Startup Q&A - Abridge News Offers Multiple Perspectives on Hot-Button News Topics
Abridge News is a media company that publishes a different kind of news story. While most news outlets offer either just the facts or just one perspective on a topic, Abridge News offers multiple perspectives for every single story it publishes—across the political spectrum. In addition, it offers more objective, opinion-free facts for those of us who just want the news and nothing more.
I spoke to Co-Founder and CEO Laura Carpenter, Co-Founder and CTO David Byas-Smith, and Editorial Lead Kristine Sowers about the platform.
Alex Culafi (AC): Tell me the story of how Abridge News was founded.
Laura Carpenter (LC): In the months leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election, it felt as though the entire country became more aware of some fundamental flaws in the way we engage one another when it comes to current events. The political discourse seemed more toxic than ever. Online, people lived in news echo chambers and most discussion between differing views quickly devolved into shouting matches. Abridge News was born from the hope that there must be a better way—something to connect people instead of dividing them, something to encourage differing perspectives rather than isolate them.
In the summer of 2017, I decided to work on such a solution. Instead of completing a traditional internship while at Harvard Business School, I spent my time doing customer discovery work and testing the Abridge News concept. David Byas-Smith joined me as a technical co-founder, and together we launched abridgenews.com that October. Kristine Sowers, another friend of mine, volunteered to help with content for the site and recently joined our team as a full-time Editorial Lead.
AC: What is your ultimate goal with the company?
David Byas-Smith (DB): Our mission is to increase empathy and critical thinking in the world by promoting diverse perspectives. Ultimately, Abridge News will be the go-to platform for those who want to understand what others think about important issues and/or contribute their own points of view.
AC: Explain what your company does. How does the website work?
Kristine Sowers (KS): Each day, on abridgenews.com, we provide our readers with quick facts and a variety of curated op-eds on a trending topic. Each topic is introduced with a set of relevant facts that aim to provide a user with a brief, objective framework. Next, using our spectrum feature, users can get an overview of perspectives by swiping left or right to navigate the different views. The reader can react to the arguments made in the opinions and also see what other readers think. We also reach our readers via a daily email newsletter and produce lots of custom content on our social media accounts.
AC: Is the founding of the website connected to the current political climate at all?
DB: Absolutely. We started Abridge News because we felt like people on both sides of the political spectrum had forgotten what healthy debate and discourse look like. While we aren’t out to change people’s political views, we do aim to foster empathy and provide insight to smart people who disagree. Our team members have friends, family, and other loved ones on both ends of the political spectrum. We were discouraged to hear people broadly stereotyping one another without taking the time to understand the arguments made on different sides of a debate.
AC: Who are your clients? What is your business model?
LC: Abridge News is targeting independent thinkers who aspire to be knowledgeable in their news consumption habits. Our target user is open-minded, well-educated, and tends to be more moderate in his or her political views. According to Gallup, 42% of Americans self-identify as independents, and these are the people currently using our platform.
The reaction buttons on our site were created with this audience in mind. After reading arguments on our opinion spectrum, users can share their own point of view, choosing between statements like: “surprisingly, I agree,” “this doesn’t paint the full picture,” or “I agree with some, but not all.”
Abridge News is a tech platform, and unlike traditional media companies, we don't have to hire copious writers. Our main costs will be customer acquisition and engineering, and our revenue streams will likely come through ads, data monetization, and/or memberships. Right now, our top priority is growing our user base and increasing engagement levels, but we are already experimenting with paid ads in our newsletter.
AC: How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular position in the upcoming months?
LC: Our team consists of myself (co-founder and CEO); David Byas-Smith, our co-founder and CTO; and Kristine Sowers, our Editorial Lead. We also have three wonderful interns. Madi Johnson helps with our email newsletter, Lily Arslanian helps with content and social media, and Lyndsey Mugford helps with content, analytics, and user testing.
AC: Tell me about your involvement with MassChallenge. How did you get involved? How has the MassChallenge experience been for you?
KS: MassChallenge has been extraordinary. We’ve been able to connect with some great mentors who have given us helpful advice and valuable feedback. We’ve also really enjoyed getting to know other startups and the brilliant minds behind them. We are thankful and appreciative to be part of the cohort!
AC: Is the company bootstrapped or are you seeking investments?
LC: So far, we’ve funded our development with non-dilutive grant money from groups like Harvard Business School and Microsoft. We are planning to raise a small angel round in the Fall.
AC: What’s next?
DB: We are hard at work on our Abridge News native application for iOS and Android. We are aiming to launch it at the end of the summer and hope it will be a huge hit among our users! We are also excited to develop and test Abridge News features that will enable user-generated content.
AC: Any final thoughts?
LC: We love getting feedback! Readers can check us out at abridgenews.com and subscribe to our daily email newsletter at abridgenews.com/subscribe. They can also send me an email any time with thoughts and suggestions.