Entrepreneurs: Stop coding for a minute. Design folks: Stop running down intuition.

For early-stage startups, technical feats are the least important evidence of their potential.

January 31st will be my last day at Matter. It’s been an honor and privilege, and the three years I got here will continue to influence how I approach work for the rest of my life. Rather than fully enumerate how, I wanted to sign off from my run with one lesson I learned through experience. Thank you. Change media for good.

As the somewhat rare investor and startup advisor who comes to the space from a design and product strategy perspective primarily, I have a reputation for saying the same things over again to every founder I meet:

“Who is this for? Specifically.

“Have you met them? What are their lives like? Where does this fit in?

“How are they going to find out about it? What are you trying to replace that they use now? Why is this better?

“Do they think it’s better? How do you know?”

Yes, I won’t shut up about people. The soft stuff. The squishy substance that self-proclaimed visionaries ignore as they build their brilliant idea that will upend the status quo, so long as it just manages to get some traction. “If you build it, they will come,” as the fictional owner of a ghost baseball stadium in a corn field taught us all about entrepreneurship.

It should come as little surprise that a lot of startups take a long time to listen to me, whether I work closely with them or I just know them casually. Entrepreneurs regard themselves, often correctly, as mavericks, and mavericks don’t do market research. They get insights about the world, and they move fast and break things until everyone else catches up.

Although some startups manage to get gigantic without ever carefully observing people and figuring out which specific problem to solve in which context for which specific person, most will eventually hit a wall if they try to simply hack their way to product/market fit. Then they pick up the pieces, develop real empathy with a real person, make major product and business changes, and make more progress forward in a few weeks than they did in months or years. It’s not inevitable, but it’s common enough that I’ve started to develop a gut sense for when an individual leader is ready to stop trying to “educate the user” and instead educate themselves on what the user needs in the first place.

This pattern tends to recur. The interesting question is, why does it keep repeating, and how can entrepreneurs and their human-centered advisors interrupt this pattern? How can more startups find real inspiration for their companies faster without hitting that wall in the first place? Human-centered design-driven startups (especially those with designers on the founding team) have succeeded tremendously, perhaps most notably at Airbnb. Why, then, is design thinking such a hard process and mindset for entrepreneurs outside this set to adopt and implement?

Through thought and reflection, I’ve concluded there are two factors at play:

  1. Entrepreneurs dramatically underestimate how much investors value true insight about users and markets when making investment decisions (and founders are often, by personality and experience, not the most into asking random strangers to criticize their ideas).
  2. Human-centered design advocates can express their perspectives so forcefully and dogmatically that they can come across as dismissive of other approaches, unconsciously denigrating the mindsets and processes of the entrepreneurs they advise. Worse, design thinking can sound culty and evidence-free in a way that raises founders’ anti-brainwashing and anti-conformity defenses.

I’ll start by explicating the first point to make a case for why entrepreneurs ignore the imperative to be obsessed with the people they’re building their products for at great peril to their future success — and their future funding.

You can’t fake knowing your market.
It’s about risk. The job of a venture-backed entrepreneur is to identify key risks in their company, raise money to reduce those risks, and then watch valuation increase as the venture becomes less risky and later-stage investors see the startup as validated. This pattern repeats for each round of funding if successful.

But all risks are not created equal. There are risks investors can live with and risks they cannot. Above everything else, they look at the team risk. Have these founders worked together before? What have they accomplished? Are they committed and stable, or are they going to break apart at the first moment of conflict.

But assuming you’ve got a great team, there are three types of risk that investors care about: market, technical, and business risk. Or, as Corey articulated early in Matter’s life, what design thinkers call viability, feasibility, and desirability.

Technical risk is straightforward: can it be built with the time, resources, and team potentially at your disposal? Business risk is, too: Can this make money soon and/or at scale, and are there big competitors we need to worry about?

But then there’s market risk, which really comes down to the same question I and many other design thinkers always bang on about: is there at least one customer who cares about this problem, and, if so, are there enough of those customers in the market for this to be a problem worth solving with a venture-backed startup? At the end of the day, is this desirable enough?

Many new founders assume that it’s important to present a promising risk profile in all three of these areas, that you just want to look like you’re winning generally. But as I learned from long-time Matter mentor Brendan, this is the fundamental error of pursuing credibility at the expense of notability. Every early stage startup is flawed, so a bulletproof, optimistic story does nothing but raise the suspicions of investors. It’s far better to be several standard deviations above average in one area and look questionable in the others than to try to be well-rounded if unmemorable.

And if you’re going to be notable, market risk is a really good area to stand out! Remember, after team risk, investors care more about market risk than anything else, which is why the Matter accelerator emphasized validating desirability above all else. To an investor, if you’re solving the wrong problem, literally nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter how challenging to develop your tech is, it doesn’t matter what remarkable unit economics you could achieve at scale: a startup that isn’t solving a real user need is a great vehicle for setting millions of dollars and the best years of your life on fire. Other than describing a startup as “too early for us” or “playing in too small a market,” there is no more damning phrase in the mouth of an investor than “this feels like a solution in search of a problem.” If you hear that, congratulations: in a best case, you just might have the next Yo on your hands.

To really drive this back to the underestimation issue I mentioned above: investors can tell when you don’t really know your market risk, or when you’re waving your hands and citing top-down trends as a way to share insight about your users. This flaw in your venture’s story glistens like flop sweat on a comedian’s forehead at their first open mic. There’s no recovering from it.

What investors want to walk away from a pitch feeling about a startup’s market risk is the following: “Wow. That entrepreneur taught me a lot about a market I thought I understood before because they are obsessed with the people who live in it and have genuine insight that almost no one else does. I’m not sure yet if the market is definitely big enough or if their approach is a perfect fit for our investment thesis, but that team is going places, and I can’t imagine who would be able to keep up with them in solving that particular problem.” That’s what a win in a pitch meeting looks like. That doesn’t guarantee you get a check, but it’s the bar you have to clear.

The upshot is this: When an earnest, yammering, human-centered design advisor tells you nothing matters unless you nail who your user is, the context in which they live, the need you’re solving, and a set of insights that mean you’re uniquely able to define a resonant solution for the market, you should listen. Step away from the keyboard. Stop reading your (likely statistically insignificant) analytics for awhile. Close your list of priority features for your next release. Stop doing anything until you can paint an honest picture of your user and why their circumstances wouldn’t just welcome a new solution — they demand it. That’s the substance of your product and company. Everything else is irrelevant until you know that.

End shaming of entrepreneurs.

You’re not getting off easy either, design evangelists.
Now it’s time to shame the true believer design advocates among whom I grew up: the arguments you’re making to try to convince people to take a more empathy-driven approach often come across as condescending, generic, or, worse in the eyes of many, idealistic to the point of dangerous naïveté.

Let’s face some facts: plenty — almost certainly the majority — of products and startups created through design thinking processes still fail. Ultimately, luck and timing play as big or a bigger role than whether or not the founders spoke to enough potential customers and had a pithy POV statement that every employee could recite backwards from memory. I firmly believe that following a human-centered process and, more importantly, possessing a curious, human-centered mindset both increase — often dramatically so — the odds of a product or startup’s success. But neither comes close to providing a certain pathway to the top, and it reduces credibility to talk as if they do.

But even that last message often gets lost between advisor and founders. The case for a design-driven approach to entrepreneurship often summons the (deservedly legendary) skepticism of founders, and both parties suddenly find themselves in the most intransigent debate of all: attempting to prove or disprove the validity of an approach that itself isn’t rooted in statistics or unassailable logic. As is inevitable in all such circumstances, no one learns anything and everyone walks away more committed to their side of the argument than they were at the outset.

How and why do we get here? It stems from both founders and design advocates spending far too much time talking about the past of the venture in question and not enough time talking about the future. Here’s how it plays out: A new design mentor, advisor, or investor, asks to hear the history of how a startup came to be: the inspiration, the leap of faith to quit the day job, the different versions of the product, the many ups, the many downs, and the many, many in-betweens.

And, rather than take this history as a narrative for understanding where the founders are coming from — rather than actually practicing empathy for entrepreneurs —some try to impose a cookie-cutter template on the way things could have gone if only the founders had already been enlightened to the true way of design thinking. That failed first product whose many incorrect assumptions you ultimately discarded after pouring your heart into it? Wouldn’t it have been great to know it was the wrong thing and moved onto the next thing before you invested six months and your life savings in it?

Sure, it would be great! But you’re not going to convince an entrepreneur who has sacrificed and done what most would regard as risky or crazy that their hard-earned lessons could have been learned much faster if only they listened more to experts and ordinary people than by trusting their guts and following their passions. This is made even worse if you have not been a founder of a startup yourself, because that makes it all too easy to set your views aside. It’s just a fundamentally incompatible pair of perspectives that can sound like the design evangelist is saying the entrepreneur’s approach to building a startup is wrong and, on the flip side, can sound like the entrepreneurs don’t think they have anything to learn and don’t believe anyone understands what they’ve been through. What’s worse that sometimes actually is what both sides mean.

The clashes between intuition and evidence, between art and science, have raged for millennia, and they will continue to. But no one involved in early stage startups have the time or energy to relitigate those clashes. For design mentors and advisors to add value to a startup, they need to practice what they preach. They need to observe carefully and then identify opportunities to coach founders on how to inject more of a focus on people, prototyping, and quick experimentation into their venture that will not only help them build a better product and business down the line, but will, crucially, save time and money and increase the odds of building a company that investors back with huge sums of money.

That kind of convergent goal, that focus on a future state and how to get to an even better level of performance — not conducting a tedious at best, insulting at worst, postmortem of the history of the company to date — is where human-centered design becomes a giant booster rocket to the launch and long-term trajectory of a startup.

The good news is that the goal of breakout success is already shared between advisor and entrepreneur. All that needs to happen to enable that collaboration is to embrace a helpful pair of assumptions. Founders: a focus on the user is not a distraction, and its absence can easily kill an investor’s interest in you. Design advisors: Your job is to make the future even better, not to criticize the past. That’s it.

Now. Let’s do something amazing together.

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.

Enough is enough. It’s time to support startups that respect our rights.

Surveillance is not a requirement. We’re looking for scrappy entrepreneurs trying to build something better.

It’s hard to avoid the headlines. The personal information of tens of millions of people was scraped by a political consultant campaign, using the API of the world’s largest social network. There was no data breach; there were no hackers. The information taken from the API as designed, which was there in the first place to support a targeted advertising business model with a goal of growth at all costs.

This event wasn’t alone. It would be naïve to assume that there had only been one solitary personality test that used this data. Aggressive data gathering has become commonplace. Even in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook again drew fire for storing facial recognition data without consent. And Facebook is far from the only tech company guilty of such activities.

It would be easy to blame the tech industry for these abuses of trust — and we should. But at Matter, we know that there are entrepreneurs and startups who are actively trying to create a more informed, inclusive, and empathetic society. There are ventures engaged in the business of supporting democracy. They’re out there, fighting against the tide to build something better. They know that technology, used well, can empower communities, not undermine and divide them. They know it’s not just about good intentions: it’s about deeply understanding the implications of your work. And we know this because they apply to join our program every single day.

A community changing media for good

Our five-month, immersive accelerator in San Francisco and New York City helps entrepreneurs de-risk their businesses through a culture of rapid, prototype-driven experimentation. We help you understand your users and your venture holistically, test your core assumptions, and land on something that resonates, is feasible, and is a viable business.

That’s important for every venture — but it’s particularly important when you’re mission-driven. You can have all the goodwill in the world, but if you’re building something that aims to do good, you have a responsibility to make it viable. If you want to make an impact tomorrow, you should want to be continuing to make waves two years from now. We want to help you do well while doing good.

We believe the seeds of the next great media institutions will be planted by courageous entrepreneurs who make the leap to build ventures that speak truth to power, close the empathy gap, and take a radically inclusive approach to amplifying the voices of all people.

This moment is too important to let slide. We’ve always made it clear that we’re looking for the next generation of ventures that will remake the technology industry into one that supports inclusion, empathy, and safety. And now it’s more important than ever.

A human-centered program that aligns you with your users

Recently, Anil Dash wrote in 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech:

We can be thoughtfully skeptical and critical of modern tech products and companies without having to believe that most people who create tech are “bad”. Having met tens of thousands of people around the world who create hardware and software, I can attest that the cliché that they want to change the world for the better is a sincere one. Tech creators are very earnest about wanting to have a positive impact.

Wanting to make a positive impact is one thing. Ensuring that you do is another.

Matter’s program gives you the tools to holistically understand your user — and your venture. Our version of design thinking aligns you on a fundamental level with the people you’re trying to help. Rather than harvesting their data, or engaging in an ad blocking arms race with them, we can help you find business models that meet their deep, unmet needs, while allowing you to grow and reach profitability.

The Matter Nine program

Matter is all about testing and experimentation. The pillars of our program are Design Reviews: closed, safe spaces where you can get feedback on the vital characteristics of your venture. You will tell the story of your startup in the form of a narrative, and receive gloves-off, honest feedback from a panel of experts and invited attendees.

Nothing leaves the room; everybody understands that your venture is a work in progress; you decide which feedback you want to act on (after all, it’s your venture). But at the end of the session you have far more data than you had before.

Then, together with a community that will keep you accountable, you set goals that will guide you to the next Design Review.

In between, you meet one-on-one with members of our network of hundreds of mentors, hear the stories of invited speakers who have been down this entrepreneurial path before, participate in workshops around vital topics like revenue models and user journeys, and test and share with your fellow entrepreneurs as part of a weekly event we call a Shareout.

This is all in service of helping you to perform rapid tests, get feedback quickly, and use what you learn to propel you forwards at an accelerated pace by aligning you with your users. We’ve proven that the model de-risks startups and helps them find success. And in today’s climate, we think it’s more important than ever that the ventures that shape the future will support democracy and help to build a more informed, inclusive, and empathetic society.

Apply today. Applications are still open. You need a team, a working prototype, and a deck. We’re excited to meet you.

The Drunken Walk, S3-E3: Kaitlyn Jankowski— theSkimm

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 eight 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.

Introducing GunFacts: A Tool for Fact-Driven Gun Debates

GunFacts (a project by grafiti, a Matter Seven company) is a site where you can find and share charts, graphs and other data visualizations that reflect how guns impact America — including mass shootings, gun access, violence against women, families and minorities, Congressional voting, public opinion, the NRA, and more. We’ve compiled shareable facts from over 40 publishers and 60 data sources (and growing!). We urge you to explore & learn, share, and communicate with data-backed insights — across social media, in your community orgs and in your personal conversations. Whether you’re a concerned parent or student, journalist, community organizer, advocate, activist, victim of gun violence, or know someone who is — this resource is for you.

Washington Post Visualization after Parkland Shooting, February 2018

GunFacts is a response to something we all deeply need in the debate over sensible gun policies: data-driven facts. Like millions of others, we’ve been affected personally by gun violence. And like those millions, we’ve been inspired by the students from Parkland and all over America that are driving our nation to find a solution that works, once and for all. We believe there’s a solution out there that protects people from harm while also respecting Second Amendment rights, but in order to do that, we need to better understand the data behind guns.

Here are some awesome things you can do with GunFacts:

  • Browse over 900 data-backed visualizations of insights across the following topics (so far): Corporate America, Gun Access, Gun Money for Congress, Gun Ownership, Gun Violence, How Congress Votes, Laws and Policies, Mass Shootings, Media Coverage, Mental Health and Suicide, Minorities and Prejudice, the N.R.A., Police and Crime, Public Opinion and Polling, School Shootings, Women and Families, World Comparisons, and Youth.
  • Quickly find and share images to Twitter, Facebook, or wherever you talk about these issues. (Please attribute the publishers using source links or @ on social.)
  • Read the source article or data behind each chart.
Total NRA Donations by State, Washington Post, 2018
  • Review every single House and Senate representative that’s taken money from the N.R.A., and see how reps are voting for gun legislation.
  • See state-level data for all topics, including gun laws and indicators like gun homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings.
  • Find data on mental health illness and how it relates to guns — and how it doesn’t.
  • Discover major public opinion polls from Pew Research Center, Gallup, MorningConsult, Ipsos, and YouGov.

We sourced our content from a wide range of reputable publishers, journalists, activists, advocate orgs, data providers, academics, and data scientists (we’ve provided source links to all content 🙏) — including the Washington Post, the The New York Times, the Associated Press, Pew Research Center, NPR, Vox, CNN, Quartz, The Trace, Everytown, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Moms Demand Action, the Giffords Law Center, the CDC, the FBI, the ATF, Mapping Police Violence, the Gun Violence Archive, and 60+ more.

Number of Gun Deaths in 2018 (so far), Gun Violence Archive

This is a public effort and we need YOUR help to make this the best repository for finding research, data, and insights around gun violence in America. PLEASE send us any charts, articles, sources, studies, visuals, introductions, requests, and feedback on how to make it better. We’re going to update this as new info comes in, so keep us busy. We’re updating the site every day with more data and features, so please chime in!

Holler & Join Us:, Facebook, Twitter, Insta or in the comments below 👇

#neveragain #marchforourlives #facts4change

Voice and ambient computing — for good

Ten years ago, with the introduction of the iPhone, the transition to mobile computing began in earnest — a transition that changed the way all of us access the internet, learn about the world, and think about becoming informed. 85% of Americans get their news on a mobile device.

This year, a new transition is well underway. It could bring a new level of convenience and control to our lives, or it could represent the normalization of ubiquitous surveillance. It’s too early to tell — and the outcome is up to us.

Smart speakers — the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod — will have a place in over half of American households within the next four years. (Right now, 18% of Americans aged 12+ have access to one.) But that’s just a small portion of the change; between wearable devices like the AirPods, and installations across phones, tablets, and computers, over a billion devices in use today have voice assistant functionality. Speech recognition accuracy hit 95% last year, it continues to improve at a rapid pace. Half of all searches are expected to be conducted with voice by 2020.

Assistants don’t necessarily need to communicate with words. Just as my Apple Watch sends me a haptic tap in order to tell me I should think about taking cover from the rain, a whole new set of calm technology principles are guiding the design of apps that inform us without seizing our attention or forcing us to look at a screen.

However they communicate with us, assistants will change the way we interact with information — and how it is proactively reported to us. Some will come with us in our ears, on our wrists, or, yes, through our phones. Others will be in our homes, offices and cars — built into our ambient environments — and will recognize us as we enter a space. This presents new, exciting opportunities for services that interact with their users conversationally.

The challenge will be to build tools that provide the right information to the right person at the right time, securely, while respecting their privacy.

Last year, as part of a murder investigation, Arkansas police demanded that Amazon turn over Alexa recordings from a suspect’s home. The company resisted, but as Wired reported at the time:

Amazon’s effort to protect the data your Echo collects by invoking the First Amendment is commendable, but the company has failed to address the real problem: Why is all that data just sitting in Amazon’s servers in the first place? The brief Amazon filed in the Arkansas court confirms that the company saves the recordings and transcripts of your dialogue with Alexa on servers where “all data is protected during transmission and securely stored.” So should we just trust that Amazon’s servers are impenetrable?

The issue is not just that this information might be used in ways we don’t expect. People behave differently when they know they’re being observed, and are less likely to exercise their right to free speech. This is particularly true in more vulnerable communities — exactly the people whose voices should be amplified and empowered by new technology.

A world of always-on microphones and intelligent cameras has the potential to make us all more informed — but it also has the potential to build a new layer of surveillance that creates a chilling effect and suppresses free speech. Ethical technologists can help ensure that these new technologies are open to all voices and respectful of our privacy needs. By being intentional about how we design products and signpost their stewardship of our rights and data, these technologists can harness these new technologies while protecting users and safeguarding freedom of speech.

We want to support those technologists. If you’re using voice or ambient technology to create the next generation of apps that will make us more informed, close empathy gaps in our society, or make the world more inclusive, we want to hear from you. Applications for Matter are open now.

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.

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.

Meet Matter Eight

Media is the connective tissue of our society. Introducing the twelve startups aiming to make us more informed, inclusive, and empathetic.

When Matter was founded in 2012, the media industry was struggling in the face of huge changes in revenue models, technology, and audiences. The internet created a completely new playing field — one that allowed more voices to be heard, but also for a select few to make the rules.

While we’ve been working to create a more robust media ecosystem, our society has become more divided. You may have heard the stats — only 35% of Americans say they trust the media, and 16% say they have high confidence in the news they read online. It can be hard to tell what’s real in a world where news spreads more based on followers than facts.

Before each Matter class we come together with our partners, some of the world’s biggest media institutions, to identify which core themes we believe will make a real difference. As we sourced Matter Eight, we were on the lookout for start-ups focused on amplifying voices that aren’t always being heard; building secure technologies to protect free speech; rebuilding trust; moving beyond targeted advertising to new business models; harnessing emerging technologies like augmented reality and artificial intelligence to create new models for understanding and empathy; and creating ways for individuals and media companies to own their online identities and relationships.

We built our accelerator so that media entrepreneurs working in these spaces could test lots and lots of experiments in a supportive environment, through a human-centered, prototype-driven process. This year’s class is building ventures that speak truth to power, close the empathy gap, and take a radically inclusive approach to amplifying the voices of all people. We spent the last two weeks coming together as a community. Now we’re ready to get started.

Meet this year’s brave entrepreneurs. Meet Matter Eight.

In San Francisco, they are: Scriptd, nēdl, Drop, LedBetter, Kerning Cultures, and Pixinote.

In New York: Compass News,, Ovee, Optimera, kweliTV, and Paytime.

Scriptd: A marketplace democratizing Hollywood.

COO Esteban Gast, CEO Denise Hewett, and Lead Engineer Eugene Hauptmann

Have you ever heard of the “Will and Grace Effect”? It’s what happened in the 90s when the hit show Will and Grace, with gay character leads, shifted societal attitudes about homosexuality. Denise Hewett, Esteban Gast, and Eugene Hauptman know the power of stories, and they know that right now in Hollywood, there are too many voices getting left out.

They’ve looked at a lot of numbers. Despite the fact that diverse, multi-dimensional characters would more closely resemble our diverse world, only 14% of writers are members of a minority ethnic group, Latinx have 3% speaking roles despite buying 23% of all movie tickets, and only 8% of directors, producers, editors and cinematographers are women — to name a few.

They’ve already optioned 7 films, 2 TV shows and a webseries (90% written by women and people of color) on their open community-based screenplay database and reader.

Scriptd is based in San Francisco. Read more.

Compass News: An AI editor to break the filter bubble.

Co-founders Matilde Giglio and Mayank Banerjee

Conceived amidst the anxiety of Brexit, Compass News has set out to restore to young news consumers that which is missing in the contemporary media ecosystem: headlines curated by factors other than your friends’ interests, a broad selection of articles from a variety of sources and viewpoints, and the time and resources to access quality journalism.

First, the team reinvented the newsfeed. They worked with over one thousand UK university students to co-design an app featuring the most important news of the day. Their team of journalists produce summaries that are quick-to-the-point but, crucially, come with the context intact.

Then, they scaled it, training an AI editor on hundreds of thousands of hand-picked articles until it gained the ability to make these curation decisions on its own — as well as to surface content that Compass News’ human editors missed. With that technology in hand, they’re setting their sights further, pursuing in-depth personalization while growing their user base on the promise of getting smarter, quicker.

Compass News is based in New York. Read more.

nēdl: Reach everyone everywhere with the power of audio.

CEO Ayinde Alakoye

Ayinde Alakoye has been in radio for 20 years. Since 2003, he’s been streaming live radio to mobile phones to make broadcasts accessible to everyone, everywhere. Now, he’s taking it a step further. He created nēdl with his co-founder Jason Medeiros to let anyone create a station and appear in a database that’s be searchable in real-time, just like a web browser search engine. Inspired by the lack of trust in the media and the current political landscape, Ayinde aims to democratize the microphone—giving real people a voice in a space where bots can’t hide.

nēdl is based in San Francisco. Read more. A social network powered by reading.

Co-founders Bill Loundy and Jeff Camera

The founders of know whether you’ve really read an article on the internet (if you’ve opted in to their Chrome extension). They know if you just scanned the headline before posting it to Facebook. They know if you skimmed most of it before sharing it to all of your followers on Twitters. And if you didn’t really read it, but think you have something relevant to say about it in the comments section…think again.

On, you can only comment on an article once you’ve read it. From that simple premise, the team is building an online community of readers and commenters interested in having real discussion based on content. Along the way, they’re curating a collection of the best articles on the internet based on reading rate instead of virality. And there’s a lot more to come.

For now, try out the Chrome extension for yourself. You may find that you’ve really read a lot less than you think you have. is based in New York. Read more.

Drop: Search in an immersive world.

Russel Ladson, Geoffrey Griffin, Dustin Boyle, and Victor Knai do a lot in their spare time—from gardening, to reading comic books, to developing virtual reality games. For Russ, one of these hobbies became an obsession and eventually developed into much, much more.

Russ had a near-fatal accident that reshaped how he thought about his relationship with physical space and daily work. He realized that he wanted to use virtual reality to change the way we discover and interact with information in the world around us. He built Drop to design a new daily routine centered within a world of virtual and/or augmented reality.

Drop is based in San Francisco. Read more.

Ovee: Giving young women agency over their sexual health.

Co-founders Jane Mitchell and Courtney Snavely

Ovee’s founders draw their expertise from their backgrounds as health scientists and user-centered designers. But their product is the result of interviews with hundreds of young women about their sexual and reproductive healthcare, or lack thereof.

Out of those interviews arose a clear need: for healthcare that’s personalized, demystified, and de-stigmatized. Their solution, Ovee, is an app designed to empower users to seek out the care they need, right when they need it.

What might more empowered sexual and reproductive healthcare look like? An AI-powered bot that allows them to ask questions without fear of judgement. Information delivered discretely, via augmented reality, instead of through pamphlets that practically scream, “Hey, I have an STI!” Above all else, it means providing women everywhere, particularly in areas where access to healthcare is restricted, to the reliable, accurate information they need and deserve.

Ovee is based in New York City. Read more.

LedBetter: Looking at diversity and inclusion from the top down.

Technology Advisor Ipsheeta Furtado and Co-founder/CEO Iris Kuo

It didn’t come as a shock to journalist Iris Kuo that very few women are in leadership roles at large corporations — both at executive and board levels. What’s more surprising is how few women are in influential positions at companies with products geared primarily towards women. At a time when more and more companies are under pressure to be more inclusive, Iris realized how important it is to get a comprehensive picture of the problem.

LedBetter is a striking, data-intensive, visually-interactive site that makes information on diversity in leadership readily available and easy to sort. It’s a tool that puts power back in the hands of the buyer to hold companies accountable in a deeper, more meaningful way — going beyond lip service and good PR tactics.

LedBetter is based in San Francisco. Read more.

Optimera: Optimizing digital ad revenue.

Founder Keith Candiotti

Keith Candiotti became an entrepreneur because he had a job to do, and the solutions available to him just weren’t good enough. As the Ad Technology and Ad Operations manager at the New York Daily News, he needed a way to measure advertisements’ viewability — whether they’re actually seen by readers.

The existing solutions for measuring viewability weren’t, in Keith’s opinion, up to par. As a crack coder, not to mention someone committed to optimizing digital revenue for the sake of the reporters and editors in his newsroom, he went home and developed something better. Optimera was developed as a better way of measuring viewability; first for the Daily News, then for other publishers that wanted in. And Keith quit his job to go all-in on Optimera, which he‘s building into “an amazing suite of revenue optimization products at a price point far below anyone else in the industry.”

Optimera is based in New York. Read more.

Kerning Cultures: Intimate narratives from the Middle East.

Co-Founder and Business Director Hebah Fisher

Growing up inundated with overwhelmingly politicized stories coming out of the Middle East, Hebah Fisher and her co-founder Razan Alzayani decided it was time to bring stories that reflect their lived experiences to the mainstream media.

Kerning Cultures uses the intimacy of audio documentary to do just that. The Guardian has called themThis American Life for the Middle East” because of their focus on longform, character-driven narratives. Starting out as a single podcast, their aim is to grow into a network of 10–15 curated podcasts in English and Arabic to reach audiences in the Middle East and abroad—anyone who is curious to learn more about the region.

Kerning Cultures is based in San Francisco. Read more.

kweliTV: The global black experience, streaming now.

DeShuna Spencer, Founder/CEO and Charlotte Haizel, Director of Operations & External Affairs

DeShuna Spencer is obsessed with quality content: thought-provoking documentaries, award-winning independent films, and deep-dives into history. Like most film buffs, she values clever storylines, engaging characters, and, of course, having options. But based on what she was seeing on cable television and mainstream streaming services, the options for quality content featuring black subjects seemed incredibly limited.

kweliTV proves that this content — free from cliches, and reflective of communities and cultures throughout the global African diaspora — is out there. And with its growing collection of titles, 65 percent of which are award winning, and 85 percent of which were created by filmmakers of African descent, it is the place to stream it.

“Kweli” means truth in Swahili, and kweliTV is committed to delivering to its audience authentic black stories. “I learned from an early age how media images play a role in how people stereotype others,” DeShuna says. “And since then, I’ve been on a quest to change it.”

kweliTV is based in New York. Read more.

Pixinote: Meaningful photo sharing.

Founder and CEO Daniel Kushner and Developer Cliff Wright

In a world where we post 1.8 billion photos online every day, Daniel Kushner asked himself, “How might we build a platform for fostering deeper relationships?”

With a camera in every pocket, photo sharing has become a go-to mode of storytelling, but meaningful connection gets lost in the cascade. Daniel’s vision is to create the world’s first physical messaging app. Pixinote prints photos on short messages and cards and delivers them to people’s homes. In so doing, they aim to empower both individuals and businesses to foster more meaningful connections with the people who matter most.

Pixinote is based in San Francisco. Read more.

Paytime: Turning attention into currency.

CTO Eduardo Suarez and CEO Ignacio Linares

The old models, as we often say, are broken. Nowhere is that more true than for advertising. But as more and more media companies transition to subscription models and paywalls, what does that mean for access to information? And what will it mean for society if high-quality journalism is only available to the elite few who can afford it?

Enter, Paytime. Paytime gives users back control over two of their most valuable assets — their time and their data — and allows them to use these assets to “pay” for premium digital content. Watch an advertisement, answer survey questions, and unlock what before could only be accessed with a credit card.

The user gets a choice: what information to share, and what ads to watch and when. The advertiser gets their full attention. And the publisher is given the ability to offer an accessible alternative while still getting paid. When information is shared voluntarily, and with transparency, trust is fostered.

Paytime is based in New York. Read more.

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


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, but for now, thanks for reading.