Twilio cofounder buys The Onion

Satirical news site asks everyone for a buck

The former CEO of web comms tools provider Twilio has bought The Onion, the US satirical magazine that saw its popularity boom in the early days of the web.

Jeff Lawson, who cofounded Twilio in 2008, declared on Twitter that he had bought the "national treasure" to save it from being "stifled" by poor commercial practices.

"Yes, I bought The Onion," he announced late last week. "The Onion is an institution, a national treasure, and we need it. But its success is based on something different than most media companies. The Onion has been stifled, along with most of the Internet, by byzantine cookie dialogs, paywalls, bizarro belly fat ads, and clickbait," he said.

He promised to introduce products and explore new media over time. In the meantime, he asked "everybody to pitch in $1," echoing an announcement made on The Onion site last week.

"If you care about The Onion, if The Onion ever made you laugh – give us a buck. For that dollar, you get… absolutely nothing. Just a smug sense that you've once again spent less on The Onion than it's worth in your life," he said.

The Onion attracts millions of visitors each month with its satirical take on the news, which it presents with a straight face. Some of its stories have been so close to believable – even though somehow also ridiculous – that they have been repeated by other outlets. In 2009, two Bangladeshi newspapers picked up a story about a conspiracy theorist who convinced Neil Armstrong the Moon landing was faked.

At other times, it tests the boundaries of good taste. It once reported a project manager had used a PowerPoint presentation – complete with clip art – to carefully explain to colleagues his reasons for committing suicide.

In January, Lawson stepped down as CEO of Twilio to allow Khozema Shipchandler to lead the company.

The move followed pressure from activist investors Anson Funds and Legion Partners, which sought changes at the tech company. Twilio has already undertaken several reorganizations. In February 2023, it announced plans to cut 17 percent of its staffers. It also formed two business units, Twilio Data & Applications and Twilio Communications.

At the time, Lawson said: "These changes hurt."

The Onion's loyal fans will be hoping his new venture hurts a little less. ®

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