Fran Hauser: From New Media to Virtual Reality
Media has gone through a radical transformation in the last 15 years. Today, most millennials flip through one of eight different newsfeeds to get their daily dose of headlines. But if it weren’t for Gen-Xer, Fran Hauser, content giants like Time Warner would still be scratching their heads trying to figure out how to get this elusive generation to read their articles.
As the former President of TIME Inc., Digital’s Style and Entertainment Group, Fran famously turned People.com into the household site that is visited by millions of women every day. People Magazine has been a leading publication since its inception in 1974, but in 2005, Fran tapped into the true potential of People by further developing its online brand.
Now a venture capitalist focused on millennial-run businesses through Rothenberg Ventures, Fran is exploring the world of virtual reality and the role it plays within storytelling.
MiLLENNiAL was invited to Ms. Hauser’s home office in Bedford, NY where she extended the rare opportunity to spend a day in her life and learn what it takes to survive in the digital media landscape.
Putting in the…TIME
Starting her media career in 1998, Fran joined the “pure-play digital” and popular showtime call-in service, MovieFone. It was here that she developed her strength as a female executive. By 1999, she was leading the company’s $400 million acquisition by AOL.
Spearheading that deal landed her a position as the Vice President and General Manager of AOL Movies. When AOL merged with Time Warner in 2003, Fran was asked to become the GM of TIME Interactive, where another year later, she would become the president of the conglomerate’s Style and Entertainment digital division, overseeing properties such as InStyle, Entertainment Weekly, Essence, and namely People.
“It was really interesting going into the environment of TIME Inc. 11 years ago because back then People.com had 3 million monthly unique visitors, which was strong, but we got it to a place where it was 30 million monthly unique visitors.” In order to accomplish that growth, Fran explains she had to convince the executives at TIME to change their outlook on digital publishing.
The Dawn of New Media
Although People may have had a relatively large amount of traffic when Fran signed on in 2004, there were still quite a few elements missing from the operation. “Back then what we found was that women really wanted more celebrity news online,” Fran tells us.
Based on identifying the needs of the audience, she decided to turn People.com into a mid-day mind escape for women to quickly dive into their guilty pleasures. “We wanted it to be light and fun and entertaining…so we spent a lot of time understanding her.”
This emphasis on the reader was greatly influenced by Fran’s mentor and colleague, Martha Nelson, People’s Editor-in-Chief at the time. “I felt like when I was working with [Martha] I was constantly pushing myself to do better and I learned so much about the importance of the mass consumer.”
While analyzing audience needs was certainly part of the equation, it wasn’t the only component to its success. Fran was also an early adopter of user experience. “We had editors that created content but we didn’t have product people. And it is really important to have product people that are really thinking about the entire experience of the website,” she adds.
In addition to content, Fran adamantly felt the platform needed its own sales and business development teams. She became a pioneer in the way these efforts were led. Sales focused on native advertising in the form of sponsorships, and business development was about leveraging partnerships with highly trafficked media outlets like AOL and Yahoo.
“What I loved about the experience was that I felt like I was working at a startup but I had the resources of a big company.” It was this philosophy of being an “intrapreneur” that separated People.com from other content brands and placed them in a league of their own.
Finding a Job that Aligns with you
For someone who admires Fran’s professional climb, it is interesting to note that her career did not begin in media. In fact, it started in finance. For the first four-years out of college, she was an accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernest & Young. And while she went on to carve out a path for digital media, she credits accounting as the best mistake she could have made.
“It served me well in many ways. It provided a strong financial foundation that I’ve been able to use both in media and VC,” she explains. This “mistake” also led to her husband of 20 years, Frank Hauser, who she says, “has been such an incredible partner and definitely wins the award for best dad ever!”
The decision to transition out of TIME Inc. to become a full-time venture capitalist not only afforded Fran more time with her husband and two young boys, but also enabled her to pursue her life’s passion: helping those in need. Angel investing in 2011 opened her eyes to the influence she could have over socially impacting businesses, and in 2014, made the ultimate leap to follow her calling.
“When you find a job that is aligned with your values and strengths, its magical,” Fran says. She stresses the importance of connecting with yourself on a deeper level to have a solid sense of your values, strengths and what makes you tick.
Rothenberg Ventures & Mentoring Millennials
Now an active investor and mentor, Fran often provides entrepreneurs with the tools and knowledge needed to take their businesses to the next level. While Fran primarily focuses on investing in digital media and consumer internet, she also plays an important role in Rothenberg Ventures’ active participation in virtual reality. The firm recently launched River, the world’s first virtual reality accelerator.
Together, the team at Rothenberg Ventures sourced and accepted 13 companies that are defining how society will interact with virtual reality in the years to come. From Emblematic, an immersive news outlet that allows for empathetic experiences of real-world scenarios, to Deepstream VR, a healthcare platform used for pain management, Fran is on the forefront of identifying the industry’s leaders.
“There is this culture of anything is possible,” she explains about the generation. “I feel that my thinking has become so much more open and flexible and expansive because I work with millennials and it has been so refreshing and amazing. But on the flipside I love mentoring and I love advising.”
Being a genuinely warm and humble person, Fran is known for opening her network to help entrepreneurs connect with the right people. “If there is one message I try to get across it is this: The courage to be your authentic self.” It is this courage to be her own authentic self that has Fran at the top of our Mentor list.