My Questions for Entrepreneurs - CollabSpace Chicago
A few weeks ago, I helped to lead a PBS MediaShift organized Collab/Space event in Chicago. The event offered nine entrepreneurs - media startups of varying kinds - an opportunity to present their ideas/projects and field questions from an audience filled with fellow entrepreneurs, media veterans, and other smart folks.
Each of the nine startups is given five minutes to present their idea/project and then ten minutes to answer questions. Here is an overview of the nine entrepreneurs who were the focus of the event. The afternoon is spent working with the entrepreneurs in groups to address various project-related challenges.
Here is the Storify of the event.
My role during the CollabSpace is to process everyone’s input and then pose questions/offer feedback on different ideas or priorities that these startups should consider addressing. My questions/notes/suggestions form the basis of our afternoon workshop sessions - but also hopefully just spur thinking among everyone involved about ways to move the entire conversation forward.
I have pulled together my questions/notes for each of the startups below - I am sharing them in hopes it helps those entrepreneurs, and anyone else trying to build a media company, or engage an audiences in a meaningful way - think about things a little differently.
Let me know what you think or if you have any questions or ideas to add.
Q: Are the current definitions/classifications of ‘high value’ readers sufficient/accurate?
Q: Do publishers understand the problem of engagement with audiences (or are they trying to move audience to what publishers are already comfortable with)?
Q: What else do we need to know about audience behavior (beyond media consumption) to transform loyalty?
Q: Do publishers understand how to monetize loyalty?
Q: Is there enough content coming of publishers to feed engagement/loyalty? Is there a way for multiple media companies to share content (and data about their respective audiences) - so they can also share the context (e.g. open vs. closed systems)?
Q: How does the element of human curation scale (particularly when media companies are cutting back) while also maintaining quality?
Q: Could you partner and provide context with non-media companies/publishers (e.g. Major League Baseball, GE, J-Crew, etc) with the same success?
Q: How does the tool/system get smarter based on user behavior and data (so that the same stories don’t continue to pop up after they have been read, or ignored)?
Q: How do you position the tool (and its value) to help get bigger clients… and transform into something even larger? What is your ambition beyond just building a successful business?
Q: Are there trends/data that you can gather and share/promote, or sell to help shape the way the industry things about context?
Q: Does ‘easy’ and ‘good’ happen for everyone? What knowledge/perspective do customers need to have in order to take full advantage of the tool?
Q: Is there a risk that visuals are a fad? How do you continue to evolve how people think about visualization so you can shape the industry, not just capitalize on the interest as it is presented?
Q: Do customers know how to monetize visuals (directly or indirectly)? Is that important for customers to understand so that they appreciate the value of visualization - and not just see the cost of the tool and its impact on their bottom line?
Q: Are there major client target groups (beyond media) that you would see the tool being valuable to as well (e.g. if every company is a media company, how could Data Visual help a retailer, or auto company, to present information differently)?
Q: Can you teach old-school journalists to appreciate, and embrace, data visualization (or is the success of the tool dependent on more data-oriented people entering journalism)? How much training/education and support is required for someone to take full advantage of the tool and create great visualizations?
Q: What other advisers/partners could you work with (beyond media) to expand your thinking and perspective? What other industries have shifted their methods of engaging consumers — and emphasized visuals — that people in media could learn from?
Q: Is there a scale opportunity for the company in helping customers to make larger, more complex graphics? Is there a risk that the expectations get too high for what basic graphics can achieve?
Q: Is there a service component (and business opportunity) for consulting, providing support to people on creating better graphics?
Q: How does maintaining customer loyalty play into long-term vision/plan for the company? Do you have to go beyond a strong transactional connection to customers to succeed?
Q: In addition to focusing on limited time, is it possible to use the same aggregation to get people go deeper into topics/issues?
Q: How might you use the data/aggregation to create trend reports (both for marketing the tool, as well as potentially to monetize directly by selling to customers)? Is there a way to add ‘meaning’ to the real-time aggregation?
Q: Can you create a validation system for contributions so that customers can sort for diversity, geographic location?
Q: How can you define/shape the idea of quality in terms of the use of user-generated content? Can you maximize diversity (racial, ethnic, economic status, etc), geographic location, expertise?
Q: How do you teach publishers to think like retailers — predicting and/or shaping behaviors, instead of just responding to existing signals?
Q: How do you create a shared understanding - and usage - between the business/marketing side of the operation and the editorial (so that they don’t fight each other and undermine the value of the tool)?
Q: Is there a global trend/white label serve opportunity to a) build a better database for media - one that includes more than just individual company data, and b) explain the larger behavioral trends of consumers so media can plan accordingly?
Q: What should publishers be tracking that they aren’t currently tracking (and/or what is required for people to get really good data)? What are the unknown unknowns?
Q: Is there a Parse.ly central nervous system that small publishers could tap into in aggregate? Could Parse.ly become (or include) a think tank or data intelligence operation, and make connections with existing data from non-media sources? What other trends/factors could you provide (e.g. weather)?
Q: What skills/testing approaches and actionable suggestions could you make to help influence actions? How do you connect the analysis to measurable changes in behavior, or critical actions being taken?
Q: Do you think people want this information? How do you relate this need to the most pressing challenges individuals/families already face? How do you make it relevant without undermining the quality and focus of your content?
Q: Can you aggregate the creative briefs you prepare to help identify friends, and market need to inform investors and entrepreneurs?
Q: How might you adjust your model (instead of being a non-profit, what could you do to maximize revenue) — by selling data, providing more direct matchmaking support between investors and entrepreneurs?
Q: How could you use the data that you collect on startups to identify areas of need for individual startups to then address? Could you use your data from the creative briefs/profiles to identify what investors respond to most when reviewing a startup, and help guide entrepreneurs to focus accordingly?
Q: Is there a theory of change/model of success that you use (or could create) to help determine whether a startup is successful? A grading standard?
Q: How do you apply your local focus to other emerging markets (e.g. Pittsburgh, Omaha, Oklahoma City, etc) - where there is similar need/opportunity?
Q: What is the product or coverage opportunities — print, long-form, weekly editorial focus — that prevents you from becoming just another local tech blog (that could be replicated by a more well-financed competitor)? What can be truly unique about your focus - so that there is something only you can create (because of local connections, or editorial bent)?
Q: What other ways could you make money (events, salons, briefings, news-as-a-service)?
Q: How do you grow and not lose the local, smart, connected feel that you have established? Alternatively, how could you become super exclusive w/access (e.g. Clinton Global Initiative)
Q: How do you become king/queen-maker, not just someone who covers what is happening? What is truly unique about your approach (Q&A, Long-format, images, data, etc) that will make people want to share exclusively with you?
Q: What niche(s) aren’t being covered within your area of focus? How do you create a new approach, or a spin/improvement on existing approaches to differentiate yourself (e.g. Humans of New York, Skimm, Gawker, etc)?
Q: How do you establish an editorial voice that remains authentic to the audience you are service - especially as you grow? How do you maintain an edge/personality?
Q: What angle of philanthropy isn’t being covered? What focus could you take (e.g. what organizations need board members) that nobody else is taking — and that aligns with what your audience wants/needs?
Q: What is your ‘big bang’ idea or moment? What makes you a must-read for everyone? What won’t anyone else do - that will help to put you on the map (and catapult you to next level)?
Q: Could you provide an industry-focused voice (like what Skift is doing for travel) — and try to change the industry, instead of focusing on the consumers?
Q: What about a print/offline component - a kit, or other support materials? How do you extend the conversation beyond just being a source for research, to ensure a greater amount of influence on purchase decisions and other behaviors?
Q: Could you build/foster a community around solar - and facilitate conversation and collaboration among consumers, instead of just providing editorial coverage?
Q: Is there a customer service component - a live chat, help line (e.g. the Butterball Hotline) for solar consumers?
Q: Where/when does the ‘solar moment’ happen and how do you capitalize? What are the behaviors that consumers need to take (to move from not-interested to considering to committed to taking actions) and how do you organize around that journey?
Q: Are there different formats (video, curated reads, etc) that will help to make the solar power conversation even more compelling? How do you aggregate information in new ways, to make the entire conversation more accessible?
Q: Who are the partners that could do your marketing (e.g. you become embedded media service vs. independent journalism entity)? What co-opetition options exist that would allow you to do strong editorial work, without having to also build a following on your own?
Q: What other models are worth exploring - TheKnot, BabyCenter, etc?
Q: How could you take a truly local focus - capitalizing on the markets where the highest concentration of likely solar consumers already exist, or where the value of solar energy is greatest? Where are those areas of density,and how might you localize your coverage/voice to maximize interest and impact?