Media & Entertainment

Area man, Twilio co-founder Jeff Lawson, buys The Onion


Twilio co-founder Jeff Lawson during TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015
Image Credits: John Phillips / Stringer / Getty Images

Jeff Lawson, the co-founder and recently departed CEO of enterprise infrastructure software company Twilio, is the proud new owner of satirical online newspaper The Onion.

“Alright, the news is out — yes, I bought The Onion,” Lawson wrote in a LinkedIn post late Thursday, after it was first reported in The New York Times.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Onion, regarded by many as “America’s finest news source,” is a digital media institution, serving satire by the spoonful for more than three decades, first as a weekly print edition starting in 1988, then as an online outlet from 1996 with the physical publication ceasing in 2013. Its spoof stories have often been conflated with real news, but The Onion has become a staple part of the digital media landscape for its “alternative” take on some of the world’s biggest events — some real, others completely made up — spawning memes such as “Area Man” while aping the reporting style of more traditional news outlets.

“Our Dumb Century”

The Onion has counted several owners through the years (Elon Musk was apparently interested at one point), including Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, which procured a controlling stake in 2016. It then sold it alongside Gizmodo to private equity firm Great Hill Partners in 2019, which created a new media holding company called G/O Media Inc.

Now, The Onion has landed in the hands of a new Chicago-based firm called Global Tetrahedron, which is in fact a reference to a fictional firm that appears in a satirical book published by The Onion staff in 1999, called “Our Dumb Century.”

The brains behind the new Global Tetrahedron is Jeff Lawson, who co-founded Twilio way back in 2008 as a way to help businesses easily embed communication features, such as SMS and calls, into their apps through an application programming interface (API). The company went public in 2016 at a valuation of more than $1 billion, going on to reach nearly $70 billion during the pandemic — before settling at the $10 billion to $15 billion mark these past couple of years.

Lawson announced back in January that he was stepping down from Twilio, and he has been on a “personal goal pursuit” as part of a career break since, according to his LinkedIn profile.

But why would Lawson want to buy The Onion? Well, because he likes it and he has the means to buy it.

“The Onion is an institution, a national treasure, and we need it,” Lawson said in his announcement post. “But its success is based on something different than most media companies. The Onion has been stifled, along with most of the Internet, by byzantine cookie dialogs, paywalls, bizarro belly fat ads, and clickbait content. And we’ve had enough. The Internet sucks, and it’s time we made it better. It’s time to focus on customers — end users — again.”

Lawson assures us that more will be coming in the future — new products, new mediums — but for now he’s asking everyone to pony up some cash for the cause. At the time of writing, The Onion’s homepage is plastered with “breaking news” and “trending” stories that are entirely about this acquisition, where Lawson is asking those who share his mission to donate exactly $1. For nothing in return.

“If you care about The Onion, if The Onion ever made you laugh — give us a buck,” Lawson wrote. “For that dollar, you get … absolutely nothing. Just a smug sense that you’ve once again spent less on The Onion than it’s worth in your life.”

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