On the Ground News targets $30m for 15% stake

BY STEVEN JACKSON Business Observer Writer jacksons@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

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ON the Ground News Reports (OGNR), valued at $200 million based on future earnings, aims to offer investors a 15 per cent stake in the online news outfit, says co-founder Paul Thompson.

The sale of shares will occur in September in an attempt to raise $30 million as working capital for the three-year-old company. Thompson indicates that the company currently ranks as the third most visited local media website. It's a claim substantiated with ranking data from independent search analystics site, Alexa.

"We are trying to raise $30 million for a 15 per cent stake in the company. We would use the funds to expand the product offering, buildout and assist in marketing the product," Thompson told the Business Observer.

Along with Thompson, OGNR co-founders include Marc Ramsay, Courtney Patterson and Timothy Beckford.

The company, which operates an editorial staff of four, not including the founding members, gained prominence from its community reporting coverage of the May 2010 'Tivoli Incursion', when security forces entered the West Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens in a failed attempt to capture former don, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, which killed over 70 citizens.

It has been a news source for a new generation of readers ever since.

Not much is known about the principals of OGNR, adding mystery to the news outfit.

Thompson, in true style, declined a Business Observer photo session, but assures that the company operates without bias despite the secretive nature of the founders.

"We are unbiased and non-partisan because the public is unbiased and non-partisan," he indicated.

OGNR has three revenue streams: advertising, sponsored articles or advertorials, and SMS text news blasts at $30 a day. It is also developing an application to run on all major mobile platforms.

OGNR will seek equity from individual or corporate investors. Additionally, Thompson welcomes partnerships and investment from traditional media. He declined to reveal current revenue or equity, but indicates that the company has a "conservative" future valuation of over $200 million.

"Our focus has not been on revenues, but on our development as a company. We are trying to build out a product with demonstrable strength," he indicated.

OGNR's growth reflects the power of the Internet, with a nimble company rivalling online viewship of traditional media. OGNR has nearly 96,000 likes (or subscribers) on online blog Facebook and over 13,000 followers on Twitter, based on checks by the Business Observer

"We are the third most trafficked local media website behind the Observer and Gleaner newspaper," he indicated.

"Yes, we beat them too," stated Thompson, who listed another vast media empire.

The company's popularity is driven partly by its news verification method, which inverts the style of traditional media. This method
allows subscribers to publish information deemed newsworthy as an unconfirmed report. Subequently, editors confirm, corroborate or deny these reports posted to its website or pages on online blogs, Facebook and Twitter. This style effectively allows OGNR to have over "100,000 potential reporters" in scores of countries, said Thompson.

"We recognised that there was a gap in what the traditional media can cover, but that ordinary users have cell phones and cameras and can report on things that they see happening," he reasoned.

"What we are not trying to do is replace analysis of traditional papers. We are trying to establish the facts that something happened and leave the analysis to the traditional media."

During the Tivoli Incursion, OGNR received key images and reports from within the community and its subscriber base rocketed during the first month, recalled Thompson.

"We started on May 23rd 2010 in the midst of the Dudus inquisition ...There was a media blackout but we felt that it was important to get the stories from off the ground. We were (amongst) the first to get images of the Dudus capture," he indicated.

The long-term goal for OGNR includes listing on the Junior Stock Exchange.

"We want to go public because we are about the public. But we are not ready for that yet, that is why we are raising funds first this way," he said.

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