Why is Vivek Ramaswamy buying up shares of BuzzFeed?

Why is Vivek Ramaswamy buying up shares of BuzzFeed?

Former presidential candidate and current BuzzFeed investor Vivek Ramaswamy talks to the media in front of Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York.
David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

  • Vivek Ramaswamy ran a failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
  • Now he owns 7.7% of BuzzFeed, the struggling digital media publisher.
  • What’s going on? We don’t know. So we’re guessing here.

Why is Vivek Ramaswamy buying up shares of BuzzFeed?

Let’s start by stating the obvious: It is very funny to type the sentence “Why is Vivek Ramaswamy buying up shares of BuzzFeed?”

Ramaswamy, as you may recall, was a fringe candidate in the most recent Republican presidential primary, where his platform consisted of praising Donald Trump and promising to “Take America First further than Trump.” He dropped out of the race in January, after spending a reported $30 million of his own money on the campaign and coming in fourth in the Iowa caucuses.

And BuzzFeed is BuzzFeed — the cheeky digital publisher that sprouted up alongside Facebook and, at one point, seemed poised to become the future of media. At its peak, it sported a valuation of nearly $2 billion and had a knack for commanding the attention of millennials, advertisers, and old media giants like The New York Times, which worried that BuzzFeed would displace it.

By the time BuzzFeed went public in 2021, however, almost all of the air had left the digital publishing bubble. Since then BuzzFeed has gone through multiple layoff rounds, unwound a big M&A deal that was the supposed reason for its IPO in the first place, and its stock sank so low it risked getting kicked off the Nasdaq.

And now Ramaswamy has bought up 7.7% of BuzzFeed — for a little less than $4 million — and announced that he will be an activist investor — someone who thinks the company’s shares are undervalued and that he can convince BuzzFeed’s management to make changes that will make the shares worth more.

One issue complicating any of Ramaswamy’s plans is that BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti controls the company, even though he owns a minority of its shares, due to a dual-class stock structure.

A spokeswoman for the company said: “BuzzFeed is purposely structured to protect its editorial integrity. We are always open to hearing ideas from our shareholders.”

But that doesn’t mean Peretti is immune to shareholder pressure. Just this month, he announced a new plan that ties his compensation to the company’s stock performance in an attempt to convince investors that he’s really serious about turning things around.

So, again: What’s Ramaswamy’s actual plan?

Ramaswamy has yet to talk to BuzzFeed’s board or management, says a person familiar with the company. Ramaswamy has not responded to my request for comment, so we’re just going to have to guess here. A few theories from the peanut gallery:

  • It’s the money! This is the most obvious answer because it’s why any activist shareholder invests in a company. They may say they have better strategy, or that management is incompetent, or whatever. What they really want is for shares in the company to be worth more than what they paid for them, and it doesn’t really matter how they get there.
  • It’s the clicks! Ramaswamy likes attention — he spent $30 million of his own money getting himself onto the national stage last year. So why not spend a few million more and buy his very own media platform? BuzzFeed no longer commands the same kind of media spotlight it used to, but it’s still pretty big and includes not just BuzzFeed.com, but also The Huffington Post as well as First We Feast — better known as the company that makes the “Hot Ones” viral chicken wing/celebrity interview show. (“Viral chicken wing/celebrity interview show” is also fun to type.)

Update: May 22, 2024 — This story has been updated with a statement from a BuzzFeed spokesperson.

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