Mar 22, 2022 - Economy

Scoop: Smiths to name new company "Semafor"

Photo illustration of Ben Smith and Justin Smith sitting at a table with a laptop and with U.S. quarters falling in the background.

Photo Illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint, Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Ben and Justin Smith plan to name their new company “Semafor,” a word used to describe a method of communication via two visual signals, the pair confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: The word, which is roughly the same across dozens of languages, is meant to represent the duo's global ambitions.

Details: The word "semaphore" is derived from the ancient Greek word meaning "sêma," or signal, and "phore," which means carrier or bearer of a signal.

  • The Smiths will use the phonetic spelling of the word, "Semafor," as opposed to the more commonly used classical spelling, "Semaphore." (Far more companies currently use the classical spelling than the phonetic.)
  • Justin Smith said they are very confident the company is in good shape as far as making sure the name is successfully trademarked globally. "We think this is going to be a very viable and successful option," he said.
  • The pair is hoping to use the URL for its website.

The big picture: The duo has kept many details about their company, including its name, under wraps, but have done a good amount of press interviews in the past few months. One criticism of the company so far is that its plans are still murky.

  • In a phone conversation, Justin Smith reiterated that the company's core differentiation as a modern news brand will be its emphasis on global news.
  • "Given that critical and strategic focus ... it was really important for us to have a name that had the same meaning regardless of your native tongue," Smith said.
  • Two sources told Axios that the pair was considering possibly debuting the Semafor name at an event during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner weekend at the end of April. Justin Smith said they are still finalizing debut event plans.

The company plans to launch in the U.S. and one other large market later this year.

The big picture: The Smiths are looking to raise $20 million to $30 million to launch a news organization by this fall, according to people they've pitched.

  • The pair is offering equity to potential employees they've interviewed. Two sources note that the pair may be raising a SAFE (simple agreement for future equity) round, which would allow them to convert funding into equity when they eventually raise money at a certain valuation.

The duo has made several key hires, including:

  • Gina Chua from Reuters to serve as executive editor.
  • Caitlin Roman from The Athletic to be head of product.
  • Steve Clemons from The Hill to lead the company's live event arm.
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