Once Upon a Startup

It’s a familiar story. A couple of Yale grads rent a Lower East Side garret.

All they have is an idea.

They start working the phones to raise $100,000 in starting capital.

If their idea works, it will revolutionize media.

The young men are opposites in almost every way.

Brit is a bon vivant, prodigious, charismatic, and mercurial.

Henry is more reserved, a geek, and a bit of a bean-counter.

Together they make a formidable team.

The well-connected young men call everyone they know.

Friends, friends of friends, old college buddies, parents of old college buddies.

Almost everyone says no, but they keep calling.

After 18 months of pleading, cajoling and outright begging they’ve raised $85,675 and they decide to take the plunge.

In March, 1923 the first issue of Time magazine rolls off the presses.

No one has seen anything like it.

Time is a weekly news-magazine in an era where news is the domain of daily papers.

A lot of papers, in 1870 there were around 600 dailies in America, by 1900 there were over 2000.

And new media is exploding too.

From 1920 to 1922 over new 500 radio stations would start broadcasting.

The public are suffering from information overload.

And Time provides an imaginative solution.

Brit Haden and Henry Luce promise a magazine the busy businessman can read in an hour to stay informed.

Time has stumbled on aggregation, rewriting the important stories of the day in a snappy new journalese that came to be known as Timestyle.

Under Haddon’s inspired editorship it was often fun, and always fresh.

But originality does not always guarantee popularity.

The first issue bombed, subsequent issues struggled.

Sometimes Haddon had to resort to sending creditors cheques he had “forgotten” to sign.

But Luce and Hadden were tenacious.

By the end of 1923 Time had a few thousand subscribers.

By the end of 1924 the magazine boasted over 70,000 subscribers and turned a small profit.

It became a publishing sensation.

A couple of weeks after his 31st birthday, Briton Hadden died.

The bon viveur had long ago crossed over into alcoholism.

He caught an infection he couldn’t fight off and a few days later he was dead.

In an eerie pre-shadowing of Zuckerberg and Saverin falling out at Facebook,Luce set about erasing Haddon’s reputation as a founder of Time.

As Wikipedia acknowledges:

“Luce took Hadden's name off the masthead of Time within two weeks of his death. In the next 38 years, he delivered more than 300 speeches around the world, mentioning Hadden four times. Throughout his life, Luce repeatedly claimed credit for Hadden's ideas.”

Some 80 years later while media has changed beyond recognition, the size of founder’ ego seems to be a constant.

It would take 40 years, and Luce’s death, before Haddon’s name was restored to its rightful place on Time’s masthead.

When Time merged with Warner Communications in 1989, Time Warner was the world’s largest media company.