Leading the Sulzberger Program

The Redesigned Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia Journalism School Is Open For Applications From Rising Leaders in Media and Journalism

Corey Ford

Today I am excited to announce that I, in partnership with Raju Narisetti, will be leading the redesigned Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia Journalism School. The program is designed to train the future leaders of the world’s most impactful journalism and media organizations during a time of rapid transformation, uncertainty, and opportunity. The next program kicks off in January and applications are now open.

For those of you who have been following my journey building Matter Ventures, you know that I made the difficult decision to pause late last year in order to flare on new and different ways to make a difference in the space. Many of you reached out saying how much Matter has impacted you and your organization. You reinforced how deep of a need Matter had filled in the journalism industry and how much of a gap its absence has left behind.

One person who reached out was longtime Matter mentor Raju Narisetti. He had an idea: What if you were able to continue the impact of Matter by taking over the Sulzberger Program at Columbia Journalism School and infusing the essence of Matter into it?

It was a chance for Matter to live on when it was needed the most. I was in.

While this is, in essence, a side gig as I continue to flare on what I will pour myself into full-time, it guarantees that I have an outlet to continue to impact leaders within journalism and it ensures that the transformative experience of Matter has the opportunity to continue in a new form.

The redesigned Sulzberger Program draws heavily from my experience training both entrepreneurs and journalism leaders through Matter. But it also combines forces with Raju, who has led internal transformation at some of the most important journalism institutions. In addition, it leverages the assets of Columbia University, pulling instructors from Columbia Journalism and Business Schools, drawing industry innovators working in one of the world’s great media capitals, and tapping into the powerful Sulzberger alumni network. This community will give Sulzberger Fellows a powerful breadth of perspective on what it takes to lead innovation in media and journalism.

Like any rising executive, these fellows need a way to improve their leadership, business, and management skills while on the job. But because they are also navigating an industry facing constant disruption, traditional management training won’t suffice. They need to build cultures and create processes within these media companies that doesn’t just help them come up with “the next big thing” but enables the organization to constantly understand the changing needs of their audiences, experiment with emerging technologies, and seek sustainable business models as the world rapidly changes beneath their feet. They need to recognize opportunities for innovation and pursue them without being told what to do or how to do it. They need to lead.

Through the redesigned Sulzberger Program, these rising leaders will learn how to be entrepreneurial within their own media organizations. This is a hands-on, real-world, innovation-focused mini-executive MBA for rising leaders in the fast transforming world of media and journalism.

The program is organized from the point of view of the fellow as the GM/CEO/Founder of their own internal venture or enterprise-wide project. At the heart of the program is the Sulzberger Project. Each fellow will be required to define a project of strategic importance to their employer that they will lead throughout the course of the program. The project can be the launch of a brand new initiative, product, or strategy but it can also be taking charge of an existing one. Most importantly, it should be mission critical to the organization and fit naturally into the fellow’s full-time job.

The 16-week program starts on Jan. 6 with an intensive two weeks on campus at Columbia University. The first week is an immersive team-based experience where fellows will learn how to build a venture from scratch using design thinking processes and mindsets. The second week builds on the venture frameworks established in week one and dives deeper into each module through a series of lectures, case studies, workshops, and guest speakers leveraging experts throughout Columbia and the industry at large.

The modules that organize the Sulzberger experience will be based on the leader as an individual, the leader in the context of a team, and the leader deeply understanding the core variables that must be combined in any successful innovation. Those “venture variables” include understanding Top-Down Trends (The Macro Environment), developing a Bottom-Up Point of View (Audience/User/Customer), creating and managing a Minimum Desirable Experience (Product & User Experience), finding a sustainable Business Model, executing on a Growth Hypothesis (Marketing), establishing a Sustainable Competition Advantage (Strategy), and putting it all together in a Story that coherently brings all these variables together in a vision, plan, and pitch to obtain resources.

After two weeks at Columbia, fellows will return to their organizations with new lenses on themselves, their teams, and their organization. fellows will immediately get an opportunity to directly apply their learning to their own organization through a series of assignments as well as the ongoing project. They will receive feedback and support through regular check-ins with their cohort and myself.

On April 20, fellows will return to Columbia for the final week of the Sulzberger Program ready to share and discuss their real-world experiences while going deeper into the modules through more lectures, case studies, workshops, and guest speakers. The Sulzberger experience will conclude with final project presentations and the opportunity to pitch key stakeholders at their own company.

As with anything I touch, this experience is a prototype and always will be. In a rapidly changing industry, the Sulzberger program will need to change with it. We will strive to deliver timely case studies and guest speakers, adjust modules to fit the observed needs of our fellows and their companies, and constantly improve through feedback.

If you have any case studies, expertise, or feedback that that you think would be particularly relevant to our fellows, please reach out to me at

I’m excited. Are you? If so, dig into the details and apply through Columbia Journalism School here.

It’s time to flare.

I’m proud of the impact we’ve made at Matter, the team we’ve built, and the people that we have transformed. But now it’s time for me to explore.

As all Matter entrepreneurs know, venture design is a process that consists of a series of flaring and focusing, knowing how and when to explore and knowing how and when to execute. In a flare, you uncritically explore and ideate; when you’re focusing, you filter and execute on your ideas. Successful venture designers do that as many times as possible as they create a venture that is feasible, viable, and desirable. I call this journey “The Drunken Walk of the Entrepreneur.

Recently I’ve come to the realization that for the last 7 years I have been in extreme focus mode. Since starting Matter from scratch in 2012, Matter has raised 2 venture funds, run 8 accelerator cohorts, invested in 73 portfolio companies, brought together 12 institutional media and technology partners, delivered 5 partner accelerator programs, trained local news organizations across the United States and Asia Pacific through Open Matter, assembled a network of 340 mentors, established media innovation spaces and communities in both SF and NYC, and built a team of extraordinary human beings on both coasts. We’ve proven that our repeatable and scalable venture design process works. Matter startups have raised over $53M and have been acquired by companies like Snap, Buzzfeed, and Kickstarter. In this tough early-stage media space, Matter startups have proven to be resilient, with 84% of our Fund II companies still operating or achieving an exit. And, in an industry with a terrible track record of diversity and inclusion, 50% of our Fund II founder CEOs are women and 40% are people of color.

I’m proud of the impact we’ve made, the team we’ve built, and the people and organizations that we have transformed. But now it’s time for me to flare.

For the last two years I have tried to secure Matter’s future. While I succeeded at figuring out how to successfully expand Matter and its unique culture to NYC and to tranform Matter into an organization that could continue to operate if I were hit by a bus, I have yet to successfully raise Matter Fund III and we’ve come to the end of our runway.

As the investment period for Matter Fund II has now come to a close, I have decided to pause raising Matter Fund III and take a step back to decide where I want to take Matter and, most importantly, what I want to pour myself into next. That could take many forms, from deciding to raise Matter Fund III with a different strategy, to pivoting Matter to a services business, to starting my next company, to taking a leadership role at an existing company in media, venture capital, technology, education, or government. The whole point is I need to flare — get out into the world, have lots of conversations, and generate multiple directions before focusing on one. So if you’re up for exploring possibilities, let’s talk.

Up until this exact moment I haven’t allowed myself to think about anything besides figuring out how to keep Matter alive. Matter is my baby. And I have made the classic (and inevitable) founder mistake of intertwining my identity and my self-worth with the identity and the success of Matter. That’s not healthy. That’s why I need to take a step back. So I am allowing myself to separate the two as I explore potential futures for myself in which Matter continues — and in which it doesn’t.

I’ve been focusing too long. It’s time to flare.

The practical implications of this are that the Matter accelerator program is on pause indefinitely and I have knocked down our burn rate to the studs. The Matter spaces in SF and NYC have been subleased and, effective February 1, the full-time Matter team will just be me. I will continue to support our portfolio of 73 companies across our two funds. I may also continue to provide Matter services like bootcamps, workshops, consulting, coaching, and speaking. I will do this full-time for now but this may shift to part-time in the future depending on how my personal exploration takes shape.

I don’t make this decision lightly. In fact, I’ve been struggling with it for the last 6 months. But if there’s one lesson that all Matter entrepreneurs know, it’s that sometimes you have to “Kill Your Puppies” in order to truly make your venture succeed. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I still fundamentally believe in Matter’s mission to support early-stage entrepreneurs and leaders within essential institutions of journalism to build a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Journalism and democracy are now under attack around the world. Social media giants have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of their users and of democracy. Mission-driven media entrepreneurs are needed now more than ever to build alternatives and to strengthen our media ecosystem. And existing media institutions need to become more resilient by transforming their culture. The world is moving so fast that media organizations will only be relevant, sustainable, and impactful in the future if they focus on building culture, people, and processes that enable them to constantly be understanding the needs and behaviors of their audiences, leveraging emerging technologies, and seeking sustainable business models. That starts and ends with culture.

Matter is a community and it is a community that will continue. I am forever grateful to each and every one of you who have made the last seven years of the Matter accelerator program possible. Our founding institutional partners, KQED, Knight Foundation, and PRX, and my co-founder, Jake Shapiro, made a huge bet on me when Matter was only a crazy idea on a whiteboard. After we proved out our process for entrepreneurs in Fund I, The Associated Press, McClatchy, CNHI, and AH Belo made a bet on us that we could expand those offerings to our partners in Fund II. And when we decided to expand to NYC, The New York Times, Tribune Publishing, and Tamedia made a bet on us that we could successfully replicate our model and, most importantly, our culture in a new city. Steve Grove of the Google News Initiative has had our back at every step of the way, first by becoming our technology partner, then by supporting our expansion to NYC, and then by enabling us to offer our Open Matter Bootcamps to local news organizations across the United States and Asia Pacific. And Google for Startups has connected us into a startup community that has enabled us to learn best practices from around the world.

I am thankful for the entrepreneurs from our 73 portfolio companies for trusting us to invest in their companies and guide them on their journeys. We may have been investing in them but they were the ones really betting on us. Entrepreneurship is hard. I see the grit and determination and creativity of founders every single day. The highs are high and the lows are low and the chances of failure are almost certain. I believe many of our investments will succeed in fulfilling their bold visions AND the truth of the matter is that most entrepreneurs we invest in will fail. It’s the nature of the beast. But regardless of whether their business venture succeeds, I know that the Matter experience has transformed each and every founder who has come through our door and I believe in the impact that these incredible humans will have in their current venture, their next venture, or in leadership positions at the most influential organizations throughout media and technology. That is success.

We have built an incredible team at Matter and the thing I most regret is that I haven’t found a way to keep this team together. Everyone who chose to work at Matter made a bet on me and I’m grateful for that. Each of our employees has made me a better leader and a better person through their example, their empathy, their creativity, their grit, and their gifts of feedback. Lara Ortiz-Luis, Ben Werdmuller, Pete Mortensen, Roxann Stafford, Josh Lucido, Liz Kopp Morrison, Shereen Adel, Lindsay Abrams, Kourtney Bitterly, Nikita Shamdasani, Rebecca Bowring Radnaev, and Jigar Mehta, I hope to work with each and every one of you again one day. Thanks also to our Google News Lab Fellows, our Morehead-Cain Scholars, and our Stanford GSB Associates who got thrown in the deep end every summer and thrived as true members of our team.

I am also thankful for the guidance of Matter Advisory Board members past and present who have been the sounding board for Matter’s strategy and have given me encouragement and confidence through Matter’s own drunken walk. I am especially thankful for the steadfast support and guidance from Jake Shapiro, Jim Kennedy, Tim Olson, Andy Pergam, John Boland, Kerri Hoffman, Steve Grove, Jake Smilovitz, Nick Rockwell, Jeremey Gockel, Pat Talamantes, Craig Forman, Matthew Ipsan, Nicki Purcell, John Bracken, Ben Wirz, and Pietro Supino.

Finally, I want to thank our mentors — 340 strong! — who volunteered their time, their advice, their personal narratives, their “gloves off” feedback, and their connections. Matter’s core team has always been small and you were the leverage that made Matter possible.

Thank you all for creating a community that continues to change media for good. Onward.

Thank you, Matter.

It’s six o’clock on a Friday morning in June. No, I’m not blissfully catching up on rest ahead of a homework-filled weekend in Chapel Hill. Instead, I find myself coordinating coffee deliveries, finalizing space setup, and extinguishing every small fire in sight before entrepreneurs arrive. Months of mindful planning are reaching their zenith — Matter Eight Demo Day.

Me smiling to mask my Demo Day exhaustion

My name is Matt and for the past nine weeks I’ve been a Program Intern at Matter. That means I observed firsthand the grueling efforts Matter Eight entrepreneurs invested to prepare for demo day. Beginning with Design Review 3 the week I joined Matter, and continuing through speaker series, office hours, and feedback sessions, I witnessed the core of Matter’s approach: to be on the cutting edge of design thinking, entrepreneurship, and media.

Before officially starting at Matter, I had only an abstract conception of what it means to be a mission-driven for-profit organization. The notion didn’t quite jive with the world I encountered previously. I currently serve as the President of the Board of Directors for the Daily Tar Heel, one of the oldest and most respected college media organizations in the country. Perhaps because of my experience in a nonprofit organization, my mind associates the words ‘mission-driven’ with nonprofits or poorly performing companies, stumbling to reconcile its mission with its margins. I was a skeptic. Fortunately, nine weeks of learning, doing, observing, and failing convinced me that thriving mission-driven companies like Matter not only exist, they are essential to economic and societal health.

Corey Ford, Matter’s Managing Director, put it best when he said this:

“We believe you can do good and do well. In fact, in this climate, we believe that if you don’t start by doing good, you will not do well.”
Corey Ford introducing Matter Eight teams at Demo Day in San Francisco

My summer also taught me that Matter’s staff actively practices the design thinking principles they preach — and they really do work. We regularly engage in ideation, feedback, empathy, prototyping, failing forward, and everything in between. And although the process didn’t feel natural at first (like I said, I was skeptic), I now can’t imagine work and innovation happening any other way. I believe that human-centered design is the most efficient and reliable way to build products for human use. Otherwise, you’re just throwing dull imaginary darts at a dartboard of faceless imaginary users. You’re designing specifically for yourself. Or worse yet, you’re trying to design for everyone.

Back to that caffeine-fueled June morning. If you were in the room on demo day, you certainly experienced, as I did, what Matter is all about. Matter invests in early stage media startups that are working to build a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Each founder that presented is dedicated to at least one of those goals.

On Demo Day, the first entrepreneur began her pitch directly after Corey’s introduction. Hebah Fisher is the founder and CEO of Kerning Cultures, a podcast dedicated to storytelling in the Middle East. For people living outside of the region, Kerning Cultures aims to upend stereotypes perpetuated by media portrayals of Middle Eastern and North African politics. For Middle Eastern listeners, Kerning Cultures tells stories that people can see themselves in. The stories that Hebah and her team tell inform audiences, construct empathy, and include voices that aren’t represented in traditional Middle Eastern media outlets.

Hebah Fisher presenting at Matter Eight Demo Day in San Francisco

The twelve Matter Eight teams have little in common beyond this: they are building a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Every pitch after Hebah’s shared these themes.

Sadly, my time at Matter is quickly coming to a close this week. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to intern at Matter, an environment that is lively, interesting, and ever changing. Matter has the perfect blend of expertise, entrepreneurial spirit, and whimsy. On my first day I was told to embrace any task, big or small. That’s exactly what happens here each day.

My departure from Matter is bittersweet. It’s bitter in the sense that I no longer get the chance to work alongside the amazing, passionate Matter community every day. But I do get to carry my experiences back to UNC and the Daily Tar Heel for my senior year. In a futile attempt to summarize all that I’ve learned during my time here, I’m left with this: Do good, do well, and always stick to your values.

Thank you, Matter.

8 Ways Matter Eight is Changing the Future of Media

Our eighth cohort is moving onward and upward. We anticipate great things.

Matter kicked off 2018 with a new cohort of intelligent, capable entrepreneurs with big visions for the media companies they had begun to build. The teams came through our garage doors in February at different stages of development, and over the past five months, they incorporated design thinking principles into their work, iterated their businesses time and time again, and embraced the principle of failing fast to fail forward. Yet that barely scratches the surface of what Matter Eight accomplished.

At the core of each of these startups is a firmly-held belief that this thing needs to exist. Though the cycle ends with Demo Day, the experiment is just beginning for these entrepreneurs.

Here are eight ways Matter Eight companies push the boundaries of what’s possible in tech and media.

1. Giving underrepresented creators new ways to be seen, heard, and discovered

DeShuna Spencer, Founder & CEO of kweliTV

Media plays a central role in determining how we perceive cultures that are different from our own. In order to create a more equitable society, cross-cultural representations must be accurate, empathetic, and accessible. Matter Eight startups kweliTV and Kerning Cultures tell broad stories that go beyond the usual narrative, replacing negative or inaccurate stereotypes of black and Middle Eastern cultures with authentic stories from creators who have previously been left out of the conversation, while Scriptd creates a new channel of discovery for such creators.

2. Changing your news consumption habits for the better

Compass News Co-Founders Mayank Banerjee and Matilde Gigli

Revitalizing journalism is at the core of our mission here at Matter. In 2015, the American Press Institute reported 88 percent of millennials consumed news on Facebook regularly — yet it wasn’t until 2016 that the polls exposed just how splintered our democracy had become. Facebook and other social media platforms create filter bubbles that conflict with one of journalism’s fundamental principles, objectivity, help spread fake news, and hasten the decline of civility on the web.

On the surface, Compass News and would appear to have conflicting missions: the former is using technology to summarize the news, while the latter is using technology to hold users to task for reading articles to completion.

Compass News, however, is simply meeting its millennial users where they are, delivering news in a format that works for them. The team uses machine learning technology to transform the much-loathed news app experience, valuing personalization but also providing a breadth of topics and opinions.

By developing a “FitBit for reading,” on the other hand, is promoting media literacy, and building a community that highlights commenters who demonstrate their breadth and depth of their reading habits. Through two very different routes, both companies are contributing to our mission of creating a more informed society.

3. Getting you the personalized information you need, when you need it

Courtney Snavely, Co-Founder of Ovee

Expediency and personalization are no longer “nice to haves.” Instead, they are increasingly expected by consumers.

With its AI editor, Compass News is able to personalize its newsfeed for individual users’ interests. Ovee is another product designed to be incorporated into the user’s regular routine. Ovee harnesses both the anonymity and the flexibility of mobile technology to connect young women with accessible and reliable information about their sexual health.

4. Reimagining the way we engage with brands, and they with us

Matter Eight companies Paytime and Tangible solve pervasive industry ailments: reaching and engaging customers. Paytime takes a simple principle (“Time is money”) and turns it into a new way of paying for subscriptions, where advertisers have the opportunity to engage directly with users and users are given control over the information they share with those advertisers. Tangible gives ecommerce companies a way to reach customers “IRL”, harnessing direct mail to provide a more valuable and memorable way to interact with users.

Paytime CEO Ignacio Linares

5. Restoring value to digital ads

Paytime attracts much-coveted millennial audiences with the promise of transparency and a fair return on investment. Advertisers are mining data regardless, but through Paytime the user is in control, and directly benefits from engaging with a brand of their choice.

Optimera maximizes ad revenue through its suite of solutions that optimize for viewability, a concept that plagues publishers and advertisers alike. Founder Keith Candiotti explains the conundrum the two parties currently face in this Medium post: “Consider for a moment that 70% of all ads on the internet were not seen but 100% were paid for by advertisers. Or another way to put it, in a 36 billion dollar a year industry, $25 billion was wasted.” The high viewability standards advertisers now demand as a result is hurting publishers. Optimera’s platform solves this tedious issue for time-strapped publishers with a few lines of Javascript code.

6. Cutting through the red tape to ensure decision makers listen to their users–and their employees

LedBetter CEO Iris Kuo

Although the past year has demonstrated technology’s potential to both threaten and facilitate democracy, we at Matter believe in utilizing technology to address problems of access and integrity. One Matter Eight company that embodies this ideal is LedBetter, which combats all-too-frequent occurrences of workplace discrimination, starting with its gender equality index. LedBetter helps companies collect and report on their leadership diversity, and gives them the tools they need to improve their company culture. It offers potential hires insight grounded in data and qualitative analysis and puts PR jargon to the test.

Targeting diversity in the entertainment industry, Scriptd also connects leaders with their audiences. From discovery to optioning, Scriptd serves as the connective tissue between production companies and talented writers tha might otherwise go unheard.

7. Harnessing emerging technologies to help you search for what you want — and need

nēdl CEO Ayinde Alakoye

In today’s content-saturated media climate, optimizing according to SEO best practices isn’t sufficient — particularly for smaller publishers competing against household names with national and global reach. More than half of web users find content through organic search, yet only five percent of users click beyond Google’s first page. nēdl puts the power of broadcast in everyone’s hands, democratizing a long-static industry. On the nēdl app, users can easily search and stream live radio, as well as create their own stations anytime, anywhere.

As the post-mobile world approaches, everyday utilities are being reimagined beyond the typical constraints of a screen. Drop, which designs information spaces in VR, is one of several companies working to humanize virtual reality. Browsing doesn’t have to be a phone-in-hand, eyes-glued-to-screen activity. Drop demonstrates that it is already becoming immersive.

8. Changing media for good

Everything we do at Matter comes back to this central mission. And it’s one that is more important now than ever before.

Matter Eight entrepreneurs are designing the future of media with a fierce commitment to sharing knowledge, valuing diverse perspectives, and leading with empathy. Despite Demo Day marking the end of their time at Matter, each team’s passion for their unique causes will drive their next steps of development.

We know we’ll be following along, and we hope you will, too.

Meet the teams of Open Matter Berkeley and Open Matter Georgia!

After a brief interlude for a little thing called Matter Demo Days, we’re back next week with the final two installments of the first Open Matter bootcamp program. They’re happening on opposite coasts on the same days. Up first (by three hours, thanks to the Eastern Time Zone) is the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership at the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, which will be ably led by my colleagues Roxann Stafford, Josh Lucido, and Lindsay Abrams. On the West Coast, Ben Werdmuller, Shereen Adel, and I will lead an Open Matter at UC Berkeley Advanced Media Institute.

We’re excited, and it’s a heck of a way to get summer off to a roaring start. But we’re even more excited about who will be joining us for the experience!

Here are the 10 teams who will participate in the first-ever Double Open Matter!

Gatehouse Media (Florida), publisher of local newspapers
As I mentioned in my post about our Mizzou Boot Camp, I started my career at the Holland Sentinel, which is now owned by Gatehouse. Their publications reach an incredibly large number of people as the local paper of their community. The team for Georgia comes from Gatehouse’s corporate side, as well as leaders from their papers in Daytona Beach, Lakeland, Sarasota, Palm Beach, and Jacksonville, Florida.

CNHI, publisher of more than 100 local newspapers
We’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with CNHI as a partner of Matter’s for several years now, and we’re thrilled to be able to deepen our impact with them. They own more than 100 newspapers in 22 states and are based in Montgomery, Alabama. Thanks to Open Matter, more of their team will be able to train and apply their learning throughout the chain. Their team of five come to us from CNHI itself, as well as publications in Texas, Massachusetts, and Indiana.

American City Business Journals, covering business where it happens
It’s all-too easy to break the news ecosystem into what’s local by geography, and then what’s vertical and therefore national and global. But business is local, too. Inherently local, even for global businesses. And American City Business Journals is a major lens for how people understand the business environment around them. They publish 43 business publications covering 43 distinct metropolitan areas. We’re thrilled to welcome them to Georgia.

Cox Media Group, Atlanta’s news source
Atlanta is the Empire City of the South — the center of industry, news, and entertainment alike. It’s only appropriate, then, that we welcome Cox Media Group for our Georgia bootcamp. Cox owns six newspapers and dozens of TV and radio stations, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB in Atlanta, and WGAU in Athens. They are the largest news source in the largest market in the region. We’re proud to include their Atlanta-based team in our group.

Berkeleyside, an innovative news publisher and events company
Many see a potential new revenue stream for local news organizations of all kinds in hosting events in the community. Few have realized it so successfully as Berkeleyside with Uncharted, the Berkeley Festival of Ideas, hosted each fall and bringing together world-class thinkers and doers. We’re excited to welcome their team to our Berkeley Open Matter.

Mission Local, award-winning hyperlocal publication
Originally started at the Berkeley School of Journalism, Mission Local is the definitive news source for San Francisco’s Mission District, covering its many changes and breaking news since 2008. Like Berkeleyside and past participant Spirited Media, they’re part of a movement of built-from-scratch new local publications that are starting from the bottom-up and validating their model and experiments as they scale.

Gatehouse Media Ohio
Like their Florida colleagues, the teams from the Ohio wing of Gatehouse represent many corners of a major state. They represent Columbus, Canton, and regional coverage of all Ohio. As a Great Lakes region transplant myself, I’m excited to see them out here by the Bay.

Mt. Angel Publishing, community news in the Oregon countryside
Open Matter has been home to every scale of local news organization, from hyperlocal digital-only publications to major metros. Having been an editor of a community weekly, however, I’m glad to see the category represented in Mt. Angel, which publishes a wide variety of publications based in Silverton and Stayton, Oregon. Serving those two towns, each with fewer than 10,000 residents, and their surrounding areas is an important and essential part of the news ecosystem.

Reno Gazette-Journal, chronicler of the biggest little city in the world
Reno, Nevada is a fascinating and fast-changing city. Its population has grown by more than 30% since 2000 and now sits near 250,000. And the Gazette-Journal has covered its growth, economy, and population throughout. I’m thrilled they’ll be traveling over the Sierras to see us down here by the water., digital-first publishing for curious locals
Arriving in a new place is a challenge. What does it take to become a real local? That’s the problem set out to solve as it set itself up, first in Miami, with support from the Knight Foundation, and now Seattle, Portland, and Orlando. I had the pleasure of meeting their CEO Christopher Sopher a few years ago, and I’m excited to welcome the team as they plan their future growth.

What an incredible group! The entire first wave of Open Matter has been a remarkable journey with great participants, hosts, and, of course, partners. It’s been the honor of my life to lead this effort for Matter, and I can’t wait to welcome all these teams to Berkeley and Georgia next week to wrap up this cycle.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E7: Jill Koziol – Co-Founder, Motherly

Jill Koziol, Co-Founder and CEO of Motherly (and Matter Five alum!), joined us in San Francisco for a conversation with Matter Eight entrepreneurs. Pete Mortensen, Director of Program in San Francisco, talked with Jill about the incredible growth that Motherly has seen over the last few years.

Initially, Jill says, their growth was slow, but steady. By staying the course with conviction and always going back to their user—a digitally native, Millennial mom who is learning to parent in very different circumstances than previous generations—they built something that resonated. And over time, because they deeply understand her needs, they saw a huge spike in users without pouring tons of money into advertising.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E6: Deepa Subramanian- Co-founder, Wherewithall

The Drunken Walk is a series of live fireside chats, blog posts, and podcasts from Matter Ventures, the world’s only independent startup accelerator for media entrepreneurs.

Our eighth accelerator class is underway in San Francisco and New York City. Learn more about our amazing teams.

Join the conversation about the future of media by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course here on Medium!

Sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates on our program and portfolio.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E5: Jennifer Brandel— CEO, Hearken

For this week’s speaker series, we were lucky to welcome a longtime member of our community back to Matter. Jennifer Brandel, CEO of Hearken and Matter Four entrepreneur, joined us in New York City where she and Roxann Stafford, our Director of Program there, sat down to talk about her “Drunken Walk” as an entrepreneur who really sought to change the way journalists tell stories.

Hearken has turned journalism on its head by actually bringing audiences into the reporting process. It provides journalists the tools they need to ask people what they want to know before going out into the field. Hearken really opens up newsrooms to find out the real questions in their communities and create more inclusive content.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E1: Rebecca Kaden—Partner, Union Square Ventures

We’re back with the first episode of Season Three of The Drunken Walk! Our eighth class of media startups just started their 20–week journey through Matter in San Francisco and New York City. Rebecca Kaden joined us for the first speaker series in San Francisco to talk to entrepreneurs and share her perspective as an investor and, to moreover, a former journalist.

Rebecca is the fourth partner ever to join Union Square Ventures and their first female partner. She spent nearly six years at Maveron prior to USV, and when she sat down with Pete Mortensen, our Director of Program in San Francisco, they shared their experiences about how having a background in liberal arts and journalism can be a superpower in venture capital, especially with early stage startups. Rebecca gets to the heart of how important it is for entrepreneurs to find the right fit when it comes to funding—and it starts with understand the human side of investors.

Applying to Matter Nine? Here’s how we evaluate our accelerator investments.

Applications are open for Matter Nine. In conjunction with our launch we wanted to demystify the process we use to evaluate companies. At Matter we look at five critical elements when making the decision about whether to invest in a startup: team, media, stage, mission alignment, and venture basics. All of which are dissected below.


At Matter we invest in teams, first and foremost. Team is the biggest determinant of success or failure in startups. In fact, preventable human dynamics issues are the leading cause of startup failure. For that reason we look for teams with a diverse set of backgrounds and skills who have a strong history of working together through what is the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. We like teams whose founders’ skill sets complement one another and we believe the best teams have a combination of business, technology, design, and storytelling. Balance across those categories is important: we want to make sure that teams can build what they’re selling, and sell what they’re building.

We look for teams that are coachable, that are open to the process of failing fast, and that can quickly apply learnings in order to succeed sooner. We want teams that are collaborative. We need to make sure you have the right mindset to persevere in the face of ambiguity and failure, and support your co-founders as well as the other entrepreneurs on the same journey as you. As our Managing Director, Corey Ford puts it, “we are looking for founders who understand that their venture is an imperfect prototype. They are able to identify their key risks and untested hypothesis, knock down doors and cold call to test those hypotheses, synthesize and effectively communicate the insights that they learn, and make touch decisions about what to do with that imperfect information.”


Matter invests in early stage media start-ups, very broadly defined. But what does media mean in the first place? It’s not only content. Media is the connective tissue of our society. It’s how we communicate, learn, relate, debate, empower, connect, relax. It’s difficult to define what media is because media encompasses so many things. Media is networks. It’s new ways of working in creative industries. Media can be platforms or experiences. It’s emerging technology like VR and AR. To get a better sense of just how broadly we define media, you may want to check out our portfolio.


The biggest mistake founders make in this process is choosing not to apply because they think, “we’re too late” for an accelerator. You’re not. Our program works for companies who’ve raised a $2.5M seed round and for companies where we’re the first money in. If you have a scrappy team that’s willing to put in the work, we’re interested and can help you. We know because we’ve done it before (and our deal is structured on a sliding scale based on the stage of your company. So we meet you where you are at.).

Conversely, you need to have a working prototype. You don’t have to have a product with traction but we are looking for more than a wireframe, an Excel spreadsheet, or an idea. If you’re wondering whether you’ve got a working prototype, ask yourself: can I test this on my users and get feedback on the actual product (not idea) I’m building?

Mission Alignment

We are seeking for companies that are going to change media for good. We look for ventures that, if successful, will help to create a more informed, inclusive, and/or empathetic society. Additionally, a goal at Matter is cultivating a media landscape that’s diverse and representative of the society in which we live. We are excited to work with founders whose lived experiences are underrepresented in VC and Silicon Valley (underrepresented can mean different things but the guiding definition we like to use is: there are more people like you represented in the population than in the startup industry in the United States).

Venture Basics

The last thing we look at are the minimum basic requirements your company needs to meet for us to be able to invest, of which there are five.

You must be for-profit. Not a project, not a non-profit, and not an idea you’re exploring. We invest in companies that have the potential to make money. This is because we believe that the way to maximize impact is to build scalable and sustainable businesses that generate returns.

Your venture must be scalable. This means that there’s a non-linear relationship between your inputs and ability to grow. For example, networks or platforms are usually scalable because because while developing the first technology or platform requires a lot of R&D and building, once it’s built and you achieve your inflection point, maintainence is much easier. You can grow to an enormous number of users without spending much more on development. Conversely, a consultancy business isn’t scalable, because you’re doing bespoke work for every customer.

You must be a Delaware C-corp (or PBC) by the start of the program. Because we are a VC fund, we can only invest in entities that are legally structured to take equity investments. It’s not feasible to invest in other types of entities such as LLCs, S-corps, partnerships, etc.

You must work full-time out of either our SF or NYC office for the duration of the program. If you’re from outside those two cities you’ll need to relocate for five months starting in August. Acceleration doesn’t happen remotely, so you and your co-founders, as well as any essential employees, need to be full time in one of our two locations. So far we’ve had teams successfully relocate from Venezuela, Israel, Hong Kong, Spain, Dubai, Finland, Canada, Argentina, the UK, Ireland, Boston, Chicago, Raleigh, San Diego, Albuquerque, and LA. Once you’re here, you’ve got an amazing and supportive community waiting for you.

You must be committed to your venture full-time. From the time the program begins through two months after demo day, even in a worst case fundraising or cash scenario, you must be all in on your venture. In return, we will work side-by-side with you and put 100% of our efforts into helping you succeed.

Matter Moving Forward

In an effort to meet every founder where they’re at, Matter is now always accepting applications. While the obstacles startups face are not unique (e.g., not enough time, not enough money), each company is. That is why we have shifted to an always accepting applications model. We’ll still start our programs at fixed times of the year, but you can apply at any time. Each cohort will have a deadline by which you’ll need to apply to be considered. If you miss that cutoff date, we will consider you for the following Matter class. For Matter Nine (which is scheduled to begin August 13th, 2018) the deadline by which you’ll need to apply is April 30th. If you apply after April 30th, you will be considered for Matter Ten, which starts in 2019.

Let’s Go

So, are you a mission aligned, for-profit, early-stage media venture with the right team that’s ready to change media for good? If you check all the boxes above, then you are in our sweet spot and we’d love to hear from you. The evaluation doesn’t stop there however. We’ll dig into your pitch just like any good investor would. We’ll dig deep into the same types of questions that we ask at every Matter design review (check them out in the picture below).

Applications are open now and you have until April 30th to be considered for Matter Nine. Whether or not you’re one of the twelve companies we accept, we’ve designed the process so that you can learn something about your venture at each step.

Good luck. We can’t wait to build something meaningful together.

Matter is an SF & NYC-based startup accelerator and venture capital firm grounded in the principles of design thinking that supports early-stage media entrepreneurs and mission-aligned media institutions building scalable ventures that make society more informed, inclusive, and empathetic.

Our mission has never been more important than it is today. We are looking for scrappy entrepreneurs inspired to make real change. Our next cohort starts on August 13th. Apply now.

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