Silicon Valley just hit ‘send’ on an investment in Miami’s hottest media startup

Jason Calacanis
Jason Calacanis TPN file

What started as a group meetup project among friends is now officially a million-dollar media company expanding across America.

WhereBy.Us, the company that has been publishing Miami’s The New Tropic newsletter for the past three years, has just closed on an investment round worth $1.5 million, capped off by an undisclosed amount from Jason Calacanis, one of the most well-respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. WhereBy.Us will now enter Calacanis’ startup incubator, giving it an opportunity to pitch to more than a hundred top investors and learn the latest startup best practices.

“That will wildly accelerate their already solid growth,” Calacanis said.

Miami Herald parent company McClatchy, the Knight Foundation, and crowdfunders accessing the site SeedInvest also participated in the funding round.

WhereBy.Us has also announced the launch of two new newsletters, in Portland and Orlando, and plans to announce more in the coming months. CEO Christopher Sopher says the total market for the company’s newsletters could be as many as 250 cities. The daily emails combine news roundups with event shoutouts, community projects and promotions.

In an email, Calacanis, a former general manager for Netscape who sold a blogging startup to AOL for millions in 2005, said WhereBy.Us has “real revenue” — the company claims $1 million in 2017 — and has been able to build “deep relationships” with its readers through email. WhereBy.Us now has 22 full-time employees; 17 of those are based in Miami.

WhereBy.Us and The New Tropic are among the best-known local start-ups to draw significant investment in recent years. With 25,000 subscribers, The New Tropic now serves as a gateway to Miami for old and new residents alike.

The initial idea of WhereBy.Us was to bring together like-minded individuals to help solve the city’s problems, Sopher says. One of those problems was how to get more community information out to Miamians. The New Tropic launched in 2015. The project was so successful that the Knight Foundation granted the company $250,000 to expand.

“We knew pretty early on in the life of The New Tropic that we had created something people liked,” Sopher said.

Still, there was still a lot of testing involved in coming up with a product that would guarantee they were “helping with their day in some way.”

There was also the matter of getting a consistent revenue stream. The team began putting together newsletters enhanced by proprietary audience engagement and metrics technology, along with live events for clients ranging from the Arts and Entertainment District to the Miami Book Fair. More recent customers have included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Baptist Health and WeWork. The positive feedback from brands drew in new clients.

But The New Tropic remained WhereBy.Us’ calling card. Eventually, Sopher says, they wanted to see if a similar newsletter could work elsewhere. Its second city newsletter, The Evergrey, launched in Seattle in the fall of 2016. It now has 8,000 subscribers.

“[Seattle] is a place similar to Miami in that it’s experiencing huge growth of people moving back into the urban core and wanting to connect more with their city,” Sopher said.

The most recent investment round was already underway when Calacanis came to Miami in January as part of a book tour — he had said he would visit the first 10 cities that bought 100 copies of his book; Alex Nucci, the head of Miami startup Gramercy, a sales tech company, led the charge to get to the city to triple digits. Gramercy will also be participating in Calacanis’ incubator.

“The Miami startup scene is tiny but promising,” Calacanis said. “I actually think Miami could be a city of the future, since it’s an amazing place where everyone wants to live...and there is a solid core of angel investors getting their [stuff] together, so that’s very promising. It only takes one breakout company to build a massive community — maybe that will be [augmented reality firm] Magic Leap, or maybe it will be Gramercy and WhereBy.Us — no one knows!”

Sopher says The New Tropic has tapped into two growing trends: the rise of non-traditional media — like email newsletters, and a desire, especially among young people, to reengage in civic life.

“It’s about wanting to feel connected, and have the sense that you belong to the place you live,” he said. “The feeling of, ‘I know what’s going on, I feel plugged in’...As the world gets bigger and more global, we see people returning their attention to local in more interesting ways.”

An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Alex Nucci, the head of Miami startup Gramercy.

The early-stage and late-stage startup competition finals were held on the final day of eMerge Americas on May 5, 2015. Miami Heat star Chris Bosh and rapper Pitbull made appearances at the Miami Beach tech conference. (Video by Charles Trainor Jr