Arts / Media / Technology

Why Atavist’s Creatavist platform is like the brassiere

With a hat tip to Jane Jacobs, we look at how The Atavist is building sleek platforms for fellow media outlets.

A '50s era Maidenform ad. (Photo by Flickr user Classic Film, used under a Creative Commons license)

The story of Creatavist has a lot in common with that of the modern bra — well, at least the way the late Jane Jacobs would tell it.

Jacobs spells out the story of how cities have a way of creating new kinds of work in her 1970 book, The Economy of Cities, and the first example she uses is how the brassieres made by Ida Rosenthal, a dressmaker, evolved into a whole business unto themselves.

Creatavist has a similar story. The Atavist, the publisher of nonfiction stories, licenses out its platform, so other publishers can make multimedia journalism attractively readable on basically any platform.

In 2012, The MIT Technology review called it “what Apple’s iBooks Author Program should have been.” Now, respected publishers are taking note.


Confirmed. In a press release from The Atavist released to Technical.ly Brooklyn last week, the company announced that California Sunday Magazine is, in fact, built in Creatavist across every platform its readable on, which is effectively all of them.

Douglas McGray, editor and CEO of California Sunday, said in the release, “We want to be available to people however they read — web, apps, print. And we want to be a lean company, light on our feet. Creatavist made that possible.”

OK, so here’s how it’s like the bra.

Jacobs tells the story that when the modern bra disrupted the corset business, it started with Rosenthal, the dressmaker, wanting a way to make her dresses fit her clients better.

She came up with the bra, which at first was an extra she gave her clients with each dress. Then that invention turned out to be so popular that she quit making dresses, found an investor and went all-in on bras. Eventually she employed people as far away as West Virginia in the making of her innovative new product. This is the origin story of the company now known as Maidenform.

Stacy’s Pita Chips also has a pretty similar story.


The Atavist built their system internally, first, to publish the sleek-looking stories they’ve become known for. Olivia Koski, a producer at The Atavist at the time and now head of community at Creatavist, is quoted in the MIT Technology Review story above as saying, “we want to make money, but we also just want to share our tool with people because we’re really excited about it.”

Try Creatavist for free

Creatavist arose as way for The Atavist to do its work, but it became a thing that let other people do their work better, too. So they made it available, and that became a second piece of the business.

The company has been sharing its platform for four years now. Here’s an essay from The Atavist’s director of reader experience on the flexibility of their platform, grounded in its work with California Sunday.

This raises an interesting point that’s been a hot topic in our current media moment. When you become a media venture, are you better off focusing on the content or a platform?

This has been a big theme in the first few episodes of Alex Blumberg’s StartUp Podcast. In episode four, serial entrepreneur and seed investor, Micah Rosenbloom, says that it’s a bad idea for content guys to worry about making a platform. He says it’s hard to do both.

That might not have been the best advice.

Making content and a platform is what seems to be working so well for The Atavist, a company that’s gone through two equity rounds and recently raised another $2 million in debt, a move that suggests that its revenue is strong. The company isn’t speaking to those numbers now, but one can imagine this confidence is due in part to strong licensing deals like the one with California Sunday.

Similarly, BuzzFeed has its own CMS and has had success lending out its analytics platform for rapidly assessing different ways of presenting content to other news organizations.


Like Ida Rosenthal’s bra, The Atavist’s Creatavist platform reflects a story that’s as old as entrepreneurship: people in business make things to solve their own problems all the time. Often, the tool they made to solve the problem of making their thing turns out to be as important, or maybe even more so, than the thing itself. That’s why Creatavist is like the bra, and in Brooklyn’s present maker moment, we look forward to supporting a lot more bras as makers here invent them.

Companies: Atavist / BuzzFeed
Series: Brooklyn

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