Tom Hartle has an issue with rags-to-riches business stories.
"Sometimes people make those stories sound romantic," says Hartle, co-founder of San Francisco-based Hartle Media, the company he co-founded with his then-wife and creative director Heather Luplow Hartle (they’ve since separated, but remain business partners.) "They’re not romantic, they’re desperate. But you just gotta hang in there."
And despite the setting, the company’s 2001 launch of 7X7;named for the square mileage of San Francisco;was anything but. Their idea was sound;San Francisco had dominated the space for years but had gotten stale, Hartle says, because its coverage had become too wide in encompassing the entire Bay Area, and 7X7 would focus solely on the city. But for Hartle, who had co-founded and sold his stake in the successful Hour Detroit after a stint as sales manager for the Detroit offices of Rolling Stone, calls the experience "horrible."
"The economy was terrible, the dot-com thing was imploding, and we launched two weeks before 9/11," says Hartle. "We should’ve been bankrupt, we should’ve eaten this thing a couple times over." Add to it his separation from Heather Luplow, and it’s a wonder 7X7 was able to publish anything.
But they persevered, he says;and this is where this story might start sounding romantic;with the help of executive publisher Susie McCormick and a band of "young, creative, hungry" locals who believed in the magazine enough to defer wages until Hartle could pay them.
"The economy was terrible, the dot-com thing was imploding, and we launched two weeks before 9/11. We should’ve eaten this thing a couple times over."
Like other publishing entrepreneurs, Hartle expanded his business through strategic acquisitions;including the purchase of the regional shelter book California Home + Design in 2004 and a pending acquisition of Spin that was rumored to close by the end of February.
Apart from the Spin purchase, the company has "doubled revenues almost every year" and grown to $10 million with 60 percent of its revenues split between 7X7 and CH+D and the remaining 40 percent split between custom publishing and a rep arm (Hartle Media serves as the Northwest sales office for Spin and Popular Mechanics).
He’s also not too keen on the stigma associated with small publishing companies. "There’s a tendency for bigger publishers to look at smaller publishers and say, ﾑOh, they’re cute little operators,’" says Hartle. "Why, because we have to be nimble, quick and enterprising?"
"Day in and day out, you have to do these businesses right," Hartle adds. "You don’t have some big parent company to say, ﾑYou know what, if you have losses, that’s okay.’"
And, he says, the experience as a pair of entrepreneurs splitting up a marriage but staying together as a business has only made the company stronger.
"For the kind of growth we’ve had, you have to have somebody you can really trust and talk to," says Hartle says of Luplow, "and at the same time be able to get really angry at them and say ﾑYou’re a moron.’ It almost strengthens what we do to create a company."
ﾕ Platforms include: 7X7 magazine, California Home & Design, Spin [pending].
ﾕ Previous Launch(es): Hour Detroit.
ﾕ Revenue: $10 million (est.)
ﾕ Words of Wisdom: "Sometimes people make those stories sound romantic;they’re not romantic, they’re desperate. But you just gotta hang in there."