The Dodo, a new animal-focused news site launching today, is Isabel Lerer’s initial foray into the viral news business that her father, Ken Lerer, is well-known for, having co-founded Huffington Post and serving as Chairman of BuzzFeed and Betaworks. The company is disclosing the Lerer investment today as well, with The Dodo having raised under $2 million in a seed round led by Lerer Ventures, the fund managed by father and son team Ken and Ben Lerer, the latter also co-founder at Thrillist.
Also participating in the round, which closed last fall but had not yet been announced, are Greycroft, RRE, Softbank Capital Technology Fund, Sterling Equities and Fred Harman (partner at Oak Investment Partners).
The Lerers, incidentally, were the focus of a timely profile over the weekend by NY Mag, which referred to the family as “a little Mafia-esque,” referencing the way they had their hands in nearly every buzzy New York area startup. This also includes NowThis News, another news site making headlines this week, thanks to an NBCUniversal News Group investment.
As for The Dodo, the site’s launch is a real family affair: It’s co-founded by daughter Izzie, invested in by Lerer Ventures, and running atop RebelMouse, a newer content management system, which is also a Lerer investment.
“It’s the first site [RebelMouse has] powered from scratch, and they’ve been building it for the last four months,” says Ken Lerer, noting that future installations will be turned around more efficiently, eventually reaching the point of becoming turnkey. RebelMouse, for those unfamiliar, is a platform focused on customizability and deeper social integrations, including the ability to integrate “calls to action” with posts, which The Dodo plans to soon include.
The service also includes several of the same investors as The Dodo (besides the Lerers), it’s worth noting.
Isabel’s passion for animal rights led her to study the impact of animal and human interactions at Columbia University, where she’s wrapping up her Ph.D studies. And she convinced father Ken to give up eating meat, too. Asked how long that would last, Mr. Lerer laughed, “you haven’t met my daughter – it’s going to last forever.”
As for The Dodo’s news coverage, it certainly has its share of feel-good stories ripe for social sharing, but more of the articles have a pro-animal rights bias to them, not surprisingly. For example, the lead today references the documentary “Blackfish,” and details the aftermath of a SeaWorld animal trainer’s death. The headline’s question, “will SeaWorld sink?” leaves no doubt as to The Dodo’s agenda.
Though any website touting its “animal-focused stories” would compete against, say, the entire Internet, the Lerer influence can be felt at The Dodo which currently features a contribution from Arianna Huffington (disclosure: AOL owns TechCrunch and Huffington Post), on its front page. The site is also being run by former Salon.com editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman (CEO), and has attracted known names like Popular Science associate editor Dan Nosowitz, to join its team.
At launch, there are under a dozen writers working for the site, but no advertisers as of yet. While it’s easy enough to attract advertisers around fluffier animal stories (pun somewhat intended) designed to go viral (like on BuzzFeed), The Dodo will clearly take stronger positions on topics like hunting, animals used for entertainment purposes, wearing fur, keeping exotic or wild animals as pets, and more. The hope is to soften the blow of these stories with the lighter fare like “learning to love a hard-to-love dog,” or “pug and baby battle over cookie.” (Yep, “pug and baby” is doing well, in case you’re curious.)