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Cash crunch forces tech website Gigaom to shut down

Gigaom founded in 2006 by writer Om Malik and with offices in San Francisco and New York.

Gigaom website

The plug was pulled suddenly at Gigaom, a technology website that was once in the vanguard of a cluster of emerging digital news ventures.

Late Monday afternoon, the San-Francisco-based company posted a note announcing "All operations have ceased." The website had run out of money and turned over its assets, "unable to pay its creditors in full," ending a nine-year run as a prominent voice on tech culture.

The site, founded in 2006 by writer Om Malik, built a wide and mostly loyal audience on a mantra that it wouldn't compromise editorial decision making simply to drive maximum traffic to its stories. It also expanded into events and research to try and tap new revenue streams, and Gigaom's sudden demise caught even its staff off guard.

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"Certainly my impression is that it came as a surprise to almost everyone," said Mathew Ingram, a Canadian-based senior writer at the website. "… Somebody turning the lights out while we're still literally typing stories and filing them, I was not expecting that."

The company's latest cash infusion was $8-million from four venture investors, led by Shea Ventures, announced last year. At the time, Mr. Malik, who was giving up day-to-day involvement in the company but remained on its board, said the new funds would help to continue growing the company's research arm, first launched in 2008 but revamped last year.

Gigaom maintained a stable of about 20 editorial staff, and its readership was relatively steady. But generating income from events and research was key to its survival. Years ago, "our company decided that we would not pray at the altar of pageviews and advertising metrics that do nothing but devalue our readers' time and attention," Mr. Malik wrote in February, 2014. Instead, it would look to subscription revenue to help steady the bottom line.

But as the marketplace for online technology news grew increasingly noisy and crowded, the company's gamble appears not to have paid off. The 6.5 million unique readers who came to Gigaom would have once seemed hugely impressive, and the company was still commanding solid advertising rates. But by today's standards, it had slipped down the rankings, lacking the mass appeal, or the rate of growth, of some competitors, such as TechCrunch or Engadget.

In a farewell posting on his blog, Mr. Malik noted that "business, much like life, is not a movie and not everyone gets to have a story book ending." And while thanking the journalists and other staff who had built the site into a success, he also expressed gratitude to "our investors who believed in the business long before it became fashionable."

There's no doubt Gigaom was in the game early. But lately, bills were coming due and it became harder for the company to subsist on the optimism and potential of an upstart. As Mr. Ingram said, nine years "is a long time in the venture-backed startup business" and as more money is poured into the company, pressure mounts to make tangible profits or show value for a sale.

"Eventually you just run into a wall," Mr. Ingram said, although he noted he was not privy to the company's financial information. "It's a little like a run on a bank, in a way. Once people lose confidence, it accelerates very rapidly."

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The company does not intend to file for bankruptcy. But in its statement, Gigaom management said that: "We do not know at this time what the lenders intend to do with the assets or if there will be any future operations using those assets."

What's clear is that Gigaom is gone. Mr. Malik's blog post on the closing concludes: "Goodnight sweetheart, I still love you!"

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