Now it’s your turn to Matter.

Last week was a big week at Matter.

On Monday, we reflected on our first two years. On Tuesday, we announced our four new media partners. On Wednesday, we revealed our new class. And on Thursday, we announced our first exit. On Friday we rested. Kind of. Not really. We did this:

Matter Four had their first Design Review on Thursday and here we are on Friday, as a class, deconstructing all the feedback each start-up got so they can decide what to implement and what to ignore as they begin their sprint towards the next Design Review on their way to Demo Day.

It’s a new week. And now it’s your opportunity to join us and carve your own Matter-Driven Narrative:

Applications for Matter Five are now open!

Yes, we just started Matter Four but we are already getting the ball rolling on selecting Matter Five. In the past, we’ve separated out running the program and running the application process. Not anymore. We believe that we need to design our process so that we can meet entrepreneurs where they are at, when they want to connect.

So, from now on, we will have a perpetually open application cycle. We’ll still start our programs at fixed times of the year, but you can apply at any time. And the sooner you apply, the sooner you’ll get feedback from us and establish a relationship to turn dots to lines.

The Process

Applications are now open. First, fill out this short survey right away and then submit a more detailed application via AngelList. Done!

From there we will review your application via one of two methods. My preferred method is to write the names of the applicants on post-its and see which ones my two daughters, Ella and Kaia, select to sing Frozen to. (They are both Elsa. Will you play the part of Anna?) But what we will more likely do is have a group of readers who represent Matter, our alumni, and our community to read and rate your application.

If your application piques our interest, we’ll invite you in for an initial 30 minute interview involving a 10-minute pitch and demo.

If we like what we see, things will start to get more serious. We’ll want to see how you go about building your business and test whether you can navigate the fog of entrepreneurship. We’ll give you a mini-project that lets you experience what it’s like to be in Matter by quickly testing the desirability, feasibility, and viability of your venture. You’ll complete the project and then share the results in a one-hour deep dive with our team.

If you make it past that gauntlet, we’ll ask for due diligence materials to prepare for a final investment decision and we’ll invite you to have a coveted slot at our Finalist Interview Week in May. (It’s 2 hours for you, a week for us.)

After that week, we’ll select six media start-ups to form Matter Five. If you are one of the “lucky” (aka “scrappy” aka “make your own luck’) teams, then you’ll do what it takes to prepare yourself to start the program in San Francisco in July. We’ll kick it off with our week-long Matter Boot Camp and Retreat and then start you on four one-month sprints that culminate in Demo Days in SF and NYC in November.

It’s a competitive process so you need to bring your A game. Last class had a 2.2% acceptance rate. But there is one thing we guarantee: If you fail, you will fail forward. We’ve intentionally designed this process so that each step accelerates your venture, regardless of the outcome.

The Program

At Matter, we provide intensive mentorship, space, and a $50K investment to help you build a scalable media venture through a human-centered, prototype-driven process rooted in design thinking. Our secret sauce is our culture of embracing fast experimentation and our community of entrepreneurs, media executives, and investors who help push our venture forward along the way.

We support you through a 20-week process that kicks off with a bootcamp and then consists of four one-month sprints to Demo Days in SF and NYC. At the end of each sprint is a Design Review that enables your team to get actionable feedback to implement in your next sprint. Each week you are supported through speaker series, mentor office hours, internal workshops, one-on-one coaching from the Matter team, and the intentional serendipity that occurs by working at the heart of a community of media innovators.

We encourage you to learn about Matter through the experiences of our current class and our alumni. Read the reflection that Jesse Shapins, the CEO of a start-up in our first class that just got acquired by Buzzfeed, wrote about what he learned while at Matter. And read founder Ben Werdmuller’s thoughts on his Matter journey as he travels to Demo Day NYC. Hear from our entrepreneurs and see the space in action by checking out our feature in TechCrunch’s series, Incubated. You can also follow the stories of our founders, team, mentors, and partners in our new Medium collection, A Matter-Driven Narrative.

Who are we looking for? In short: Multi-disciplinary teams building scalable media ventures ready to move to SF for this 5-month, intense, collaborative experience combining design thinking + entrepreneurship + media.

The Criteria

So, who are we looking for? In short: Multi-disciplinary teams building scalable media ventures ready to move to SF for this 5-month, intense, collaborative experience combining design thinking + entrepreneurship + media. We define media loosely and think of it more like “the connective tissue of society” rather than content. And we are great for both pre-seed and seed-stage ventures, and have investment structures that work for each.

First, we are looking for early-stage media ventures that are changing media for good. That means you are a venture that has the potential to make society more informed, connected, and empowered. We believe the future of media that matters is being created right now by entrepreneurs like you and it will be created through lots and lots of experiments. Matter creates a culture and community where those experiments can happen. Everything big, starts small.

You might be a standalone platform or you might serve existing media institutions. We support both. We’ve invested in companies covering the spectrum of media experiences — from reading, to listening, to watching, to interacting — and we are just as interested in new monetization models as we are in distribution and creation.

We are needs-focused and solution-agnostic. The verbs — to inform, to connect, and to empower — are what’s important. The resulting nouns — your solutions — should be unexpected. Surprise us.

Second, you are a pre-seed or seed stage venture with an early-stage, functioning product. We like teams who have a history of working together. Start-ups are a roller coaster and we want to have some assurance that your team won’t blow up for preventable human dynamics reasons like most other start-ups do. We believe the best teams have a unique combination of skill sets across business, technology, design, and storytelling. You’ve built an early stage functional prototype of your product or service. But, whether you realize it or not, we don’t expect it to be fully representative of what will come out the other side of Matter. You may not have raised any money yet or you may be in the process of closing $1.5M in seed funding. Our program and our investment structure can work well for both scenarios. Overall, we want to make sure that you have the skill sets to rapidly execute towards your vision and the mindsets to successfully navigate the fog of entrepreneurship.

Third, you are a venture. Not a project. Not a non-profit. Not a team at an existing institution. You are a start-up venture. You’re probably still figuring out your business model but you are very serious about eventually cracking it. What media needs more than anything else is business model innovation — and we’ve set up our constraints to help drive that innovation. You seek a path to greater long-term impact by pursuing a scalable strategy that will attract for-profit investment. You understand that you’ll have to eventually generate lots of revenue for other early stage investors to take a risk on you. You may not be a Delaware C-corp now, but you are on the path to becoming one because you know, for better or for worse, that’s the only language that investors know how to speak. We’ll make sure you are set-up structurally to be investable to future investors, before we close the deal with you. (But we’ll help you figure out how to get to there.) And if you want to form a Delaware Public Benefit Corporation, we support that structure as well. (And we encourage other investors who also support Benefit Corps to publicly declare it so that the investment path for a Benefit Corp is more clear.)

Fourth, you’ve got to be here. Do you have to be living in San Francisco right now? No, but you will need to move your team here by the start of the program. Acceleration happens through culture and community. Our community is grounded in our space located in the heart of a pretty innovative neighborhood. It’s up to you to figure out how to get here. If you have to battle immigration, figure out how to win. So far, we’ve had teams successfully make the leap from Israel, Hong Kong, Finland, Canada, Argentina, the UK, Ireland, Boston, New York, Chicago, Raleigh, San Diego, LA, and, of course, right here in the Bay Area. Just be the scrappy entrepreneurs that you are and you’ll figure it out. There’s a community waiting for you. Does this all sound hard? Sure it does. But you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t up for the challenge, right?

For even more information make sure you check out our application and FAQ pages at

Ready to change media for good?

Take the first step on your Matter-Driven Narrative now by filling out this short survey and then get started on your more detailed application on AngelList.

Good luck! Now it’s your turn to Matter.

Some reflections on a summer at Matter. (written on the way to demo day)

(This piece was originally published on my Known site at Known is a simple way to publish on your own site and syndicate to your social media profiles across the web — click here to learn more.)

When the garage door rose at 421 Bryant and a beaming Corey Ford welcomed us inside, I didn’t know what would await us over the next eighteen weeks. What I found was an unparalleled support network, new tools that changed the way I thought about my nascent business, and a community of amazing entrepreneurs that I’m proud to call my friends.

Matter’s tagline is “change media for good”. That mission was appealing to me: our media shapes us as a culture in profound ways. In a democracy, the population must be informed in order to vote effectively. Yet at the same time, the media industry we depend on to do this is undergoing a radical change, largely at the hands of the Internet. The opportunities — both socially, and for new kinds of businesses — are great.

I share a core belief with Matter: if you’re doing something good, you have an obligation to make it sustainable, so that you can keep doing it. But whereas I had internalized it as an abstract idea, Matter has taken design thinking and its community and created a concrete framework to make it happen.

Here’s how it works: after a bootcamp in the first week, you spend a little over four months researching, prototyping and refining. For two days each week, you have the opportunity to meet with outside mentors; once a week, each startup shares something with the class. At the end of each month, there’s a design review, wherein you spend seven minutes pitching your company to a panel of investors and entrepreneurs. It’s a confidential, safe environment, but the feedback is real, and panelists and audience members are encouraged to give “gloves off” advice. Based on that, you sprint to the next design review, and ultimately, to demo days in San Francisco and New York.

The first week’s design thinking bootcamp was an intense but rewarding introduction to the methodologies we’d use for the rest of the program, but it also taught me another important thing: I was horribly out of shape. Previously, I’d been sitting at my computer for most of the day, often without leaving my apartment. Now we were being asked to jump onto our feet, do guerrilla user testing in the street, build lots of prototypes at breakneck speed and energetically improvise a fictional startup together in just a few days, all in the middle of a heatwave — and I was exhausted. I left the office each day barely able to walk.

Of course, it was exactly the kind of shake-up I needed, and it’s become a core part of Known’s DNA: jump on the phone with someone, give yourself a ten minute timebox to brainstorm ideas, keep the creative energy flowing. If I have one criticism of Matter, it’s that it’s sometimes hard to actually build software in an environment when uptempo music is playing in the background and people are running around, but that’s not what it’s for. Matter is not an accelerator that encourages you to sit in a room and build something for three months. You’re there to build, but you’re building the story of your startup.

The walls are covered in whiteboards, the furniture is deliberately makeshift, and you’re encouraged to make the space your own. I don’t think it’s an accident that the office — actually a converted garage — feels more like a workshop. Tables were dragged, posters were erected, rooms were occasionally literally covered in paper — all in the name of testing lots of tiny prototypes, and creating a successful proposition through failing faster. “Hey, do you have five minutes?” someone would often ask me. Of course, I’d say yes, as we all would, and I’d be catapulted into someone else’s app experience for a short while, possibly through the medium of Sharpies and Post-Its, giving my feedback and thinking aloud as honestly as I could.

There’s a widely-accepted maxim in software, and particularly in open source: scratch your own itch. That’s certainly the mindset I walked in the door with. Although that can be helpful in the sense that it may reveal insights, user research is important if you want to reach people who aren’t exactly like you. It was a hard transition, at least at first; here, the technology itself has little value unless it’s meeting a deep, and scalable, user need. Halfway through the program, I was doing some pretty existential self-questioning. But ultimately, it was rewarding. As I write this, on my way to the New York Demo Day, thousands of people have used Known. Our initial focus, developed through extensive research, is on university educators, which has turned out to be a perfect decision: our first pilots are running right now, and we have more scheduled in the Fall.

Perhaps because everyone is there to make a difference, it’s also a wonderful group of people. Every single person in Matter has been a joy to work around, and one of the best parts of the whole thing has been seeing our fellow startups develop. We’re in it for each other, and I think we always will be. I’m heavily emotionally invested in the outcomes of Educrate, Musey, Louder, LocalData and Stringr, and in the ongoing success of Matter itself. One of the hardest challenges is going to be transitioning to working without my friends on the tables around me. It’ll be quieter, for sure, but they have been an incredible network of supporters. I hope to spend as much time with them as possible.

I can’t imagine having found a better home for our startup. I believe the future is very bright for Known, but it’s brighter for having been a part of this community.

Matter’s fifth class is open for applications: you should go take a look.