And that’s fine for Worth, who says he learned a great deal while there. “I understand what their business model is about. It’s really the only company I can think of where they have scale but it’s still dominated by the owner, who is still the CEO and it’s his capital and you follow his lead,” Worth says. After his years there, he’s ready for something “entrepreneurial.”
And that’s why Silbert tapped Worth, he says: corporate experience that can help turn a modest-sized blog into a full-scale information seller.
“I believe digital currency is a transformational asset class that will attract meaningful amounts of capital over time,” Silbert says. (It’s a sound bite he likes to repeat.) “And then there’s a lot of interest in blockchain, and distributed ledger technology, to make processes more efficient… We’re obviously super bullish on bitcoin, blockchain technology, and all the applications that are going to come. All we needed was an experienced operator like Kevin to come in and help scale the business.”
CoinDesk expects to become profitable this year.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering technology and media. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.