It’s the end of a jam-packed year at Matter, a year that will see twelve companies complete two twenty-week accelerator programs back-to-back. That pace is pretty mind-boggling to me, Matter’s greenhorn storyteller, newly onboarded. Since I joined ten days ago, I’ve learned a stack about what this nimble company has managed to achieve in its three years of existence, and especially with its most recent Matter Five cohort. With the rest of the team, I’m also helping to set our sights high for 2016.
It’s amazing to think a total of 83 entrepreneurs and 35 portfolio companies have passed through our garage doors (and happily some of them have chosen to stay longer). We’ve invested in three seed companies, and are proud to announce we recently added a fourth to the list: the addictive social news aggregating app, Nuzzel, founded by Jonathan Abrams.
We also celebrated our first exits this year. In February, GoPop (formerly known as Zeega) was acquired by Buzzfeed and is now running mobile for one of the world’s most innovative media companies. In October, Louder was acquired by Change.org and has been leveraging its 120m-strong user base to further social good through crowd-promotion.
Our alumni have also been going strong on the fundraising front, with videography marketplace Stringr recently announcing a $1.5M seed round. Just this week bottom-up journalism website Hearken successfully closed a round of $700,000, and The History Project, a service to create digital time capsules, raised $2.1M with the New York Times as the lead investor. In fact, every single one of our Matter Four companies raised investment post-Matter.
After three years of doing this, Matter knows what it is — the intersection of design-thinking process as applied to early stage entrepreneurship as applied to the future of media that matters — but it’s important for us all to keep asking: why does this matter?
It’s not news that traditional media institutions are in trouble. The question is what to do in response to the decline. For Matter, it’s to innovate. After media studies academic Clay Shirky’s called for “lots and lots of experiments” in the wake of the collapse of the newspaper business, Matter’s Managing Partner, Corey Ford, stepped up to the plate. On 12/12/12, he launched Matter to be the laboratory in which those media-tech experiments could happen. And happen they have.
Matter embodies a human-centered, prototype-driven, design-thinking-inspired approach to building a company, along with a focus on cultural factors including scrappiness, intentional serendipity, failing forward and embracing constraints. With Associate Lara Ortiz-Luis, Corey has built a culture of experimentation that embraces what he thinks makes Silicon Valley special — its mantra of “failing forward in order to succeed sooner.”
Matter sits as the nexus between investors, mentors, entrepreneurs and partners, yet has always been independent. That’s a deliberate choice. By positioning ourselves on the outside, we’ve found we can ultimately be of much more help to media institutions aligned with our vision.
That said, we know Matter would not be where it is today without its support structure, a network of more than 150 mentors who have pledged their unfailing support for early stage entrepreneurs. We’re also ably backed by prestigious media and technology partners: KQED, The Associated Press, PRX, The McClatchy Company, The Knight Foundation, CNHI, A.H.Belo Corporation and Google News Labs.
Our network has recently been strengthened by the addition of another partner, Tribune Publishing, owner of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. We’re thrilled about this latest collaboration and how it can help us grow. We’ll be kicking off our third partner program in the first quarter of 2016. (If you’re a like-minded media organization interested in taking advantage of this, get in touch!)
The rest of the bigger picture for next year is linked to the question of how we scale our impact beyond our four walls. We’ve already been laying the ground work, expanding our non-accelerator seed investments, uniting our alumni through a virtual community hosted on Slack, working to create an AngelList syndicate to bring together media-specific investors, and driving forward plans to expand to New York City by the end of next year. All this while supporting a growing portfolio of truly disruptive media-focused startups.
One of our best kept secrets is that the Corey Ford/Lara Ortiz-Luis tag team has, until now, amounted to the sum total of Matter’s full-time leadership. For two years, this Matter has been run by, at most, two full-time people. They’ve known how to punch above their weight. But this past quarter they’ve had to, as Corey says, “go slow to go fast” and focus their attention on hiring new staff members who will be able to help Matter become even more impactful.
So two are becoming five. In January Pete Mortensen will join Lara working on program and investments. Liz Kopp is now heading up space and operations while I, as Matter’s first storyteller, am charged with unlocking our tools and insights for the wider community.
Together we are very excited to work with more amazing entrepreneurs united with a common purpose — to leverage all that Matter has to offer to build something feasible, viable and, above all, desirable that will have a real impact in the wider world.