StartUs Presents: Content Insights

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Meet Content Insights: CEO Dejan Nikolić explains how they make it possible to evaluate journalism & thus enabling authors to write about serious and relevant things.

Introduce us to Content Insights.

Content Insights is an analytical tool, intended for online publishers and journalists. The fact that it was created by editors and journalists in the first place is what makes us biased, but this is what primarily gave us the motive for initiating the whole idea. Since then, we are living our mission. One of the problems we want to solve is the principle of evaluation in the digital world. By using this tool, based on the content performance indicator (CPI), we want to enable journalists who write about serious and relevant things to compete with those who write about the last excess of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Awards.

The second issue we refer to is adaptability rate, by which we want publishers to perceive the era they are entering – the era of digital environment and data-driven decision making – in order to help them understand and use everything that comes with it. We don’t want to make a tool that will replace the publishers and make decisions instead of them, but a tool that will enable them to instantly understand what happens to their content, even though it might impair their perception of what they are really good at when it comes to writing and identifying the best sync with the audience. So, pretty much all of the insights they can not get from using ordinary analytical tools.

Why did you decide to pursue your own dreams rather than someone else’s?

First of all, it is not a dream. I would prefer calling it a damnation. Damnation that provokes you when you notice something’s missing, when you notice the opportunity. One that has something entrepreneurial in himself is damned in the sense that he simply has a need to investigate. Then, if there’s a little bit of sense in it at the beginning, that small snowball becomes an avalanche and as soon as you turn, there is no coming back. It is absolutely impossible that, if you are cursed in this way, you end up following someone else’s dream. That dream needs to be yours.

Each startup can relate to that statement from “Silicon Valley” series – “We are here to change the world” – thus we, from Content Insights, truly believe that we are helping to save democracy in the world. That dream of bringing my journalist profession into this new era that I worship, in which I entered as an editor back in ‘96, when I tasted the Internet for the very first time, is a dream that is chasing me throughout my whole life and profession.

In 7 years from now: How did your startup change the world?

Our goal is to stop the trend that is causing journalism to wreathe itself in a downward spiral and practically imploding on itself together with storytelling. When we look at the top of this spiral, there is the way of doing evaluation. Nobody writes about foolishness, tragedies, nor cute puppies and kittens only because he thinks that this is good and relevant, but because it’s something that brings page views. Page views are single metrics, marketing metrics, something that can be called a currency nowadays – a currency that changes and determines someone’s success. It comes with the trend that leads to the state where journalists, especially freelancers, are going to be paid according to their content’s success. The current trend of evaluation, that is being pushed by the general way that social networks work, is that there are no longer brands competing but titles instead. What we want, is to bring this competition back to the brand level.

So, we aim to preserve the publisher’s need that in the world where everything can be measured, they still can do that while keeping the old school approach to journalism. The world in which this is being accomplished is the world that we see in the future.

In what ways do you measure your success and how do you make sure you don’t lose track?

Let’s say that every ambitious team strives to achieve some critical milestones. In our case, we are happy when we reach those milestones without being late – at least, not a lot. Of course, there are some metrics and parameters that investors expect you to track; however, it is too early for us, since we still don’t have continuous revenues. The sales that we do is rather experimental. We test which price we can achieve, as well as the value they receive from us – at the end of the day, value is what we want to charge.

When talking about success, the most interesting thing about us, being a small team coming from a small country trying to solve an enormous problem on a global scale, is with how big of a lack of confidence we started all of this. At the same time this is what pushed us to be completely transparent about our idea, so we used validation from our current and potential clients (from local publishers to the global ones) to help us build the confidence that we have now. CPI (Content Performance Indicator) itself, as the most mysterious thing about our product, was created exactly in this way.

Already pivoted? Did customers use the Content Insights like you imagined it in the beginning?

Yes, we pivoted, but in a less dramatic sense. We stayed on our course, however we can say that the pivot happened when our focus on an author-centric tool expanded to content. In fact, what we tried to do by getting continuous validation from different publishers around the world, is to find a universal thread that connects all of their needs. Validation in that sense was related to the way in which we wanted to solve the problem. Our role was to understand the feedback, turning it into the product and then testing the product as such with different clients, in order to see if we achieved what we wanted. So, this incremental improvement is what our product is now.

Bootstrapped or financed: What fuels your startup now and what will in the future?

Since we became one of 11, the investment that we got from this acceleration program is what continues to fuel our startup. The important thing about going for accelerator is that before you make a decision you really have to be clear on why do you need it and how could that particular accelerator help you. You are expected to be proactive and fight for yourself. If you go without knowing anything about business, then you will have to listen, which leaves you with spending a lot of time on learning the basics and little time for working on your product development. So you need to be prepared and do the homework. What we gained from our experience in Eleven is another validation, knowledge about the overall way the startup world works, insights on the investor’s world right after, and at the end of the day – friends and contacts.

What is interesting about this startups-investors relationship is that startups usually feel like they are being observed, like the other side is pointing the lamp at them. The fact is that you are actually allowed and expected to turn the lamp on that other side and point to where you would like to see yourself growing. It practically means that, again, you need to do the homework.
Once you step on the investment route, the future will keep you on that course. When you choose, then you have chosen. That’s how we look at it. We know all the rules and we knew them before. We’ve all read Venture Deals by Brad Feld and we are ready to pretentiously go into further negotiations with potential investors.

With ferocious competition and a booming trend to build new companies: How do you make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle?

The competition is part of the ecosystem, however this is where we don’t act like competitors. Actually, we learned and gained a lot from our direct competitors. This aspect makes the main difference between the competition present in the startup world and the corporate one. Regardless of the competition, your goal is to grow the whole story and let the best story win.

Showing this attitude, we fit in the idealized startup ecosystem by striving to be as active as possible in helping people, talking, making contacts – and we got that in return as well. Pay it forward really does the work in this world, because there is no weakest link. The market race is ruthless and inevitable, yet what keeps us on the move is not thinking about competitors, but the customers – because this is how you are harming your competition the most. And if they win this field, that is totally ok.

What do you look for in team members?

We are proud to say that we’ve been able to attract extremely talented people, which is pretty difficult nowadays, since they are too expensive or already taken. Our team is now consisted of ten people and each one of them came to us by themselves, leaving from another project, which tells us that we managed to attract them not only with the technology side, but with the mission that we have.

One thing that we look for in team members is how they correspond to the skill sets we need. What is left to recognize is if they are truly hooked on the mission. At the end it’s weather that “click” happened.

Why would a talent join your team?

From a technological point of view, we tend to be demanding because what we do is the edge of technology, which is quite challenging even for the best developers. We approach an already established analytical industry in a way that it wasn’t accustomed to yet. What drives us everyday is thinking out of the box, solving the problems that people haven’t been solving yet.

What turned out to be the game-changer in your case?

The turning point for us was when we first met the startup culture, with the whole concept of this ecosystem and people who have been trying to build it. With those same people in Bulgaria, gathered around Eleven accelerator, we managed to reach the global community itself (since they are part of the Global Accelerator Network). Experience from TechStars in London was a reality check for us; however, we gained a lot of important contacts there. The moment we enjoyed ourselves listening to one of our potential clients imagining and talking about the ways he would use our product, while we didn’t put any effort into trying to sell it, was the moment we would now rather call a game creator for us.

What advice would you give fellow founders for their startup?

Literature on startups is fantastic. Read and educate yourself. Here are a few recommendations:

Do not form your opinion according to some imposed paragraph. In my case, I absorbed it all.



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