At the crossroad of journalism and entrepreneurship sits a new emerging profession, made up in good part by the skills of the classic journalist, in part by those of the researcher, of the librarian and of the new emerging content curator mixed in with those of the capable independent digital entrepreneur.
Photo credit: Digital world by Shutterstock
The information-entrepreneur is someone interested in creating ethical and highly reputable commercial services, tools and organizations that can augment, satisfy and fulfill humans deep or specialty interests within a specific information area.
Information startups have little or nothing to do with what is generally referred to as info-preneurship. The infopreneur has become the stereotype for who sells informations (of whatever quality level) to make money online. Thus, the field, the people who promote it and the information you can find online by searching for this topic, is not of high quality and is specifically driven by a "sell as much as possible, no matter how you do it", making-money attitude.
But info-marketers and info-preneurs, may have been unaware precursors of a new breed of very serious information entrepreneurs that are eager to develop and put together useful and very targeted professional information services.
Here all the details:
Information EntrepreneursMost people think of a startup as a new digital venture, often financed by venture capital, which, by way of custom engineered software develops a service, solution or product to be offered and subscribed to / sold online. And, indeed, the vast majority of today startups match pretty closely the above definition. Tech startups are often built on small teams, made up mostly by tech people with refined coding, programming, interface design and prototyping skills. It's these startuppers ability, their already acquired coding skills and their awareness of what can be potentially done, that motivates them to dive into creating a startup. They are aware that they have enough know-how, skills and personal confidence to create "something" that works across all computers and devices. But what to do with these assets is much less clear to these startups, as they are driven more by profit opportunities than by a vision of what they want to do, realize or change in the world around them. These startups are not originally motivated by a specific idea or mission they want to realize. They are more intrigued by the idea of building "something" and getting as much money as possible for doing it, in the shortest possible time. On the other hand most entrepreneurs who have instead little coding and programming abilities feel that their competence and skills are not adequate to jump onto the startuppers train and to build a digital service or product that can be sustainable. But is it really so? Do I really need to know how to code to build a successful digital startup? Are there other types of startups that could be created, not based exclusively on the ability to code programs or algorithms but rather on the value that can be created by organizing in very effective ways, large swaths of information within very specific interest areas, and for very targeted groups of people and applications? My answer is yes. But differently than "tech startups", who generally focus and see themselves as coders of new apps and services, these other startups are conceived with a specific goal in mind: the gathering and the organizing of information in a very specific area or for a very specific application / tribe (group of people with a common interest). For ease of communication, and to have a way to reference them separately from the typical tech startup, I would like to reference these new companies as "info startups".
What Is Exactly an Information StartupAn information startup is a developing new company focused on creating unique value by organizing specialty, sector-specific information for a specific audience or application. That is, instead of being a company concentrated on creating a physical tool, a device, a program, web app or software application designed to help you do something, an information-startup is a new company focusing on organizing a specific set of information resources into a service that can save time and money to those using it. Some examples of what an information-startup could effectively do:
- Evaluate and compare different products / services. Help to find best, most fitting solution for a specific PIE
- Showcase the full spectrum of products / services available in a specific market / industry / area
- Organize and make it easy to find specialty resources, tools in a certain sector
- Catalog and organize people in a certain sector
- Illustrate, explain, what is otherwise difficult to understand / learn
- Support learning about a specific topic
- Investigate, on-demand, specific issues that affects society or selected groups of people
- Collect and organize success stories on a specific topic
- Create templates, checklists that facilitate and guide the execution of specific tasks
- Gather best examples of products, tools or solutions that solve a specific PIE
Differences between Info Startup and Tech Startup
This comparative list of traits is consciously provocatory. I am aware that not all tech startups have the key traits I attribute to them. There are many tech startups who are bootstrapped, who have started from the genuine idea of solving a problem and who care at least as much about contributing something of value than about how much money they are going to make. Still, most of the startup articles, events, newsletters and people that I know have very strong affinity with the traits listed in the left column (typical tech startup). For what I can see, the vast majority have not even ever questioned their idea of startup, nor have ever seriously considered the possibility of alternatives such as the one I have been describing here. The fact that many of these people have a strong technical background and have their core skills and credentials built around technical expertise may somehow explain their natural tendency to look at how to create a new engine more than at how to solve a real problem in a way that is simple for others to use. On the other hand, founders of "info startups" are much less likely to be engineers, skilled coders and programmers, and include individuals who have a much more humanistic and socially-motivated approach to life and business.
Key Traits of Information StartupMost people presented for the first time with the idea of an information-startup have a hard-time taking this idea seriously as much as conceiving any way of making such type of company economically sustainable. The reason for this, is that when talking about an information-based business we naturally default to think about the typical news and information businesses that are normally associated with newspapers and magazines of different kinds. And given the crisis that these information publishing organizations have seen in the last decade, both in terms of readership as well as in terms of revenues, it is only normal to question how would it be possible for an organization that wants to survive by organizing information to effectively do so. If we were in fact to build more information-based organizations like the typical online newspaper or magazine, we would be surely digging our grave with our own hands. To create a sustainable information-based startup, or what I would call a new type of entrepreneurial journalistic venture, the key ingredients that I deem absolutely indispensable are:
- Vertical, very specific focus This is where the value is: high specificity driven by use and application
- High reputation, credibility Nothing to do with high follower counts, traffic or other similar indicators based on testimonials from reputable individuals
- Experience, competence, credits Verifiable experience, track record, achievements, published works
- Organization - Ease of access Intuitive content structure and navigation
- Completeness Comprehensiveness
- Replicability Opportunity to copy, download, replicate and re-use data
- Customization Ability to provide users with options to customize views, data, results to their specific needs
- Real-Time Multiple channels updates - via email newsletter, alerts, RSS, SMS, etc.
- Advice - Opinion Strong viewpoint - useful advice and opinion
- Information Designed Fanatically curated for maximum legibility and comprehension
- Experience Designed Utilizes innovative and effective new content delivery formats moves beyond linear text page
- Conversational Crowd-open - open to contributions and dialogue with audience
- Transparent Full disclosure of interests, partnerships and other critical influencing factors and bias
- Connected Capable of detecting and interpreting trends and relevant info from other fields
Examples of Information StartupsHere is a brief list of companies that have chosen to focus on organizing and providing better access to a specific set of information resources, satisfying a very specific need. All of these companies are characterized by these traits:
a) company/service based on organizing some existing information, news or resources not on developing a special technology, software or app b) has paid / premium offering or other forms of revenue-making c) they are successful at doing what they do
- Lynda.com Online video tutorials and training BM:
- direct sales
- Daily Dish Curated stories by Andrew Sullivan BM: paid subscriptions
- Techmeme (and sister sites Mediagazer, WeSmirch, Memeorandum) Curated topical newshub on silicon valley industry BM: sponsored stories
- Crunchbase Free editable database of technology startups, companies, people, and investors BM: advertising
- Business Model Canvas Strategic analysis and simulation of variables at play in defining a startup biz model BM:
- Trendwatching Understanding the new consumer BM: premium reports
- Teaching Sells Web course on building, marketing, and running a learning-based online business BM: subscriptions
- Online Meeting Software Review Web-conferencing comparing service BM: subscriptions
- User Onboarding Curated best practices for digital product adoption BM: N/A yet
- Happy Inbox Discover great newsletters BM: N/A yet
- Fest300 The world best festivals BM:
- Quicklets Expert sidekick to the world's most popular books BM: direct sales
- EBSCO Collections Find the perfect collection of subject-specific titles for your library
- Feedmyapp, BetaList Select and review new interesting startups BM:
- SmartBrief Industry specific curated daily news BM:
- ReallyGoodEmails A curated collection of best-examples of email messages BM: sponsorship
- AppSumo Special product offers for business startups BM: direct sales of third-party products
- TrendHunter Find better ideas faster BM:
- Free-Codecs Download codecs and multimedia tools BM: advertising
- OldVersion Old versions of popular software tools BM: advertising
- International Journalism Festival - Perugia Past, present and future of news BM:
- TED Events Ideas worth spreading BM:
- event tickets
ConclusionsTechnology startups are generally characterized by new small companies trying to code and app or service, while looking for venture capital and for the fastest opportunity to get out of the way to sell their baby to a richer family. While there are many shades of such tech startups, the great majority of these seem to be characterized by a strong pool of tech skills, great desire and enthusiasm to create something, and the motivating idea of being able to make lots of money by selling out their startup to a big company. But there are also other options, especially for those who are not:1. highly tech skilled 2. code programming experts 3. after the money as their first objective
But who are instead strongly characterized by:a) strong competence / experience / interest for a specific sector b) research, vetting (crap detection), evaluation skills c) writing and presentation abilities d) interest to share - help others - create something truly useful
For these individuals, journalists or subject-matter experts of some kind, there is indeed a great opportunity to create something of value that is quite different from what we have seen so far. The new space is simply defined by anyone who wants to comprehensively organize and curate the most valuable information resources on a specific topic, and is characterized by organizations that are capable of building a sustainable / profitable business while creating something that has not just market, but also social value of some kind.
Originally written and curated by Robin Good and first published on MasterNewMedia on Tuesday April 15th 2014 as The New Journalist Is An Information Startup.
Photo credits: Information Entrepreneurs - Businesswoman by Shutterstock What Is Exactly an Info Startup - X-ray hand by Shutterstock Differences between Info and Tech Startup - 3D symbol by Shutterstock Key Traits of Info Startup - Bar code by Shutterstock Examples of Info Startups - Future technology by Shutterstock