Startup Spotlight: The New Paper
All Things Venture #013
Hey Everyone - Dez here from Apex Venture Studios. I’ll admit it, I’ve been negligent in my writing duties. To be fair, the past four weeks for me have been a DOOZY. I’d like to think that the past four weeks have been the most mid twenties-weeks of my life, so let me break it down for you. Over the past four weeks I’ve:
Successfully launched a new product at work
Moved out of my apartment into a new apartment
Furnished said new apartment
Went to a wedding (‘twas dope)
Went on vacation with my amazing girlfriend (BIG shout out for the Apex Venture Girlfriend)
Reflected on next steps for my career
On paper, truthfully, that doesn't seem like a lot; but the culmination of all of those events happening in rapid succession combined with things like our stubbornly persistent pandemic, the natural anxiety around this election cycle (GO VOTE), and random life occurrences like a broken phone, resulted in one very, very tired young adult. I was tired of my to do lists, tired of running errands, and tired of trying to parse through all the junk in our current media landscape. The last thing I wanted to do after hauling my entire life into a U-Haul, scouring Wayfair for an acceptable, affordable rug, and pondering the existential question of, “To B-School or not to B-School?”, was to second guess myself on if some asinine, misleading comment that Rudy Giuliani said in a Bloomberg interview was true or not.
Now to be fair - I recognize that we live in a time where our predominant news organizations have liberal and conservative bias, are incentivized to produce content that illicit strong reactions, and are leaning more and more on narratives, rather than facts, to attract eyeballs. I also recognize that news is not strictly distributed by news organizations today (Looking at you Facebook). Which brings us to our spotlight for today, The New Paper. The New Paper was founded by Michael Aft, an HBS grad, and John Necef, a Georgetown Alum, with the ambitious goal of delivering fact driven news to 200 million Americans. We had the pleasure to chat with Michael about The New Paper’s ambition, why the New Paper was started, and what it means to be a fact-driven platform.
APEX: What is the New Paper?
Michael: The New Paper is a fact-driven news organization that aims to make fact-first news easy to consume. We do that by publishing a daily news digest that covers the day's top stories, stated factually, with any requisite context and a link to more depth. Staying informed shouldn't be challenging, but the unfortunate truth is that for a normal (busy) professional, it's incredibly hard to do so. That's why we do what we do, and we've been floored by the response so far.
APEX: In today’s society, getting fact-based news has become a more challenging component of daily life, but why did you start the New Paper?
Michael: Yeah I mean really it was born out of frustration. There’s a lot of great media and journalism being produced every day by a lot of really talented people, but unfortunately, in the world we live in, a lot of that great content gets pushed to the side or is really hard to discover. So, in order to feel informed and find that high-quality journalism, you might have to spend three, four, five hours sifting through the news trying to understand what’s factual, and what’s conjecture masquerading as fact. That’s a really frustrating experience. My co-founder and I met at LinkedIn back in 2015 and we saw the problem then, and it’s really only gotten worse since. Again, while there was (and is) a ton of great journalism out there, we didn't feel like anyone was making it truly easy to feel informed in a fact-first way, so we decided to fix the problem. For ourselves, and for the hundreds of million people who read the news online every day.
APEX: And how does the New Paper business model work?
Michael: We initially had a mix of subscription and ad revenue, and what we really pivoted toward is running fully as a 100% subscription news company. Everything we do is user and mission first, and we feel the subscription model aligns well with both of those. The reason for that is - when you rely on advertising for a business model, you are inherently motivated to drive attention, time, and clicks. When you operate as a subscription business model you can focus 100% on user experience, so when we look to the future everything we do will be to continue build our subscription user base.
APEX: What in your mind needs to change from a consumer point of view – for consumers to accept a shift from an ad driven business model to a subscription-based business model for news?
Michael: I think a lot of folks hit a point of frustration with the media where they'd actually prefer to pay for high-quality content. We live in the age of digital media and the internet, so there will always be freely available information. But the way that you establish willingness to pay, is to identify people who have that frustration with the polarization in the news today and share our passion for fact-first news. In many ways, we’ve been fortunate recipients of a lot of behavior that has been developed by large subscription companies that come before us, the Netflixs of the world, the Spotifys – we live in a world where there’s a lot more willingness to pay, simply because people are more familiar with the business model and people want to pay for content that isn’t convoluted by ads or perverse incentives
APEX: Going down that trendline of content, how do you think about making sure the New Paper has the best possible and factual content versus the content that would sell?
Michael: What John, my cofounder, and I believe is that any business will behave in the way that it is economically motivated to do so. And while we do also feel a moral obligation to provide fact-first news, at the end of the day, everything from our first advertisement to our mission statement, to your experience, to your onboarding flow is centered around providing fact first news. If we don't provide that product, we lose customers, which means we're economically motivated to execute on fact-first news.
APEX: Outside of the distribution of your product, how do you all leverage technology to help the New Paper as a business?
Michael: We couldn’t do what we do without technology. We very much view ourselves as a media company and a technology company all in one. We’ve developed a really robust back end system that allows us to distribute content at scale. At a high level, we’ve been fortunate to build a technology stack to do what we do with a fairly lean team. We’ve built for not only the first ten thousand users but also the next million.
APEX: As a fact-driven platform, how does that ethos stem in to the journalists that you hire?
Michael: What we’ve done is establish a very rigorous process that allows us to organize ourselves operationally, that allows any journalist, regardless of personal views, to drop into our system and write content. The way we’ve done that is to institutionalize a lot of things around surfacing fact first news, and delivering content in an easy and digestible way. The goal for us as we expand our team, and I’ll shamelessly plug this in here, is that we are very much hiring that role. So for any great writers who care about fact-first news, we'd love to meet you.
APEX: At a personal level, what does fact driven news mean to you?
Michael: I think for me it’s starting your day with a common set of facts. The New Paper is not in the business of telling people what to think. What we are in the business of doing is providing people with a common set of information to inform a healthy public discourse.
APEX: What defines success for the New Paper in the next six months?
Michael: Honestly, we try not to think too much in six-month increments, but we’re really focused on growth. We feel strongly about the business, and we’re focused on the long term. The next 6 months for us are the same as the next 3 years for us – we’re focused on delivering fact first news to as many people as we possibly can. And I know this sounds crazy but, we want the New Paper product to be delivered to 200 million people.
APEX: Do you have any advice for an aspiring entrepreneur?
Michael: If you’re making a product, make sure it’s need to have and not nice to have. The worst place you can possibly be as an entrepreneur, or a company is nice to have. The absolute worst response you can get when you’re doing market research is, “yeah that seems cool.” That might sound like a good response but if that’s the response, nobody is going to use it and no one is going to pay for it because we live in a competitive world where people want their needs solved.
APEX: Do you have an interesting fact you’d want to share with our readers?
Michael: Oh man – I’m like the least interesting person in the world, but I’ll give a really sappy answer. My entrepreneurial aspirations are not financially driven. While I am very mission-driven, what really motivates me is the idea of creating opportunities for other people. I think being an exceptional employer, manager, and leader of people is far and away is the best way to have an impact on the community and our society at large.
TL;DR - The New Paper delivers daily digests of objective, fact-driven news
Check out The New Paper here, and don’t forget to share All Things Venture!