With Debt Round, Web Publisher LittleThings Plans For More Positivity-Fueled Growth

There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of LittleThings, but apparently it’s seeing rapid growth, thanks to a focus on positive and inspirational stories.

In fact, according to data from NewsWhip, LittleThings was responsible for the single most popular Facebook post of 2015. The story is basically just a write up of a two-year-old video of Ann and Nancy Wilson covering “Stairway to Heaven,” but thanks a clever, attention-grabbing description (“44 Years Ago, He Wrote This Song. But When He Hears Her Sing It Like THIS, He Cries”) and perhaps some Facebook voodoo, it has nearly 1.8 million Likes.

That’s not just a fluke, either. The New York City startup’s comScore numbers show 49.5 million unique visitors in October, making it the seventh-largest Lifestyle property. Not bad for a site that didn’t exist a couple of years ago.

LittleThings is also announcing that it’s raised a debt round from City National Bank. Unfortunately, it’s not disclosing the size of the round (a spokesperson said the company doesn’t have permission to share that number), but it still seems worth noting as LittleThings’ first outside funding, and in the context of ever-larger funding rounds for digital media companies like BuzzFeed and Vox.

Co-founder Joe Speiser told me he’s taken “a slightly different approach” than many publications that “burn as much money as [they] possibly can.” As I mentioned, LittleThings didn’t raise outside funding for nearly two years — Speiser said taking on debt was “super attractive” now, particularly in comparison to an equity round, since it allows LittleThings to grow with “barely any strings attached” and without dilution.

It helps that the company is profitable, bringing in an estimated $25 million in in revenue during 2015. LittleThings already has a headcount of 55, and Speiser said the funding will help it expand its reporting and video production, and also allow it to build an ad sales team.

In addition to drawing readers to its own site, LittleThings has also put a lot energy into attracting readers on Facebook — hence the big hit mentioned above. Speiser said he’s expecting publishers to see big video monetization opportunities on Facebook in 2016.

The real question may be whether LittleThings’ positive focus is enough of a foundation for a big media company. Speiser argued that the site is filling a real need for its readers — for example, he said traffic to LittleThings spiked in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. It might seem crass to benefit from something so horrible, but Speiser said those readers weren’t coming for stories about Paris.

“People needed a break, a relief from the onslaught of news,” he said. “It’s tough to consume all this content, it makes you feel really depressed, so we’re happy to be … a safe haven.”

He added that LittleThings is “trying to not just report on the news, but break the news.” For example, it helped grant a terminally patient’s dying wish by working with Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses to bring a mini therapy horse to her hospital room — and then wrote about it. Apparently, this is something of a venerable journalistic tradition.