Mar 5, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: NTWRK folds into Complex, original execs return


Photo: Courtesy of NTWRK

Less than two weeks after acquiring Complex for $108 million, NTWRK, the celebrity-backed e-commerce startup, now says it plans to fold its brand and business into Complex, NTWRK CEO Aaron Levant told Axios.

Why it matters: It's part of a larger overhaul of Complex's business post-acquisition that will also include reviving the outlet's print magazine and rehiring some of Complex's earliest executives to transform the brand for the e-commerce era.

Driving the news: Over the next six months, the NTWRK brand will fold into Complex and will anchor its commerce arm, Levant said.

  • The parent company that owns Complex will be called Complex NTWRK, but that will be the only place the NTWRK brand exists. NTWRK will no longer be a consumer-facing brand.

Between the lines: Complex has already made an acquisition and has rehired a slew of former early employees to jump-start its growth efforts.

  • The company has acquired Idea Generation, an original content company, via a cash and stock deal, Levant said.
  • With that purchase, it's bringing on Idea Generation founder Noah Callahan-Bever as Complex's new chief content officer. Callahan-Bever was Complex's editor-in-chief and chief content officer from 2005 to 2017.
  • Moksha Fitzgibbons, who previously served as Complex's chief revenue officer from 2006 to 2017, will become Complex's media division president. Fitzgibbons has served as president of NTWRK since October 2019.
  • Mike Tresvant, who formerly had two stints at Complex as vice president of brand partnerships and then general manager, will become head of brand partnerships. Tresvant has been at NTWRK since 2023.
  • Complex founder and acclaimed fashion designer Marc Eckō will return to serve on the board of the new company, which will have a total of around 280 employees by next month, per Levant.

Catch up quick: Complex was created in 2002 as a shopping magazine aimed at young males who were interested in street fashion, art and culture.

  • In the years that followed, the company turned more of its efforts to digital, launching a media network with several umbrella sites. It sold to BuzzFeed for $300 million in 2021 as a part of BuzzFeed's IPO.
  • Today, Complex is known for its flagship event ComplexCon and its original shows, which run on YouTube and are licensed to premium streamers.

Behind the scenes: Using the money it raised from Universal Music Group and other investors to fund the Complex acquisition, the company plans to grow its headcount and significantly expand its content and product slate.

  • The firm plans to relaunch its flagship magazine as a way to drive brand awareness and engagement. Within the next year, Levant hopes to have 12 editions printed annually, each with high-impact covers that include products readers can shop for.
  • It also plans to launch more original shows, with the hope of making them shoppable. Several of Complex's key video franchises that focus on sneaker collecting will be ripe for shopping integrations, Levant said.
  • The firm also plans to relaunch its Complex News franchise, which was a primary incubator of Complex stars and talent, per Callahan-Bever.

Under the new structure, Complex's business will be monetized across three main revenue streams: commerce, content and experiences, per Levant.

  • The commerce arm will continue to leverage NTWRK's livestream shopping marketplace that sells things like art, sneakers and fashion. It will also include a licensing business where the company creates exclusive products with celebrities, leveraging their brands.
  • Content will be monetized mostly through advertising, both branded content and programmatic (automated) ad sales, as well as licensing its content to other platforms.
  • Experiences will include new investments in ComplexCon and other retail and pop-up events.

Zoom in: Previously, the vast majority of the company's money came mostly from digital advertising around its online content, Levant said.

  • "Now we really are a three-pronged company that can stand on its own with diversification of revenue."
  • More than 250 people work at the combined company today, and that headcount is expected to grow to 280 by next month, per Levant.

The big picture: Complex's growth plans stand in stark contrast to the contraction of the broader digital media industry over the past few months.

  • "We're definitely in an invest and build mode," Levant said.

What to watch: Executives plan to launch a subscription membership tier in the second half of the year that will include exclusive merchandise, content, access to its revived print magazine and more.

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