Video Site Upworthy Closes $8M Round, Will Build Revenue Through Sponsored Content

Upworthy, the media site aiming to make videos with a message go viral, has raised $8 million in Series A funding led by Spark Capital, an early investor in Tumblr and Twitter, along with Catamount Ventures, Uprising, and the Knight Foundation.

With this latest round of funding, Upworthy is taking a new focus on building revenue streams through its editorial content, which it had only dipped a toe into up to this point. The business team, which previously consisted of “less than one” full time person, now stands at four.

Co-founders Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley said that the team is looking to expand its coverage of certain topics, like parenting and global health. Focusing more heavily on particular subjects gives Upworthy the opportunity to monetize on sponsorships.

“We think a number of these sections that we might want to delve more deeply into are sections that people might want to underwrite,” Koechley said. “If there’s a real alignment of a sponsor section on a particular topic, we find the best content in the world on that topic and draw attention to it better than anyone else can, and it’s great for our partner in those cases. We leverage how to draw attention, and they associate their brand with that.”

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The founders said that while they are playing around with the idea of creating verticals, the site is maintaining its single stream layout for the time being. And although Upworthy is looking to grow its coverage of certain topics, becoming a news source is not in the company’s future.

“From the very beginning we said we’re not going to do news. It sort of feels like toddlers playing soccer. Everyone’s running after the ball,” Koechley said. “We want to be doing something that adds value. Instead of doing the most timely thing, or to have it first, we kind of want to be the place that’s reliably great, even though we’re not first. And in that sense we’re more magazine-y than newsy. We’re adding more context, and frankly not stressing about topics that other people are talking about.”

The company is also investing heavily in its tech operations and data analytics system, which the team built from scratch as the basis for measuring and creating virality.

The founders said that while other media companies might improve content by hiring a snappy new editor with a sharp eye, Upworthy has developed a tool to evaluate in real time how the audience is responding and compare that against recently posted content. That’s something on which they’re continuing to iterate.

In October of last year, Upworthy closed $4 million in seed funding from Chris Hughes of Facebook, Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, and BuzzFeed’s John Johnson.