November 5, 2015
In world where the prevailing marketing thinking is that shorter content is better, Michelle Forsythe has developed NoteStream. This app is focused on long form content that is not news but is still of interest to those who wish to expand their knowledge and understanding. That is exactly the thought Michelle had when she came up with the tag line “Never Stop Learning.”
NoteStream was born from the desire of Michelle and her husband to learn more about French wine beyond listicles and shorter news stories easily found on the internet. She realized there was no mobile platform for a magazine-style article to provide content to readers who wanted to fill their spare moments with more than just the stock news or the latest gossip about the Kardashians. You may think this goal could be accomplished by just buying a book or magazine on the subject and carrying it around with you. If that were true, print media wouldn't be dying a slow death. The functionality of the mobile platform is where NoteStream's finds its strength.
Building a Content Library
Content can't happen without creators. A big part of the app is the Author Profile. Users can find and follow specific authors based upon interest. Michelle said this was a vital part of the app. Getting back to the art of writing was an important part of building a user base for NoteStream. While the content is important, the artist creating the product is also a major part of understanding and learning.
“You read an article in a magazine and wonder who wrote this? We want to return the art of writing back to the craft and allow the readers to decide if the person writing is qualified to do so,” says Michelle.
Michelle told me one of the primary sources of content so far has been non-profit groups who are seeking better engagement. This made sense for her on two levels. First was the ability to give back and give a valuable service to the community. Second was the marketing opportunities for these groups. While marketing experts have told people shorter content is better, non-profit groups must tell their stories to create an understanding of the need for funding. Michelle said they found so many great long form blog posts and articles in these groups that it made sense to tap into this area as a source for readers to connect.
She has formed partnerships with for-profit brands Roger's Gardens, the Pacific Symphony, and Aquarium of the Pacific. Each brand has its specific needs for mobile engagement. Michelle said Aquarium of the Pacific has its own mobile app to help visitors while on site with maps and notifications, and then uses NoteStream to keep users engaged while not at the aquarium with useful articles and information about all aspects of aquatic life and aquarium events.
Michelle also told me there is more to NoteStream than just curating long form content from across the web. David Gardner is a team member for NoteStream. Michelle said starting and January 2016 he will be heading up a two-fold book club project. The first part of the project centers around recreating the old serial publication cycle of the classics like Dickens and Dumas. Michelle said this is a great way to open the eyes of readers to the classics presented in a way that fits into the busy live of people yet engages readers with great standard works of fiction.
The second piece to the book project is a crowd influenced modern fiction story. Michelle said readers can interact with the author after seeing each part and influence characters and story lines. That idea is used by other online sources like CNET. It's another way users can form a personal connection with their apps and the people behind the content they consume.
Initial research for this interview led me to find the Angel list entry for NoteStream. I asked Michelle if there had been a change in the valuation and investment since that entry. She told me the valuation was now at $4 million. She is soon embarking on the fundraising circuit to get another $350,000. That money will go toward creating an Android version of NoteStream to capture more of the market and operational costs associated with building an audience.
When I asked for her funny funding stories, Michelle said venture capital investors are loath to be part of a married founder team. Some have suggested Michelle change her last name. She laughed when she said one VC suggested she and Richard divorce after 17 years of marriage.
“It's very gimmicky,” Michelle says of the pitch process. “So I do my Taylor Swift impersonation, shake it off, and keep going.”
Women In Tech
I did ask Michelle about her role as a woman in the technology space. Her response was a similar refrain I heard while at Seattle Start-Up Week. She said she doesn't think about it. It's not an issue for her so it shouldn't be an issue for anyone else. She echoed Rebecca Norlander's sentiment when it came to women in the technology world. “I've never fundraised as a man so I can't compare the two,” Michelle said putting a similar perspective on her place in business.
Michelle said she has over 20,000 downloads at this point. While that's not enough to do anything serious, it's a good start. I asked how she would monetize and return value to investors. She said there were several avenues for cash flow.
- Licensing agreements with large organizations for targeting specific market segments
- Dealing directly with content marketers
- Hyper-targeted ad placement based upon readership
- Specialized content creation
When I probed further about the targeted ad placement, Michelle said users don't want random banner ads popping up while reading. Instead, she said readers want further information about the subject with which they are now engaged. Someone reading about French wine would be interested in knowing about a tasting event or sale at their local winery, she explained. That is the kind of targeting she sees as useful.
“When a person is reading about wine, they don't want car ads,” Michelle says, “nor do car dealers want to have their ads seen there. Instead, readers have told me they want to see ads about things directly related to what they are reading in the moment.”
You can see a YouTube demonstration of NoteStream HERE if you are like me and don't own an iPhone.
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