Networld Media Group was born out of WaterMark Group, a print brokerage started by Alan Fryrear in 1995. Tom Harper joined him in 1997 after a career in radio advertising sales.

Harper soon focused on selling custom receipt paper and consumable supplies to the budding ATM industry. To gain better access to key manufacturers and deployers, the partners started the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA) in 1997, and soon supported it with ATMmagazine.com, an online-only business news and information portal.

The success of the website convinced Fryrear and Harper to refocus their efforts from paper supplies to the world of online business journalism, and in 1999, Watermark Group was named a winner in Inc. magazine’s Best of the Small Business Web contest. The company was featured in the November issue of Inc. Technology.

The following year Fryrear and Harper hired a CEO, raised $1 million in start-up capital and launched NetWorld Alliance, whose first two initiatives were ATMmagazine.com and ATMIA. Over the next several years, NetWorld launched news sites covering technology, retail, payments and restaurants. It also launched executive summits and associations.

The company was among the first wave of Internet-only publishers, before blogs, e-books, YouTube, Google, social media and mobile apps. Despite formidable print media competition in its various markets, Networld’s cost structure and small staff allowed it to effectively compete, and the business quickly became viable.

In 2002, NetWorld endured the dot-com implosion, and in 2008, the recession decimated the advertising market, driving it to its worst year in in five decades. Since NetWorld was an online advertising company, the market forces against it were strong – but the company focused on its Web-based business model and continued growing nevertheless. 

Rebranded as Networld Media Group in 2012, the Louisville, Ky.-based company has more than 40 employees in five states, publishes 10 websites and hosts five exclusive, C-level events. Harper became CEO in 2014. Since then the company has launched a new association, several new summits and a new site covering the virtual currency market.

Networld’s current business model resembles the original 1999 strategy of launching and managing news and information sites in vertical industries. Now the company also produces custom media such as white papers, videos and research reports, and recently launched Networld Press, a new division focused on building custom content sites for third-party clients.

In 2015 Networld became debt-free, positioning it to explore equity investment and M&A activity. Further growth will come from aggressive summit expansion, reengineered Web sites and new product lines. Harper plans to double the company’s revenue over the next four to five years.