Atlas Obscura’s CEO is stepping down and asking the company’s own readers and users to help find its new top executive.
In a Monday note to readers, CEO David Plotz said he will leave the travel and experiences-focused media company after five years on the heels of a massive new investment in the brand led by home-sharing company Airbnb.
But in lieu of a traditional executive search, Atlas Obscura put out a call on Monday for its own users to help pick a new CEO. In a chat with The Daily Beast, Plotz said the move was in keeping with the brand’s decade-long focus on drawing from its community of users.
“We hope that there will be someone in our community, someone who already understands us, who knows us, who will put themselves forward, or maybe they know somebody who seems like they have the perfect sensibility,” he said, noting that the search will be aided by a firm to seek candidates and vet applications.
Plotz’s departure comes at a major transition point for the company. Launched in 2009 as a website dedicated to obscure and forgotten curiosities and oddities, over the past several years Atlas Obscura’s business has transformed from more standard digital-media business, focused on advertising revenue and sponsored travel content, to a business focused increasingly on travel and experience offerings.
Last month, the company announced that Airbnb led a $20-million funding round, making it the largest investment Atlas Obscura has raised in its history.
The Wall Street Journal noted that Airbnb would integrate Atlas Obscura into its website and apps, and would take a leading role in expanding the home-share tech giant’s travel experience offerings. In turn, Atlas Obscura would increasingly look to expand its own travel offerings.
In a meeting last week, Atlas Obscura founder Joshua Foer acknowledged how much the business had shifted over the years that Plotz had been CEO.
“David has done an extraordinary job leading this company through three rounds of funding, and from a handful of employees to nearly 60,” Foer told staff in a meeting last week. “While other media companies are laying off, cutting back, and folding up, Atlas Obscura is growing and expanding, with a strategy that is working. And that is a testament to David's tremendous leadership and foresight.”
Plotz noted that part of the departure is logistical: He’s spent the last five years commuting by train twice a week from his home in Washington, D.C., to the company’s New York office—an arrangement that has strained both parties.
But he also said the new investment from Airbnb marked a turning point for Atlas Obscura and his role as a leader.
“The company is poised to have this huge growth in its trips and local experiences and that requires a set of skills that I don’t have yet,” he said. “I think I’ve done a good job stewarding it so far, and helping build this great brand that we built, but right now it needs someone who has these business skills that I would need to develop.”
Disclosure: This reporter briefly worked as an intern at Slate when Plotz was editor-in-chief there.