Susan Lyne, the longtime media exec who has been CEO of AOL’s brand group from early 2013, is stepping down from that role to run a venture fund inside the New York-based media company aimed at women-led digital startups.
It is tentatively being called the Build Fund — that could change — and will initially have about $10 million to $12 million to invest in early-stage women-led companies. AOL said that seed and Series A investments will be made over a range of consumer Internet areas, including e-commerce and media.
I had been hearing about Lyne leaving her job — which includes purview over a range of content sites owned by AOL, including TechCrunch and a variety of entertainment and news brands — for a while. Last night, I was tipped to the move in which CEO Tim Armstrong seems to have found a soft landing spot for the exec, which was confirmed by an AOL spokesman.
Lyne will join AOL’s venture unit, which is fully funded and has been relatively dormant, and report directly to Armstrong.
In an interview earlier today, Lyne told me she had long wanted to do something like this, since she left Gilt Groupe and came to AOL in February of 2013. Previous to that, she had been on the company’s board.
“This has always been in the back of my head and has been my passion,” Lyne said. “Women are such an important part of the Internet and need to be represented better in funding.”
Pointing to the dire stats about women and girls in tech, she noted that only seven percent of venture funding goes to female-led startups and only four percent of VCs are women, even though women are major users of online services.
Lyne’s portfolio will be largely taken up by Luke Beatty, who has been running its experimental products unit and had joined AOL in January to run the brand group’s product area under Lyne. He’ll get the tech, automobile and entertainment brands. In addition, Maureen Sullivan, who has been running AOL.com and the various lifestyle and money content brands, will continue to do so. Sullivan is also in charge of its Makers brand, a series of videos focused on women’s stories.
Lyne had not been in charge over the Huffington Post Media Group headed by Arianna Huffington (and, no shockeroo, Arianna is still in charge of Arianna and also reports directly to Armstrong).
Lyne has had a long and varied career in media and is a high-profile hire. Before Gilt, she ran Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Lyne was also a top television network exec at Disney’s ABC, where she headed development of shows like “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Before that, she was a magazine editor, including launching Premiere.
While she noted her tenure included bringing the brand group to profitability, Lyne did express disappointment about live video efforts not taking off as the experienced broadcaster had hoped.
“You are never going to have a 100 percent hit rate and I was excited about live video space,” she said. “At end of day, we could not make numbers work and shut it before it launched.”
But Lyne said she will hit the ground running with her investments at the Build Fund, which will also be aimed at areas where women are the principal customers. “We are going to be investing very soon,” she said. “This is not something that can wait many months — we need to develop a pipeline.”
Until we see what that means, here is an interview I did with Lyne last year at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles: