Semafor Banks $19 Million in New Funding as News Startup Is Set to Relinquish $10 Million Investment From Sam Bankman-Fried

Semafor, the digital new startup launched last fall, announced that it has raised $19 million in a new financing round, bringing its total raised to $34 million.

The New York-based company was co-founded by Ben Smith, previously media columnist for the New York Times and editor in chief of BuzzFeed News, and Justin B. Smith, former CEO of Bloomberg Media Group. (The two are not related.)

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Semafor said the additional investments are an extension on the same terms of the company’s previous financing round. The new total also takes into account the repurchase of the approximately $10 million in funds from Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of cryptocurrency company FTX whom federal prosecutors have charged with fraud, money laundering and campaign finance offenses. The funding from Bankman-Fried will be returned to FTX creditors as directed by officials, according to Semafor.

Semafor’s new investors include Gallup, Henry Kravis, co-founder and co-executive chairman of KKR; Jamal Daniel, founder, Crest Media and owner, Al-Monitor; Jerry Yang, founding partner, AME Cloud Ventures and co-founder of Yahoo; Jorge Paulo Lemann, co-founder, 3G Capital (adding to an investment in the first round); and Stand Together, a philanthropic network of 700 business leaders founded by American entrepreneur Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries.

“Our investor group represents a diverse range of backgrounds with a shared sense of responsibility to support quality, independent global news and we thank them for their commitment to our mission,” Justin Smith, Semafor’s CEO, said in a statement.

Semafor’s existing investors include: David Bradley, former chairman, Atlantic Media and founder of the Advisory Board Co. and the Corporate Executive Board; David Rubenstein, founder/chairman, the Carlyle Group; Jorge Paulo Lemann, co-founder, 3G Capital; Jessica Lessin, founder/CEO, the Information; John Thornton, founder, American Journalism Project; Ric Elias, co-founder/CEO, Red Ventures; and Semafor’s Smith.

The 60-employee company has news bureaus in New York, Washington D.C, London, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. In the six months since its October 2022 launch, Semafor says, it has signed up more than 400,000 newsletter subscribers with an open rate of more than 60% (with 30% of its audience outside of the U.S.).

“I am very proud of our fast start,” Justin Smith said. “The data tells the story — Semafor has rapidly established a powerful connection with influential readers in the U.S., Africa and around the world. Semafor’s intelligent, transparent and global editorial formula is unique and directly addresses frustrations of news consumers.”

Semafor produces nine newsletters, including Flagship, a daily briefing “on the world’s most important stories”; Principals, a daily insider’s guide to Washington, D.C.; Africa, with news and analysis from across the continent; and the weekly Media newsletter. The company also hosts live-journalism events including an annual World Economy Summit, the Semafor Media Summit, and Africa Week and produces original video content.

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