Phillip Smith

Connect: bringing new business models for media to life

A “lean canvas”-inspired event for news-media entrepreneurs

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The first Hacks/Hackers Connect event in Berlin was our “minimum viable product” moment in contemporary startup lingo. We tested our problem-solution fit, validated our hypothesis via qualitative feedback from participants, and now we’re ready to pivot, accelerate, and scale — to sharpen our focus on providing practical skills, inspiration, and encouragement to bring new products, ideas, and companies to market. You can register today for the next event in New York.

For some years now we have believed that entrepreneurship — taking a risk to create something new by seeing and responding to an opportunity — is one of journalism’s most promising futures,” — Jim Bettinger, JSK Fellowships Director.

When Google News Lab partnered with Hacks/Hackers to create the Connect event series, the shared objective was to build a community of media entrepreneurs. It’s increasingly clear that the unique value proposition that Connect events can bring to the “future of media” conversation is a relentless entrepreneurial focus. We believe, like our local partners at CUNY, Matter Ventures, Medill, New School and the JSK Fellowships, that for tomorrow’s media enterprises to be successful they must be desirable, feasible, and viable.

Put another way, these undertakings must solve a pressing need, they must be technically achievable, and — just as importantly — they must be financially sustainable. To paraphrase Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean, the “product” of a media startup is not the product they’ve made, the product is the entire successful business model.

Connect events are focused on helping you solve that challenge. They are not “hack days,” nor “hack-a-thons.” There is no competition. There is no judging. The only reward is new connections and new skills. Corey Ford recently said that Matter’s objectives are “to build a culture of experimentation and a community of innovators,” and those are our objectives too.

Accelerate and scale

Runway: How much do you have? Runway: How much do you have? Find out on February 26 & 27 at CUNY in NYC. Photo: Phillip Smith.

The new backdrop of Connect will be the the “Lean Canvas” created by Ash Maurya. To this we’ll add our usual ingredients: dozens of experienced industry mentors, and just-in-time learning opportunities on topics like “Pitching your idea,” “Raising money,” “Technology stacks 101,” and more. And, as always at Connect, there will be lots of time for getting to know your fellow participants.

Like our first event in Berlin, the next event in New York will be fast-and-furious: teams will be formed, they will breathe life into new product ideas in a very short amount of time, and solutions will be forged in the fire of rapid feedback and iterative improvement.

To explain the lean canvas and to explore how techniques from the Lean Startup movement can be applied to media and journalism, we’ve invited serial entrepreneur Michael Tippett to join us on Saturday morning. We’ll also get a firsthand look “inside a media startup” from a recent Matter Ventures graduate company.

And, to prime the pump for Saturday’s focus on a lean canvas-inspired “product and business model design challenge,” we’ll invite more than a dozen local startups and news-impacting products that are working in the media space to join us at Connect for our Friday evening “demo party.”

Lean canvas: A map

We believe the future of media will be discovered through lots and lots of experiments — Corey Ford, Matter Ventures

The lean canvas is a guide to articulating the key hypotheses that should be made and validated by any new enterprise facing uncertain conditions and outcomes: whether your enterprise is an “app,” a software product or service, or a new content undertaking.

The Tippett factor Startup veteran Michael Tippett demonstrates the lean canvas. Photo: Phillip Smith.

Recently, as I watched startup veteran Michael Tippett demonstrate how the canvas can be used in the context of the global Startup Weekend events, it became obvious what a great tool this would be for Connect.

The canvas will help you and your team identify where an idea is strong and where it still needs work, as well as surfacing all of the risks that you’ll soon need to grapple with — thus providing a map of skills, knowledge, and resources that you will need to seek out at the event, and after.

If you’re excited to focus on content or media businesses, you can build on the Lean Journalism Canvas – a lean canvas alternative that provides a similar model adjusted for new storytelling initiatives, or media businesses.

We will attempt to “connect the dots” for you and your team mates: between skills gaps and practical resources, between your ideas and next steps, and between all of those in attendance as potential collaborators on the road to a successful new enterprise.

This is the runway that we are setting down for Connect in New York. Are you ready to get onboard the plane?


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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