We Are All Entertainment Fans: the Hitfix Story
Less Gossip and More Substance
Entertainment is a billion dollar business, ranging from movies that thrill to sports that hit it out of the park. Jennifer Sargent, CEO of Hitfix.com, has set out to bring you all of the entertainment buzz and none of the BS. As Sargent says, “Hitfix is in the business of driving consumer entertainment choices,” and nothing could describe the model of Hitfix better.
Though the company covers the entertainment scene, Hitfix was founded on journalistic principle rather than gossip regarding crazy celebrity escapades. “We thought there was more of a gap in the market for legitimate entertainment news,” Sargent confesses. “We very much focus on the actors, the actresses, the musicians, the talent and the actual projects that they are working on.” One can think of Hitfix as more akin to IMDB with journalistic narratives than gossip machines such as TMZ.
Sargent states that “Hitfix is more than just a website. We stream 81 million original videos every month across the nation, in not just digital, desktop and mobile, but out-of-home displays. We’re everywhere.” Hitfix collaborates with online video providers such as Hulu, Youtube, and Dailymotion to provide content in movie theaters, stores and fast food restaurants.
“What we saw was a big disruption happening in media consumption that, especially in 18 to 34-year-olds—which is our target demographic—they weren’t reading print anymore. They were going online for their news and information,” says Sargent. “We saw an opportunity to swoop in and be on all the digital platforms with a model of breaking news and insider information.”
Sargent has had a fairly interesting journey to becoming CEO for Hitfix, starting out in Customer Relations at a theme park and learning how to deal with various types of people. Sargent confesses that the people skills she learned were invaluable throughout her career and says “I think something entrepreneurs have to be very good at is switching gears from talking to an investor to dealing with a client who may be upset or dealing with an employee.”
Sargent’s background is as diverse as the stories Hitfix puts out. She received a degree in Electrical Engineering and then went on to work in investment banking on Wall Street to online advertising and even a short stint in venture capital, making investments in small companies. Sargent is really a jack-of-all-trades and confesses that “for an entrepreneur type of path, having different skill sets is absolutely essential,” as she has at one point used each skill set in the creation and implementation of Hitfix.
The CEO’s first real turn towards the entertainment world came when she moved to L.A. as Head of Online Marketing and Development to work Reed Business Information, a parent company for Variety Magazine. It was here that Sargent met her business partner Greg, a major entertainment guru who shifted his efforts from the studio into editorial. She reveals that together they “uncovered multiple gaps in the entertainment market we very much would have liked Variety to go after,” but ultimately didn’t because of the company’s direction at the time.
When Sargent finally decided to start Hitfix and search for funding, she found it in angel investors (many of them in fact), but faced a major roadblock back in 2008. She had received the term sheet from Golden Seeds, her first major investor, on September 30, 2008, the same day the stock market crashed over 600 points. “I got the joy of negotiating that term sheet during the worst economic downturn that the country has seen in I don’t know how many years,” Sargent remembers. “Investors were skittish and this was a brand new company. We hadn’t launched the site yet, we were pre-revenue and I was asking them to make a bet on me and a bet on this business at a time when everyone was just pulling their money out of the market and keeping it under their mattress.”
When it comes to employing a strategy to get funding from investors, Sargent suggests that entrepreneurs need to know what they want and their own plan for implementation inside and out. “The investors are investing in the people,” Sargent says. “A lot of things are going to change from that initial plan and the investors want someone who can adapt, see opportunities and pivot when necessary, so they just have to really believe in you.”
Although Sargent had a rough start due to an unfortunate nation-wide problem, her perseverance and willingness to adapt was her ticket to receiving funding from not only one angel investor, but several, and has enjoyed a steady rise in success for Hitfix. “Everyone at the company is super passionate about some aspect of entertainment or what they’re doing around the company and that passion is contagious, so that makes it fun,” Sargent reveals.
The CEO does admit that being a mother and a wife while being the face of the her company does present its challenges. “It’s always hard to find balance,” Sargent admits. “I find it, however, to be very rewarding to be a CEO, an entrepreneur, and in fact I have a lot more flexibility than if I worked for someone else.” Sargent suggests that even once you’ve committed your life to your venture, careful management of your time and resources can allow you to keep your social life, relationships, and family top priorities in addition to those you have for your business.
Her journey has been full of twists and turns, but her plethora of experience and skill sets have taught her valuable lessons. “If someone is going to embark upon an entrepreneurial venture, they just can’t be afraid to fail,” Sargent reveals. “The downside of being an entrepreneur is there is always something more you can be doing.” Even if you think you’ve given your business everything you’ve got, you may just surprise yourself at your own ingenuity and out-of-the-box innovation.