Baltimore-based SmartCEO is folding. According to its website, “SmartCEO’s mission is to educate, inspire and connect CEOs through its award-winning magazine, high-energy C-level events and access to valuable online resources. SmartCEO’s integrated media platforms reach business decision makers in the Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Long Island, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, metropolitan areas.”
The website also stated: “SmartCEO’s mission is to educate, inspire and connect CEOs through its award-winning magazine, high-energy C-level events and access to valuable online resources.”
Craig Burris, founder and CEO, released the following on SmartCEO’s demise:
It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to announce that, effective today, SmartCEO will be closing its doors.
15 years ago, we launched SmartCEO in Baltimore with the mission to educate and inspire leaders facing the daunting task of growing a business. We took this mission very seriously, because we knew if we positively impacted the life of one entrepreneur, one leader, then he or she in turn would impact the lives of thousands of others.
We initially fulfilled our mission by creating an award-winning magazine that spoke to the heart of entrepreneurs. A self-proclaimed “magazine guy,” I love not only the business model of the magazine business, but also the art form of putting a great cover, the photography of impactful features and the ability to truly connect with a reader. And no one knew how to do that better than Erica Wood, our longtime Art Director, who is truly the best in the business.
Yet the reality was that as new media options emerged, print was taking a marketplace hit. Even though statistics show that 90% of readers love magazines, the flip side of that is, according to research, only 10% of marketers value print. So in 2008, SmartCEO adjusted its model to respond to changing market conditions. We went event heavy, and found real power in building community. We created events packed with entrepreneurial energy, where the best celebrated the best. We also won national awards for our events.
But what I loved the most about the events were the amazing individuals they attracted to our community: the most profitable, forward-thinking, action-oriented CEOs in the business. We were proud of the association and the friendship.
Created by Jaime Zawmon and Devin Servidio, SmartCEO’s systems and approach were second to none and we knew they could be replicated successfully. In 2016, we started an expansion plan to become a national brand with regional leverage points, launching events in eight cities up and down the East Coast. unfortunately, in the middle of the expansion an SBA loan fell through, and in trying to raise alternative capital, I faced surmounting, unexpected obstacles.
By the end of the year, SmartCEO experienced a near fatal fourth quarter – our cash position was significantly diminished. We were undercapitalized to sustain such a sudden and significant loss. We immediately started reducing staff, but with events coming up on the calendar, we had to keep our team confident and engaged to continue to deliver for existing clients. I doubled down and put the rest of my personal assets into the company. Our team responded like champions, producing a record January followed by a very solid first quarter 2017 that showed year-over-year improvement. Sadly, it was too late. The cash crunch was intense.
In an all-out effort to save the company, I worked with my executive team and outside consultants to put together a new, recurring revenue strategy in conjunction with a complete turnaround plan. The plan was designed to execute and fulfill the promises to our event and digital clients and build a more solid future, while staying true to our original mission. However, we continued to struggle, creating a very difficult and demotivating financial environment, despite my attempt from many sources.
That brings us to today, when I am faced with the hardest task I have ever encountered: announcing that, after 15 years, SmartCEO is no longer able to continue to operate and serve its valued community of employees, readers, award-winners, sponsors, advertisers, vendors and other partners.
I am extremely proud of the body of work we have produced over the past 15 years: amazing stories, events and memories. More than 5,000 amazing leaders have been part of the SmartCEO ecosystem. They are all amazing leaders of great companies, many of whom I have been fortunate to call friends and supporters. I will always believe that entrepreneurs are the heart and soul of America. I am grateful to have played a role in their impact over the past 15 years.
Despite trying with all of my heart and energy to turn things around, I feel that I am letting down the people I care the most about. It is truly the saddest day of my life. To my wife, our employees, our clients, and vendors, our ambassadors, the truly deserving award winners, our shareholders: thank you for all you have done.
I am so incredibly sorry we could not fulfill our longer-term obligations to you. From the bottom of my heart, I wish each of you nothing but continued happiness and success.