Topix is one of those start-ups that challenges the way we measure success in Silicon Valley.
On one hand, the news conversation site founded almost eight years ago by Chris Tolles has attracted investment from three big-time newspaper companies (McClatchy, Gannett and Tribune Co.) and is profitable. The latter alone puts it ahead of the vast majority of start-up ideas that barely limp out of the gate. As such, the Palo Alto-based company is stable and employs 25 people.
A great achievement, right?
So where, exactly, does that leave Topix? During a recent phone interview, Tolles and I were discussing just this idea, when he quoted Pete Campbell, a character from Mad Men, who said on the recent season premier: “Stable is that step backwards between successful and failing.”
And so, without blowing up the ship, Topix is casting around for ways to accelerate its growth. To that end, it’s launching a new site focused on political news: Politix (http://politix.topix.com).
For now, the site has been developed for mobile browsers, but will be soon available for desktop browsers. Tolles says users will be able to eventually create political profiles on Politix and he hopes it will become a place where a wide range of people with gather to comment and share political news.
The move is kind of a return to its roots for Topix. Originally, the site created thousands of categories for news where people could discuss stories. But the company got the most traction by breaking the news stories into local geographies, and eventually embraced localization as its core mission. Topix succeeded by demonstrating just how much people want to gather and talk about the news.
Politix, Tolles hopes, will be the first of many sections dedicated to topic categories, rather than geographies. And in turn, he’s hoping that gets moves the company out of the “stable” middle ground.
“We’re not in a position to go public,” he said. “We’ve been approached by companies for investments and deals and things like that. But we’d like to show a higher trajectory of growth.
“We need to invest a bit and stretch a bit. And we need to do that in a smart way.”