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How Success Happened for Sean Moriarty, CEO of Leaf Group

Since the early days of the internet, Sean Moriarty has led teams that have dramatically changed how we buy goods and services online.

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As the CEO of Leaf Group, Sean Moriarty is in charge of some of the largest brands, like Society6 and Saatchi Art, and publishers like Well+Good and Hunker. But how does he develop brands that reach passionate and engaged consumers across rapidly growing lifestyle categories? His answer: getting “better each day.” 

Sean Moriarty

“I wasn’t a kid who was thinking of the Forbes list,” Moriarty said while reflecting on his childhood in Springfield, Mass. “My mom was a nurse and my dad was a civil servant. They pushed the importance of hard work but also taught me that it takes a team to get things done. Learning new things and meeting people have always been motivating for me. The beauty of business is it’s about lifelong learning.”

It was only natural that a curious learner would be drawn to the wild frontier of the internet. Moriarty joined CitySearch in 1997, shortly after it was founded in 1995, and was part of the technology team that developed one of the first search engines — years before Google or Yelp existed.  

When I asked him about those formative years at CitySearch, Moriarty reflected on how the company was an incubator for so many incredible leaders. That early team included co-founder Thomas Layton who went on to run OpenTable; John Foley, the co-founder of Peloton and John Pleasants, the former president of Disney Interactive Media Group and now CEO of Brava.

Building strong relationships with his talented colleagues helped Moriarty stretch his wings. “When you are early in your career, if you are working with really good, smart people, you are spoiled. It was such a positive, high-energy environment that I am really grateful for,” he said. 

After Ticketmaster acquired CitySearch in 1999, Moriarty was eventually appointed CEO of the ticketmaster.com business. Ticketmaster.com is where his vision of building a digital platform that blends commerce, media and experiences started coming to life.

“I knew [ticketing] was going to dominate online,” he said. “We focused on building a robust platform, providing great customer service and that drove our growth.” 

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Moriarty spent years at Ticketmaster before leaving to run Saatchi Art, an online art gallery for emerging artists, which Leaf Group acquired in 2014. Now the CEO of Leaf Group has built on his foundations in digital media and commerce to now combine the two. 

Leaf Group builds brands that consumers are passionate about in fast-growing categories like health, wellness, art, design and travel. What excites Moriarty the most about Leaf Group is the power of its brands.

“At Leaf Group, we have the economic strength of operating multiple brands under one roof. Each brand has the opportunity to be bigger and stronger than they would be independently but they are still guided by core expertise and people who live the topic every day," he said.

Related: How Success Happened for Aaron Levant, CEO of NTWRK

While Leaf Group has found financial success and was recently acquired by Graham Holdings, the company has been equally recognized for its exceptional culture and honored as a great place to work. For Moriarty, it comes down to building a company that reflects Leaf Group’s global customer base as much as possible. 

He urges other entrepreneurs to be constantly looking ahead.

“The real challenge of business is that you have to execute in the short term yet dream for the future. You must do your best each day. If you don't take care of the days, you are never going to get to the long-term vision," he said.

At almost every stage of his career, Moriarty has been on the ground floor of what has become our digital world from online search and ticketing to the intersection of content and commerce and, most recently, helping creators monetize their art in new ways with NFTs. 

As he put it, that same energy is evident in the world of cryptocurrency and the emergence of the creator economy.

“One of the best things you can do as an entrepreneur is to get in early, to start building at the start of something. It’s a level playing field, regardless of your experience because everyone is learning," he said. "Young people are building something new, right now. In the next 20 years, we’ll see how this changes the world.”

Related: How Success Happened for Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph

Robert Tuchman

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Robert Tuchman is the host of Entrepreneur's How Success Happens podcast and a founder of Amaze Media Labs an agency that creates podcasts for companies and brands. He built and sold two Inc. 500 companies: TSE Sports and Entertainment and Goviva acquired by Creative Artists Agency (CAA).