Fast-growing local media firm lands $3 million in funding

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Olympia Media Group, the Broad Ripple startup behind a fast-growing media website, recently raised $3 million in funding it plans to use to more than triple its workforce and expand to several hundred markets across the country by 2016.

Its platform is called The Odyssey. It’s a millennial-focused website that crowdsources articles from mostly student writers, generating millions of pages views in the process. The site's roughly 500 advertisers include Verizon Wireless, Red Bull and State Farm.

The 6-year-old startup previously published newspapers on college campuses, but it launched an analytics-driven website last summer and now attracts 10 million monthly unique visitors.

Co-Founder and CEO Evan Burns, 27, attributes the growth to turning a "top-down editorial model" on its head.

"We are ecstatic with how quickly the platform has grown since we launched it June 1 of last year," Burns said. "None of us expected it to be at this size at this point."

Instead of raising money from venture capital firms, Olympia opted to tap its board members for growth capital. They include ExactTarget founder and former CEO Scott Dorsey, former ExactTarget Chief Marketing Officer Tim Kopp and Founders Brewing Co. executive chairman John Green.

The company has about 28 employees between New York and Indianapolis, with most at its three-story office at 1002 Broad Ripple Ave. It plans to grow to 100 employees by the end of the year.

It also plans to expand from 80 to 400 markets by 2016. A market is any community where the company has at least 20 contributing writers. The company has about 1,600 writers so far, and their articles include headlines like "19 Things You Learn By 19" to "An Open Letter To The Friends That Walked Out Of My Life."

"They're not journalists, necessarily. They're not people who are building a career out of writing," Burns said. "These are people who live in these communities and are living the life of whatever's going on—the news, the topics, the opinions, the trends, the conversations that are really happening.

"So the platform that we're building is really built to capture those conversations and really put them in front of the most relevant audience."

The writers submit articles weekly or bi-weekly and are paid based on metrics. Burns said it's possible for a writer to not get paid for a story, but he wouldn't disclose the high end of what a writer could make from a story.

Burns said quality articles have fueled the company's growth, and a proprietary technology called MUSE has measured and driven decisions about content.

The typical article averaged about 480 reads last June. Lately, Burns said, the average story gets 3,500 reads, and some get several million reads.

The company wouldn't disclose revenue figures, though it was making around $2 million annually in 2011 when it still had a print product. Burns did say he expects revenue to grow five-fold this year.

Kopp, one of the investors, said at 10 million monthly unique visitors, The Odyssey has done in less than a year what it took sites like BuzzFeed several years to accomplish.

“Investors and marketers are attracted to The Odyssey because its model offers direct access to millennials," Kopp said. "The platform creates high-quality content experiences and offers brands the ability to engage and interact in hyper-relevant ways.”

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