11 Jan 2019
Case Study: Beating Bias
An early stage startup looks for alumni adviceby Jen McFarland FlintTopics:
The idea for the Portland, Oregon-based startup News Bling was born out of the late-night hours of November 8, 2016, when Nupur Patel (MBA 2017) rubbed the fog of disbelief from his eyes and realized he had completely misjudged the results of the election. A media junkie as far back as his middle school years and more recently at Nickelodeon’s strategy department, Patel realized he (like many others) had been consuming media that only confirmed his own political bias and, in so doing, had failed to get the full picture of the country’s leanings.
He founded News Bling in 2017, the initial step in his quest to help readers—particularly millennials and Gen-Zers—better understand how the news is spun. The launch product is a free daily newsletter that aggregates headlines from both the left and right, with analysis that underscores sources of disagreement and common ground. After establishing an audience, then adding targeted ads and affiliate marketing, Patel aims to build a “commenting platform 2.0,” he says: Media companies could license the product to enable more robust user-generated discussion within the body of any given news article. Imagine the thinking reader’s alternative to the cesspool of anonymous comments. With 70 million millennials in the US, Patel is optimistic about the market. “Even if we were able to capture interest in 1 percent of that, we’re conservatively looking at a million potential subscribers,” he says.
News Bling has been focused on growing the audience for the newsletter, believing it would need to reach at least 50,000 or 100,000 organically to confirm market fit. Without any paid advertising, the subscriber base has reached 2,000, Patel says, with a 40 percent open rate—a modest but devoted following. Now he wonders if the medium is holding them back: Survey respondents have expressed interest in short-form audio, which is not surprising given the rise of political podcasting. Should News Bling pivot to produce a digital-first news destination—a millennial-centric mashup of traditional political reporting, analysis, and video? If News Bling could establish itself as the major news outlet for the digital generation, the product and market would dwarf its current vision. But investing in video would also require venture funding, and it’s been self-funded to this point. Or should they stay focused on building the base audience for the newsletter before changing course?
What Would You Do?
Patel has a hunch about which way to go, but first he’d like to hear your thoughts. Should he pivot at this early stage? Or should he stay the course and focus energies on building the base audience? How would you advise him? We want to hear from you! Share your ideas in the comment section below and upvote your favorite responses.
Class of MBA 2017, Section C