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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 reallyread.it 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, reallyread.it 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.

Whereby.us, 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 Whereby.us 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.

Team

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.”

Media

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.

Stage

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.

For regular updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to our mailing list.

Build the media platform of tomorrow.

Matter is looking for scrappy entrepreneurs who will change the way we share and learn forever.

The way we learn about the world is transforming.

The next wave of internet platforms is coming into view. Four years from now, over half of us will have an intelligent assistant in our home, and over half of all internet searches will be voice-activated. Blockchain technology has brought decentralization into the mainstream, making new kinds of media businesses possible. Meanwhile, the pendulum is swinging away from targeted advertising to revenue models that respect user privacy, and from a hands-off approach to innovation to regulations that outlaw surveillance.

This wave of change comes at a time when media is more important than ever before. The decline in media has led to a global democratic recession. Representation of people of color in newsrooms has stalled. Just 16% of Americans say they trust what they read in the news, while our society becomes more divided than ever.

Each new wave presents new opportunities. These changes will bring about shifts in consumer behavior, and open up new kinds of markets. While social networks and mobile apps all contain entrenched incumbents, apps for intelligent assistants, all-in-one VR headsets, or decentralized infrastructure do not. There’s everything to play for — and there’s also the opportunity for these ventures to help create a more informed, inclusive, and empathetic society in the process.

We believe the seeds of the next great media institutions will be planted by entrepreneurs who harness waves of technological change to build human-centered ventures that speak truth to power, close the empathy gap, and take a radically inclusive approach to amplifying the voices of all people.

Entrepreneurs like you.

It’s your turn to Matter.

This year, we’re looking for interdisciplinary teams building scalable, for-profit ventures that change the way we tell stories, learn about the world, and empathize with other peoples’ lived experiences.

At Matter, we provide immersive mentorship, space, and a $50K cash investment to help you build a scalable media venture through a human-centered, prototype-driven process rooted in design thinking. Over our 5-month, in-person program, we help you perform rapid experiments to get feedback and iterate quickly, aided by our community of hundreds of mentors, our alumni, media executives and investors. And after those 20 weeks — once you’ve taken part in demo days in both San Francisco and New York — we will continue to be the wind at your back, helping you to fundraise and continue to build your venture.

Our partners are companies like KQED, McClatchy, the Associated Press, the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, and Google News Lab. Our alumni are some of the most dedicated entrepreneurs in media: companies like Hearken, NewsDeeply and SpokenLayer. They’ve been there, done that, and are ready to pay it forward.

Now it’s time for you to join them.

Applications are open.

Starting today, applications to Matter are always open. Although our accelerator program runs at fixed points during the year, we think it’s important that you are able to apply when it makes sense for you. That said, you’ll have a much better chance of being a part of Matter Nine if you apply by April 30.

It’s easy to get started. Just fill in this form, taking care to include a link to a deck. Then, if we like what we see, we’ll invite you to pitch your venture to us. After that, the next stage is a design thinking project that gives you a taste of what the Matter program is like.

It’s a competitive process, with an acceptance rate of around 2%. Our next twelve startups will walk through the garage door on August 13: six based in San Francisco, and six based in New York City. Each will join a vibrant community of inspiring individuals working as part of some of the important teams in media. You can be one of them.

We’re excited to meet you. Let’s change media for good, together.

Compass News: How we built an AI editor that makes young people smarter, quicker.

Ciao!

Mayank and I met at a pub in Covent Garden, the day after the Brexit vote. We chatted about how our friends had started blocking each other on Facebook because of comments on the 2015 election and Brexit. Initially, we thought this behaviour was hilarious — but the more we discussed it, the scarier it became. Why were they so surprised — and angry — to find people holding views that differed from their own? Had they really never encountered these ideas before?

Co-founder Matilde Giglio; Co-founder Mayank Banerjee.

It turned out that Mayank and I had spent the past year obsessed with the same thing. I was studying at the London School of Economics, he was at Oxford, and both of us were working on theses dissecting how Facebook had screwed journalism, and subsequently democracy.

Despite, or perhaps because of our fears, we decided to start working on an insane idea to “save journalism”, together with a small team including Harry Robertson, our head of editorial and Rohan Tahiliani, our CTO. I quit my cosy consultancy job and Mayank dropped out of University (much to the dismay of his family).

Our friends and family took some time to come around to the idea — but after a year of countless angry phone calls and awkward dinners, they started to come around.

And they weren’t alone: 10 months after launch we have a team of 12 and 50,000 users.
Compass HQ in London

What happens in Covent Garden… doesn’t stay there.

If you’ve ever been as broke and busy as we are now, then you’ve probably noticed that your news sources rapidly become limited to what you see on Facebook and Twitter. These sites are great for quips, jokes and gifs of animals doing fun things.

What they’re not great for is high quality journalism. That’s because they base the ranking of what you see on popularity, what your “friends” enjoy and, crucially, what they agree with.

Simultaneously, advertising revenue from news has rapidly declined, and publishers have responded by erecting paywalls. This is understandable, but it only exacerbates the problem. The average consumer can only really afford to pay for a single publication — and therefore a limited point of view. Newspapers themselves end up compounding the filter bubble created by Facebook and Twitter.

So, unless you have shed-loads of expendable income and tons of free time, you have three options:

1: A stream of clickbait that reinforces your current opinions

2: Loads of decent articles — but all from a single publication

3: Completely ignoring the news.

So here’s the obvious question:

“What does a news platform that is accessible to everyone look like?”

How we answered the question

We started by touring universities across the UK and speaking with more than 1,000 students. They wanted to be better informed and were worried that it was becoming increasingly difficult to do so.

We didn’t want to just build an app for students: we wanted to build an app with students.

Our community of students

From our conversations with students and our own studies, we distilled the task into three challenges:

  • Create a feed of quality journalism that can’t be found on Facebook
  • Make that feed accessible to as many people as possible
  • Make it possible to consume that feed in the shortest amount of time possible

Solve these, and journalism becomes open to everyone — no matter how much money you have, or how lazy you are.

What does “quality” mean?

In the early days of the internet, the AOL homepage was paid for and curated by humans. Then Google came along, and proclaimed that quality content was determined by the strength and number of links to it. Finally, Facebook arrived, which considers your friends to be the best metric of quality. It’s become painfully obvious that the last systems have proven to be enormous failures at sourcing reliable, quality news pieces.

The answer: curation.

The holy grail of sorting content is to have expertise, experience and skill determine what is of the highest importance.

The only issue? That type of curation doesn’t scale.

Enter artificial intelligence. We’ve spent 18 months training an AI editor, by having it shadow the curation performed by professional journalists on a gigantic range of topics. After reading hundreds of thousands of articles and observing literally millions of curation decisions, it now works independently.

We’ve combined the expertise of trained curators with the limitless scalability of an algorithm.

This AI can work on any topic, spotting articles that our team miss. Oddly enough, no one on our team has ever fought sheep before. They’d never even heard of it. But that didn’t stop the AI editor picking out probably the most interesting perspective on the Algerian sheep fighting industry.

And this is just the beginning. Every day the AI editor reads new articles, learns more from our curation team, and redesigns itself. It’s only going to get better.

Compass News: get smarter, quicker.

Compass is like having your own personal journalist on hand at all times, ready to explain what’s going on in the world.

You get real-time updates on important headlines, explained in the most succinct way possible. The day’s best articles are chosen, summarised and presented with background explanations by a expert curation team working in tandem with our AI editor. You’ll have a practical understanding of a topic in a matter of minutes — something that would take you hours to get anywhere else.

All of this happens in one app, which has been live for ten months, and is used by 50,000 students.

This is what our audience looks like:

What now?

We’re deploying new proprietary AI which will massively expand the scope of Compass — and simultaneously enable in-depth personalisation for every user.

We’re lucky to have a team of incredibly talented journalists, developers and engineers who genuinely want to make journalism accessible for everyone.

Our Slack channels, Facebook groups and Trello boards are filled with the chatter of a generation which cares far more about journalism than anyone gives them credit for. We’re going to keep listening to them.

Joining Matter, an investor that cares about the future of media, is exciting as hell. We can’t wait to work with the Matter Eight teams in New York and San Francisco.

If you want to drop us a line you’ll find us at hello@compassnews.co.uk, but for now, thanks for reading.