After seven years in the news business, 28-year old journalist Luke Stangel grew increasingly discouraged by the amount of time it took to track down witnesses and information for stories.
“I can’t really explain to you how obsessed I became with live information. I’d wake up every morning with the uneasy feeling that I’d somehow missed something big while I was asleep,” recalls Stangel, who covered crime for the Palo Alto Daily News. “It was then that I first started thinking about how to get live information from the public to reporters.”
Inspired, Stangel in early 2010 approached Ed Lucero, founder of the digital marketing agency AGENDA, and asked him to come aboard as CEO, and together the men enlisted Steven Woo, at the time an engineer at game making company Blizzard, to be their Chief Technology Officer. And thus Tackable, a social network that maps user-generated local news, was born.
The trio initially funded Tackable themselves, and over the course of preliminary meetings met Jeff Herr, the vice president of interactive software at the California Newspapers Partnership, a group of 60 newspapers, most of them published by giant MediaNews Group, owner of The San Jose Mercury News, The Denver Post, and dozens of other newspapers. Herr saw the potential for Tackable’s growth wasted no time working Tackable into their plans.
“MediaNews is incubating us inside the San Jose Mercury News, as we finish a special, Tackable-powered project for them,” explains Stangel. “It’s a fairly unique arrangement — we’re building a special version of Tackable which features MediaNews content and they’re paying us development fees, which have allowed us to expand the team.” Other than the MediaNews backing, Tackable has no other investors, although anticipate closing a Series A investment by the end of the year.
In addition to its MNG partnership, Tackable has since launched two beta versions, one for The Spartan Daily, San Jose University’s student newspaper, and another as an Apple iPhone app, and has started discussions with a number of other organizations, including the Journal Register Company, which operates 10 papers across the country. Outlets in Australia, the United Kingdom and Portugal have also expressed interest.
Only about a year old, Tackable now employs a total of ten people, most of whom hail from the gaming industry. Asked why, Stangel explains that Tackable not only wants to deliver news, but evolve the social media world, as well.
“Tackable is — on some level — a real-world social game,” he says. “Our early challenge has been to understand why people would want to share live photos with the public, and how we can encourage a new social behavior. Game designers have a lot of experience in that realm, and we’ve studied successful social games to figure out how to power our platform. It’s a different way of looking at a social network.”
As they grew, the Tackable team also started tackling traditional start-up hurdles, like overtaking potential competition, including Australian app Snapr, which offers a similar service. But Stangel insists Tackable trumps Snapr, because his program allows users to curate their news. “Snapr just puts pictures on a map with no differentiation. We have chronological, geotagged and caption-search filters that let the public and press on certain beats to gather hyperlocal information faster.”
And then there are inevitable comparisons to another live feed social network, Twitter. Again, Stangel’s not concerned. “Tackable differs from Twitter because we’re news-oriented, rather than rambling thoughts.” notes Stangel. “We prefer objectivity over subjective ideas.” And his approach is far more efficient, he says, because it favors better reporting over a ceaseless, unedited steam.
“Tackable’s power comes from both the user-generated content,” contends Stangel. “Tackable users don’t need to search for real-time media, because it’s organized by time and location on a public map. Fewer pieces of live media will get lost in the ether, and we’ll be able to experience what’s happening right now in any corner of the globe.”
Stangel and his team also have to hammer out content-sharing agreements with partner papers, and figure out how to expand beyond captioned photos, an obstacle that reveals Tackable’s greatest challenge: building the public and press’ respective trust.
To that end, Stangel and his team are establishing restrictions to keep Tackable infallible, including requirements that pictures be uploaded directly to avoid photo shopping and having people sign in via Facebook to confirm their identity.
Once a user establishes their reliability, they will have more freedom to choose specific assignments, like photographing a local event, or can submit “news flashes” they deem share-worthy, and earn redeemable “karma points” in the process.
As for monetizing, Stangel says his team’s looking into microadvertising, in which businesses create and publish a short-term classified ad, such as a two-hour spot to promote a sale, and are also thinking about charging companies to create their own brand-specific assignments.
Stangel adds that the team prefers Facebook, Twitter and conferences to spread their message. “We’ve tried to keep our project under wraps, and have not done any proactive media outreach so far. Our policy has been to accept all interview requests, but to do very little proactive PR work ahead of the big launch.”
While Stangel may sound like he has everything figured out, he’s sure not to get too confident. “It’s a rookie mistake to believe that you know everything. The process of challenging your ideas is very valuable,” he asserts. “Tackable would be a much weaker concept today if we weren’t open to suggestions.”
Stangel cites friend and venture capitalist Craig Jones as one of his greatest advisers. “Craig was the first to point out that we had a classic chicken and the egg problem: We needed a lot of users to generate compelling content, and we needed compelling content to attract a lot of users. That comment set us on a different path, and prompted us to launch with a hyperlocal focus, with strong news partners.”
Now that the company is on it’s way, Tackable’s aiming high: “Our internal goal is to have 100 newspapers and news outlets using the platform on a daily basis by the summer. We’re currently about halfway there. We’d like to have 500+ newspapers on the platform and 500,000 active users by this time next year.”
If Tackable meets their mark, our news worlds may never be the same.
Startups need tools to organize themselves. Here’s what Tackable uses behind the scenes.
- Customer Relationship Management: Custom software.
- Accounting: Quickbooks.
- Project Management: Assembla
- Cloud Computing: Amazon
- Internal Communication: Google Sites/Gmail
- Site Analytics: Google Analytics for the site and Flurry for in-app stats.
- Email Marketing: MailChimp