Skip to content

Ozy Media’s Carlos Watson Says It Is ‘Going to Open for Business’ – The New York Times

Hours after Carlos Watson, the chief executive of Ozy Media, appeared on morning news programs to say he would revive his company, which announced on Friday that it had shut down, a prominent early investor in Ozy demanded that he spend its remaining cash to pay its employees.

Mr. Watson embarked on a media tour Monday, sitting for interviews on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and NBC’s “Today” show. “We’re going to open for business, so we’re making news today,” Mr. Watson told the “Today” co-anchor Craig Melvin.

Speaking of the swift fall of the multimedia company he had helped found in 2013 with the backing of deep-pocketed investors, Mr. Watson added: “Last week was traumatic. It was difficult, heartbreaking in many ways.” He went on to say he had spoken with investors and advertisers, as well as Ozy’s readers and viewers, over the weekend as he prepared to bring the company back.

Ron Conway, the founder of SV Angel, a Silicon Valley investment firm, and one of Ozy’s original financial backers, said in an interview on Monday that he was troubled to hear Mr. Watson say he had been in touch with advertisers and investors — but not Ozy employees.

“I want to publicly ask Carlos to take care of his team members,” Mr. Conway said. “Take every ounce of cash and you distribute it to those deserving team members who deserve to be respected at this time.”

Mr. Conway said that the roughly 75 former Ozy employees should be given at least two weeks’ severance, and that he was upset to have read that Mr. Watson told employees of the shutdown Friday in a brief Zoom call.

“Is a five-minute call respectful when people have been giving their lives to you?” Mr. Conway asked.

Ozy announced that it had ceased operations five days after the publication of a New York Times report that the company misled potential investors and partners. In one instance, a top Ozy executive apparently impersonated a YouTube executive during a February conference call with Goldman Sachs bankers, who were looking to invest $40 million in the company; the purpose of the apparent impersonation was to assure the Goldman team that Ozy’s videos were a great success on YouTube.

Mr. Conway, who said he had invested $50,000 of seed funding in Ozy in 2013, said he had long had doubts about the company’s long-term viability. In February 2018, he said, he sent an email to Mr. Watson advising him to cut costs and seek a buyer for the company as a backup.

“He did not do that,” Mr. Conway said, “and now look where those poor employees are sitting.”

Mr. Watson did not respond to a request for comment about Mr. Conway’s remarks.

The end of Ozy seemed certain on Friday, when the company’s board released a statement saying “with the heaviest of hearts that we must announce today that we are closing Ozy’s doors.”

The apparent end came after Mr. Watson and the other remaining board member, Michael Moe, the head of the Silicon Valley investment firm GSV Ventures, concluded that the company could not recover. They issued the farewell statement through a spokeswoman.

It was not clear on Monday how Mr. Watson would execute his stated plan to reopen Ozy, whose website appeared to not have been updated since last week. The last edition of one of its daily newsletters, “The Presidential Daily Brief,” was sent on Thursday. On Monday, emails sent to Ozy’s vice president of communications bounced back as undeliverable.

In the days before the shutdown announcement, a star journalist, Katty Kay, quit Ozy; the Ozy board hired a law firm to investigate the company’s “business activities” and leadership team; and the board chairman, Marc Lasry, announced his resignation.

During his “Today” appearance on Monday, Mr. Watson declined to say who Ozy’s remaining investors were and said the board now comprised himself and Mr. Moe.

In his interview on CNBC, Mr. Watson conceded that the company had misled its own staff and guests about where a program produced by Ozy, “The Carlos Watson Show,” would air, claiming it would appear on the cable channel A&E. “That was wrong,” he said. “I don’t know if that was a mistake or that was intentional.” The show is available on YouTube and the Ozy website.

Known for his skill as a communicator and deal maker, Mr. Watson on Monday invoked Lazarus, the biblical figure Jesus raised from the dead, and to Tylenol, the drug company that regained consumers’ trust after seven people died in 1982 after being poisoned by capsules laced with cyanide.

“This is our Lazarus moment, if you will, this is our Tylenol moment” Mr. Watson said on “Today.”

Katie Robertson contributed reporting.