But before selling his company Mischief New Media in his twenties, and before stints at Viacom, MTV, News Corp, and Sling Media, Hirschhorn was a 17 year-old club promoter of the alcohol-free NYC dance club “The Saint.”
“Club promoting was my first curation job,” Hirschhorn — who once unsuccessfully pitched a music subscription service to Steve Jobs — tells me, half joking.
Creator of the influential MediaREDEF newsletter, Hirschhorn started to see the beauty in collecting links when he joined Viacom through an acquisition in March of 2000. After a period of post-bubble downsizing, Hirschhorn began sending links of informative articles to his team — versus using pure preaching as a leadership tactic.
He viewed, and still views, himself as a “DJ of links.” (The capitalization of MediaREDEF itself is an homage to hiphop and remix culture.)
“That turned into an early form of the newsletter,” he told me via email, “A compendium of what I found interesting in the broadly defined and ever-changing world of media, technology and pop culture. It helped me sell the fact that digital media was not a trend or fad. It was here to stay.”
Nowadays Hirschhorn’s newsletter — formerly named REDEF in 2006 — reaches way beyond his original staff at Viacom, and on a given day thousands receive stories about mental illness in writers, female rap and race appropriation mixed in with Aaron Levie quotes and Run DMC videos. It is a quirky, eclectic and robust read. I’m into it.
The media equivalent of Dan Primack’s Term Sheet, the REDEF newsletter has a loyal following, which includes Evan Williams, Dick Costolo, Brian Stelter and my boss Susan Lyne. But Hirschhorn rightly wants to quickly move beyond the email format, launching an iOS app that blends media, fashion and sports (sneak peek below) in the summer.
Like another popular news aggregator, Techmeme, REDEF may have started as a hobby, but unlike Techmeme, Hirschhorn finally decided to raise outside money to pull it off full time, recently bringing in $2.25 million from Bloomberg Beta, The Chernin Group, Upfront, Brett Ratner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mark Cuban, Troy Carter and James Murdoch and other useful media moguls.
Right now REDEF’s core product is quite simple, it’s a daily assortment of articles related to media or fashion, in addition to interesting images, aphorisms, videos, songs and thoughts sent every morning. “Media of any form” is Hirschhorn’s description of what can comprise a MediaREDEF or FashionREDEF mix.
As the Internet’s roaring inferno of data gets flung at our faces daily, infophiles and even your average reader is finding a need for a ‘meta information layer,’ that sits on top of the roar. Tools that put the information in context and prioritize it have become incredibly valuable. Some argue that they’re a much higher value commodity, in fact, than the information itself.
“What makes REDEF unique is our voice and point of view,” Hirschhorn explains, “The way we see common elements in sectors, our curiosity and some cool tools we built to help us. We call what we do, interest mixes for curious minds, ” he says, “Every channel we have is a mix. Media = media + tech + pop. Fashion = fashion + biz + tech + culture.”
In addition to a sports vertical, he’s also planning a REDEF TV show, which will steer away from newsy topics, towards opinion and analysis from the authors of his links. The New York-based REDEF team is six people strong, with two curators right now, and one per new channel as they launch. The team finds its content through a custom curation CMS, RSS feeds, social, search and plain old reader suggestions.
The perennial question with aggregation apps is always, “How are you going to make money?” and Hirschhorn reveals that he is toying with a small monthly subscription fee after a free trial, with the price point as of yet undetermined. “The audience really loves REDEF, it’s about more than price,” he says, “They’ve become a club. That’s my hope.”
And on a very topical note, Hirschhorn says that he was inspired to build REDEF by his mother, Susan Hirschhorn, who passed away earlier this year and was a “big fan” of the arts, “Music, movies, TV, Broadway, books, etc. I was exposed to all that at a very young age. And she always insisted we ask why, what, who, how if we didn’t understand something.”
Every newsletter ends with a dedication to her.