Startup Case Study: Flipboard

By Lori Schull

While it’s not exactly new anymore, I still love Flipboard, the create-your-own news-magazine app released for iPad in 2010. It was founded by a former iPhone engineer and the former CEO of Tellme, a phone-based application that Microsoft purchased for $800 million in 2007.

Flipboard does not create any content itself. Instead, it creates a personalized magazine for its users and allows them to create and share their own magazines. It was designed to recreate the usability of a print magazine on a mobile device and allow users to easily share and connect with each other through other social media outlets, including Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Since they are not creating their own content, they have been able to focus on the usability of the app, and it shows in its beautiful design and intuitive interface. It has also made some great video tutorials, as well as blogs about its internal functioning and recruiting on its website.

This app is all about personalization and allowing people to tell the app what kinds of content they want to see. It’s the news junkie’s version of Twitter because it allows for easy access to the news you think is important, without all the white noise. My favorite thing about Flipboard is they are not setting out to solve the media’s problem by creating more content; instead, they are finding the content and putting it together in a novel way. The world does not lack for great journalism; what it lacks is a great way to aggregate that content and make it easy to find without being a slave to Google or the whims of your Facebook newsfeed. The articles on this app are usually already vetted; they are not coming from a maniac’s blog or fringe media.

The design is truly incredible. The founders started making a way to recreate beautiful magazines like “National Geographic” online without losing the art of the design. It seems to have grown from there.

The need they ended up meeting was the aggregation factor. It’s all the news you want in one place, but it also interfaces with social media to facilitate sharing and communication. It has a search function and a way for users to create their own magazine, like a Pinterest for articles.

A lot of their money seems to come from private investors. To date, they have raised more than $60 million from private investors. Recently it did start allowing video advertising.

Most of their marketing strategy seems to be aimed at the technology media. Flipboard was named Apple’s 2010 iPad app of the year, and it has been featured on a wide variety of media outlets, including the BBC, Mashable, USA Today and The Verge.

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Legacy Media Case Study: The Tennessean

By Lori Shull

As the bottom began to fall out from the print journalism world thanks to the internet in the 1990s, Gannett was one of the early adopters of change. It adopted what it called News 2000, an initiative to focus on community interest stories, watchdog journalism and diversity. At the time, it seems that more than one journalism expert hated the idea. It was formula and numbers-based, and editors had to report data to executives who then gave the papers scores and orders to change what they were doing if deemed necessary. Despite the protests, others came around and eventually agreed that the company had it right. Since then, Gannett and other news organizations have tried to do essentially the same thing—reinvigorate the business model by refocusing on community initiatives—again and again.

In 2003, Gannett launched the Real Life, Real News initiative, which again focused on community conversation and added an emphasis on breaking news, rather than operating the newsroom exclusively for print deadlines.

Three years later, Gannett launched Information Centers, which seem to have been intended to destroy the traditional news desks—metro, sports, state, city and so on—in favor of more nebulous terms like community conversation, digital, local, data and multimedia to name a few. The goals were to publish more user-generated content, expand local coverage and continue developing into a 24/7 news organization instead of saving breaking news for print deadlines. Every three years, it seems that the corporation tried to reinvent itself using the same ideas but wrapping them up in a different name.

Since News 2000 launched, the company appears to have floundered, along with many other newspapers. It is well-known for its highly paid executives, several of whom earn more than $2 million a year, and frequent lay-offs.

This year is no different, with the corporation recently announcing that it was divesting the print side of its holdings into a separate company from its broadcast and digital side. The end result is that the most profitable pieces of the company, including its recent purchase of the nearly three-quarters of Cars.com it did not already own for $1.8 billion, will no longer have to bail out their less-profitable print counterparts. Gannett is not the first media corporation to do this. Like the others, the company tried to explain that everyone would win because the print side of the company would be debt-free and be able to purchase other newspapers that previously were unavailable to it because of federal regulations.

At the same time, they announced that every newspaper would have to cut 15 percent to help the new company remain profitable and keep shareholders happy in spite of industry expectations that revenues would continue to decline. Many editors would lose their jobs, though some newspapers said they would be able to add back some of the reporter positions that had been lost in previous cuts.

Though the latest announcement heralding the rise of the “newsroom of the future” has overtones of messages from years before, this one seems to be the biggest change yet.

“I haven’t felt like there’s been one as vigorous and broad as this one. This one seems to be more serious than the ones in the past,” said Michael Cass, the Tennessean’s metro reporter and 15-year veteran of its newsroom. “I would guess they feel it’s time to really attack the revenue problems we have, to finally get on top of that and create a product that people are going to feel compelled to read all the time.”

The Nashville Tennessean, which has occasionally served as a testing ground for some of the corporation’s initiatives, is one of Gannett’s largest papers. Earlier this year, it was one of about 35 test sites for daily national content additions from USA Today, which are now corporation-wide. The effort was devised mostly as a way to boost USA Today’s circulation numbers and make it more attractive to advertisers, but it was also probably a smart way to get national coverage into smaller papers operating without the staff to cover national issues and, perhaps, to cut down on the cost of subscriptions to the Associated Press or other wire services.

Despite the use of more national stories from the parent company, reporters at the Tennessean are by no means doing less reporting. Where Cass used to be able to focus on writing five or six solid stories every week, he estimates that he now writes between eight and 12. When I talked to him in the early afternoon, he had already written one web story and was in the middle of a second, a brief follow-up of a piece of political news from the day before. He was writing the second knowing that it would not make the paper; not everything that appears online appears in print and the focus of the newsroom has definitively shifted from the paper product to keeping the website and mobile fresh to try to compel people to read and check back in daily.

Cass was quick to say that the company is not going after “click bait,” but that it is very focused on giving readers what they will be interested in. Learning what readers want, Cass said, is a process.

“Sometimes we get it wrong and we’re learning,” he said. “There are certain kinds of government stories that I think are interesting and that people should be interested in, that we’re discovering they won’t read. I hope that doesn’t mean that we’ll stop covering them entirely, but we may do them differently.”

He did say that he has never been told by an editor not to write a story that he believes is important because the management thought it would not be interesting enough to the readership.

The Tennessean has redesigned its website and looks like every other Gannett publication. It has also expanded its multimedia coverage, with a section for video. Not only is there video that would be considered “news,” but also there is footage of interviews with various officials and sports content. The sports video seems to dominate, perhaps because it is football season.

The Tennessean has had a few misses in its efforts to meet the changing media climate, and not all of them are to due with its parent corporation cutting its newsroom staff. Several years ago, it attempted to launch what it called Brainstorm Nashville, which was yet another way to connect with the community and crowdsource coverage. It was developed in partnership with Middle Tennessee State University and was intended to cover a different large issue every month, beginning with childhood obesity. I can find no evidence that Brainstorm Nashville ever got out of beta or indeed covered a second issue. It’s URL, brainstormnashville.com, is for sale.

In 2009, management told reporters to get on Twitter and many had already been active on Facebook. Since then, no new social networks have been mandated by the management, though some reporters, including Cass, are beginning to dabble in Reddit.

“I saw some of my co-workers getting results using Reddit,” he said. “Twitter has become a huge part of my work and i like it a lot. I enjoy the way it can share stories but also create conversation.”

In keeping with the recent announcement that all newsrooms had to cut staff by 15 percent, an initiative called Picasso, the Tennessean decided to make all of its 89 staff members reapply for 76 positions. Several of the position descriptions have been standardized across Gannett and illustrate that reporters can no longer simply report the news.

The biggest challenge that the Tennessean, and all Gannett papers, faces is keeping its shareholders happy and the organization’s profits up.

“What a family paper doesn’t have to worry about is reporting to its shareholders every quarter,” Cass said. “It’s not always ideal, but it comes with the territory.”

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Case Study: Embrace Disruption Public Relations

By Shelby Jo Fenter

Cory Stewart, founder of Embrace Disruption Public Relations in Toronto, says he never possessed the patience to finish his college degree.  After speaking with him, it is obvious that what he lacked in patience he undoubtedly made up for in his passion for communication. Stewart founded Embrace Disruption Public Relations in 2012 and thrives on the notion to “innovate or die.”

Stewart stresses that he has never sought to disrupt public relations, but he strongly believes that it is foolish to ignore something that is obviously happening, whether you like it or not.  With journalism constantly changing and vast improvements in technology, disruption of public relations is not an idea to run from.

This awareness of disruption has made Embrace Disruption Public Relations successful.  The firm has worked with talent from all parts of Canada and the United States including The Starlight Children’s Foundation of Canada, The Canadian Lesbian And Gay Archives, H&M, Pants Off For Prostate Cancer, Torstar Digital, and Coleman Lemieux Compagnie.

When asked about strategic ways Stewart has used disruption to generate revenue, he describes Embrace Disruption’s celebrated “Twitter parties.” The party host reveals the hashtag prior to the event and Twitter users utilize the hashtag to closely engage with the brand.  Q&As about the company are held as well as prize giveaways.  For example, Embrace Disruption recently hosted a Twitter party for Newegg, an electronics company out of Canada.   The results speak for themselves.  Stats included 62,358 new followers, 4677 total tweets and 2.5 million impressions. Not to mention, the “Twarty” was only two hours long.  Stewart terms this as “priceless brand management.”  He believes this kind of social engagement not only produces massive brand exposure, but also allows for and acknowledges feedback.

Embrace Disruption strives to dig deeper than traditional public relations firms.  Stewart believes that most firms just aim to reach maximum impressions.  Embrace Disruption focuses on reaching maximum impressions with people who truly care.

From their long repertoire of services, including social media management and media kit production, their campaigns are personalized to heighten brand awareness in the current media landscape.

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Week Seven Reading Questions

1. Do you think the idea you pitched was “sticky” as described in Briggs Chapter 5? Why or why not? Be as specific as you can.

2. Describe one other thing from the chapter you found interesting or relevant.

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Reminders from class October 7

Next week is fall break, woo hoo!

For our next class, you must be prepared, as a group, to tell us:
1) What you learned from your first foray into customer discovery (each group member must talk to a MINIMUM of five people). Remember to use the four hypotheses as a guide, especially the first two for now. (See handout). Summarize key themes or especially interesting findings.
2). Why is your problem painful? BE SPECIFIC. Back this up with as much research you can find from as many different sources you can find. Google is good, but try to go beyond that to find as much as you can.
3. Deciding on a name – sounds like you already have names, but might want to think a little bit more about that and brainstorm a bit.
I will post reading questions soon.
Be sure you are staying organized. Remember, you will use all of this information later on in crafting your pitch, so don’t lose any of your research!
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Entrepreneurial Landscape in the Twin Cities

By Andrew Doughty

The Twin Cities present a seemingly unlimited landscape for entrepreneurs, largely a result of numerous universities in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, an unbelievably ethnically diverse population and a plethora of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the metro. Options for first-time entrepreneurs to successful business professionals are considerable, with rallies, luncheons, open forums and clubs combining to form a very supportive environment for anyone and everyone.

Bootstrappers Breakfasts is an opportunity for technology entrepreneurs looking to take the next big step in growing their business. The group, founded in 2010, meets once per month for breakfast in order to share ideas and compare operational, development and business issues with other local entrepreneurs. While the meetings are not free ($50 annual fee), this is a reliable, organized and committed group of experienced and diverse professionals that could make the $50 investment irrelevant very quickly.

For those without a company but with a great idea for one, contests are routinely started in or brought to the Twin Cities, including AOL co-founder Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest” pitch tour this year. Entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch an idea to Case, who has pledged a $100,000 investment to the best idea. He is partnering with Google and three other forward-thinking companies to promote and plan the tour’s stops across the country.

And lastly, for the young minds without experience who are simply exploring options for long-term innovation, they can enroll in one of the numerous university degree programs that support entrepreneurship. Richard Schulze, founder of Best Buy, invested millions of dollars into the University of Saint Thomas Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. If the small, private setting does not appeal to you, consider the unique Inter-College program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. The flexible program allows students to create their own degree from hundreds of options and thousands of courses, with a heavy emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. Macalester College, College of Saint Catherine’s and Concordia College are just three of the other metro schools also promoting entrepreneurial growth.

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Week Five Reading Reflections

For this week, in addition to the Facebook post assignment I mentioned in class:

How do you think you might go about deciding what goes into an MVP?

How do you think you could apply basic entrepreneurial principles such as those we discussed and you read about in an established media organization?

Name one other thing you found interesting or relevant from the readings.

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Entrepreneurial Landscape in Athens, Georgia

By Nicholas Beshiri

A small college town an hour outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Athens has a great entrepreneurial landscape. Having the University of Georgia present brings people from all walks of life with new ideas and plans to start their own businesses.

Researching UGA, I found that they do a great deal to help the landscape, the main contributor being the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Club. This club is run through the Terry School of Business and offers great opportunities throughout the year. The club offers monthly “Lunch and Learns,” which give students the opportunity to collaborate with one another and hear successful entrepreneurs from around the state speak. They also participate in Venture Atlanta, which is the largest event for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in the state, as well as the Silicon Valley Trek each spring, which gives students the opportunity to meet experienced venture capitalists and entrepreneurs and tour large companies in the valley such as Google.

Athens also has its own local tech incubator, Four Athens. Their mission statement reads, “Four Athens was formed to discover startups, build community, connect creativity, accelerate growth and invest in success.” Four Athens is very well respected throughout the community and has helped many local businesses with branding problems like Hackyard, a  computer hardware startup, and Partner Software, a software and app developer. Four Athens has also partnered with organizations like Next Top Entrepreneur and Athensmade, in order to seek out upcoming entrepreneurs and help their ideas come to life.

Overall I believe that Athens, Georgia has a very strong entrepreneurial landscape that will continue to grow in the future.

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Entrepreneurial Landscape in West Memphis, Arkansas

By Shelby Jo Fenter

I recently finished my undergraduate degree at The University of Mississippi and returned to my hometown of West Memphis, AR, in May of 2014.  I immediately began working for my brothers company, Fenter Physical Therapy, doing marketing and public relations.

Through this experience, I have attended many events within the community and been exposed to our “entrepreneurial scene.”  Our local Chamber of Commerce recently had a workshop, “Saving Your Small Town: Homegrown Community and Economic Development.”  This event brought in speakers to discuss entrepreneurship in our area. The first thing I noticed about our entrepreneurial scene is that our people are very eager. There were about 50 people at the workshop, anxious to engage and learn about ideas for our community.

A focal point of the workshop was youth entrepreneurship.  They strongly encouraged older, wiser business people to find a youth and mentor them through their entrepreneurial experience. Funding opportunities for young kids excites them.The kids begin to make a little money and then they progress to get their friends involved. Our local community college, Mid-South Community College, has had several speakers on this topic.  They are continually finding ways to get young kids involved in business opportunities.  The have also developed a very popular BOSS club, Business Opportunities for Student Success.  Youth entrepreneurship is on the rise in our area.

Each week our Chamber also partners with a different business within our community to host Business After Hours.   This is a more relaxed environment for business owners.The majority of business owners routinely come to events such as these to network and support one another. I am very impressed with our local Chamber of Commerce.

Another example of progressive entrepreneurship within our area is our local arts council’s “Carnival” production.  Each summee, Delta Arts broadcasts a televised auction. Businesses sponsor a board and auction off local services and products. The local Junior Auxiliary volunteers their time to answer phone calls and bids. I have participated in this event for the past five years. It is an awesome model of our community, encouraging our citizens to shop local.

One issue that I have realized is that being so close to Memphis is a blessing and a curse. The goal of developing a product or service on this side of the bridge is very present. However, we have to find more ways to encourage people to spend a little more money using local services rather than taking their business to bigger, maybe cheaper companies in Memphis.

Essentially, I believe that our community is heading in the right direction with our entrepreneurial scene.  It is very active and present and continually looking for ways to improve.

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Entrepreneurial Landscape in Houston

By Kimberly Exford

The entrepreneurial landscape in Houston is absolutely booming. According to the University of Houston website, as of 2013 more than 3,500 of its alumni own or run a business, and 63 percent of all alumni live and work in the city of Houston. The university works very hard to foster and reward the entrepreneurial drive of its students and offers a variety of opportunities to those who wish to take advantage of them. Maybe the most important tool that the students have is access to the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C. T. Bauer College of Business, ranked #2 on The Princeton Review’s 2013 list of leading undergraduate entrepreneurship programs in the U.S. Entrepreneur magazine.

Within this college, they offer the following:

  • Cougar Pitch – A way for students that already have ideas to pitch them to a panel of business experts who will tell them if the idea is a good one or not. Top winners earn cash and prizes, including free work space, and mentoring sessions with the Wolff Center’s associate director.
  • 3 Day StartupPprogram- this program challenges students to start a technology company in just three days. The program recruits 40 students from all backgrounds and provides them with a work space and food for the entire weekend. Then they invite top-notch entrepreneurs and investors to then judge the prototypes at the end.
  • RED Labs – This program takes teams of students with good ideas and provides them a space on campus and connects them to relevant mentors and resources to help them grow companies that will help solve a need in the community.
  • U of H also offers an Entrepreneurship for Engineers class as well as an Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurism series for engineering faculty and staff.

Rice University also has the Rice Alliance, which has assisted in the launch of more than 250 startups since its inception only 14 years ago. They offer an annual business plan competition that helps to get new businesses started.

Outside of the university, the city offers a few tools for its residents. The Houston Entrepreneur’s Forum was organized in 1985 and meets the last Tuesday of every month. It provides opportunities to network with others but also to hear successful entrepreneurs share their experiences.

Houston has a huge oil and gas industry, and thus, it didn’t suffer as much as many other cities during the recent recession. With its longstanding history as an energy hub, it is not surprising that a good deal of its startup activity is focused on energy services and clean energy. The wealth created by this industry has bubbled over to others, including education, the arts and healthcare. In addition, The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world, and is a hub for research and healthcare ventures.

As far as funding is concerned, Houston has a few options: The Mercury Fund, focusing solely on seed and early stage ventures, and the Houston Angel Network (the largest in the state) providing options for members and sponsors.

With Houston’s cultural diversity, relatively low cost-of-living, and favorable tax environment, it is a prime spot for people to settle when they are considering a startup.

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