By SYDNEY EMBER
Vinit Bharara made his fortune selling Pampers and Huggies. Now he wants to capitalize on a business fast becoming as commodified as diapers: digital content.
Mr. Bharara describes his start-up, Cafe.com, as “a mass publication that explores everything and anything.” With Cafe, he said, he wants to publish a wide range of articles that bring people together. Beyond that, he is reluctant to define Cafe, which is set to go live in the fall, hoping instead that his writers will help inform the site’s direction.
Skeptics will surely question the feasibility of starting another online publication. But Mr. Bharara has proved naysayers wrong before. He and a business partner were mocked when they started an online diaper store, Diapers.com, in 2005, taking on the likes of Amazon and Walmart. At first, large manufacturers refused to sell their products to the new company, but suppliers eventually took them seriously, and six years later, Mr. Bharara sold the company’s parent, Quidsi, to Amazon for about $540 million.
Mr. Bharara is the latest technology entrepreneur to invest in journalism. Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, bought The New Republic in 2012. Last year, Pierre M. Omidyar, the founder of eBay, invested in the online news venture First Look Media. Mr. Bharara — whose brother, Preet Bharara, is the United States attorney in Manhattan — said he was not trying to fill a void or compete with websites like BuzzFeed and Gawker. Rather, he sees a business opportunity. “We’re in an incredible time in terms of consumption of information,” he said. “Relative to any other business you can start, there’s going to be room for thousands of players to survive.”
In the last year, Mr. Bharara said, he has spent countless hours studying the industry. Now he is creating financial models based on his research that will help him determine how much capital to invest, and where.
To get Cafe going, Mr. Bharara is using $5 million of his own money, enough, he said, to support the publication for about 18 months. He has hired 10 employees and, like some other all-digital publications, is developing a proprietary content management system, called Monsoon. And like Gawker and Vox Media, which have built a number of brands, he plans to create other media properties under his parent company, Some Spider. (The name is a play on the “Some Pig” line in “Charlotte’s Web.”)
Still, Mr. Bharara acknowledges, the site is still in its early stages. “There’s plenty of opportunity to more formally shape it, but I’m going to start with the big dream,” he said. “If I need to be practical, I’ll be practical.”