Change media for good.
That’s what we set out to do when we launched Matter two years ago.
The way we would do it? Find amazing people with big dreams, invest in them, and surround them with a culture, community, and structured process that unleashed their full potential on the world.
People. What we do at Matter comes down to people.
I’d like to introduce you to the people who are going to shape media — the connective tissue of our society — start-up by start-up:
Lara. Niles. Jennifer. Arjun. Stephie. Tamara.
And they are surrounded by incredible co-founders and teammates: Azeo. Andy. Ben. Blake. Corey. Dmitri. Gareth. Ishtiaq. Reed. Sam.
They are the 2.2%. The six companies that made it into Matter after four rounds of interviews, pitches, and mini-projects that proved that they could navigate the fog of entrepreneurship. Six out of 268.
These six embody the mission of Matter — to build a more informed, connected, and empowered society. They are each leading a movement, a tribe that grows bigger with each interaction. I am so excited to join them.
You should join them too. They’ll share reflections on their journey in A Matter-Driven Narrative and I encourage you to not only follow along, but also to help along the way.
Meet the six that Matter.
Meet Lara + Azeo: Creating community around complex issues
Syria was about to implode. But no one was paying attention, especially the news cycle. This team did something about it.
It started while Lara Setrakian was working as a television journalist in a legacy news organization. She loved her job. But she had this deepening feeling that she was leaving stories behind just when she was starting to create understanding. The news cycle forced her to move on when all her journalistic instincts told her to stay and dig deeper.
“There’s so much we would capture that we couldn’t really fully convey.” reflects Lara. “Things like the ability to stick with a story, even on a day that’s too quiet for the mainstream press to capture.”
What if she could create a more holistic, in depth approach to covering current events? It had to be something that was dynamic with real-time updates. Lara began bouncing her idea off of her work colleagues and friends and discovered that one of them, Azeo Fables, was ready to take the leap with her.
Lara and Azeo started by building Syria Deeply. That led to Ebola Deeply. And they became News Deeply. News Deeply builds single-subject news platforms that connect key decision makers and engaged readers around complex, ongoing stories.
With each vertical that they built, communities naturally built around them. “As soon as we chose to go deep on one vertical, the community formed around it.” says Lara. “We were identifying an underserved audience and building a dedicated platform around it.”
This team is doing important work. They hit all of the sweet spots of our mission — informing, connecting, and empowering. We are excited to help them take their impact and their venture to the next level.
Follow their journey at @newsdeeply.
Meet Niles + Gareth + Ben: Building the time capsule of our lives
It started when Niles Lichtenstein’s dad died.
“When I wanted to share my father’s story with my fiancé, mom and little brother, that intense journey was reduced to a set of clickable files in a folder in the cloud,” he recalls. “Underwhelmed and slightly heartbroken that I couldn’t relate this rich experience, I became obsessed with re-inventing the modern time capsule,”
In a world where we are generating more media on more platforms than ever before, this team is leveraging technology to help us take control of our timelines. “With all the technology and tools available there had to be a better way to take the set of fragmented physical and digital assets scattered across our lives and unify them in a meaningful narrative.” says Niles. “We need to ensure our greatest human resource, our history, won’t be lost.”
When I first heard about what Niles, Gareth, and Ben were building, I was skeptical because I’ve seen many attempts at this. But when I saw the demo, I was blown away. And when I met this incredibly authentic and empathetic team, I knew they had what it takes to build a meaningful storytelling experience for their users.
The History Project connects us to the stories that define us.
Meet Jenn + Corey + Sam: Empowering the audience to drive journalism
Jennifer Brandel has always been driven by her curiosity. She fundamentally believes that asking questions is a powerful tool for human connection and that, in turn, curiosity is a unique neutral stance in which to gain insight and knowledge.
And curiosity is what got her here. She’s been writing and reporting her whole professional life, from program materials for the Baha’i Faith, to psychometric tests in Montreal, to the Morning News at WBEZ Chicago, where Curious Nation was eventually born.
In Chicago, with AIR’s Localore initiative and the roots of public radio providing the scaffolding for a new experiment in journalism, she started Curious City. She found that there was a demand for interactive, bottom-up journalism. Listeners wanted to understand the place in which they lived. So Curious City listened to the questions they were curious about and they deployed a journalist to answer those questions while bringing the person who asked it along for the ride. It’s truly participatory journalism.
This type of journalism is right up our alley. At Matter, we are focused on taking a human-centered approach to building a venture. Who is your user? What is their need? What context are they in? What deeper insights do you have about them?
Curious? Follow their journey at @Curious_Nation.
Meet Arjun + Ish + Dmitri + Blake: Monetizing context for publishers
Yes, I know that Eureka King sounds like a fancy slot machine in Vegas. But our hope is that they can hit the jackpot for publishers.
Arjun Mohan, Ishtiaq Rahman, and Dmitri Tcherbadji have many things in common — from an international heritage to the same alma mater at The University of Toronto. But it was their united vision to empower makers that led them to start Eureka King.
Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding initiatives were on the rise, enabling makers to produce more and more products, each for a specific niche audience. Makers themselves, Arjun and his team were deeply familiar with the difficulty of trying to reach that niche audience.
In an early iteration, Eureka King was a psychographic-based recommendation app trying to connect users to cool, new products from the maker movement. They wanted to create the hub, the community for all the different maker niches. In so doing, they found that these users were already aggregating around different types of content, with specific niches. In short, the communities already existed — but, they weren’t being monetized.
This key insight led them to switch their focus to content publishers. They saw an opportunity to help those publishers monetize their content by recommending contextually relevant maker products. By doing this, they are creating win-wins for makers, publishers, and consumers alike.
Eureka King was born. They enable publishers to engage and monetize their audience by adding an eCommerce layer to their website that delivers contextually aware product suggestions available at the click of a button.
“We want to help independent publishers drive innovation by showing their users products they care about,” says Arjun.
The journey here wasn’t easy. The team had been geographically dispersed across Bangladesh, Canada, and Thailand and then hustled to make it in Silicon Valley, sometimes bouncing between six hostels per month in San Francisco. Along the ride, they picked up a valuable team member — Blake Conway. Together, they are scrappy entrepreneurs. And we love scrappy.
We are excited to work with Eureka King to tackle the issue of content monetization head on. Media needs business model innovation. And we are excited to see what this team can do.
They’re now all here at Matter together, and they’re ready to move fast.
Follow their journey at @EKplugin.
Meet Stephie: Building the good layer of the world
There are start-ups building the game layer of the world. But what if, instead, you built the good layer of the world?
Stephie Knopel is that scrappy entrepreneur that flies halfway around the world for a shot at doing just that. She may be a one-woman team at the moment, but you’d never know with the infectious energy she brings to our community.
Stephie was a cool hunter. For those of you who don’t know what that means, her job was to detect trends and cultural shifts before they happened.
A trend she started seeing more and more in younger generations was the value of doing good. She began to see a redefinition of heroism. It was no longer limited to those with immense power and status (think Superman); heroism was being democratized. Heroes were ordinary people doing extraordinary acts of kindness. With that insight, she saw an incredible opportunity.
“Tech has reached a point where we can measure almost everything,” she says. “But we can’t measure positive impact yet.”
So she built PersonalHeroes, which allows people and organizations to measure their positive impact in the world via a mobile platform that leverages collective intelligence to rate acts of kindness, creating a new layer of reputation based on GOOD.
Stephie is one of those entrepreneurs you don’t bet against. We believe media is the connective tissue of society and Stephie is connecting us in a way that will change media for good.
Meet Tamara + Reed + Andy: Unclogging the FOIA Flow
How do you unclog the information flow from governments to journalists and the greater public? You do it by starting with the pain point of the civil servants.
Tamara Manik-Perlman, Reed Duecy-Gibbs, and Andy Hull started their Code For America fellowship with the goal of repairing the rocky relationship between the government and the public. With the increasing mistrust of bureaucratic institutions, public servants feel hesitant to act. The public, on the other hand, feels stymied by the lack of transparency and access.
Before CfA, Tamara worked as a spatial data analyst where she had to file many public records requests, so she felt the pain of the public. Some entrepreneurs have attempted to solve the FOIA request problem from the journalist’s perspective. But no one has focused on the pain of the civil servants. And it’s the civil servants who have the most power to change their systems.
“Tools that make it easy for the public to make inquiries exist,” says Tamara. “But there are few tools that focus on civil servants and public sector staff as the user to design for.”
So the team chose to solve the pain on the government side first in order to create a better experience for both sides. Since they formed NextRequestthey have deepened their empathy for the civil servant on a daily basis.
Now, at Matter, Tamara, Reed, and Andy will also deepen their empathy for the journalist to understand how they can make the process better for storytellers. Public records requests can sound like a dry tongue twister, but they are the building blocks of an informed society.
Follow their journey at @nextrequest.
At Matter we believe in radical collaboration. Diversity drives innovation. We are proud that four of our six CEOs are women. And we are excited at the mix of global perspectives this class contains. Many of these founders uprooted their lives for this experience, moving to SF from Israel, Thailand, Hong Kong, New York, Chicago, and North Carolina — in less than three weeks. They are true entrepreneurs that act on opportunity without regard to the resources they currently control.
This is just the beginning of their journey. Last week, they kicked off the 20-week Matter accelerator program with an intense design thinking bootcamp focused on setting a solid process and community foundation. They’ve only known each other for a week, but I get the sense that already they’re ready go to battle for each other. Tomorrow they will have their first Design Review where they will pitch their venture a panel of trusted mentors, fail fast, get feedback, and plan for the one month sprint to their next design review. It’s four one-month sprints to Demo Days on June 11 in SF and June 16 in NYC.
Join them on this journey by following our collection, A Matter-Driven Narrative.
Let the adventure begin!
Originally posted on Medium.