In 2008, he had sold SFO Media, his travel blog company, to CondeNet, the online arm of Conde Nast. That deal launched his seven-year career at Conde Nast — and gave him the experience to build and sell Foodboro.
Foodboro accumulated a niche newsletter audience of 5,000 food and beverage professionals in three years, enabling Johnson to sell the company for an undisclosed price.
Developing an online food and beverage community
Johnson’s venture studio, Attic Ventures, which invests in and grows digital businesses, launched Foodboro in 2018. Eric Holstein, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Attic Ventures who had founded several food and beverage startups, co-founded the company and worked on it through its first year.
Johnson, who has a background in SaaS and content, had just completed a food and beverage consulting project at the time, he explained in an August 2020 episode of The VentureFuel Visionaries Podcast.
“It became obvious [these makers’] digital needs weren’t being met, and they really didn’t have a digital home for their entire ecosystem, so that’s what we set out to do,” he said.
Johnson described Foodboro as “a community of makers navigating the future of the food and beverage industry.” A small niche, yes, but that’s what attracted subscribers to the informative weekly newsletter — a gateway to the paid community, which primarily drove revenue.
Through the membership program, makers and vendors could connect and converse through a Slack channel, he explained on The Price Podcast in 2019. It also provided a toolkit, which included perks like discounts on software and partnership opportunities.
“Our goal with the membership is to really give [makers] an unfair advantage,” Johnson said on The VentureFuel Visionaries Podcast. “While they might be great with baking the product or making the food, there are a lot of moving parts to the food and beverage business, so we’re just trying to make their lives a little easier.”
He relied on a small team of contractors to grow the business. Just before the acquisition, two sponsors signed on, and the online community had recorded its top quarter in revenue, though Johnson didn’t disclose that number.
“This was a very small company that was just starting to go from 0 to 1,” he said. “My studio, Attic Ventures, had incubated the project and turned it into a business, and I was ready to move on to other projects.”
Ready for new projects, Johnson finds a Foodboro buyer
In 2021, Johnson searched for a buyer on the online marketplace MicroAcquire, which has since rebranded to Acquire. There, he connected with Sylva, a company that acquires and grows niche online communities. He felt Foodboro would be in good hands.
Foodboro was still a young business, so the due diligence phase wasn’t too intensive, and there wasn’t much historical data to wade through. The most challenging aspect of the acquisition, he said, was keeping the business running while navigating the deal, a common experience for founders.
Once the deal was complete, Johnson took a six-week “semi-break” in Maine. Now, he’s no longer involved with Foodboro — just watches it grow from afar. His company’s lead contractor became an employee at the acquiring company to help with the continuity of Foodboro.
Johnson encouraged founders to find the one thing their company does better than anyone else — and double down for a year. Then, “pick your head up, see where you are at, and if you have the metrics to get the outcome you want, go for it.”