By Anya Sacharow
Jim Cramer takes out an orange Crayola highlighter to sketch his Web dilemma. On a wall of his Wall Street office is his kids' scribbled artwork; just outside is the hub of Cramer Berkowitz & Co., his money management firm. Because of SEC regulations, offices for TheStreet.com, the startup financial news Web site he co-owns with New Republic chairman Martin Peretz, are located across downtown at 2 Rector Street. His family, his trading firm and TheStreet.com form the triumvirate of Cramer's life. He runs a 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. marathon each weekday, heading the firm, writing his on-line column (called 'Wrong!' to emphasize his contrarian, at times abrasive, attitudes about the stock market and its players), and doing MacPaint with the girls before they go to bed.
Here's his dilemma: From its launch last December through the end of May, TheStreet.com signed up 4,855 subscribers at $12.95 a month. Subscriptions are growing by about 300 a day, according to Cramer. At that rate, he projects the site will break even by the end of the year. On the other hand, Cramer can gamble $1 million on a TV ad campaign, produced by Ryan Drossman & Partners, New York. Such an investment will delay profitability, but the increase in subscribers could be huge. The choice: eyeballs or dollars?
'Initially my goal was profit,' Cramer, 42, says. 'I wanted to prove someone could make money on the Net. I know I can do that. But now I'm thinking well, maybe I have a cost advantage over Bloomberg, Reuters, Dow Jones. Should I try to be a big brand and have this great publication?'
He's leaning toward the big brand. The TV campaign is ready to go, and Starwave will redesign the site and host it to handle more traffic. The staff of 25 is led by editor-in-chief David Kansas, formerly a senior financial market reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Simon Clark, a director of corporate Web sites for Reuters, is the new director of finance; chief operating officer Brendan Amyot was founding circulation director of Vibe. And Cramer says two major brokerage houses are potential investors.
'We decided to go the more aggressive way,' Cramer notes. 'We're getting a lot of good feedback. Brendan, Marty and I said, let's see what we can do. Where can we take this now?'
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