Since leaving Politico three years ago, the founders of the Washington news start-up Punchbowl News have made their mark with aggressive inside-the-Beltway coverage, breaking news on the Capitol riot, the messy ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the death of Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
Now, they opening a new avenue for reaching political obsessives by acquiring a start-up that tracks legislation making its way through Congress.
Punchbowl News said Thursday that it was acquiring Electo Analytics, a company that provides data to help decipher and analyze legislation. The stock deal values Punchbowl News at more than $100 million, according to two people familiar with the transaction.
The deal is a sign of an increasingly popular approach among digital news start-ups. Instead of trying to cover the whole world and rely on advertising, the outlets are focused on narrow lanes of coverage that people are willing to pay for.
“The trade publication for the digital age is up-to-the-moment, delivered to you immediately and gives you something that you don’t otherwise know,” said Ken Doctor, a media analyst and entrepreneur. “Usually some combination of really important data, breaking news and interpretation.”
Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer, John Bresnahan and Rachel Schindler, the Politico alumni who co-founded Punchbowl News, planned from the start to offer data as part of a pitch to subscribers, who pay $300 a year for their membership, said Ms. Palmer, 41, Punchbowl’s chief executive. The start-up — named for the secret service code name for the Capitol building — has been in talks with Electo Analytics since this summer, hammering out the broad strokes of the deal during dinner over Labor Day weekend, Ms. Palmer said.
Punchbowl News is betting that the finer points of lawmaking will be a major selling point for its readership, which Mr. Sherman says includes senators, congressional representatives and their aides. The company, which has a website and three daily email blasts, also recently started a texting service that offers die-hard users an urgent peek at the news. (“DIANNE FEINSTEIN HAS PASSED AWAY AT 90. PUNCHBOWL NEWS TEXT OUT A FEW MIN AGO,” blared a tweet flagging the report.)
The company plans to increase its annual subscription by $50 in January and will also eventually offer a higher-cost subscription that includes data from Electo Analytics for more than $1,000, but the final price hasn’t been set.
“We have a deep understanding of who our audience is, and we want to serve them in new ways — and in ways where we have heard from them that they want more information from us,” Ms. Palmer said.
Punchbowl News is one of the most promising entrants to the digital news industry in many years. Ms. Palmer said the company generated $20 million in revenue this year and is profitable. Though the company is primarily focused on subscriptions, she said it is nearly halfway to its projected ad revenue target for 2024. The advertisers include Meta and Exxon Mobil.
Ms. Palmer declined to disclose the ad revenue target number, or how many paying subscribers Punchbowl News has.
Punchbowl News is also expanding its coverage of the financial services industry — “explaining Washington to New York,” Ms. Palmer said. By the end of next year, the company aims to employ roughly 30 people, up from 23.
“Our goal is to stay nimble,” she said.